Saturday, October 22, 2011

[TECH] fixing the tab key in VNC

Setting up a simple VNC server such as TightVNC (tightvncserver) has gotten a lot harder in recent Ubuntu distributions, because the tab key seems not to work properly! I find that using the command line is nearly impossible when the tab key doesn't work in VNC. The problem seems to depend on the window manager in use (I use xfce4). After some hunting, it became apparent that the default window manager key bindings global binds the "<Super>"-Tab combination to a feature known as "switching windows within the same application." I don't know what a "Super" key is and apparently neither does the system, because it always treats the Tab key as "<Super>"-Tab, triggering this feature rather than passing the Tab key event through to the application. Clearing this key from xfce4-settings-manager => window manager => keyboard fixes the problem, as does the following command line equivalent:
xfconf-query -c xfce4-keyboard-shortcuts -p /xfwm4/custom/'<'Super'>'Tab -r
With the default settings getting less sane every day, it's not clear where Ubuntu is headed. The whole point of Ubuntu was to provide sensible defaults and clear away pitfalls like these. Most annoyingly, this used to work -- only a few versions back it was possible to simply "apt-get -y install tightvncserver" and run tightvncserver on the command line and get up and running in minutes rather than hours.