Hack and / - Memories of the Way Windows Were

Still arranging windows by hand? Learn how to take advantage of Compiz's window memory, so it can do the work for you.

I'm a half-organized person. On one hand, if something of mine has a place, I can be pretty anal about making sure I put it back every time I use it. On the other hand, if something doesn't have a place, it inevitably ends up in a pile or a junk drawer. I've learned that if I want to be organized, I must give everything a home.

The same rule applies to my desktop environment. Back when I used to use Windows, I didn't have much of a choice—everything ended up stacking up on the same desktop, either maximized or at some arbitrary size. Once I started using Linux though, I discovered this interesting multiple desktop model. With Linux, I could assign windows into certain groups and then arrange each group on a particular desktop. The main downside to this much organization was that every time I opened a window, I usually needed to resize it and move it to a particular desktop. That's a lot of manual work on my part, and it wasn't long before I discovered that certain window managers supported window memory. With window memory, every window I use on a regular basis can be assigned a location, a size and a desktop.

My History with Window Memory

My first exposure to window memory was with the Enlightenment window manager. Its window memory was quite easy to use and to set. All you had to do was right-click on a window, and you could check off attributes that Enlightenment would remember the next time you opened the window. In addition to having certain sets of terminals and Web browser windows open on certain desktops, I also was able to have windows always stay on top or stick across all desktops. Although it did require a little setup, by the time I was finished arranging my windows once, everything I used on a regular basis had its place on my desktops.

I stayed with Enlightenment for quite some time, even though I was eyeing this new window manager called Fluxbox as a potential replacement. It wasn't until Fluxbox added window memory, however, that I made the switch. Fluxbox's window memory worked a lot like Enlightenment's—right-click on a title bar and toggle the attributes you want to remember. As with Enlightenment, these attributes were assigned based on the window title, so if you had two windows with the same title (say, xterm, with no extra arguments), they both would take those same settings.

I used both Enlightenment and Fluxbox for years, but I kept eyeing the GNOME and KDE desktops all the cool kids were using. For me, window memory was the crucial requirement though, and it wasn't until I made the switch to using Ubuntu that I decided to give one of the “standard” desktop environments a fair shake. Out of the box, it didn't seem like Compiz had any window memory, and this was a major strike against it in my book. However, almost a year later, I still am using Compiz, and I have to credit the advanced window memory that I discovered buried in advanced Compiz settings for keeping me here.

CompizConfig Settings Manager

By default, at least in Ubuntu, there are only so many settings you can tweak in Compiz. Compiz provides a tool, however, called CompizConfig Settings Manager (or ccsm) that gives you very detailed control over many different aspects of both Compiz eye-candy effects as well as a lot of the important settings for the window manager itself. The major downside to ccsm, however, is that there are almost too many options—if you don't know exactly what you are looking for, expect to spend some time digging through different categories. Even window memory settings are split between two different categories.

Ubuntu didn't install ccsm automatically for me, but I was able to install it with a quick trip to the package manager, and it should be packaged for other distributions that include Compiz. Once it is installed, you either can type ccsm in a terminal window or click System→Administration→Advanced Desktop Effects Settings. As I mentioned, the default window can be a little daunting (Figure 1) and is split into a narrow left pane that displays the categories and a larger right pane that shows all the particular settings you can configure for the category.

Figure 1. Default CCSM Window

Everything you need to configure window memory in ccsm can be found in the Window Management category, and once you click on that category in the left pane, you drill down into a much more manageable set of options (Figure 2). For some reason, ccsm splits window memory into two different sets of options, Window Rules and Place Windows. The Window Rules options allow you to configure window attributes like stickiness and geometry, and the Place Windows options let you control the viewport and location where the window is placed.

Figure 2. Window Management Configuration Options


Kyle Rankin is Chief Security Officer at Purism, a company focused on computers that respect your privacy, security, and freedom. He is the author of many books including Linux Hardening in Hostile Networks, DevOps Troubleshooting and The Official Ubuntu


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This really

mikesd's picture

could make setting up Kiosks easy if you set something to full screen and non closeable or able to change size

That which does not kill me only postpones the inevitable.