Minimalist Linux For Netbooks, Part I

Ever since I purchased my Sylvania G Netbook, I realized that learning more command-line applications will help me in being more productive. Even though the hardware is halfway-decent, I don’t have a really large screensize, so the latest and greatest Compiz Fusion-enabled UI with all the bells and whistles are out of the question. Large-scale IDEs for programming or fully-featured media jukeboxes won’t suit me either. If I have to horizontally scroll on Slashdot, what makes me think that I’ll do better with Thunderbird when sending a mail? I’m sure many Asus Eee and Cloudbook users are asking the same questions.

Hence the beginning of my tutorial series: Minimalist Linux for Netbooks.

The idea behind minimalism is summed up via Wikipedia:
Computing minimalism refers to the application of minimalist philosophies and principles in computing, an approach that can be applied to all levels of the computing experience from hardware to software, from user interface to underlying system architecture. It can be a response to technical restraints or a recognition that personal computer technology has reached maturity and its “cutting edge” is increasingly becoming excessively complex.

We are going to explore applications that do one thing and do it well, and combine them together to form an environment that is as simple, useful, and beautiful as possible.

Let’s begin with the Linux terminal program.

Hold on there, you say. You just said as simple as possible in the same vicinity as the word, ‘terminal’? How can this be?

Simple. A terminal isn’t just a black window with text in it for Unix wizards (like myself) to type unrecognisable symbols into and somehow get work done. They are host to running text-based applications that can be simply-displayed and yet be feature-rich and powerful. Before we look at some of these however, we need to focus on the terminal emulators that can host them.

This list is the three that I use the most, and highly recommend.

The flagship terminal of the Gnome Desktop environment, Gnome-Terminal is highly configurable yet surprisingly fast. Actually, it is the fastest terminal in regards to scroll speed, according to this benchmark. Gentoo users will probably appreciate that fact the most, since they spend most of their time compiling their applications on their riced-out toolchains, anyway. I kid, I kid. It’s not as light as the other terminals, but it gives you a lot of bang for your byte in RAM investment. For those that missed the premise of this blog entry, it has true transparancy support when using a compositor.

A highly-configurable lightweight terminal, RXVT-Unicode, or urxvt, is great especially for multi-language users that use non-ascii characters. I gotten into it because of it’s pseudo-transparancy features and it’s long list of command-line options for configuration.

Games based on the Quake engine commonly had a terminal triggered by the ‘~’ built into the UI for changing settings on the fly during multiplayer matches. Tilda is a fully-featured terminal emulator that works via the same idea. The terminal is brought in and out of view by a configured key combination. I recommend setting it for full screen mode so you can use it in lieu of the Ctrl+Alt+F1 standby when you just want a full-screen shell.

Choose one of these, or one of the many others on the internet, tweak it out and get it just the way you like it. I recommend Terminus as a console font.

Next time, we’ll look at alternatives to applications for email, chat, and text-editing.