Cruft Cutting

I’ve been doing a little laptop house-keeping over the past few days, removing apps which either duplicate functionality (just how many text editors does one guy need?!) or are rarely-if-ever used.

Several of the programs I’m sorry to see go. Lifearea is a darned good feed reader for GNOME, but I prefer to do my rss reading inside Opera, so out it pops. Similarly, abiword is a superb word-processor, and geany a terrific programmer’s text editor, but they’re both out gunned by Open Office and [www.vim.org vim] (with added cream) respectively, so they’ve hit the cutting room floor too. Likewise the vmware player. Qemu works every bit as well without leaving that nasty non-Open Source taste in my mouth.

I had planned to remove a whole shed-load of development libraries too (the ones whose package names end in -dev), aiming to go the pure Ubuntu route of only installing “official” debs from hereon. That lasted… um…. about an hour :) There’s just too many great apps out there waiting to be compiled. Considering that under Ubuntu/Debian, working from source is as easy as ./configure, make, sudo checkinstall, it’s worth keeping the libraries around. In total they take up less them 100Mb anyhow, and well worth the disk-space.

The first program I downloaded and installed during this (late) Spring clean was gconf-cleaner. This is a nifty little app which does exactly what it says on the tin, removing obsolete entries from your gconf file with ruthless efficiency. I’m not sure it’s done anything to improve the overall speed on the system, but a tidy gconf file is a happy gconf file. I like.

I’ve also considered moving to a more lightweight window manager. Whilst I do love my GNOME desktop, especially with it’s pseudo Vista livery, it does take up more memory than most (KDE excepted). Fluxbox has long been a firm favourite of mine for low-power systems, so I’ve made the switchover, at least for a while.

Fluxbox is much smaller than GNOME, to the tune of almost 100Mb of RAM if you compare base fluxbox with my default GNOME setup. That’s a heck of a lot of memory difference! I’ve added gnome-settings-daemon, gnome-power-manager and tilda (a very good pop-down console) too by adding the following lines into ~/.fluxbox/startup above the line which starts fluxbox itself:

 gnome-settings-daemon &
 gnome-power-manager &
 tilda &

This adds to the memory usage, but means gnome applications have the correct theme, the laptop volume keys and suspend mode work just fine. All good stuff. Now I just need to work out how to add in the automounter so CDs and pendrives are automatically detected.

The difference between GNOME and fluxbox is dramatic. It starts faster, and GIMP handles larger images much more quickly, thanks to that extra free memory. Most visibly, I’ve set fluxbox to take up as little screen estate as possible. While my GNOME desktop takes up less room than the Ubuntu two panel default, I’ve reduced fluxbox to it’s bare minimum by setting the taskbar to sit at the top of the screen overlaying most of the application titlebar. I mainly work with maximized windows, switching between them as needed, and this gives me the most screen estate while still showing the time and a list of open applications on the current workspace.

One of the joys of fluxbox is that it’s very simple to customize the keyboard shortcuts. In comparison, GNOME can be downright obscure and unfriendly; just try and work out how to get an app to start with a keystroke under GNOME for proof. Here’s my ~/.fluxbox/keys file:

 Mod1 Tab :NextWindow
 Mod1 Shift Tab :PrevWindow
 Control Left :PrevWorkspace
 Control Right :NextWorkspace
 Control Up :NextWindow
 Control Down :RootMenu
 Control Shift t :ExecCommand aterm +sb -fg green
 Control Shift o :ExecCommand opera

As I’m using a laptop, there’s a Control key right next to the cluster of cursor keys, so I’ve set Control + each one of the keys to perform a variety of tasks. Control + Left or Right switches to the workspace to the left or right; Control + Up switches between apps just like Alt + Tab, and Control + Down brings up the application menu. I’m a keyboard junkie, and these minimal keystrokes make mouse usage all but redundant unless I’m working on photos.

In reality, these are all small steps. I’ve removed a handful of redundant apps, cleaned up a few config files and switched window manager. They’re not particularly dramatic changes, but overall they’ve noticeably improved the speed of the laptop, freed up over 500Mb of hard disk space and made my overall day-to-day usage just that little more pleasant.

All of which is good.

Oh, and it’s good to be back up and running again. Server booboo’d. Happy now.

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