Openbox

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Openbox is a lightweight, powerful, and highly configurable stacking window manager with extensive standards support. It may be built upon and run independently as the basis of a unique desktop environment, or within other integrated desktop environments such as KDE and Xfce, as an alternative to the window managers they provide. The LXDE desktop environment is itself built around Openbox.

A comprehensive list of features are documented at the official Openbox website. This article pertains to specifically installing Openbox under Arch Linux.

Contents

Installation

Install openbox, available in the official repositories.

Openbox Sessions

Again, Openbox may be run independently as a standalone window manager, or within other integrated desktop environments such as KDE and XFCE as an alternative to the window managers they provide.

Standalone

Many popular display managers such as LXDM, SLiM, and LightDM will automatically detect Openbox, allowing for it to be run as a standalone session.

However, it may be necessary to manually specify the command to start an openbox session where intending to set it as a default session for SLiM, or where not using a display manager at all (e.g. logging in at the command line, followed by the command startx). In either instance, it will be necessary to modify the Xinitrc file in order to add the following command:

exec openbox-session

Within other desktop environments

When replacing the native window manager of a desktop environment with Openbox, any desktop compositing effects - such a transparency - provided by that native window manager will be lost. This is because Openbox itself does not provide any compositing functionality. However, it is easily possible to use a separate compositing program to re-enable compositing.

GNOME

Openbox does not seem to work with GNOME 3. The Gnome-Shell touch-style interface requires both its native window manager and its native gtk-window-decorator packages to function. Furthermore, attempting to run Openbox within the Classic-Gnome-Shell interface results in the loss of the gnome-panel. Ceasing Openbox and attempting to restore the native window manager will result in crashing the desktop. Gnome 3 is tightly integrated, and is therefore deliberately designed not to be modular in nature (i.e. allowing components to be changed).

KDE

See the using Openbox in KDE section of the main KDE article.

Xfce

See the using Openbox in XFCE section of the main XFCE article.

System Configuration

Those installing Openbox - particularly as a stand-alone Window Manager - will have noticed that several elements may fail to work properly, or even work at all. Examples of the common problems encountered are:

  • File Managers: Other partitions are not displayed or accessable. The trash function - where provided - does not work
  • Authentication: Passwords are not stored / remembered during sessions
  • Secure Shell (SSH): SSH agent will not start
  • Wireless Connection: Instant failure when attempting to connect to wifi (related to authentication)
  • Themes: Application windows are mismatched or haphazard-looking
  • Folders: Expected folders such as Documents, Downloads and so forth are missing from the Home folder
  • System Tray: Installed packages fail to autostart or can be seen running twice

Most of these problems are actually the result of Dbus and GTK issues, both of which can be fixed simultaneously by editing the ~/.xprofile file - or if using SLiM as a display manager instead - by editing the ~/.xinitrc file. It will also be necessary to install some key packages to ensure full functionality.

D-Bus

File manager, authentication, SSH agent, and WiFi-connection problems will likely be due to that D-Bus is not functioning correctly. Most display managers such as GDM, KDM, LightDM and LXDM will handle this for you.

When using xinit or certain other DMs (such as XDM and SLiM), make sure ~/.xinitrc is based on /etc/skel/.xinitrc (so that it sources /etc/X11/xinit/xinitrc.d/, see xinitrc for more information).

GTK 2

Problems with the theme and look will likely be due to the absence of the appropriate command to ensure that a uniform look must be applied to applications that use GTK 2. Again, edit ~/.xinitrc and/or ~/.xprofile with the following command:

export GTK2_RC_FILES="$HOME/.gtkrc-2.0" 

The ~/.gtkrc-2.0 file will be automatically generated where using lxappearance to set themes.

It will also be necessary to install libgnomeui to ensure that Qt is also able to find GTK themes.

XDG

In addition to sourcing the local ~/.config/openbox/autostart file to autostart applications, Openbox will also source .desktop files automatically installed by some packages in the global /etc/xdg/autostart directory. The package responsible for allowing Openbox to additionally source the /etc/xdg/autostart directory is python2-xdg.

For example, where initially autostarting a package such as the Network Manager applet (nm-applet) locally, should python2-xdg be installed at a later time - either explicitly or as a dependency for another package - its global XDG .desktop file will then also be sourced as a consequence, resulting in seeing two icons running in the system tray. It is therefore recommended to install python2-xdg explicitly, as this will ensure that applications that should automatically autostart when installed will do so.

Home folders

Tip: This fix will be especially helpful for those who wish to use a file manager to manage their desktop, as it will automatically create a special ~/Desktop directory, which will house all files and application shortcuts stored on the desktop itself.

Where expected Home folders such as Downloads, Documents, etc., are not present, then please review the Xdg user directories article.

Authentication and Passwords

For authentication (e.g. WiFi passwords, etc.), it will be necessary to install the appropriate packages. They are:

Openbox Configuration

Warning: Edit these files as the user you will be using Openbox with. Not as root!
Tip: Local configuration files will always override global equivalents. These files may also be manually edited by any appropriate text editor, such as Leafpad or Geany; there is no need to use sudo or gksu commands to edit them.

Four key files form the basis of the openbox configuration, each serving a unique role. They are: rc.xml, menu.xml, autostart, and environment. Although these files are discussed in more detail below, to start configuring Openbox, it will first be necessary to create a local Openbox profile (i.e for your specific user account) based on them. This can be done by copying them from the global /etc/xdg/openbox profile (applicable to any and all users) as a template:

$ mkdir -p ~/.config/openbox
$ cp -R /etc/xdg/openbox/* ~/.config/openbox

rc.xml

Tip: Custom keyboard shortcuts (keybindings) must be added to the <keyboard> section of this file, and underneath the <!-- Keybindings for running aplications --> heading.

~/.config/openbox/rc.xml is the main configuration file, responsible for determining the behaviour and settings of the overall session, including:

  • Keyboard shortcuts (e.g. starting applications; controlling the volume)
  • Theming
  • Desktop and Virtual desktop settings, and
  • Application Window settings

This file is also pre-configured, meaning that it will only be necessary to amend existing content in order to customise behaviour to suit personal preference.

menu.xml

~/.config/openbox/menu.xml defines the type and behaviour of the desktop menu, accessable by right-clicking the background. Although the default provided is a static menu (meaning that it will not automatically update when new applications are installed), it is possible to employ the use of dynamic menus that will automatically update as well.

The available options are discussed extensively below in the Menus section.

autostart

Tip: Be aware that some applications will automatically start via .desktop files installed in the /etc/xdg/autostart/ or ~/.config/autostart/ directories.

~/.config/openbox/autostart determines which applications are to be launched upon beginning the Openbox session. These may include:

  • Panels and/or docks
  • Compositors
  • Background providers
  • Screensavers
  • Applications to autoload or autostart (e.g. Conky)
  • Daemon processes (e.g. File Managers for automounting and other functions)
  • Other appropriate commands (e.g. disable DPMS)

Listing commands

There are two very important points to note when adding commands to the ~/.config/openbox/autostart file:

  • Each and every command must be terminated with an ampersand (&). Where a command does not end with an ampersand, then no further commands listed below it will be executed.
  • It is strongly recommended to add delays to the execution of some or all commands in the autostart file, even if only by a single second. The consequence of not doing so is that all commands will be executed simultaneously, potentially resulting in the mis- or non-starting of items. The syntax of the command to delay the execution of commands (in seconds) is:
(sleep <number of seconds>s && <command>) &

For example, to delay the execution of Conky by 3 seconds, the command would be (and note the termination of it with an ampersand):

(sleep 3s && conky) &

Here is a more complete example of a possible ~/.config/openbox/autostart file:

## Autostart File ##

##Disable DPMS
xset -dpms; xset s off &

##Compositor
compton -CGb &

##Background
(sleep 1s && nitrogen --restore) &

##tint2 panel
(sleep 1s && tint2) &

##Sound Icon
(sleep 1s && volumeicon) &

##Screensaver
(sleep 1s && xscreensaver -no-splash) &

##Conky
(sleep 3s && conky) &

##Disable touchpad
/user/bin/synclient TouchpadOff=1 &

environment

Note: This is the least important file, and many users may not need to edit it at all.

~/.config/openbox/environment can be used to export and set relevant environmental variables such as to:

  • Define new pathways (e.g. execute commands that would otherwise require the entire pathway to be listed with them)
  • Change language settings, and
  • Define other variables to be used (e.g. the fix for GTK theming could be listed here)

Optional GUI configuration packages

Several GUIs are available to quickly and easily configure your Openbox desktop. From the official repositories these include:

  • obconf: Basic Openbox configuration manager
  • lxappearance-obconf: LXDE configuration manager (provides additional options)
  • lxinput: LXDE keyboard and mouse configuration
  • lxrandr: LXDE monitor configuration

Others, such as obkeyAUR (configure keyboard shortcuts via the rc.xml file) and ob-autostartAUR (configure the Openbox autostart file) are available from the AUR. Programs and applications relating to the configuration of Openbox's desktop menu are discussed in the Menus section.

Openbox Reconfiguration

Tip: where not already present, it would be worthwhile adding this command to a menu and/or as a keybind for convenience.

Openbox will not always automatically reflect any changes made to its configuration files within a session. As a consequence, it will be necessary to manually reload those files after they have been edited. To do so, enter the following command:

$ openbox --reconfigure

Where intending to add this command as a keybinnd to ~/.config/openbox/rc.xml, it will only be necessary to list the command as reconfigure. An example has been provided below, using the Super+F11 keybind:

<keybind key="W-F11">
  <action name="Reconfigure"/>
</keybind>

Keybinds

All keybinds must be added to the ~/.config/openbox/rc.xml file, and below the <!-- Keybindings for running aplications --> heading. Although a brief overview has been provided here, a more in-depth explanation of keybindings can be found at openbox.org.

Special keys

While the use of standard alpha-numeric keys for keybindings is self-explanatory, special names are assigned to other types of keys, such as modifers, multimedia keys and navigation keys.

Modifiers

Modifer keys play an important role in keybindings (e.g. holding down the shift or CTRL / control key in combination with another key to undertake an action). Using modifers helps to prevent conflicting keybinds, whereby two or more actions are linked to the same key or combination of keys. The syntax to use a modifer with another key is:

"<modifier>-<key>"

The modifer codes are as follows:

  • S: Shift
  • C: Control / CTRL
  • A: Alt
  • W: Super / Windows
  • M: Meta
  • H: Hyper (If it is bound to something)

For example, the code below would use super and t to launch lxterminal

<keybind key="W-t">
    <action name="Execute">
        <command>lxterminal</command>
    </action>
</keybind>

Multimedia keys

Where available, it is possible to set the appropriate multimedia keys to perform their intended functions, such as to control the volume and/or the screen brightness. These will usually be integrated into the function keys, and are identified by their appropriate symbols. See the Multimedia Keys article for further information.

The volume and brightness multimedia codes are as follows (note that commands will still have to be assigned to them to actually function):

  • XF86AudioRaiseVolume: Increase volume
  • XF86AudioLowerVolume: Decrease volume
  • XF86AudioMute: Mute / unmute volume
  • XF86MonBrightnessUp: Increase screen brightess
  • XF86MonBrightnessDown: Decrease screen brightness

Examples of how these may be used in ~/.config/openbox/rc.xml have been provided below.

Navigation keys

These are the directional / arrow keys, usually used to move the cursor up, down, left, or right. The (self-explanatory) navigation codes are as follows:

  • Up: Up
  • Down: Down
  • Left: Left
  • Right: Right

Volume Control

What commands should be used for controlling the volume will depend on whether ALSA, PulseAudio, or OSS is used for sound.

ALSA

If ALSA is used for sound, the amixer program can be used to adjust the volume, which is part of the alsa-utils package. The following example - using the multimedia keys intended to control the volume - will adjust the volume by +/- 5% (which may be changed, as desired):

<keybind key="XF86AudioRaiseVolume">
    <action name="Execute">
        <command>amixer set Master 5%+ unmute</command>
    </action>
</keybind>
<keybind key="XF86AudioLowerVolume">
    <action name="Execute">
        <command>amixer set Master 5%- unmute</command>
    </action>
</keybind>
<keybind key="XF86AudioMute">
    <action name="Execute">
        <command>amixer set Master toggle</command>
    </action>
</keybind>

Pulseaudio

Where using PulseAudio with ALSA as a backend, the amixer program commands will have to be modifed, as illustrated below in comparison to the ALSA example:

<keybind key="XF86AudioRaiseVolume">
    <action name="Execute">
        <command>amixer -D pulse set Master 5%+ unmute</command>
    </action>
</keybind>
<keybind key="XF86AudioLowerVolume">
    <action name="Execute">
        <command>amixer -D pulse set Master 5%- unmute</command>
    </action>
</keybind>
<keybind key="XF86AudioMute">
    <action name="Execute">
        <command>amixer set Master toggle</command>
    </action>
</keybind>

OSS

Note: This option may be suitable for more experienced users.

Where using OSS, it is possible to create keybindings to raise or lower specific mixers. This allows, for example, the volume of a specific application (such as an audio player) to be changed without changing the overall system volume settings in turn. In this instance, the application must first have been configured to use its own mixer.

In the following example, MPD has been configured to use its own mixer - also named mpd - to increase and decrease the volume by a single decibel at a time. The -- that appears after the ossmix command has been added to prevent a negative value from being treated as an argument:

<keybind key="[chosen keybind]">
    <action name="Execute">
        <command>ossmix -- mpd +1</command>
    </action>
</keybind>
<keybind key="[chosen keybind]">
    <action name="Execute">
        <command>ossmix -- mpd -1</command>
    </action>
</keybind>

Brightness control

The xbacklight program is used to control screen brightness, which is part of the Xorg X-Window system. In the example below, the multimedia keys intended to control the screen brightness will adjust the settings by +/- 10%:

<keybind key="XF86MonBrightnessUp">
     <action name="Execute">
       <command>xbacklight +10</command>
     </action>
</keybind>
<keybind key="XF86MonBrightnessDown">
     <action name="Execute">
       <command>xbacklight -10</command>
     </action>
</keybind>

Window Snapping

Many desktop environments and window managers support window snapping (e.g. Windows 7 Aero snap), whereby they will automatically snap into place when moved to the edge of the screen. This effect can also be simulated in Openbox through the use of keybinds on focused windows.

As illustrated in the example below, percentages must be used to determine window sizes (see openbox.org for further information). In this instance, The super key is used in conjunction with the navigation keys:

<keybind key="W-Left">
    <action name="UnmaximizeFull"/>
    <action name="MaximizeVert"/>
    <action name="MoveResizeTo">
        <width>50%</width>
    </action>
    <action name="MoveToEdge"><direction>west</direction></action>
</keybind>
<keybind key="W-Right">
    <action name="UnmaximizeFull"/>
    <action name="MaximizeVert"/>
    <action name="MoveResizeTo">
        <width>50%</width>
    </action>
    <action name="MoveToEdge"><direction>east</direction></action>
</keybind>

However, it should be noted that once a window has been 'snapped' to an edge, it will remain vertically maximised unless subsequently maximised and then restored. The solution is to implement additional keybinds - in this instance using the down and up keys - to do so. This will also make pulling 'snapped' windows from screen edges faster as well:

<keybind key="W-Down">
   <action name="Unmaximize"/>
</keybind>
<keybind key="W-Up">
   <action name="Maximize"/>
</keybind>

This Ubuntu forum thread provides more information. Applications such as opensnap-git are also available from the AUR to automatically simulate window snapping behaviour without the use of keybinds.

Desktop Menu

It is also possible to create a keybind to access the desktop menu. For example, the following code will bring up the menu by pressing CTRL + m:

<keybind key="C-m">
    <action name="ShowMenu">
       <menu>root-menu</menu>
    </action>
</keybind>

Menus

It is possible to employ three types of menu in Openbox: static, pipes (dynamic), and generators (static or dynamic). They may also be used alone or in any combination.

Static

As the name would suggest, this default type of menu does not change in any way, and may be manually edited and/or (re)generated automatically through the use on an appropriate software package.

Fast and efficient, while this type of menu can be used to select applications, it can also be useful to access specific functions and/or perform specific tasks (e.g. desktop configuration), leaving the access of applications to another process (e.g. the synapse or xfce4-appfinder applications).

The ~/.config/openbox/menu.xml file will be the sole source of static desktop menu content.

menumaker

Warning: A root terminal must be installed in order to use MenuMaker, even though a standard user terminal may be used to run it. xterm is a good choice.

menumaker automatically generates xml menus for several window managers, including Openbox, Fluxbox, IceWM and XFCE. It will search for all installed executable programs and consequently create a menu file for them. It is also possible to configure MenuMaker to exclude certain application types (e.g. relating to Gnome or KDE), if desired.

Once installed and executed, it will automatically generate a new ~/.config/openbox/menu.xml file. To avoid overwriting an existing file, enter:

$ mmaker -v OpenBox3

Otherwise, to overwrite an existing file, add the force argument (f):

$ mmaker -vf OpenBox3

Once a new ~/.config/openbox/menu.xml file has been generated it may then be manually edited, or configured using a GUI menu editor, such as obmenu.

obmenu

Warning: obm-xdg - a pipe menu to generate a list of GTK and Gnome applications - is also provided with obmenu. However, it has long-running bugs whereby it may produce an invalid output, or even not function at all. Consequently it has been omitted from discussion.

obmenu is a user-friendly GUI application to edit ~/.config/openbox/menu.xml, without the need to code in xml.

xdg-menu

archlinux-xdg-menu will automatically generate a menu based on xdg files contained within the /etc/xdg/ directory for numerous Window Managers, including Openbox. Review the Xdg-menu#OpenBox article for further information.

logout menu options

Tip: The commands provided can also be attached to keybinds.

The ~/.config/openbox/menu.xml file can be edited in order to provide a sub-menu with the same options as provided by oblogout. The sample script below will provide all of these options, with the exception of the ability to lock the screen:

<menu id="exit-menu" label="Exit">
	<item label="Log Out">
		<action name="Execute">
			<command>openbox --exit</command>
		</action>
	</item>
	<item label="Shutdown">
		<action name="Execute">
			<command>systemctl poweroff</command>
		</action>
	</item>
	<item label="Restart">
		<action name="Execute">
		        <command>systemctl reboot</command>
		</action>
	</item>
	<item label="Suspend">
		<action name="Execute">
		        <command>systemctl suspend</command>
		</action>
	</item>
	<item label="Hibernate">
		<action name="Execute">
		        <command>systemctl hibernate</command>
		</action>
	</item>
</menu>

Once the entries have been composed, add the following line to present the sub-menu where desired within the main desktop menu (usually as the last entry):

<menu id="exit-menu"/>

Pipes

Tip: It is entirely feasible for a static menu to contain one or more pipe sub-menus. The functionality of some pipe menus may also rely on the installation of relevant software packages.

This type of menu is in essence a script that provides dynamic, refreshed lists on-the-fly as and when run. These lists may be used for multiple purposes, including to list applications, to provide information, and to provide control functions. Pre-configured pipe menus can be installed, although not from the official repositories. More experienced users can also modify and/or create their own custom scripts. Again, ~/.config/openbox/menu.xml may and commonly will contain several pipe menus.

Examples

Openbox.org also provides a further list of pipe menus.

Generators

This type of menu is akin to those provided by the taskbars of desktop environments such as XFCE or LXDE. Automatically updating on-the-fly, this type of menu can be powerful and very convenient. It may also be possible to add custom categories and menu entries; read the documentation for your intended dynamic menu to determine if and how this can be done.

A menu generator will have to be executed from the ~/.config/openbox/menu.xml file.

obmenu-generator

Tip: icons can still be disabled in obmenu-generatorAUR, even where enabled in ~/.config/openbox/rc.xml.

obmenu-generatorAUR is currently only available from the AUR, although it is still highly recommended. With the ability to be used as a static or dynamic menu, it is highly configurable, powerful, and versatile. Menu categories and individual entries may also be easily hidden, customised, and/or added with ease. The official homepage provides further information and screenshots.

Below is an example of how obmenu-generator would be dynamically executed without icons in ~/.config/openbox/menu.xml:

<?xml version="1.0" encoding="utf-8"?>
<openbox_menu>
    <menu id="root-menu" label="OpenBox 3" execute="/usr/bin/obmenu-generator">
    </menu>
</openbox_menu>

To automatically iconify entries, the -i option would be added:

<menu id="root-menu" label="OpenBox 3" execute="/usr/bin/obmenu-generator -i">

openbox-menu

Tip: If this menu produces an error, it may be solved by enabling icons in ~/.config/openbox/rc.xml.

openbox-menu uses the LXDE menu-cache to create dynamic menus. The official homepage provides further information and screenshots.

obmenugen

ObmenugenAUR is currently only available from the AUR, and can be used to a generate static or dynamic application menu based on .desktop files. The official homepage provides further information.

Menu icons

To show icons next to menu entries, it will be necessary to ensure they are enabled in the <menu> section of the ~/.config/openbox/rc.xml file:

<applicationIcons>yes</applicationIcons>

Where using a static menu, it will then be necessary to edit the ~/.config/openbox/menu.xml file to provide both the icon = command, along with the full path and icon name for each entry. An example of the syntax used to provide an icon for a category is:

<menu id="apps-menu" label="[label name]" icon="[pathway to icon]/[icon name]">

Desktop menu as a panel menu

Tip: XDoTool can simulate any keybind for any action, and as such, it may therefore be used for many other purposes...

xdotool is a package that can issue commands to simulate key presses / keybinds, meaning that it is possible to use it to invoke keybind-related actions without having to actually press their assigned keys. As this includes the ability to invoke an assigned keybind for the Openbox desktop menu, it is therefore possible to use XDoTool to turn the Openbox desktop menu into a panel menu. Especially where the desktop menu is heavily customised and feature-rich, this may prove very useful to:

  • Replace an existing panel menu
  • Implement a panel menu where otherwise not provided or possible (e.g. for tint2-svnAUR)
  • Compensate where losing access to the desktop menu due to the use of an application like xfdesktop to manage the desktop.

Once XDoTool has been installed - if not already present - it will be necessary to create a keybind to access the root menu in ~/.config/openbox/rc.xml, and again below the <!-- Keybindings for running aplications --> heading. For example, the following code will bring up the menu by pressing CTRL + m:

<keybind key="C-m">
    <action name="ShowMenu">
       <menu>root-menu</menu>
    </action>
</keybind>

Openbox must then be re-configured. In this instance, XDoTool will be used to simulate the CTRL + m keypress to access the desktop menu with the following command (note the use of + in place of -):

xdotool key control+m

How this command may be used as a panel launcher / icon is largely dependent on the features of panel used. While some panels will allow the above command to be executed directly in the process of creating a new launcher, others may require the use of an executable script. As an example, a custom executable script called obpanelmenu.sh will be created in the ~/.config folder:

$ <text editor> ~/.config/obpanelmenu.sh

Once the empty file has been opened, the appropriate XDoTool command must be added to the empty file (i.e. to simulate the CTRL + m keypress for this example):

xdotool key control+m

After the file has been saved and closed, it may then be made into an executable script with the following command:

$ chmod +x ~/.config/obpanelmenu.sh

Executing it will bring up the Openbox desktop menu. Consequently, where using a panel that supports drag-and-drop functionality to add new launchers, simply drag the executable script onto it before changing the icon to suit personal taste. For instructions on how to use this executable script with tint2-svnAUR - a derivative of the popular tint2 panel that allows launchers to be added - see Tint2-Svn launchers.

GTK Desktop Theming

Tip: It is strongly advised to install the obconf and lxappearance-obconf GUI applications to configure visual settings and theming. The latter is particularly important as it is responsible for generating the ~/.gtkrc-2.0 file (see the GTK fix section).

It is important to note that a substantial range of both Openbox-specific and generalised, Openbox-compatible GTK themes are available to change the look of window decorations and the desktop menu. Generalised themes are designed to be simultaneously compatible with a range of popular desktop environments and/or window managers, commonly including Openbox. For example, gtk-theme-numix-blueAUR supports both Openbox and XFCE.

Configuration

obconf and/or lxappearance-obconf should be used to select and configure available GTK themes. See Uniform Look for Qt and GTK Applications for information about theming Qt based applications like Virtualbox or Skype.

Installation: Official and AUR

A good selection of openbox-themes are available from the official repositories.

Both Openbox-specific and Openbox-compatible themes installed from the official repositories and/or the AUR will be automatically installed to the /usr/share/themes directory. Both will also be immediately available for selection.

Installation: Other Sources

box-look.org is an excellent and well-established source of themes. deviantART.com is another excellent resource. Many more can be found through the utilisation of a search engine.

Zip and tar files

Themes downloaded from other sources such as box-look.org will usually be compressed in a .tar.gz or .zip format. Although tar will have been installed as part of the base arch installation to extract .tar.gz files, it will be necessary to install a program such as unzip to extract .zip files in the terminal. user-friendly GUI archivers are also available; see List_of_Applications#Compression_tools for further information.

Extracted theme files should also be placed in the /usr/share/themes directory. For example, assuming downloaded content is automatically stored in the ~/Downloads folder, to simultaneously extract and move a .tar.gz theme file, the syntax of the command would be:

# tar xvf ~/Downloads/<theme file name>.tar.gz -C /usr/share/themes/

To use unzip in the same scenario for a .zip theme file, the syntax of the command would be:

# unzip ~/Downloads/<theme file name>.zip -d /usr/share/themes/

Alternatively, it is also possible to simply move / copy and paste the extracted files to the /usr/share/themes directory using an installed file manager as root.

Troubleshooting

There are two particular problems that may be encountered on rare occasions, especially where downloading themes from unsupported websites. These have been addressed below.

Theme cannot be used

If for any reason the newly extracted theme cannot be selected, open the theme directory to first ensure that it is indeed compatible with Openbox by determining that an openbox-3 directory is present, and that within this directory a themerc file is also present. An .obt (OpenBox Theme) file may also be present in some instances, which can then be manually loaded in obconf.

Where expected files and directories are present and correct, then on occasion it is possible that the theme author has not correctly set permission to access the file (e.g. permission may still be for the account of the author, rather than for root). To eliminate this possibility, ensure the folder and file permissions are for root:

# chown -R root /user/share/themes

Theme looks broken

Of course, the first line of enquiry would be to check that it is not just a badly made, broken theme! Otherwise, ensure that the Openbox GTK fix has been implemented, and then re-start the session. Unfortunately some older themes can simply break if not maintained sufficiently to keep pace with the changes incurred by GTK updates. To avoid such occurrences, it is best to check that desired themes have recently been created or at least updated / patched.

Edit or create new themes

Tip: Where deciding to modify an existing theme (e.g. the colour scheme), it would be best to work on a copy of it, rather than the original. This will retain the original should anything go wrong, and ensure that your changes are not over-written through an update.

The process of creating new or modifying existing themes is covered extensively at the official openbox.org website. A user-friendly GUI to do so - obthemeAUR - is also available from the AUR.

Compositing effects

Openbox does not natively provide support for compositing, and it will therefore be necessary to install a compositor for this purpose. The use of compositing enables various desktop visual effects, including transparency, fading, and shadows. Although compositing is not a necessary component, it can help to provide a more pleasant-looking environment, and avoid common issues such as screen distortion when oblogout is used, and visual glitches when terminal window transparency has been enabled. Three of the most common choices are:

  • Compton: Powerful and reliable, with extensive options
  • Xcompmgr: Older and simpler version of compton
  • Cairo Compmgr: Advanced compositing effects, plugin support, and a user-friendly GUI. Also more buggy and far heavier use of system resources.

Mouse cursor and application icon themes

Any mouse cursor and/or application icon theme may be used with Openbox. Numerous themes are available from both the official repositories and the AUR.

xcursor themes (mouse)

Tip: Review the Xcursor article for an in-depth explanation.

Standard xcursor theme packages available from the official repositories include xcursor-themes, xcursor-bluecurve, xcursor-vanilla-dmz, and xcursor-pinux. To search the official repositories for all available xcursor themes, enter the following command:

$ pacman -Ss xcursor

Installed x-cursor themes may then be set though using the obconf and lxappearance-obconf GUI applications. It may then be necessary to either log out and back in again to implement the change, or to reconfigure Openbox.

Application icon themes

Standard xcursor theme packages available from the official repositories include the gnome-icon-theme and lxde-icon-theme. A nice icon theme currently available from the AUR is numix-icon-theme-gitAUR. To search the official repositories for all available icon themes, enter the following command:

$ pacman -Ss icon-theme

Again, installed icon themes may then be set though using the obconf and lxappearance-obconf GUI applications. It may then be necessary to either log out and back in again to implement the change, or to reconfigure Openbox.

Desktop Icons and Wallpapers

Openbox does not natively support the use of desktop icons or wallpapers. As a consequence, it will be necessary to install additional applications for this purpose, where desired.

Desktop management using file managers

Some file managers have the capacity to fully manage the desktop, meaning that they may be used to provide wallpapers and enable the use if icons on the desktop. The LXDE desktop environment itself uses PCManFM for this purpose.

Wallpaper / background programs

Tip: The wallpaper programs listed here will have many more options than shown in this brief overview, including the ability to use solid colours for backgrounds. Review their documentation and man pages for more information.

There are numerous packages available to set desktop backgrounds in Openbox, each of which will need to be autostarted in the ~/.config/openbox/autostart file. A few of the most well known have been listed.

nitrogen

Tip: If nitrogen does not show in the desktop menu, then it can be manually added.

nitrogen is a user-friendly choice, as it also provides a GUI window to browse and set installed images. To access the GUI, enter the following command in a terminal:

$ nitrogen

To use nitrogen as the background provider, add the following command to the ~/.config/openbox/autostart file so that it will restore the last set wallpaper:

nitrogen --restore &

feh

Feh is a popular image viewer that may also be used to set wallpapers. In this instance, it will be necessary to add the full directory path and name of the image to be used as the wallpaper. To use Feh as the background provider, add the following command to the ~/.config/openbox/autostart file:

feh --bg-scale </path/to/image.file> &

hestroot

hsetroot is a command-line tool specifically designed to set wallpapers. As with Feh, it will be necessary to add the full directory path and name of the image to be used as the wallpaper. To use HSetRoot as the background provider, add the following command to the ~/.config/openbox/autostart file:

hsertroot -fill </path/to/image.file> &

xsetroot

xsetroot is installed as part of the Xorg X-Windows system, and may be used to set simple background colours. For example, to use XSetRoot to set a black background, the following would be added to the ~/.config/openbox/autostart file:

xsetroot -solid "#000000" &

Icon programs

While there are programs dedicated to enabling desktop icons alone, it would seem that they have greater drawbacks than the utilisation of file managers for the task. These programs are discussed briefly, below.

idesk

idesk is a simple program that can enable icons in addition to managing wallpaper. It will be necessary to create an ~/.idesktop directory, and desktop icons must also be manually created. To use idesk to provide icons, add the following command to the ~/.config/openbox/autostart file:

idesk &

xfdesktop

xfdesktop is the desktop manager for XFCE. The Thunar file manager will also be downloaded as a dependency. Where this is used, the Openbox desktop menu will no longer be accessible by right-clicking the background.

As such, it will consequently be necessary to access it by other means, such as by creating a keybind, and/or by - where permitted - re-configuring an installed panel to use the desktop menu as a panel menu. To use xfdesktop to provide icons, add the following command to the ~/.config/openbox/autostart file:

xfdesktop &

conky reconfiguration

Particularly where using a file manager to manage the desktop, it will be necessary to edit ~/.conkyrc to change the own_window_type command in order for conky to continue to be displayed (where used). The revised command that should be used is:

own_window_type normal

File managers

Multiple file managers may be used with Openbox, including PCManFM, SpaceFM, Thunar, xfe, and qtfm. Thunar is the native file manager for Xfce, and if installing be aware that some Xfce-related dependencies will also be installed, including exo (set default applications) and xfce4-about (provide information about the Xfce deskop environment). The menu entries for these may consequently have to be hidden.

A file manager alone will not provide the same features and functionality as provided by default in full desktop environments like Xfce and KDE. For example, it may not be initially possible to view or access other partitions or access removable media. See File manager functionality for further information.

oblogout

See the Oblogout article for an overview on how to use this useful, graphical logout script.

Openbox for multihead users

While Openbox provides better than average multihead support on its own, the openbox-multihead-gitAUR package from the AUR provides a development branch called Openbox Multihead that gives multihead users per-monitor desktops. This model is not commonly found in floating window managers, but exists mainly in tiling window managers. It is explained well on the Xmonad web site. Also, please see README.MULTIHEAD for a more comprehensive description of the new features and configuration options found in Openbox Multihead.

Openbox Multihead will function like normal Openbox when only a single head is available.

A downside to using Openbox Multihead is that it breaks the EWMH assumption that one and only one desktop is visible at any time. Thus, existing pagers will not work well with it. To remedy this, pager-multihead-gitAUR can be found in the AUR and is compatible with Openbox Multihead. Screenshots.

Finally, a new version of PyTyle that will work with Openbox Multihead can also be found in the AUR: pytyle3-gitAUR.

Both pytyle3 and pager-multihead-git will work without Openbox Multihead if only one monitor is active.

Tips and tricks

Packages for beginners

Tip: See the List of Applications article for many more possibilities.

The packages listed below have been listed to aid newer users:

Set Default Applications / File Associations

See the Default Applications article:

Terminal content copy and paste

Within a terminal, either:

  • Ctrl+Ins will copy and Shift+Ins will paste.
  • Ctrl+Shift+c will copy and mouse middle-click will paste.

Ad-hoc window transparency

Warning: This may not work where other actions are defined within the action group.

The program transset-df is available in the official repositories, and can enable window transparency on-the-fly.

For example, using the following code in the <mouse> section of the ~/.config/openbox/rc,xml file will enable control of application window transparency by hovering the mouse-pointer over the title bar and scrolling with the middle button:

<context name="Titlebar">
     . . .
    <mousebind button="Up" action="Click">
        <action name= "Execute" >
        <execute>transset-df -p .2 --inc  </execute>
        </action>
    </mousebind>
    <mousebind button="Down" action="Click">
        <action name= "Execute" >
        <execute>transset-df -p .2 --dec </execute>
        </action>
    </mousebind>
      . . .
</context>

Xprop values for applications

xorg-xprop is available in the official repositories, and can be used to relay property values for selected applications. Where frequently using per-application settings, the following Bash Alias may be useful: dy:

alias xp='xprop | grep "WM_WINDOW_ROLE\|WM_CLASS" && echo "WM_CLASS(STRING) = \"NAME\", \"CLASS\""'

To use Xorg-XProp, run using the alias given xp, and click on the active program desired to define with per-application settins. The results displayed will only be the information that Openbox itself requires, namely the WM_WINDOW_ROLE and WM_CLASS (name and class) values:

WM_WINDOW_ROLE(STRING) = "roster"
WM_CLASS(STRING) = "gajim.py", "Gajim.py"
WM_CLASS(STRING) = "NAME", "CLASS"

Firefox

For whatever reason, Firefox and like-minded equivalents ignore application rules (e.g. <desktop>) unless class="Firefox*" is used. This applies irrespective of whatever values xprop may report for the program's WM_CLASS.

Switching between keyboard layouts

See the article section switching between keyboard layouts for instructions.

Troubleshooting

Windows load behind the active window

Some application windows (such as Firefox windows) may load behind the currently active window, causing you to need to switch to the window you just created to focus it. To fix this behavior add this to your ~/.config/openbox/rc.xml file, inbetween the <openbox_config> and </openbox_config> tags:

<applications>
  <application class="*">
    <focus>yes</focus>
  </application>
</applications>

See also