Setting up Fluxbox

I’ve been threatening to try Fluxbox for a while, as the Gnome panel, and the fact that you can’t remove it, really annoys me. A lot of people complain about losing Compiz if they switch, but I have most Compiz options turned off. The only aspect of Compiz that I think is truly interesting is the transparency, and Fluxbox has fake-transparency built in so it does for my needs.

Where to find Guides

This isn’t going to be a how-to for installing Fluxbox from Ubuntu, as there are already some good ones out there: This excellent guide on the Ubuntu Community Docs website, and this guide by LinuxOwns are good places to start. The Fluxbox HomePage is a handy stop, and the Wiki is also a great source of information. If the worst comes to the worst and you just can’t figure it out, you can get help at the IRC #Fluxbox channel on Freenode.

A few Problems I ran Into

Gnome Desktop Control

I followed the Ubuntu guide without too many problems, but I did run into a couple of things of interest. Firstly, one of the first things I did was try to open up Nautilus to see how that looked. Don’t do that, at least, not through the main Application menu. Nautilus has some gnome-based features that basically take control of your desktop, which can cause a few problems. You can bypass this by running nautilus –no-desktop in a terminal, but there is a handy way to bypass these sorts of problems with Gnome apps on the Ubuntu guide here. I just pasted this small section in my ~/.fluxbox/startup script before the section to start Fluxbox.

GSDPID=`pidof gnome-settings-daemon`
if [ "x$GSDPID" == "x" ]; then
gnome-settings-daemon &

Once I had that in my startup config, I had no more problems with Gnome trying to reassert authority.

‘Suggested Packages’

After I finished the guide I made sure my Conky worked, and it didn’t. The reason for this was that I had followed the package manager’s advice and installed its suggested packages with Fluxbox: fbdesk, fbpager, and fluxconf. TIP: Don’t do this!

  • I’m told that fluxconf causes all sorts of difficulties with configuration settings that can really mess the system up. It’s supposed to make it easier to configure Fluxbox. Luckily I had not yet used it, so I just uninstalled it.
  • FBDesk was what was causing my Conky problems. It allows you to place icons on the desktop, which interferes with Conky, and shouldn’t really be necessary any in my opinion, as Fluxbox has much neater ways of organising the desktop, without clutter. I uninstalled that too.
  • I was not aware of any problems with FBPager, but I’ve been told it has been superceded by other things, and I wasn’t using it anyway. For good measure, I uninstalled that one too.

Missing Toolbars

My next problem was a bit, well, noobish. I was having trouble finding windows I’d minimized. I was able to make a key combination in the ~/.fluxbox/keys configuration file like this:

Mod4 Up :ToggleCmd {ShowDesktop} {Deiconify allworkspace originquiet}

This creates a toggle that minimises all the windows on your desktop, then returns them again, when you press <win-up>. It still didn’t return windows I’d minimised to the system-tray, though. I was advised to just ‘use the taskbar’, but what taskbar?

It turns out that there is a taskbar in Fluxbox, and I had accidentally hidden it. An instinctive reaction – see a taskbar, find a way to get rid of it. And in the case of Fluxbox, this is very easy. Just right click on it, and select ‘visible‘. The problem then becomes, how do you get it back again?

This is actually very easy too. Right click anywhere on the desktop to get the root menu, then Configuration>ToolBar>Visible. I felt very silly after that was pointed out to me!


One of the things that attracted me to Fluxbox (I’m a sucker for Eye-candy) was screenshots of translucent menus. This is actually done with ‘fake transparency’, which means that a picture of the relevant part of your desktop background is basically pasted onto the menu. It still looks good though!

It’s easy to setup. From the Root menu, select Configuration>Transparency. Make sure Force Pseudo-Transparency is enabled, then adjust the Alphas for the relevant elements you’re interested in. The main one is probably Menu Alpha. Click the left mouse-button to reduce the Alpha, and the right mouse-button to increase it. The lower it is, the more ‘see-through’ the menus will be.

Keyboard Layouts

Another problem I had was with keyboards. LinuxOwns mentions how to make sure the correct keyboard layout always loads on startup, from within the xorg.conf file. Open /etc/X11/xorg.conf in your favourite editor, using sudo. Find the section with:

Section “InputDevice”
Identifier “Keyboard01” #or something similar
#etcetera – they may be more below, there wasn’t on mine.

Look for a line like the one below, if it’s there, or put it in this section, if it isn’t:

Option "XkbLayout" "<your-layout-here>"

LinuxOwns tells us that you can use “be” for the azerty, or “us” for the american layout. My problem was that I have an English keyboard, so I need the UK layout. However, the code is not, as many often use, “uk”, but instead it is “gb”. So I need my line to read:

Option "XkbLayout" "<gb>"

Embedded Terminals

Once I’d finally got the code right, my keyboard worked properly again. Without it, I had no <win> key, and had been unable to use my keyboard shortcuts.

Finally, I having set up my keys, my startup apps, my icons, my theme, my desktop background, and my Conky, (never forget the Conky!) I set about trying to work out how to create my beloved Embedded terminals. You can do it all from within Fluxbox, through the config files, without having to resort to extras such as Compiz (you can’t run Compiz in Fluxbox.) It took a bit of fiddling to work out how to do it, as I couldn’t find a clear How-To, as there is for Gnome. However, I have finally achieved something that (I think) works, and I will write my own how-to about it later.


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