April 21, 2019

Ultra-minimal Linux Desktops Roundup - page 2

Minimalism at its best: fvwm and Awesome

  • May 11, 2010
  • By Juliet Kemp

Finally, the full-on ultraminimal ratpoison, which is basically a graphical version of screen. There are pretty much no graphics, and no mouse. It's all run straight from the keyboard, with each app running full-screen.

Note that if using Debian, to get ratpoison to show up on the GDM menu, you'll need to run:

sudo cp
due to some disagreement between ratpoison and GDM about whose bug this should be. After that, just choose it from the Sessions list and away you go.

The default escape key (which precedes commands, much like screen's Ctrl-A) is Ctrl-T, but you can configure your own escape key to replace Ctrl-T by putting a line in your ~/.ratpoisonrc:

escape C-z
Hit Ctrl-T . to get a menu, or Ctrl-T c to get an xterm up. Ctrl-T ? will give you the help menu. Cycling between windows you can use Ctrl-T n and Ctrl-T p to go to the next or to the previous window.

Each window will fill (nearly) your entire screen – it's really a lot like a graphical version of screen. This might make something like GIMP a bit odd to use (although not impossible). However, if you really need to, you can split the screen into two frames/windows by hitting Ctrl-T s. This will split the screen horizontally between your current window and the previous one, as shown in the screenshot (split three ways), which can sometimes be useful. Check out the help page (Ctrl-T ?) for a bunch of other commands, or try the FAQ.


ratpoison is pretty squarely aimed at those of us who are as text-based as possible – as shown by the wiki discussion of mouseless paste. I was sceptical ahead of time, but hugely enthusiastic after I'd used it for a bit.


fvwm does the job, but for me was a bit neither-one-thing-nor-the-other. I was expecting to find ratpoison a bit too minimal for me, but in fact I really loved it. Perhaps I've spent too long sshing into remote machines and relying on screen for my multi-tasking, but its sheer naked simplicity absolutely blew me away. Awesome was a close second – I loved the choice of tiling options, and I think if I got to grips a bit more with the tagging system I'd love that too. Unfortunately, neither of them play particularly well with highly graphical programs like Gimp, but if your usage is mostly text or web based, they're very much worth checking out

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