xrandr dual-screen usability survery (Was: Dual-head config broke with update to 1.4.2)

Martin Cracauer cracauer at cons.org
Wed Feb 17 06:45:25 PST 2010

Here are the results of my quick survey of Window Managers present in
Debian/Stable.  That is the same Debian that has the Xorg server with
classic dualhead effectively removed.  

The goal is to see how practical xrandr is for dual-screen purposes,

I started the X11 server with 1400x1050 on the internal LCD of my
Thinkpad and then added a monitor on the VGA port via randr.

fvwm2: completely broken, cannot even get keyboard focus to the second
screen, although you can move clients there with the mouse.

Enlightenment only has E16 in Debian/stable.  I will compile E17 later
to see whether it has virtual desktop support with xrandr but I did
give E16 a spin.  Entirely broken.  The second desktop cannot pan, so
you never get to see the WM bars at the bottom.  There is graphical
corruption when moving windows (leaves the "trace") and graphical
corruption from some other action I didn't identify (black goo under
top bar).  I took photos in case you want to see.

GNOME and KDE are behaving the same: kinda works but as expected it
has no support for individual virtual desktop switching (yet?).

But there are problems with GNOME/KDE even if you accept the lack of
virtual desktops.  Just opening GIMP in the xrandr'ed X11 server under
GNOME makes GIMP come up half on the left screen and half on the right
screen (photo available).  It even has single dialog boxes that are
obviously hardcoded to open in the middle of what GIMP thinks is "the
display", and that means it has a dialog box coming up between the
screens with the "yepp" buttom on the main screen on the "nah" on the
second screen.  I assume this is the same as if you had used Xinerama,
and it is one other major reason why I used individual displays for
dual-head, and never used Xinerama.

Even outside of GIMP problems there's more trouble when running KDE
and GNOME, namely that the second screen doesn't pan so you can never
reach (or read) the bottom taskbar.  That works just fine in classic

I also noticed that even GNOME's internal dialogs are confused.  For
example, the battery status pop-up indicator for battery status comes
up half on the left and half on the right display.

Compiz: broken, hangs.  No idea whether that's due to the xrandr or
something else.


It looks to me like removing classic dualhead has been done way ahead
of time.  The above is certainly not usable for dual-screen setups the
way I and people I know get their work done, and annoying for many
other people, witness the GIMP misbehavior.

I originally thought that KDE/GNOME might work well enough if you
accept the lack of individual virtual desktop switching, but it is
just not the case.  Just GIMP is basically confused to the point of
unusability and if I used GNOME or KDE - how am I supposed to live
without the bottom taskbar? And that's after me only trying GIMP, who
knows which other multi-window programs are broken.

In any case, myself I am not willing to live without individual
virtual desktop switching in the first place.  There's a reason why I
picked a Unix over Windows, and that is that vendor's can't easily
decide that "my" features without me being able to fight back.

Overall my original impression has been reinforced: you basically
dropped what hackers need when getting work done on a desktop Unix
machine in favor of what managerish types coming from Windows need
when standing in front of a projector and need to get their
single-task thing done.

Before I pass final verdict, what would be involved in -say- hacking
up fvwm2 to deal with xrandr?

Martin Cracauer <cracauer at cons.org>   http://www.cons.org/cracauer/
FreeBSD - where you want to go, today.      http://www.freebsd.org/

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