The Odd Cyborg Out

I said to my office mate this week, "I'm switching to zsh," and I believe he said something to the effect of "oh dear, what's next."

I should back up. I'm something of an odd duck when it comes to the way I use computers. I'm a geek, even in the context of my coworkers who are (also) huge geeks. I'm the only one who uses emacs. We're an OS X shop (for the desktop, at least) but I run Arch Linux inside of a virtual machine. Because I'm like that. And now, I'm switching away from the by-now unix standard "bash" shell to "zsh." I'm a bit weird. I'm ok with this.

So zsh. Why should you care? Well...

I'm not expert, having only really used it for a few days but there are a few things that have won me over:

  • It's mostly backwards compatible with bash. So, except for the stuff that configured my prompt, I was able to copy over my old .bashrc file pretty much as is. There's been no real "brain adjustment" from all my old bash habits.
  • It's faster. You know, this is the kind of thing taht you don't believe, "my terminal is faster than your terminal" is kinda lame because bash is pretty peppy compared to GUI stuff. I mean what, bash is a 300-400 kb, how slow can it be? The answer is, zsh just feels faster. This seems to be a quasi universal experience.
  • It does tab-completion within commands. This is seriously amazing, because while command completion and path completion is awesome in bash, you still have to remember all of the sub-commands. This is particularly rough for big commands like "git" and "apt-get" or "apt-cache". Very awesome.

Getting up the courage to switch and to rewrite my prompt was something that took a little bit of doing, but now I'm happy, and I strongly recommend it. If you like me live in the terminal, or have thought about using the command line more, give zsh a try, it's good stuff.

The other thing, almost certain to provoke an "Oh dear" reaction on the part of my geeky friends is the fact that I'm strongly considering switching from the Awesome Window Manager to the Stump Window Manager, or more practically StumpWM or just Stump. Here's some background on my adventures with tiling window managers:

When I started using Awesome every thing I did with the computer lived in it's own little window. I was coming from the mac, so I lived with ten or fifteen open TextMate windows, a like number of open tabs in my terminal emulator, and a browser with a gazillion open tabs. I thought that this was sort of "the way I worked," and so I replicated this kind of workflow in Awesome.

And here's the thing. Awesome is great for managing a huge number of windows. With 9 workspaces/tags (or more!) it was possible to keep twenty or thirty windows afloat... a few browsers, a few chat windows, a dozen terminals, a few emacs frames, and the like all happening at once. And the window manager made it possible for me to only have to look at 2 or three windows at a time.

Then I progressed. With emacs' server/daemon mode, I only have one instance of emacs and 20 or so buffers, and in an extreme moment I sometimes have as many as 4 frames open at once, but more often I just have 2 or three (org-mode, writing, and a spare for something.) And terminals? I've taken to using screen which multiplexes an untabbed terminal, so I typically have a single screen session with 8 screen-windows, and I keep a couple of instances of that open at once for different contexts, so lets say another three windows. I have a remote screen session for IM and chat now that I connect to, and a single web browser.

Frankly, it's sort of gotten to the point where I don't really need to manage very many windows, and I probably never use more than 4-5 tags/workspaces. My needs for a window manager changed, and one of the core problems that problem that Awesome solves, is one that I've solved by using multiplexed applications. And that leads me to Stump.

I see that I probably need to spend a little more time talking about this tiling window manager stuff again. Stay tuned!

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