What is Regolith?

Regolith is a collection of open source components that together form a general-purpose interface for using a computer, also known as a desktop environment [1]. Many of the UI components that are used to build Regolith are independent open source projects [2] that have simply been integrated, packaged, and configured for a specific workflow and visual aesthetic. Most computer desktop environments are optimized for ease-of-use and familiarity with commercial operating systems such as Microsoft Windows or Apple's OS X. In contrast, Regolith provides a way of interacting with a computer that is optimized for user productivity and does not attempt to mimic legacy UI paradigms for familiarity.

The Keyboard, the Mouse, and the Monitor

Regolith places emphasis on the keyboard input device over the mouse, in relation to most other desktop environments. This is for one reason: productivity. Specifically, the amount of time it takes to press a keybinding on the keyboard is less than the amount of time it takes your hand to move from the keyboard to the mouse, execute a series of clicks to get to a desired action, and then get your hands back on the keyboard. While this time difference is small, it adds up quickly due to frequent interactions.

But this benefit comes with a one-time cost: learning the keybindings. In exchange for this up-front cost, the user is subsequently able to perform general computer actions faster and with less foreground thought. Additionally, by pushing more of the computer actions into the user's memory, more of the computer's visual interface can be devoted to the user's applications. Put another way, the Regolith interface devotes more bandwidth to the user's application and less to the general management of the computer. And because ultimately the productive output of the user is a result of interaction with applications, the general productivity of the user is increased. This is a subjective benefit, and may be more or less important to the user.

Tiling Windows

Perhaps the most user-impacting component in Regolith is the window manager, an open source project called i3-gaps (which is a customization of i3-wm). This program organizes windows into tiles. By default, i3-gaps divides the screen into sections for each window, all of which add up to the entire screen. If only one program is presenting a window, then that window occupies the entire screen. For two windows, both get an equal portion of the screen, and so on. By using keybindings, the user can tell i3-gaps to resize, move, and otherwise organize windows in other ways. A key advantage to this approach is that the user is freed from micro managing window layouts (at the cost of having to learn the keybindings).

Launching Applications

It is common for desktop environments to display application launchers throughout the user interface, in the form of icons and text. Folders, docks, and context menus are used to present a form of menu to the user. Despite them appearing visually different, they are have one function: to launch an application. As with keybindings, in Regolith this user interface of launching apps is refined and minimized. Desktop icons, panels, and docks are not used. Rather, the user invokes the application launcher which presents a menu of applications sorted by frequency of usage. The user may begin typing the name or function of the application they intend to load and the list is filtered accordingly. In addition, frequently used applications such as terminal and browser have specific keybindings. With this UI treatment, there is no fixed overhead on the display for the presentation of application launchers. This provides the user benefit of more screen space devoted to the user's applications.

System Management

Modern computers are complex machines with many observable attributes. For the day-to-day operation however, most of these can be ignored. Each user has a specific subset of system state they care about, and so there is no one perfect configuration for every user. By default Regolith provides on-screen state information on the bar for the user's workspaces, keybindings help, network and CPU utilization, notifications, and the system time. More or less items can be configured by the user as needed.

In addition to the transient system information provided on the bar, the system configuration can be changed by the user via the Settings application. This configuration system is part of GNOME, and provides a rich set of UI pages to configure WiFi networks, Bluetooth devices, displays, and other devices.

Configuration Files

While most of the common tasks of system management and administration are handled by graphical interfaces such as Settings, lower-level configuration is done by editing configuration files that are installed as part of Regolith. For example, to change what information is presented on the bar, or to tweak the border width of windows, editing configuration files is required. These customizations are covered in the customization section.

Where next?


1: The term came from a time when computers were large and were used on desks. That is no longer the case but we still use the term. A desktop environment is generally applicable to any computer with a keyboard, display, and some type of pointing device.

2: See the interface page for specifics about the component Regolith is composed of.