I recently changed my Ubuntu 18.04 window manager from Mutter (Gnome Shell) to i3-gaps. Some of the unexpected things that happened:

  • polkit-gnome-authentication-agent-1 doesn't automatically start
  • synaptic touchpad settings are different
  • media-keys aren't functional

If I type wmctrl -m into the original default configuration, it returns Gnome Shell. This suggests that any loss of functionality is due to Gnome Shell as a whole as opposed to just Mutter.

I have several questions regarding all of this:

1) Why isn't replacing Mutter with i3 as modular as one would naively think? Did installing i3 remove all of Gnome Shell's supplementary functionality?

2) Will I further encounter any other side-effects that can't be explained by referring to the functions of Gnome Shell?

3) I know I can modify a whole bunch of configuration files to reinstate certain functionality, but is there a more coarse course of action I could take (say involving gnome-sessions or the gnome-setting-daemons)?


Gnome Shell is a desktop environment. It uses Mutter as its window manager, and indeed is coupled to it - you cannot use another window manager with Gnome Shell.

i3 is a window manager. If you install it and log in, you have just that: a tiling Window manager, independent of Gnome or anything else. You need to set up other elements you normally find in a typical desktop environment yourself by autostarting relevant components. These component indeed can be components belonging to Gnome Shell, but it could also be parts from another desktop environment like XFCE or KDE, etc.

The Regolith Ubuntu-based Linux distribution is an example of a custom desktop environment, where i3 is used as window manager and many components of Gnome are used to complete a desktop experience. Outside of the Ubuntu family, the Manjaro i3 distribution provides another example of a fully pre-configured i3 based environment.

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