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Using i3wm

I guess is a sign or getting old when we stop tinkering with Linux distros, desktop environments, and windows managers. After Gnome changed to their new idea of desktop in Gnome 3 –back in 2011–, I tried hard –and for an embarrassing amount of time, considering I wasn’t happy–, and finally landed on XFCE. It was a weird time in the Linux desktop space.

XFCE was a bit different to the Gnome 2 experience I liked, but when I tried XFCE 4 on Debian Jessie it felt like home.

And don’t get me wrong: it has never been perfect. There are some issues that have been bugging me for years, like the screen lock getting stuck after suspending –and because it is rare, plus not being clear who owns the bug, it seems unlikely it will be fixed–, but as a desktop environment it is out of the way. What else can you ask?

Then I know a lot of people using tiling window managers, to the point that I may have been the only one not using one already. I had a few key bindings in XFCE to give me some limited features of that type of window management, but I was wondering if there was something I was missing out.

So I finally tried i3wm after some research, because it looked like the most user friendly –despite having a steep learning curve, like all of them, but that’s true for most power tools–. I installed it alongside my XFCE, gave it a quick go, and I put it on the back burner because it wasn’t the right time to disrupt my workflow –I was finishing Hyperdrive–.

Until last week, that I gave it another go, and I love it.

i3wm feels fast and responsive, and being used to the vim + tmux experience, it felt a very natural way of working. Sure, it needed some effort to configure, and I don’t think I’m finished with it, but I’m getting there.

Currently I still depend a bit on having XFCE installed, which is not a problem, because I still use Thunar for example to browse files. If at some point I install a system from scratch, then I will do a more focused selection of applications I really use and I may not need a full desktop environment that I won’t use.

My i3 configuration is available, and it will need some time to get close to that perfection I’m talking about. I have passed the test of streaming with OBS, which was the part that I initially thought it would be “harder”.

However, currently I have a couple of issues:

  • I’m using xfce4-screenshooter to take screenshots, and works beautifully, but it doesn’t give me the option to put the screenshot in the clipboard; which is mildly annoying.
  • I’m using kazam to record videos, and when I try to select the window to capture, it goes wrong and I can’t see the windows. If I click where the window should be, it does the capture just fine.

Other than that, I’m converted already. And if (when?) I have to move to Wayland, I can move to Sway without much work –other than not using XFCE apps unless it has Wayland support by then!–.

So I guess I’m not that old yet, because there’s some tinkering spirit still in me.

Update (2023-07-08): because I got a couple of emails mentioning it and I had solved “the issue” already, let me update on the screenshot “issue”.

Just run XFCE’s climpan! In X11 there is no shared clipboard, so you need an application that can keep that data when the screenshot tool is gone. My i3 config has now:

# Clipboard manager
exec --no-startup-id xfce4-clipman

Then you just need to configure it to your personal taste. Because XFCE didn’t show the icon of the application when it was running, I didn’t know it was there.

Thanks again for the emails and the i3 tips!

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