Giving FluxBox a try

Since I learned that Gnome 2 development was being discontinued, I have being trying different potential replacements. KDE4 is nice, but heavy. Gnome 3 (also called Gnome Shell) and Unity are also heavy and, besides, the concept does not really fit well into my way of working. Xfce4 was the obvious choice and it is a quite good one actually. Lighter and more minimalistic than Gnome 2, even if not so full-featured. Even lighter it is LXDE, but I did not liked it completely for it still requires quite a lot of manual configuration for a consistent Desktop Environment (DE). Then, it came Enlightenment (e17) which is aesthetically gorgeous and yet very light on your resources. Just a bit too complicated for my likings.

I therefore decided to do without a DE and to try just one of the several light-weight Window Managers (WM) that one can find out there. First I went for OpenBox, which is extremely lightweight. It also requires a large deal of manual configuration and, even if at the end of the day I was able to achieve the result I wanted, I am still a bit confused by the different configuration files. To the point that I doubt I would be able to reproduce the same configuration steps again.

Today I have tried FluxBox and I must confess that I am quite impressed by this WM. It feels even lighter than OpenBox and, even if it also requires a respectable amount of manual configuration, I found the structure of the configuration files to be somehow simpler. In fact, in about two hours I was able to go from starting to download the Debian network installation image to having a fully working and quite pleasant FluxBox-centered desktop. This is it:

As I said, I started by downloading a 64-bit network installation image of Debian Squeeze (Stable) from here. I performed a pretty standard installation, however, when it came to the point where you have to select the software categories to be downloaded and installed, I unchecked all the boxes which left me with a bare minimum installation. Then I installed only xorg and FluxBox and modified a couple of configuration files, just enough to start an X-server session. Without having any previous experience with or knowledge about FluxBox, it did not took me a long time to figure out that I needed a specific application in order to add icons to my desktop. This time I chose iDesk, which I found to be quite elegant. It requires manipulating a couple of text files. I read somewhere that there is a configuration GUI, but today I was feeling like doing everything the hard way and, besides, I did not want to use any application which was not present in the official Debian repositories.

Next, I found the taskbar or panel to be a bit limited. I wanted to have a system menu on it, and the FluxBlox panel requires an external application to handle menus, and so I decided to replace it with the fbpanel. Another option could have been Tint2, but I already knew that one from my OpenBox experiences and was not quite convinced. I found fbpanel to be as lightweight and far more configurable (but, again, it requires understanding and manipulating one configuration text file). I also found it to be more straightforward than any other of the minimalistic non-GUI-configurable panels out there.

I also installed Wicd and a few other lightweight tools (mainly from the Xfce4 goodies category). Finally, I downloaded Firefox and Thunderbird from here and here, respectively (I ignore why the 64-bit Linux versions are kind of hidden). In order to be able to install LibreOffice I had to add the Debian backports repositories. I completed the basic installation by installing the Nvidia proprietary drivers (right from the Debian repositories) and adding some common multimedia programs.

The result is a 64-bit Debian Stable with Backports minimal installation plus xorg and FluxBox (enhanced with iDesk and fbpanel and Xfce applications). It could look a bit more polished, I agree, but I find it to be quite all right for being the result of two hours of work. In fact, I think that, if it does not give me any serious troubles, I will keep it for good.