Nautilus multihead desaster

Today I tried out Nautilus with dual-head, i.e. two monitors that share a large virtual screen using XRandr. It was a desaster! Not XRandr – I love it! But it turns out that Nautilus miserably fails to be useful in a dual-head layout.

I already fixed Nautilus 2.24 to never move any icons outside the (virtual) screen area some time ago, but for dual-head we have horrible issues:

* Dead space is not detected, icons are put happily there

* The icons are not laid out per physical monitor, but per virtual screen. You can easily have icons that are “shared” between two monitors. While the actual icon layout is a bit tricky in the case of overlapping monitor regions, in the non-overlapping case we should perfectly be able to do nice per-monitor icon layouts.

* When there is a loading error for a file launched from the desktop, it is displayed in the middle of the (virtual) screen, and not in the middle of the monitor you used to open the location.

* The first navigation window is always opened on the monitor where the last navigation window was closed, even when you open it through the panel on a different monitor (patch pending release team approval).

* We don’t begin the icon layout on the monitor that you right-click to select โ€œclean up by nameโ€

* No background image awareness, i.e. the background image is just centered across monitors, even if it fits on the first monitor. Ideally, we’d have per-monitor backgrounds, of course.

* … any more issues you report, assuming you actually use GNOME in a dual monitor setup …

Now, a serious question: Is our user base so small, that we just receive bug reports evry once in a while, and not constantly? Are our users masochistic or unprofessional enough to tolerate this in a desktop environment that is supposed to be used in business environments?

While I frequently use beamers in combination with my laptop, I miserably failed to use them with Linux and used Windows for my (university) beamer needs from day two on. An educated guess is that almost every GNOME user out there does the same and uses Linux for non-serious business only. This is somewhat frustrating, as we are still trying to deliver a robust and business grade desktop environment – aren’t we? Note that this is NOT a rant about XRandr, which is really, really neat. It’s just we who suck!


Some comments suggest that some of our users feel insulted, and rectify themselves that they actually filed bugs, gave up on us or something along those lines. It is interesting how some people describe their use-cases, griefs and work-arounds. I love how everybody cares about quality, files bug reports and kicks us in the arse when things are broken. I certainly did not write this to insult anybody. You have to understand that I somehow feel like an innkeeper who thinks that he has some good wine in his cellar, realizing that half his wine from a certain country is decomposed.

30 thoughts on “Nautilus multihead desaster”

  1. The advent of widescreen monitors with pretty nice resolutions kind of killed multihead as far as I can see. 1900×1200 on 24″ panel should be pretty much sufficient already for most of the people, and the cost really doesn’t kill you. Plus, there are no such problems that you talked about. Even applications that insist maximizing to “full screen” work properly and look just fine. ๐Ÿ™‚

  2. I use GNOME in a dual head configuration all the time. I’ve never reported any of these issues because I barely ever use Nautilus, I don’t like graphical file managers at all.

    Just adding my data point. ๐Ÿ™‚

  3. I have seen this behaviour on multi-head (laptop + external monitor) but I must admit I was too lazy to file a bug report. I did file a report for the panel and other than the desktop itself it worked quite fine for presentation (GUADEC 2007 and 2008).
    But maybe I should file some bug reports about bad desktop behaviour with multi-head soon…

  4. I know at least for me, good dual head behavior is a must : it helps a lot for development. It’s one of the major qualms i still have with GNOME.

  5. I think it’s just that multihead doesn’t just work ™ in Linux yet so not enough people use it.

    I still can’t get dual head going in Hardy on a Radeon X600 which has one of the better Open Source drivers. (Virtual size yada yada too small bla bla or something, I don’t remember… I could fix it… but who has time for such things… This will be hacked around in Intrepid. But seriously, what year is it again? 1990?)

  6. I use multihead daily. I have two 1680×1050 monitors it’s really super helpful for work. I can have an IDE open with a debugger on one monitor and the app I’m debugging open on the other. Among many other use cases.

    Anyway, the main reason it doesn’t bother me is that I don’t use nautilus. I do nearly all my file management through the command-line still, so I don’t notice these issues. Well, I notice the background image weirdness, but I usually just leave my desktop background to a solid color or something abstract so that it doesn’t really matter. And since I’m using two monitors of the same dimension, I don’t have any dead space.

  7. I don’t use it, and I don’t use an extra monitor for my laptop because the support is oh so very buggy, even in clone mode. This is with xrandr in Ubuntu 8.04. It’s possible to get it all to work – until any switches are beign made, then the desktop and everything just plain craps out. Icons and windows are put everywhere and the only thing that helps is a reboot. I don’t even know what part is crapping out. Compiz? Nautilus? Both? Something else?

    I really would love to be able to have an external monitor now and then, so any work put towards that will be very very nice for me.

  8. Really the background thing is the one that annoys me. I just use GIMP to make a special image that contains two backgrounds lined up in the right place, and the right size so that it will just go right in unscaled and unstretched. It’s a pain in the ass. I’ve been figuring for years that this was such an obvious limitation that _somebody_ must be working on it.

  9. I actually like the fact that Nautilus centers the background across all monitors. I use a lot of abstract vector backgrounds (some of them are in gnome-backgrounds 2.24) and I love how they flow smoothly across several monitors even if stretched to a different aspect ratio.

  10. I’ve run into some if not all those problems before. Particularly annoying is the one with the placing of icons in the dead area of the screen.

    I should be filing bugs for these things, but often just develop (mental) work arounds for them. ๐Ÿ™

  11. I use two monitors, 1280×800 and 1024×768. I use Nautilus.
    Well, for the icon placement, i usually open “/home/user/Desktop” in nautilus and do my thing. For wallpapers, I use tileable wallpapers. So, nothing too vexing there, although per-monitor wallpapers would be nice.

    The only real gripe is the fact that the panel will find a way to permutate nearly all my applets as it shifts from screen to screen. This is a laptop, sometimes the two external monitor is plugged in, sometimes it isn’t. Needless to say, I’ve given always looking for where my clock applet is, or the lock screen button etc etc. I just can’t think of how well to articulate a bug report detailing these quirks.

    Stoffe: Metacity is actually better than compiz at multiple-monitor. In my case, I was forced to use metacity because of the limitations of my intel chipset. The times when i tried to adapt my layout just so I could use compiz, I went back to metacity+compositing mumbling something along the lines of “age does count when it comes to usability”.

  12. Multi-head in GNOME is kinda broken. For instance, the panel doesn’t stretch across both monitors or it only fills one screen but you can’t put it in the other. i use GNOME at work in multi-head and it used to have a lot more problems but some have been resolved but nautilus is still problematic.


  13. I also use a multihead setup daily, but I’ve not had problems. I am another one of those “I do most file management in a terminal” statistics.

    As for where nautilus windows open, for my they open where my mouse is, as does everything else.

    And I GIMPed up a desktop background quite some time ago that, when set as tiled, displays correctly for all of my common screen modes.

  14. I agree with rawsausage, I have a 24″ 1920×1200 monitor, and I haven’t felt the need to inflict myself pain with a dualscreen anymore.

    There exists a bug report about the wallpaper issue:

    About the nautilus icons placement: well, just don’t show a desktop with icons. It’s counterproductive. See

    Yeah, the current situation sucks. I personnally worked around it by not having a dualscreen. My life is simpler.

  15. I noticed some weaknesses but never reported them because I didn’t know what part of GNOME is responsible. I am annoyed by the fact that Nautilus opens newly created folders on the wrong screen, but I thought this is the doing of Metacity or Xinerama itself.

  16. I use a dual monitor. Laptop is 1680×1050 as is the desktop screen. I see a lot of the issues you see but just thought they were part of the deal. Fedora with xrandr remembers when I have the monitor and its automatically back there when in the office so I don’t have to reconfig all the time. Other thing that really annoys me is that some apps don’t remember the state so firefox always starts up on the wrong monitor, the splash screen for open office spans both monitors and yes, the stretching of the background is annoying!

  17. I gave up on gnome/linux completely some weeks ago after 10 years of using it. Enough is enough guys.

  18. Finally some publicity on Planet GNOME!

    I’ve been using dual-head for years now. The bug about desktop backgrounds has been reported years ago and is still unfixed. That kind of dampened my enthusiasm for reporting any other issues…

    Oh, one other thing: after you switch from single-head to dual-head and the GNOME panel jumps over to the other monitor (aargh why aargh, but that’s a completely different bug), nautilus never redraws the area that used to be under the panel but is not exposed. It’s full of garbage. Yuck.

  19. Recently, I have reported a bug. You have fixed it in 5 minutes. After that I didn’t know what to think.

    I have installed Ubuntu in January 2008 (my first distro). Search didn’t work for three months (until Hardy was released) .

    Than I have reported this bug

    How come nobody have noticed this bug for so long? Not even developers? Hmm… “Search” is not fully working almost an year?

    Fix is released in Intrepid, and not in Hardy, not yet…

    What would you think if you were in my place?

    I have few complaints about Nautilus and GNOME (can’t work with meta data, can’t use date in search, no grouping of files, can’t hide menus, can’t press Escape key to get back path bar in Nautilus after performing search…), but bugs are #1 (Nautilus and GNOME). I didn’t notice lot of bugs…but fixing bugs is more important than adding features.

    best regards,

  20. Fun of dual 20″ ? Had that, had to also get rid of it very fast. Having this physical divider on the screen, positioning things on screens left and right having to turn your head slightly constantly, not being able to put stuff at the exact middle really, … No thanks. That experience was absolutely horrible in usability terms.

  21. You left out that running an application in full screen results in the application being ran on the full desktop instead of fullscreen on one monitor. Couple that behavior with the panel behavior and it is less annoying to use a different DE.

  22. If you want some more awfulness, try living with vertical panels for a couple of days (in good old single-head).

  23. I am more-or-less forced into dual-monitorism by my tiny 12″ laptop screen, which would kill my eyes if I used it day in, day out. I found GNOME to be pretty decent at the whole dualhead thing, though – I use the rather excellent dualpaper[0] and Mandolux wallpapers[1] to make tailored dualhead wallpapers, although this support really does need to be in Nautilus, and there are lots of funky things that could be done if gnome-appearance understood the concenpt of “two monitors”.

    With the GNOME panel/nautilus bugs, they’re sort of annoying, but I’m well-used to apps not understanding where to launch (although I’m not really sure *I* understand where they should launch) and spatial mode is only mildly bloody annoying. MY main problem is with avant-window-navigator, which has a whole host of problems related to me using dualhead, nouveau (and hence metacity instead of compiz) – but that’s sort of unrelated.

    I’ve also used projectors for serious stuff before, and that’s worked absolutely fine. The only things that really need looking at are gThumb’s fullscreen (where the toolbar stretches across both screens) ad the wallpaper situation as described.

    Otherwise, I’m really happy with the whole thing. Just my ยฃ.02

  24. I’ve thought of fixing a few of these bugs from time to time… but mostly I haven’t bothered to even approach it because of the churn in this area… what with the new XRandR stuff. I’ve yet to use a box that configured the monitors properly to begin with. I’d also like to get live-reconfiguring to work… you know, an applet that lets you lay your monitors out and describe their positions by dragging little boxes. I think that interface is going to grow the background settings.

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