Language Selection

English French German Italian Portuguese Spanish

A Month With Fluxbox - Part 1

Filed under

In anticipation of the April Gentoo Monthly Screenshots thread on my favorite forum, I've been working on beautifying my desktop for the last several days.

This month I wanted to post something a little different. I've been using KDE for many moons now so my desktops, and the screenshots of it, always look basically the same. The icons, wallpaper, colors, and window decorations have changed, but being a creature of habit and having found what works for me, I never changed the layout much. I had hoped to do that this month. And in keeping with the spirit of the thread, I'm going to run fluxbox all April long and post my thoughts on using it here at tuxmachines at the end. I've been running fluxbox fulltime for not quite a week now as I type this (if you don't count my occasional look around and use of my laptop), which is why this article is entitled "Part 1".

The Setup

  • The Theme

I started with my Plain Jane v. 0.9.12 fluxbox desktop posted last month and the first thing I did was set a new wallpaper. The most fundamental aspect of any desktop is the wallpaper. You can get a glimpse into the personality of folks by the wallpaper they choose. (I'm going to leave that topic there as I could, and might, write an entire article on that.) The wallpaper is the foundation of any theme, it's the basis on which everything should be built. It shapes the colors, the mood, the icons sometimes, and the window decorations. It is also one of the easiest aspects to change in fluxbox.

One has several choices in their method of setting a wallpaper. Fluxbox's own fbsetbg is a popular choice. Although as much as I can tell, it's a wrapper that probably calls to xsetbg to actually do the background. But if you're running fluxbox you should already have those two elements installed. Other options include wmsetbg, Esetroot, and feh.

I chose feh because of some of it's nice features. It can do a simple background set, but it can also do a slideshow, multiple images on the one screen, filelist sorting and loading, loading images via http, montage/collage creation and much much more. So one simply adds their command to the ~/.fluxbox/init file and wha-la > a nice background. For now mine looks like this:

session.screen0.rootCommand: feh
--bg-scale /mnt/oldhome/s/wallpapers/Fleur1280.jpg

For the colors I relied upon the theme manager of fluxbox at this time. I installed gentoo's fluxbox-theme package from an ebuild and had a nice large list of themes to choose from. I chose Nuevat3k-Bluenight. It's a nice bluish-darkgreenish style with small discrete window decorations and great looking menu effects.

I'm primarily using KDE apps, as all my mail is in kde maildir format in my KDE .Mail folder and all my browser bookmarks are in my ~/.kde folder. I'm using the provided Atlas Green color theme that been included with KDE forever. Although my wallpaper has very little (if any real) green in it, the understated green seems to blend well with the aqua in it and the greenish blue of the menus. It's a nice combination I think. My gtk apps are using the default gray color and style for now.

I tried out fluxconf/fluxmenu to try and add entries to my menu. It seemed to work good, but at some point it deleted the main line at the beginning of my .fluxbox/menu file and left the menu crippled. Fortunately I had a backup and just copied and pasted the missing line back. I used it to add the kde apps submenu and to the Office submenu. Fluxmenu seems to be a nice little application for adding menu entries. I installed it using ebuilds, but you can get it and more information here. Then I finished editing the file manually for a couple other entries.

  • Monitoring

Gkrellm used to be the greatest thing since Hershey's kisses, but last year or so it's been quite unstable for me. It seem to freeze up and crash out often. So, I really quit using it. I tried torsmo in kde, but it interfered with the desktop rendering causing blinking and the icons would disappear. However, none of that is a problem in fluxbox. I'm using torsmo most happily in fluxbox now. That configuration was a bit more tedious than gkrellm, but the docs are fairly complete and easy to understand, and there were quite a few examples on the forum to consult. Actually, weather support is supposed to be included in the newest torsmo, but I didn't see too much about it in the gentoo ebuild version (ok, I didn't look too hard). So, I just went with {exec /some/script}.

I actually saw many methods for accomplishing this task, but the one I used was here. I usually like to pull weather info from our local airport and that's what I did in gkrellm. This method pulls from yahoo which in turn pulls from I may play with this some more and try other methods, but for now I like the output formatting of Arainach's script.

In addition, I found a tip on how to set a calender in that same thread. I was hunting around looking for an applet to do that, but this method saves on system resources and gives a consistant uncluttered look - as does the date/time string for which I was also originally looking for an applet to display.

That's a wonderful thread if you want some good tips for configuring your torsmo. In fact that entire forum is a wonder resource for just about anything Linux! I've found it indispensable.

I'm still working on my voltage output values tho. I can glean the information from the /sys files as gkrellm did, but I haven't been able to get divisors to work yet. Maybe by the next report I'll have figured it out. The most important thing is to watch for consistency/stability anyway, and this'll serve that purpose for now.

Setiathome outputs seem to be a problem across systems and setups. Apparently it's broken, but at least it's included and will probably be fixed in an upcoming release. So for now I just grepped my seti/state.sah and seti/user_info.sah files.

  • Desktop Icons

It seems idesk is your best choice for desktop icons. I had trouble with gentoo's ebuild version shooting glibc errors. Utilizing several recent versions of glibc and rebuilding did not seem to fix it for me, so I downloaded the source from the site and all is well - and stable.

The two key component here are a ~/.ideskrc file to set up your basic config and actions and an ~/.idesktop directory for all your .lnk files (icons). There's an example of an .ideskrc on idesk's site and I merely copied&pasted then changed a couple things for my use like single clicking. Also the site includes an example of an .lnk file that I used as a template to make all my others. I set the gentoo icon for use in each separate .lnk file. I had always wanted to use the gentoo icon set but they didn't come with a .theme file for easy use in kde. Here was my chance. This process was straight forward and simple, no voodoo required. idesk seems stable and is completely usable. It works. (Please forgive the surprize in my voice.)

  • The Pager

There are many pagers to choose from out there, but I chose fbpager. It was available on the fluxbox site so I figured it'd probably be best for my purposes. The screenshots were nice and it supports transparency. After experimenting with different settings, I have my alpha set at 64. I set the window borders to be white and it looks good on the darker backgrounds I tend to use.

The configuration file is simple and easy to edit. It's located in ~/.fluxbox/fbpager. There is an example on the above linked fbpager page. I just edited a few lines to my taste, ran the
command fbpager, and was in business.

  • Panel

To date I've tried at least 4 panels and have yet to find one I like. I've tried engage and kooldock to name a couple. Documentation being sorely lacking is one of the problems encountered. Engage seems a bit buggy and kooldock only seems to recognize kde apps. I just really prefer the small toolbar that comes with fluxbox myself. I'll probaby do some more experimenting over the course of April and perhaps I'll have some good new on this front next report.

  • Transparency

I looked at KDE's transparency when they recently released their wonderful latest version 3.4. I found it a little limited in it's present state, but look forward to their continued development in this area. However with fluxbox, transparency can be achieved using xcompmgr I installed using gentoo's ebuild and wasn't expecting much. I figured if it even worked, it'd be unstable, resource hungry and completely unusable. I was wrong.

It installed with no problems. I issued the command xcompmgr and wham - instant transparency. It works nicely, looks great and doesn't present any stability issues. It hasn't crashed yet even while changing fluxbox themes over and over.

xcompmgr is easy to set up as it don't seem to use a configuration file instead using start flags or options. Issuing a xcompmgr --help yields the options one can use. I experiment with many of them but I've found I like it best as default and just use xcompmgr &. You need to install transset to get the -o flag to work. One must edit their XFree86 or Xorg config file to enable it by inserting the following lines:

Section "Extensions"
Option "Composite" "Enable"

Option "RenderAccel" "true"

and if you use nvidia for opengl:

Option "AllowGLXWithComposite" "true"

Sometimes I get a little artifacting when using mplayer sometimes, but I understand I can eliminate that if I use mplayer without xv. I ran Doom3 last night, the first time since using fluxbox with all the enable eye candy, and it plays wonderfully. xcompmgr didn't seem to effect it in the least. In fact that's about the smoothest play I've had to date, and I'm still using the 6620 drivers cuz I'm having issues with the 7167 release that I haven't had time or the inclination to resolve.

Preliminary Conclusion

By itself fluxbox is a nice and capable window manager. I've used it on my laptop forever because of it's small footprint and light-weight design. Dressing it up by adding icons and other eye candy didn't seem to slow it down. It's always been my backup, but after just a week, I'm already settling in and vow to use fluxbox at least for the month of April. Please look for my report at the end of month for my final conclusions.

Comment viewing options

Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.

Command prompt question

OK, can you please tell me the name of the application that places the command prompt in the upper left hand corner of the screen.Believe it or not, I've been searching for it for a few weeks now, and haven't been able to find it.

Great article, by the way.

Thanks! Tex

re: Command prompt question

Yes, that is Eterm. It's a flexible terminal emulator, much like xterm, konsole (for kde), or gterm (for gnome). When you open Eterm as default, it will look much like xterm and you will need to add some start-up options to the command to get it to look like it's just a "command prompt on the desktop." I use the following in a little file and execute that instead of using it as a command each time. Save it as whatever you wish and chmod a+x. You can play around with the fonts and whatnot to customized as desired. For example:

Eterm --trans -g 75x25 -f white -F '-*-lucidatypewriter-medium-r-normal-sans-16-*-*-*-*-*-*-*' -O --tint=#ffffff --shade 0 --borderless --scrollbar-popup --scrollbar-floating --scrollbar no --double-buffer -a "toggles buttonbar false"

if you have terminus fonts installed, it looks much nicer:

Eterm --trans -g 75x25 -f white -F '-*-terminus-*-*-*-*-20-*-*-*-*-*-*-*' -O --tint=#ffffff --shade 0 --borderless --scrollbar-popup --scrollbar-floating --scrollbar no --double-buffer -a "toggles buttonbar false"

hth. Smile


Thanks a lot for the article! I have been using KDE up until now (new to linux though) and was looking for a good distro to use Fluxbox on. Just wondering if you have any recommendations? (would prefer to do a painless installation (no compiling please Smile)

Anyways, thanks again, great article.


re: fluxbox distro

A lot of them have it or have it in their repository. There aren't a lot out there that just have or specialize in the fluxbox desktop, except maybe Fluxbuntu Linux. Fluxbox runs well on about anything.

What are you currently running?


At the moment I have been trying out some different distros. Ubuntu, Debian, Slackware, Gentoo, PCLOS etc. (but have had little time with each of them) but mostly with KDE or Gnome. I am going to try out Sabayon today with seems to have Fluxbox as an option for default on installation.


Any d/l link for that icon set?

I've been looking all over for it and can't find a tarball or other archive. The old links to it on no longer seem to work. It's a very nice icon set!

re: icons?

I got 'em Here, it should be all of 'em. Only thing is, I don't think there is a theme file for kde or anything. If I recall, it's just the icons.

Thanks very much!

And there's more added to the Gentoo collection, by Wolvix, on his site, as well as user-contributed ones in this Gentoo Forum thread.

And to anyone interested in Fluxbox, you might want to check out Damn Small Linux and its slightly bigger brother, Damn Small Linux Not, both tiny (50 - 100 MB) Debian-based live CDs whose main UI is Fluxbox. A good way to look at working configuration files.

More in Tux Machines

Linux/FOSS Events

  • Gentoo Miniconf 2016
    As I noted when I resurrected the blog, part of the reason why I managed to come back to “active duty” within Gentoo Linux is because Robin and Amy helped me set up my laptop and my staging servers for singing commits with GnuPG remotely. And that happened because this year I finally managed to go to the Gentoo MiniConf hosted as part of LinuxDays in Prague, Czech Republic.
  • Science Hack Day India 2016
    Few months back Praveen called to tell me about the new event he is organizing along with FOSSASIA, Science Hack Day, India. I never even registered for the event as Praveen told me that he just added mine + Anwesha’s name there. Sadly as Py was sick for the last few weeks, Anwesha could not join us in the event. On 20th Hong Phuc came down to Pune, in the evening we had the PyLadies meetup in the Red Hat office.
  • Science Hack Day, Belgaum
    It started quite early with Kushal telling me that Praveen Patil was organizing a Science Hack Day with Hong Phuc’s help and that it might be an interesting place to come to. He mentioned that there were many interesting people coming in and that Nisha and I would have a good time. I wasn’t very keen though because of my usual reluctance to get out and meet people. This was especially an issue for me with Cauldron and Connect happening back to back in September, draining most of my ‘extrovert energy’. So we were definitely not going.
  • FOSDEM 2017 Real-Time Communications Call for Participation
    FOSDEM is one of the world's premier meetings of free software developers, with over five thousand people attending each year. FOSDEM 2017 takes place 4-5 February 2017 in Brussels, Belgium.

Leftovers: Software

  • Desktop Gmail App WMail Scores a Sizeable Update
    There's a new stable release of WMail, the app that describes itself as "the missing desktop client for Gmail".
  • 2 free desktop recording tools to try: SimpleScreenRecorder and Kazam
    A picture might be worth a thousand words, but a video demonstration can save a lot of talking. I'm a visual learner, so seeing how to do something has been very helpful in my education. I've found that students benefit from seeing exactly how an application is configured or how a code snippet is written. Desktop screen recorders are great tools for creating instructional videos. In this article, I'll look at two free, open source desktop screen recorders: SimpleScreenRecorder and Kazam.
  • Nightfall on Linux
    I've looked at general astronomy programs in the past that are helpful for many tasks you might need to do in your stargazing career. But, several specific jobs are more complicated and require specialized software to make relevant calculations, so here, let's take a look at Nightfall. Nightfall is a program that can handle calculations involving binary star systems. It can animate binary star systems, taking into account not only orbital speeds but also rotational motion and the changing shape of stars due to their close positions. You can model what it would look like and what kind of light curves you would register when observing a binary system. You even can take a set of actual observational data and find a best-fit model for the system you are studying.
  • Nmap 7.31 Security Scanner Updates Npcap with Raw 802.11 Wi-Fi Capture Support
    The first point release of the popular, open-source, and cross-platform Nmap 7.30 free security scanner and network mapper arrived, versioned 7.31, adding several important stability improvements, and bug fixes. New features in Nmap 7.31 include Npcap 0.10r9, which has been upgraded from version 0.10r2 bundled in Nmap 7.30 to add raw 802.11 Wi-Fi capture support, updated Zenmap graphical interface to indicate that better display of hostname is attached to Topology page's address, and IPv6 fingerprint submission improvements. "To increase the number of IPv6 fingerprint submissions, a prompt for submission will be shown with some random chance for successful matches of OS classes that are based on only a few submissions. Previously, only unsuccessful matches produced such a prompt," read the release notes for Nmap 7.31.
  • Shotwell 0.25.0 Image Viewer Supports ACDSee Tags, Improves Piwigo Support
    A new stable release of the popular Shotwell open-source image viewer and organizer arrived for users of Linux-based operating systems, version 0.25.0, bringing lots of important changes. As usual, we've managed to get our hands on the internal changelog, which we've also attached at the end of the story for your reading pleasure, and we'd like to tell you that Shotwell 0.25.0 now supports the tags written by the commercial ACDSee photo manipulation software. The application now makes use of Unicode characters, supports recent Vala compiler releases, improves the Piwigo upload support by implementing an option to override the SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) certificate handling, and another one to display the SSL certificate, along with better creation of new albums.
  • xfce4-panel 4.12.1 Released, Xfce 4.14 Still A Long Ways Out
    Xfce4-panel 4.12.1 has been released as a "long overdue maintenance release" while Xfce 4.14 is still in its infancy. Xfce4-panel 4.12.1 has translation updates, support for xfpanel-switch in the preferences, and just some basic fixes. This comes a few weeks after the quiet bug-fix releases of xfce4-settings 4.12.1 and also joined by the xfconf 4.12.1 release this week.
  • Video Call Improvements Land in Skype for Linux Alpha 1.11
  • Dual-GPU integration in GNOME
    Thanks to the work of Hans de Goede and many others, dual-GPU (aka NVidia Optimus or AMD Hybrid Graphics) support works better than ever in Fedora 25. On my side, I picked up some work I originally did for Fedora 24, but ended up being blocked by hardware support. This brings better integration into GNOME.
  • ‘GNOME To Do’ App Picks Up New Features
    GNOME To Do is one of those apps you’ve probably heard of, but do not use. And with a bunch of rivals task managers and to-do list apps available on Linux — from Simplenote to Remember the Milk — and online, the little app that might has its work cutout.

today's howtos

More Games for GNU/Linux

  • Humble Gems Bundle Goes Live, Offers Chroma Squad For Peanuts
    Wallets at the ready as Humble Gems Bundle is now live, a pay-what-you-can-be-bothered-to-palooza offering a selection of hitherto undiscovered indie gaming marvels. Alright, they’re all games that you’ve probably heard of before, certainly if you’re an active fan of the indie gaming scene.
  • Civilization 6 Linux Release Teased By Aspyr?
    Recently, Aspyr Media confirmed that they’ll be doing a Civilization 6 Linux release soon. Currently, Civilization 6 is live on both PC and Mac. Will Aspyr Media release concrete details about the Civilization 6 Linux release in the next few days?
  • Playstation 4 Linux Hack May Show 4.01 Vulnerability
    A new video about a Playstation 4 Linux hack may have shown a vulnerability in the 4.01 firmware update that came out for the Playstation 4 a few weeks ago. The hacking news came from a video at the GeekPwn 2016 convention in Shanghai, China, where the hacking was shown via a live demo. In this demo, a pair of Chinese computer users use a Linux computer and the Webkit browser, which is used to inject a certain exploit into the Playstation 4. One cut later, and a command line prompt appears that is then used to play Super Mario Bros. While the first use for it in the live demo is innocuous, the fact that this is even possible points once again to possible holes in the Playstation’s security.
  • PlayStation 4 hack enables Linux on recent Sony firmware
    A showcase event at this week’s GeekPwn conference in Shanghai suggests that Sony’s PlayStation 4 has been hacked, as a recently released video shows the console running an unsanctioned Linux build courtesy of a web browser exploit. While details regarding the hack are not yet known, a browser-based security issue in PS4 firmware version 4.01 could potentially allow users to root the upcoming PlayStation 4 Pro console in order to run unlicensed applications and games.