‘Life Hacking’ and Metacity

The NY Times story on “life hacking” is a pretty good one, and an excellent intro for anyone who hasn’t been religiously reading the changing transcripts of Danny O’Brien’s talk and so on.

This line:

Mann has embarked on a 12-step-like triage: he canceled his Netflix account, trimmed his instant-messaging “buddy list” so only close friends can contact him and set his e-mail program to bother him only once an hour.

Reminded me of something I ran into recently.

Last month, I switched from Sawfish, the venerable UNIX window manager, to GNOME’s Metacity, which is the new(ish) GNOME standard window manager. (I was tired of some long-standing Sawfish crashes, and didn’t want to be the last Sawfish user on the planet, which was seeming increasingly likely.)

One interesting UI change is that application windows no longer ‘pop up’ — if an app wants to notify you of some important change, it instead can only cause its taskbar button to subtly pulse in the corner of your screen.

Initially, this threw me for a loop, and I rudely (albeit accidentally) ignored my friends on IM and suchlike. But I quickly got the hang of glancing at the taskbar once in a while when I wasn’t concentrating on a task; it’s now second nature, and has significantly reduced the number of interruptions I find myself experiencing in a typical day.

BTW, in passing: switching WMs is a big deal, user interface-wise. One of the key gating factors, for me, was a feature I use to control windows without laying hands on the dreaded rodent — namely, a ‘move window to screen corner’ keyboard shortcut. This patch implements it for Metacity.

I implemented this last year for KWin, too, to resounding disapproval and bitchy comments about how I’m using the mouse all wrong. Meh. I fully expect the Metacity maintainers to throw it out, likewise, leaving me hand-patching WMs for a while yet ;)

Update, Nov 2006: they applied it! yay.

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  1. David Malone
    Posted October 17, 2005 at 21:44 | Permalink

    Wow – I was thinking of trying out sawfish as a new WM ‘cos I’m still using tvtwm and sawfish is new and fancy in my mind! Tvtwm is still OK – it has a few bugs I know about and it doesn’t work so well with Acroread 7 but it starts up before I grow old(er).

  2. Posted October 17, 2005 at 23:56 | Permalink

    Sawfish is pretty, but it crashes if you have a GNOME app attempt to put something into the “notification applet” area of the GNOME panel. (why sawfish should have to care, who knows?)

    I took a look around, and it really appeared on the borderline of unmaintained — and I didn’t want my choice of WM to affect desktop OS upgradeability in the near future.

    there’s a few other good low-fat choices btw! sawfish is good for memory footprint — but it is slow compared to some of the others. even metacity is faster, I think.

  3. Posted October 18, 2005 at 00:52 | Permalink

    Have you tried pekwm?

    It lets you configure whether and when windows pop up and/or take focus, and you can send windows to a screen corner as well as do many things more, with the keyboard, or the mouse, or both.

    The configuration format is very friendly and sane, and there are lots of knobs you can twiddle if you want, but it also comes with respectable defaults. Overall, highly recommended.

  4. Posted October 20, 2005 at 17:42 | Permalink

    I’ll probably be using Sawfish for the foreseeable future, but then I’ve no desire or need to use Gnome. I’ve always thought that the ability of windows to take keyboard and mouse focus was stupid from a security perspective, and I like that I can turn that off. W.r.t IM windows, the window-popup-without-taking-focus behaviour that this results in is ideal for me.

    I did need to do some stupid hackery with GDK and Xft to get its control panel applet displaying, but like most apps I have no interest in developing or developing with, I only reconfigure it rarely, so that’s okay. Hopefully the sinking feeling that developed in my stomach there about my next machine upgrade and the likelihood of the WM itself not compiling isn’t justified ;-)

  5. Nix
    Posted January 22, 2006 at 01:29 | Permalink

    Well, sawfish is for customizability fiends. (fvwm is for fiends who don’t mind having to use an awful excuse for a language to customize it.)

    The last time I looked at it, metacity was almost totally unconfigurable (and this was touted as a feature!), and my wm config is so heavily customized and I’m so dependent on it that there’s no way I, for one, would switch.

    (I’m thinking of trying out xwem, next; the idea of a window manager running in XEmacs, well, it’ll be utterly nifty if it works ;) )