Using a fast and reliable, still not obsolete, desktop environment with Fluxbox

Something like 6 years ago, I already described desktop environment I used over years. I was, since then, decently satisfied by KDE/Plasma/however you name it. Mostly because kmail works properly with IMAPS and handle CardDav-cloud server out of the box, because Dolphin is the best file browser (immediate filter and group files and directories by day are the feature I enjoy most and none other file browser I know got right) and the rest (akregator, korganizer with CalDav) ok.

But systemd arrived. I was curious at first and encouraged, on this very blog, people to give it a try. But soon  enough I found out I was faring better without, reaching the conclusion that “Point is with systemd, I’m able to do less and it takes me more time”. I moved away from systemd and, then, as consequence, of Debian. And I found out that KDE was increasingly getting dependant on systemd, with bug reports about regression in their software being closed advising to use systemd.  It led me, in 2015, to ask on /. Will You Be Able To Run a Modern Desktop Environment In 2016 Without Systemd? as follows:

Early this year, David Edmundson from KDE, concluded that “In many cases [systemd] allows us to throw away large amounts of code whilst at the same time providing a better user experience. Adding it [systemd] as an optional extra defeats the main benefit“. A perfectly sensible explanation. But, then, one might wonder to which point KDE would remain usable without systemd?

Recently, on one Devuan box, I noticed that KDE power management (Powerdevil) no longer supported suspend and hibernate. Since pm-utils was still there, for a while, I resorted to call pm-suspend directly, hoping it would get fixed at some point. But it did not. So I wrote a report myself. I was not expecting much. But neither was I expecting it to be immediately marked as RESOLVED and DOWNSTREAM, with a comment accusing the “Debian fork” I’m using to “ripe out” systemd without “coming with any of the supported solutions Plasma provides“. I searched beforehand about the issue so I knew that the problem also occurred on some other Debian-based systems and that the bug seemed entirely tied to upower, an upstream software used by Powerdevil. So if anything, at least this bug should have been marked as UPSTREAM.

While no one dares (yet) to claim to write software only for systemd based operating system, it is obvious that it is now getting quite hard to get support otherwise. At the same time, bricks that worked for years without now just get ruined, since, as pointed out by Edmunson, adding systemd as “optional extra defeats its main benefit”. So, is it likely that we’ll still have in 2016 a modern desktop environment, without recent regressions, running without systemd?

I replied once to comments in this article, for instance (not that l like to quote myself, but I’d rather avoid repeating myself):

Yeah and no. As pointed out in the article, the culprit is upower. But upower is mandatory for KDE power management. So it does not really matter whether it is Powerdevil that requires systemd or upower. ConsoleKit2 recently gained support? Was ConsoleKit2 actually been packaged? Does upower supporting ConsoleKit2 been packaged? If not, user experience wise, that is not palatable. And moreover, what to expect from upower? Did they not purposefully removed pm-utils support, that worked until then, in favor of systemd? Why removing support for a working solution (pm-utils) and, later, much later, adding support for some ConsoleKit2? What is the exact plan of ConsoleKit2? Providing some systemd-like interface without being systemd? Is that what ConsoleKit2 offers that pm-utils could not? If so, wow long will it work, to attempt to write a parallel to systemd, in order to make sure that all the software that in the past worked without systemd can now work with the systemd alternative? Just as a reminder, ConsoleKit2 exists “because there isnâ(TM)t currently a standard for system actions like suspend/hibernate anymore. We use these features in Xfce and it would be nice to keep the session manager and power manager in sync (i.e. you inhibit something and the session manager doesnâ(TM)t see it). Obviously thereâ(TM)s systembsd in the works, so this is a stop gap until that matures (however long that may be). But Iâ(TM)ll happily continue to maintain and support ConsoleKit2 as long as someone finds it useful”. https://erickoegel.wordpress.c… [] The acknowledged benefit of systemd, as pointed out by Edmunson (link in the article) was to drop code. If ConsoleKit2 and al needs to write code to compensate from all the dropped code, following systemd, that unlikely sustainable. The stop gap project won’t do. And it is really the funny thing now with systemd: if you dont want it, you need to write everything that it does because all the anterior/historical parts, good or bad, are getting deprecated and removed. So in order not to use systemd, you need to clone it. Bonkers. Hence the question: will KDE be still usable in 2016 without systemd.

Since then, I noticed a few other small issues which I did not bother to report: the answer would have been the same. So it is near one year later after my question asked on ./ and the answer is grim. More KDE parts got broken for me (sound, etc).

So I resorted to old answers, tested previously using desktop. I found Fluxbox to be the easiest to set up in a way that suits my needs.

Along with fluxbox, you need tint2 and xcompmgr, all properly packaged in Devuan. Then it is just a matter of editing files in ~/.fluxbox (after starting it once):

~/.fluxbox/startup :

# fluxbox startup-script:
# Lines starting with a '#' are ignored.

# background image
fbsetbg ~/.fluxbox/backgrounds/selje.png &
# modern panel
tint2 &
# desktop transparency
xcompmgr -c &
# sysinfo panel
conky &
# required for dolphin to show up cleanly
# desktop pager
fbpager -w &
# XMPP client
pidgin &
# cloud sync client
owncloud &
# gpg/ssh agents
eval "$(gpg-agent --daemon)" &
eval "$(ssh-agent)" &
# screen temperature
redshift &


~/.fluxbox/keys :

Control Mod1 A :Exec urxvtc
Control Mod1 I :Exec firefox
Control Mod1 M :Exec kmail
Control Mod1 E :Exec emacs
Control Mod1 D :Exec XDG_CURRENT_DESKTOP=kde dolphin


# if these don't work, use xev to find out your real keycodes
XF86AudioRaiseVolume :Exec amixer sset Master,0 2%+
XF86AudioLowerVolume :Exec amixer sset Master,0 2%-
XF86AudioMute :Exec amixer sset Master,0 toggle
XF86AudioPrev :Exec /usr/local/bin/switch-sound
XF86AudioNext :Exec /usr/local/bin/switch-redshift


# sleep fluxbox CTRL-ALT pause
Control Mod1 127 :Exec sudo hibernate-ram


~/.fluxbox/init (just to set of fluxbox toolbar since we use tint2 instead) :

session.screen0.toolbar.visible: false

~/.conkyrc (need to be edited, for instance eth device names, etc):

conky.config = {
 alignment = 'bottom_left',
 background = yes,
 border_width = 1,
 cpu_avg_samples = 2,
 default_color = 'white',
 default_outline_color = 'white',
 default_shade_color = 'white',
 draw_borders = false,
 draw_graph_borders = true,
 draw_outline = false,
 draw_shades = false,
 double_buffer = yes,
 use_xft = true,
 font = 'Oxygen Mono:size=10',
 gap_x = 25,
 gap_y = 25,
 minimum_height = 5,
 minimum_width = 5,
 net_avg_samples = 2,
 no_buffers = true,
 out_to_console = false,
 out_to_stderr = false,
 extra_newline = false,
 own_window = true,
 own_window_class = 'Conky',
 own_window_type = 'override',
 own_window_colour = '#3d3d3d',
 stippled_borders = 0,
 update_interval = 2.5,
 uppercase = false,
 use_spacer = 'none',
 show_graph_scale = false,
 show_graph_range = false

conky.text = [[
# in red if sound off
${if_match "[on]" == "${exec amixer get Master | egrep -o '\[on\]' | tail -1}"}$
{color #4d4d4d}${else}${color Dark Salmon}${endif}
# assume left/right channels have same volume level
${execbar amixer get Master | egrep -o '[0-9]+%'| sed s/\%// | tail -1}
#${color #4d4d4d}$hr
${color grey}↑${color #4d4d4d}${upspeedgraph eth2 25,140} ${color grey}↓${color 
#4d4d4d}${downspeedgraph eth2 25,140}
#${color #4d4d4d}$hr
#${color grey}CPU: ${color white}${i2c isa-0228 temp 2}°C$color - MB: ${color wh
ite}${i2c 9191-0290 temp 1}°C
#${color #4d4d4d}$hr
${color grey}Name PID CPU% MEM%
${color lightgrey} ${top name 1} ${top pid 1} ${top cpu 1} ${top mem 1}
${color lightgrey} ${top name 2} ${top pid 2} ${top cpu 2} ${top mem 2}
${color lightgrey} ${top name 3} ${top pid 3} ${top cpu 3} ${top mem 3}
${color lightgrey} ${top name 4} ${top pid 4} ${top cpu 4} ${top mem 4}
${color lightgrey} ${top name 5} ${top pid 5} ${top cpu 5} ${top mem 5}
${color lightgrey} ${top name 6} ${top pid 6} ${top cpu 6} ${top mem 6}
${color lightgrey} ${top name 7} ${top pid 7} ${top cpu 7} ${top mem 7}


With this setup, the only thing I actually miss is a icon-tasklist.

Getting back suspend/resume with KDE 5’s powerdevil and no systemd by installing an obsolete version of upower

Using a package out of date since more 2 years ago does not sound like a success story but that is the only way so far I found to get suspend/resume to work without systemd within KDE5 without headaches. pm-suspend and pm-hibernate, on the command line, work perfectly though.

Why? Because Powerdevil, KDE’s power management tool, use upower which itself deprecated pm-utils support in favor of systemd.  So, no matter whether your hardware can actually suspend and hibernate, no matter if the kernel, GNU/Linux itself, can handle, upower won’t.

When calling upower -d, it should output something with can-suspend and can-hibernate. Since they dropped support for pm-utils, it won’t if you don’t use systemd . It’ll behave as if it knew what it was doing except it does not.

I filled a bug report and this one was discarded very fast. Martin Gräßlin immediately marked it as RESOLVED DOWNSTREAM with the comment “This works fine on Debian testing. Please get in contact with your distribution to figure out why this broke in your Debian fork. You might consider of course to install systemd”. You get the idea.  Thanks to Michael Palimaka, I got confirmation that it was tied to upower version (which I guessed beforehand because of several related messages by some Ubuntu or else users – hence the mention “with upower 0.99.3 and Devuan” in my report title) and he listed working solutions: using systemd; using ConsoleKit2; using upower <=0.9.23.

Using systemd to fix a problem caused by an attempt not to use systemd? Not an option. Using ConsoleKit2? Except I have no knowledge of ConsoleKit2 being packaged yet, neither do I know which release of upower actually got ConsoleKit2 support.

So I went for the third option, the lamest obviously, that is installing obsolete, unsupported software, and put in on hold. It can be done as follow:

echo "deb wheezy main" > /etc/apt/sources.list.d/oldstable.list
apt-get update
apt-get -t wheezy install libgnutls26 libgcrypt11 libtasn1-3 libusbmuxd1 libimobiledevice2 upower libupower-glib libplist1
echo "upower hold" | dpkg --set-selections

Then a call to upower -d gives:

 daemon-version: 0.9.17
 can-suspend: no
 can-hibernate no
 on-battery: no
 on-low-battery: no
 lid-is-closed: no
 lid-is-present: no
 is-docked: no

It is better but still no good. As root it’ll work, though. You need to add some PolicyKit rule to allow regular users to use it. The following assumes that powerdev group exists and that your regular users are in this group (if they are not, add them with adduser thisuser powerdev):

echo "[Suspend power group override]

[Hibernate power group override]
ResultActive=yes" > /etc/polkit-1/localauthority/50-local.d/power-group.suspend-override.pkla

Now, if done properly, upower -d returns:

 daemon-version: 0.9.17
 can-suspend: yes
 can-hibernate yes
 on-battery: no
 on-low-battery: no
 lid-is-closed: no
 lid-is-present: no
 is-docked: no

Logout and login should be enough to have back suspend and hibernate within KDE5.

So this works. For now. But there is no doubt, this is wrong in so many ways. I wonder for how long it will be possible to run a modern desktop environment on GNU/Linux, and not on systemd/whatever.


Moving away from systemd with Devuan

A while ago, I was encouraging to give a try to systemd. Well, now I know better and decided to get away from this tool that clearly wants to replace many parts of my system at once. There are many articles about systemd, why it’s good and why it’s not. I kept on open mind of the topic, I tried systemd on many boxes. Some stuff just stopped to work, or did not work as I expected it to work. Maybe I’m clueless but I’m not alone. Point is with systemd, I’m able to do less and it takes me more time.

Now devuan is installable so I installed it already on two of my boxes. So far, no problem. I wonder how Devuan will cope with bugs reports and stuff in the long run.

The process is as simple as:

# select ascii (= testing)
dpkg -i devuan-baseconf_0.6.4+devuan3_all.deb
cd /etc/apt/sources.list.d/
# comment  debian sources
nano sources.list
apt-get install devuan-keyring
apt-get update && apt-get upgrade
apt-get --purge remove systemd systemd-shim
dpkg --list | grep systemd
apt-get --purge remove libsystemd-journal0 libsystemd-login0
apt-get --purge autoremove

Limit noise from hard disk using RAM (tmpfs) instead

I’m using a laptop, among other things, as alarm clock (included in my -utils general debian package). The hard disk of this laptop is not getting any younger and get noisy while there’s a decent amount of RAM available.

I toyed a bit in the past with ramdisk/tmpfs (the later having the benefit not to used a real fixed size but to adjust and unused memory free) and made tests to use tmpfs for /var/log. Since then, I did not use much this so-called transient log: it cannot be seriously used on a server where you want your logs not tampered with in any way – and especially there in case of failure; it does not make laptop or workstation very silent since there is still a large amount of file access that is in ~/.

In the case of my laptop part alarm clock, many ~/.directories and ~/.files are regularly read or wrote. So I finally changed the initial transient log init script into /etc/init.d/shush-toram that reads /etc/default/shush-toram to determines which directories to put into tmpfs, for instance /var/log and /home/alarmclockuser. bviously, you don’t want to put on tmpfs in directory that would use all or more of your actual RAM. There is also a /etc/cron.daily/shush-toram job that’ll daily update the data on the hard disk (just calling the init script with reload or restart).

Once the scripts in place, you just have to do:

invoke-rc.d shush-toram start      # start it
update-rc.d shush-toram defaults   # set autostart

Yeah, that’s sysv init scripts. It’s probably not necessary that I discuss the merits of systemd. I tried it and was happy to boot faster than usual. Then I found that making init scripts with it was annoying, counterproductive for me. Then I found that my /var/log directory contained a subdirectory journal of more than 800 Mo – that can be fixed by editing some conffile obviously, but it’s not working clean out of the box. It just does not suits me. It could, and will surely, improve. Still, it’s being made mandatory here and there while it’s still counterproductive and unpolished. I’ll continue to make script for sysv -that can actually be started outside of sysv- since I’m likely to try to avoid systemd as much as possible.

The shush-toram files are included in my -utils general debian package.

Off the list – The Pied Piper of MIT

Richard Matthew Stallman is a prolific writter and thinker. Mails he send these days start with:

[[[ To any NSA and FBI agents reading my email: please consider ]]]
[[[ whether defending the US Constitution against all enemies, ]]]
[[[ foreign or domestic, requires you to follow Snowden’s example. ]]]

Freedom matter a lot of him. So that makes sense.

But as the same time, RMS is an autocrat. He was in 2003 when he wrote:

I’d like people to understand that we are not still considering the question. It is a final decision to do this.

I will give a brief explanation. We cannot continue doing that because we have no one to maintain it properly.
This is maintained seriously. Therefore we will switch to This.

That was something he was never involved with, into he never spent a dime or a second. But as it relates to GNU, he thought he had the right not only to state his mind but to override any other opinion and ultimately decide. Because he thinks he’s right and know better, he thinks he can just have private talks with some parties and decides on his own. Well, This that he promoted turned into a proprietary software a few years later: he definitely should have know even better.

More than 12 years later, he’s still the same when he writes:

For now, please do NOT install this change.

I will talk with ThisDude about this, off the list, to find out more about the situation.

He still thinks himself entitled to make things go, begin or end. He still thinks he will find out what to do solely on his own after consulting people privately.

So although he values his freedom and values freedom in general, working with him, even in a very distant way, is just a matter of subordination. He’d make a credible science-fiction character: distopian guru, the Pied Piper of MIT.


March 31th, Karen Sandler: “Financially the (GNOME) Foundation is in good shape”

I wanted to post his as a side note. But that’s a bit too much.

I dropped GNOME years ago. Back in the days when they dropped tons of cash on people creating shitty confusing companies like Eazel and HelixCode. I said Nautilus would never amount to anything and it never did. I said Miguel de Icaza was taking a very questionable path and he ended writing proprietary software. If it werent so sad, it would be kind of funny to see that nothing changed since then. Their Foundation is going more or less bankrupt while their financial reports shows that, for instance in 2012, they spent 1/4 of their resources to the pet project of their “executive director” Karen Sandler, some sexist bullshit called “Women’s Outreach” (I’m waiting for the “Black’s Outreach”, etc).

You don’t know who is Karen Sandler? Typical GNOME character. That’s just someone that never achieved anything related to computing but has been selected to be some sort of speaker nonetheless. I’m not saying only people that produced something that actually serve or served a purpose are entitled to speak. But to put people in position of “director”/whatever, at some point, there should be some knowledge, abilities, even just ideas, that makes the person stand out to be entitled to represent or lead the others.

So what could she speak of? About bad management?

More like, on “Announcing her departure, Karen said: “Working as the GNOME Foundation Executive Director has been one of the highlights of my career.” She also spoke of the achievements during her time as Executive Director: “I’ve helped to recruit two new advisory board members… and we have run the last three years in the black. We’ve held some successful funding campaigns, particularly around privacy. We have a mind-blowingly fantastic Board of Directors, and the Engagement team is doing amazing work. The GNOME.Asia team is strong, and we’ve got an influx of people, more so than I’ve seen in some time.”” 

Typical GNOME bullshit? Indeed: pompous titles, bragging, claiming. “Successful funding campaings”? Seriously? “Amazing work”. “Mind blowing”. It’s sad for the few GNOME developers that are worth it, because the main thing is a fucking joke.  It’s just empty words, no damn facts that matter that are even slightly true.

Not convinced? Too harsh maybe? Keep on reading. On her blog you’ll get her statement. The one quoted on

“I think I have made some important contributions to the project while I have been Executive Director. I’ve helped to recruit two new advisory board members, and we recently received a one time donation of considerable size (the donor did not want to be identified). Financially the Foundation is in good shape, and we have run the last three years in the black. We’ve held some successful funding campaigns, particularly around privacy and accessibility. We have a mind-blowingly fantastic Board of Directors, and the Engagement team is doing amazing work. The GNOME.Asia team is strong, and we’ve got an influx of people, more so than I’ve seen in some time.
I hope that I have helped us to get in touch with our values during my time as ED, and I think that GNOME is more aware of its guiding mission than ever before.”

Yes, you can skip the fact that she consider recruiting advisory board members as an achievement (!!!). It seems that she thinks that a Foundation should focus on itself and not on the project it is derived of, seems that she does not even for a second mention anything that the software project GNOME would benefit of directly. quoted her putting three dots and skipping “Financially the Foundation is in good shape”, and this just one week before we’re told they are definitely not.

She’s right one one thing though: now GNOME is definitely “more aware of its guiding mission than ever before”, since they are forced to cut on all unnessary expenses like the one she promoted.

I’m not sure to understand why someone smart as Bradley Kuhn recruited her at the Software Freedom Conservancy.

The GNU/Linux desktop wasn’t killed by MDI’s failure with GNOME/Mono/HelixCode/Ximian/…

How Apple Killed the Linux Desktop titled ./ today. And it discusses Miguel De Icaza (MDI) latest thoughts.

Flashback: That was the guy promoting to-be-coded Evolution and Nautilus versus actually-running Balsa and many others decent GNOME 1.x apps. Eazel, some kind of company created by guys mainly from the proprietary software world, was alone in charge of Nautilus and this file manager was set to be GNOME 2.x file manager without even one frickin pre-release. Proprietary development model all along: release (too) late, release rarely (never?). Aside from Eazel, GNOME was in the hands of Helix Code, MDI’s own company, renamed later Ximian. Nice icons, nice website, yeah. Aside from that, it’s funny enough to picture the GNU desktop project being in the hands of the same people that created and promoted Mono, considering FSF (I think correct) opinion on Mono. The Wikipedia page don’t mention it, but Ximian authored some proprietary software also.

So, now, we should care about MDI’s latest thoughts of GNU/Linux and desktop? If GNOME is failure, it all started when he really took charge. If GNOME is failure, it does not mean that KDE and others are, and while he may be entitled to concede defeat for GNOME, he’s definitely not entitled to do so in the name of GNU/Linux (or Linux as he calls it, even if a kernel have really little to do with the desktop). This guy invented thousand of ways to fail, to show considerable lack of oversight and very low attachement to the idea of libre software. Now he feels entitled, one more time, to say what we should care about, that is not freedom apparently? Please, give us a break