The Goldilocks UI Zone

Nov. 9, 2022 [technology]

A while ago I tried out the Sway window manager. While it is very fast, very minimal and purist in it’s design, a few nails stood out which I couldn’t quite hammer down. A caveat to the following is that I grew up on graphical desktops with only a brief stint on DOS command line which I can barely recall from childhood memories. I may not be as hell bent on getting stacking windows out of the way as some WM diehards. The Sway experience was great overall except…

Despite going out of the way to use TUI and terminal programs, there where still some which necessitate the usage of a graphical window. And some of these programs failed to obey the conventions of a WM like Sway, either by way of some dirty gtk_window_set_type_hint() trickery or by hardcoded settings panels which act as a child window that cannot be moved separately. These also pulled in a combination of QT and GTK libraries, so would take a lot more planning and diligence to avoid one or the other to keep a lean system.

The scriptability of WMs, as I experienced with Sway, is fantastic. But it can also become burdensome. Sway uses a program Swaylock to lock the session. There is no default configuration provided as users are expected to write their own. After some trial and error, I had gotten a solution running which aggressively blanked the display after locking. It was hackish and I didn’t trust what I wrote to actually reliably do it’s job. Even the big name desktop’s screen lockers occasionally have slip ups, and those are written in collaboration by people more experienced than myself. Add in the other some-assembly-required Sway components along with it’s grand .config, and one quickly discovers how much maintenance burden they incur.

Constant tinkering with the visuals ended up consuming more time at the device than I had to give. This is not an issue with Sway, per se, but there are so many little things down to the pixel width of individual window dressings. I found myself longing for a boring old DE with some basic GTK theme. Those with a different sense of aesthetics than myself can probably live with the unrefined Sway defaults or rapidly whip something up that looks outstanding on some Unixporn gallery.

So what is the goldilocks zone for Wrongthink? I do not want anything to do with the hugely bloated software suites like Gnome. They even gobble up other programs to assimilate into the DE borg. Just ask Falkon or Geary. Meanwhile WMs are a little too barebones for me. Sure, one could opt for the *-core packages (at least on Debian family distros) but that’s just a workaround to a malignant problem.

The perfect environment for me may just be a lightweight minimalist DE, without all of it’s own in-house reinventions of the wheel, paired with a really comfy terminal emulator and all of my cozy TUI applications.