Saturday, September 24, 2011

Saving Vertical space in GNOME 3 (Especially for Firefox)

I have been using GNOME 3 for more than a week now. I really like it, and after tweaking my desktop back to show the files and launchers (like in GNOME 2) I really felt at home.

However, not everything is great with GNOME 3. One of the most irritating features of it, is the gigantic titlebar of windows. I actually like gigantic titlebars, but not when I need to maximize my working area. The web is full of people complaining "Why Firefox on Linux can't be space efficient as it is on Windows 7?" This is even more critical when in the fallback mode, you have two very thick panels that also take additional vertical space (I switch between fallback and regular all the time because of some hardware limitations).

Comparision between Firefox titlebar on Windows 7 and GNOME 3 (fullsize)

 As you can see, the Windows 7 setup takes much less space, by combining the titlebar with the tab area. Very neat!

Anyway, I'm here to say that you can make Firefox on Linux thinner. I'm not talking about fullscreen mode in firefox - since I do like seeing my tabs and toolbars (Which firefox hides in fulscreen mode).

In Linux, windows are displayed and managed using a special program called a Window Manager. We are going to request the window manager to display Firefox in full-screen. This is different from firefox's built-in full-screen mode! In the full-screen mode created by the window manager, Firefox will continue to show it's tabs and toolbars like before, but it's titlebar will be gone and it will fill the area that was used by the gnome panels!
  1. Open the System Settings dialog (in fallback mode, it's in Applications → System Tools) and Choose Keyboard. (Screenshot)
  2. Switch to the Shortcuts tab and choose Windows from the options on the side. (Screenshot)
  3. Find the Toggle fullscreen mode option, and assign a new keyboard shortcut which is easy to remember (I used Ctrl+Alt+F). To assign a new shortcut, click on the area which displays the shortcut (it displays Disabled if no shortcut is set) and type the desired key combination.
Now, whenever you open Firefox (or any other program that needs more vertical space, without sacrificing any toolbars that disappear in the built-in fullscreen mode of that program) simply type the shortcut from above to go fullscreen! Type again to get out of the full-screen mode.
You are going to miss the close/un-maximize/minimize buttons in fullscreen mode. However, you can probably live without them (or if you like keyboard shortcuts, configure some for these also!) when working in fullscreen.

That's it, I hope it helps those of you who need to use more height of their screen and don't like the built-in fullscreen modes (if any) of their programs. If anyone knows any better way (especially for Firefox on GNOME 3), please leave a comment :)


  1. What you actually want here is for the Linux world to move towards client-side decorations. This is what allows Mozilla to draw a Firefox button in Windows while still retaining a standard window decoration. Likewise for Chrome's tabs-on-top. There was work to move in this direction, but it was stalled by window manager developers. In the far far future when we move to Wayland, there should be proper support for this.

  2. The screenshot you showed for Win 7 is a maximized window, which explains why the titlebar doesn't show. I'm not sure if it's the same but in Win XP, which is what I'm using, the titlebar still shows when the window is not maximized (ie. the top right middle button next to the close button).

  3. @Aldi: I'm not sure I understood you fully. Anyway, I believe that what you see in my screenshot (which is of the maximized window) is in fact the native titlebar in the window 7 screenshot (my theme just makes it look non native). It does have the transparency of windows 7 title bars (when I'm without my theme).
    When in non-maximized mode, the FF button shows on the top left (still on the title bar), but the tabs appear below the title bar.