Arch with i3

For some reason every six or twelve months I tend to switch Linux distros. Some of that history can be read here, here, here, here, here and here.

My mid-2021 switch has been from Fedora 32 running Gnome 3 to Arch running i3. What precipitated this flip? A couple of things: a new release of the Gnome Desktop Environment had been released and Fedora seemed a little slow (to me) in making it available in their stable branch. Whilst I can appreciate the stability and certainty that brings many users, in this case I wanted to try out Gnome 40 a little sooner. I realise I could have moved to the development branch (called Rawhide), but I instead opted for a clean install of something else. Interestingly (to me, anyway), that decision to move to Gnome 40 is what also moved me on from Gnome to re-look at some tiling window managers. But more on that shortly.

I had tried and used Arch a number of years ago but had left because of frequent system breakages. Because I had forgotten that, I forged ahead to install Arch - and I’m glad I did. The installation proces, whilst not easy, went more smoothly that I recall from the past. It wasn’t straightforward, and I did need to go through the installation process several times if/when I forgot to set up a bootloader properly. But once installed I am liking the system I have.

It’s lean (running around 60% of the packages that Fedora installed) and the update process is simple and fast (#pacman -Syu). I am also finding I spend much more time in the terminal/console than I ever have before.

I initially opted to install the Gnome desktop, but a couple of issues with it caused me to ditch that and look elsewhere. The first of these annoyances was that the Gnome developers decided that the first thing all users do is access the ‘activities’ mode. This is like assuming that the first thing all Windows users do is press the Start button/Windows key. This meant that from the opening screen I needed to press something to access a normal desktop! I tend to operate using keyboard shortcuts so I don’t frequently access the activities mode. The second annoyance was that a notifier I use(d) to keep an eye on ownCloud stopped working so ownCloud would always commence opened rather than minimised in the systray.

Little annoyances, but annoyances nonetheless because it meant I needed to hit a couple of keys or click on a couple of buttons before anything else.

So I revisited tiling window managers. Over the past few weeks I’ve used Qtile, XMonad, awesome, i3 and dwm. They each have their pros and cons. Qtile is easy to configure and has a range of tiling formats available. One thing I didn’t like about XMonad is that the panel is visible above full screen viewing in youtube (so it’s not quite full screen), but I did like the range of tiling formats available. I couldn’t get the awesome menu to work properly. And the patching process1 for dwm seemed destined to become very tiring very quickly. So I’m running i3 again. It’s not a dynamic tiling manager meaning you need to select the placement for the next window unless you want it to continually add extra columns. i3 configuration is simple (and the file format is also quite readable). I can see myself switching between i3 and Qtile for the foreseeable future since they are fairly similar and suit my workflow.

  1. Contrasted to using a configuration file, changes to dwm are made directly in the code and then the software is recompiled. ↩︎