I find it interesting that Linux hackers have by and large conflated two or three kinds of “minimal” in their discussion of “minimal installs” and implementations thereof. To me, “minimal” could include any one or more of the following:
1) Minimal stuff installed on the hard drive;
2) Minimal services or other processes running; and
3) A minimal desktop, meaning, minimal stuff visible on the screen.
I have a laptop that I’d like to minimalize. In so doing, I do not care about number 1. In fact, I’d like to have maximal in that area. I have no problem with a zillion different apps installed on my hard drive. Other than the extra strain on the menu system for a given desktop, who cares? I have a pretty large hard drive. I can double the size of my hard drive for very little money. I have a screwdriver and I know how to use it.
If I was using Windows, that would not be the case. In at least some versions of windows, installed software takes up memory even when it is not running (though only a little) and most MS Windows apps are so honking huge and inefficient that indiscriminate collection of apps can’t be done even with the largest laptop hard drive. There simply isn’t enough room on the largest hard drive to have all those choices when running MS Windows. (Linux apps take up very little room.)
I have a modest amount of memory on my laptop, so I’d like to have minimal processes running, or at least, not maximal. On the other hand, most of what I do with my laptop is to manipulate text files. In other words, I could have most of my memory dedicated to stupid flashy or geeky stuff like eyes that follow me around or funny mouse cursors and it would hardly matter. However, minimizing processes, or at least, keeping what’s running down to a modest amount of computing, has another benefit: No matter what you do, some of the items you are bound to run will be less than perfectly behaved. It isn’t so bad that each process takes away a bit of memory and processing power. It is bad that each process has a slight chance of making something bad happen as it plays on your computer. This is not too much of a problem with Linux (compared to Windows) but it is a factor. (On Windows, obviously, every single program you run increases the chance that your computer will stop working by a significant percentage, so be careful being an app-slut with Windows.)
I do want a minimal desktop in the third sense, as in having very little screen real estate used for anything other than what I’m doing. However I’m not sure what the best way to achieve that is. I can tell yo that I don’t like super tiny icons on a tool bar (Gnome or Firefox). But I can also tell you that when I look at my Firefox or emacs screen, and see the menu items on one line and the toolbar on another, with vast empty space on both, I become enraged. Well, not really enraged, but annoyed. Why do I need to have 60% of two or three or four strips along the top of my screen (title bar, menu bar, toolbar, some other tool bar) empty? Why!?!??
A computer that has a desktop configured naturally, in that you go along doing your thing and now and then clicking “yes” on something, installing the occasional plugin, etc., can be very cluttered. For instance, here is my blog on a typically configured laptop:
Notice that you can barely read the title of the first post. Having numerous space-grabbing items on the top of the blog post does not help, but the menu bars on Gnome and all those tool bars on Firefox don’t help either.
Here is my blog with the Gnome tool bars configured the way I usually have them: Narrowed down to 25 pixels, and with what is usually the “top” bar over to the left, where it uses the breadth of my widish screen. I’ve also turned off some of the firefox toolbars.
Here is my blog with the tool bars shunted away.
And, here is my blog after touching F11, which could have been achieved from any of the above states. Finally, I can read some of it before down-arrowing or using the scroll bar.
If you want help configuring a minimal desktop of type 3, in other words, one which increases or maximizes screen real estate, try this. Maximus is one item you may check out. It removes some of the window decoration so the business part of the window gets more room. In Gnome, you may try an app that puts a smaller version of the application switcher on a toolbar, and thus, lets you have (perhaps) only one tool bar. I have experimented with both of these mods, but found that bad behavior resulted so I trashed them. Perhaps at another time I’ll try to figure out what went wrong.
My ideal laptop configuration might have these features:
- Two or three F11 like hotkeys (perhaps alt-F11, shift-F11, and regular F11?) rather than just one, that work across all apps, and that remove toolbars, window dressing, etc. configurable stages.
- All applications open by default in maximized mode. Dicking around with windows is for large screens, not little laptops.
- Correlated hotkeys and toolbar/menu bar items, so that I could work indifferently with mouse and keyboard and use the physical menu and toobars as hints to the hotkeys (and thus learn them).
- A web browser that runs inside emacs.
That last one might sound silly, but it could work. In particular, blogs have a fairly consistent structure. It should be possible to convert most blog posts from a web-readable state to something close to a simple text file in an emacs friendly hyperlinked format. I don’t know of any projects currently working on this, but it seems like a good idea. Or, at least, it is geeky enough that it is rather surprising to have not happened yet.
I do have an F11 function for emacs. In the not too distant future, I’ll be sharing my dot-emacs file, along with one or more blog posts describing it. You can have it then (or write it yourself now … it is trivial).