The unreasonable effectiveness of i3, or: ten years of a boring desktop environment

My wife uses Windows and over the years I've helped her move things to new systems. Win8, 10 and now 11. With every upgrade the UI changes. Now I can't right click the bottom right corner anymore to open Task Manager. The UI feels "fresh" and up-to-date I guess, but does it really matter?

My desktop has looked like this since 2008. I love the picture of the gearbox, it's a testament to the hidden precision engineering that goes on inside the built world all the time.

I don't see much of the gearbox though, because most of the time my screens look like this:

The environment around my background picture has changed a little more, but has been stable for the last 10 years. My experience is very different to my wife's constantly changing system. In 2009 I moved from Windows to Ubuntu, then to Debian using Gnome. Then finally to i3 in 2013 after a brief affair with XMonad in 2012. So by now in early 2024, I've had the same minimal UI for more than 10 years, and if I'd only had the guts to adopt i3 earlier it could have been 15. I have made small changes but if I didn't like it I would revert back to the previous version. All the changes were conscious efforts and I had the freedom to go back when I wanted to.

This short post is in praise to boring stable systems, and a thank you to all the open source contributors that made my desktop environment possible.

  • OS: Debian (since 2011)
  • Window manager: i3 (since 2013)
  • Browser: Chrome (since 2008)
  • Editor: vim (since 2011, now actually neovim but I haven't noticed a difference with vim)
  • Terminal: gnome-terminal (since 2009)
  • Shell: zsh / oh-my-zsh (since 2014)
  • Mail: Gmail (since 2005)
Here are some new improvements to my home computer systems.
  • Backup management: syncthing (since 2022)
  • Home automation and energy management: home-assistant (since 2022)
  • Microcontroller management: espthing (since 2024)
  • Shell history management: atuin (trying it out since early 2024)
Being boring with tools is great. It gives you the freedom to be revolutionary in areas where you actually want to make a difference.


  1. Great article! I have a similar "boring" setup: debian, nvim, stumpWM (I am an ex-i3wm, and Emacs...

  2. i3 is a fantastic WM. One of the killer features that put it ahead of other tiling WMs is the ability to tab windows in the current workspace (without a lot of extra manual configuration). Excellent for multi-tasking when you can dedicate a workspace to each conceptual task and then keep each window for that thing full screen, but tabbed on that workspace.

  3. Your setup looks a lot like mine (probably because I adopted a lot from your setup). One recent change I made: started using fish/omf as shell (protip) because the performance is way better than zsh.


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