Efficient Linux User Interface

tl;dr: i3 + KDE is awesome!

My first experiment with i3, I went all spartan and a myriad of nagging issues snowballed into me running back to my familiar and comfortable Kubuntu LTS setup. Time passed on, seasons changed, and one fine summer afternoon, a raging thunderstorm zapped the life out of my ageing machine.

With a new machine assembled, it was time for change. Out went Kubuntu, the entire KDE universe that came with it, and packages stuck at certain versions for eternity, and in came Archlinux, kdebase and rolling release. Installing and configuring kdebase takes care of a lot of mundane stuff, and comes with it a set of essential utilities.

This time around, I "got" it. i3 / awesome aficionados were right all along. These window managers are not just used for pretty screenshots. An efficient window manager does to your workflow what an efficient text editor does to editing text.

That said, the defaults that come with i3 aren't the most optimal of settings. I have made some adjustments to how I use i3 and changes to the default behaviour (the config file stays true to i3's simplicity):

  • The most effective of changes is moving the cluster of keys used to control i3 to the right hand side of the keyboard. Pressing Alt and a key on the same side is uncomfortable (more so if Shift is involved).
  • Move hjkl back to where they belong on the keyboard. The default behaviour adds unnecessary confusion for people who are used to vim. Some things are best left untouched.
  • The maximum workspaces I use at a time is around 4. They are 1, 10, 9, and 8. It is much more easier to reach for 0, 9 and 8 on the keyboard in combination with Alt than 2, 3 and 4.
  • You can see the various other changes that I made in my i3 config file.

Using i3 has its drawbacks as well:

  • I tend to confuse between Shift and Alt and sometimes Ctrl. For example, I'd be happily editing in vim, and when I want to do something with windows / workspaces, I keep on hitting Shift+key, Ctrl+key or Shift+Ctrl+key combinations and wonder why nothing is working anymore.
  • I frequently get lost. Sometimes I keep on cycling mindlessly through various windows and workspaces before I catch myself doing so. Then, I have to pause and think where I need to go to. I call this "lost in the jungle" effect : )
  • The absence of "Run or Raise" functionality. I'd click on something in Akregator and then I'd have to go hunting for firefox.

i3 as a window manager gets its job done, but the overall user experience can be improved upon by:

  • Having visual cues akin to how Google Chrome displays tabs.
  • Something like unity / dock. Even though i3 can be entirely keyboard driven, at times using a mouse is preferable to "browse" through your open applications.
  • The statusbar gets the job done, but when used as a system tray, it looks out of place.

Screenshots: Example coding session, Dolphin and KSnapshot in action, File dialog box