All the cool kids use tile window managers these days, but the learning curve can be too steep for some. Regolith Desktop uses the GNOME session manager and i3 to make the climb more manageable.
Here’s everything you need to know about Regolith.
What exactly is a Tiling Window Manager?
Most home computers come with desktop environments. These prioritize the use of the mouse, windows, moveable windows, and graphical interfaces (GUIs).
Proponents of TWMs view DEs as a frivolous waste of resources and detrimental to productivity. TWMs prioritize sleek aesthetics, terminal usage, and eschew the mouse in favor of keyboard-driven navigation whenever possible. Windows are tiled and can be quickly rearranged to maximize productivity.
TWMs typically require a lot of configuration to be useful – either by editing a configuration file or modifying the source code itself to create something that reflects your personality and is useful to you.
While the results of a nicely configured TWM can be stunning and help you get the job done, it can be difficult to get started. For example, a standard i3 installation gives you a keyboard shortcut to open a terminal — and that’s it. There is no obvious way to open apps, no notifications appear and function keys do not work. The rest you have to figure out yourself.
If you don’t feel like climbing the steep slope to configure a window manager from scratch, Regolith is here to help.
What is Regolith and why do you want it?
Regolith is an open source project that comes as a desktop to deploy on top of an existing Debian or Ubuntu installation, and as a complete distro that you can install from a USB. It’s worth noting that while you can also install Regolith Desktop on systems running Ubuntu 20.04 or 22.04, the full Regolith Linux distro comes with 21.04 as a base.
The premise of Regolith is simple: it provides an i3 TWM environment, with sensible defaults that work right out of the box. You can get started right away and know what you’re doing, thanks to Conky, which shows the default keyboard shortcuts for common actions and apps.
Additionally, Regolith comes with GNOME System Manager, which means that instead of getting stuck configuring system files in the terminal, you can use GNOME menus to set up your environment.
This means that instead of defining wallpapers in a configuration file or using an app like Nitrogen, you can open the GNOME settings menu and set it up there.
Instead of opening a terminal and typing:
xrandr -s 1920x1080
…to set your screen resolution, simply press the key combination to open settings and select from a drop-down list of available screen resolutions.
With both features, you can get the most out of i3 without ever feeling lost or overwhelmed or spending an excessive amount of time reading the official Regolith documentation (although the documentation is excellent).
How to get Regolith Linux or Regolith Desktop?
To get the Regolith Linux distro on a 21.04 Ubuntu base, download the ISO file and follow our instructions for installing Linux on any PC or laptop.
to download: Regolith Linux
If you already have an Ubuntu 22.04 system, register the Regolith public key first:
wget -qO - https:
Add the repository URL:
echo deb "[arch=amd64 signed-by=/usr/share/keyrings/regolith-archive-keyring.gpg] https://regolith-desktop.org/release-ubuntu-jammy-amd64 jammy main" | sudo tee /etc/apt/sources.list.d/regolith.list
If you’re using an ARM64 base, such as on a Raspberry Pi, instead of AMD64, replace “ARM64” in the command above.
Update and then install Regolith:
sudo apt update
sudo apt install regolith-desktop
sudo apt upgrade
Now all you have to do is reboot into your Regolith Desktop!
Getting started with Regolith
The first thing you notice when starting up Regolith is the stark moon background and the complete lack of desktop icons, start menu or buttons. Don’t be alarmed: take a deep breath and look to the right side of the screen, where you’ll find a handy expandable list of keyboard shortcuts.
Regolith uses the Rofi launcher by default and to access it press Super (usually the Windows key) + Room. You will see a list of installed packages, navigate with the arrow keys and press Enter about what you want to start.
As you would expect most of the work in a TWM is done in the terminal, open one with Ctrl + Return. Even better, you can pop as many as you want – they are automatically tiled, meaning you can get to work almost immediately.
It’s remarkably easy to get used to, and before you know it, you’ll forget about using the mouse altogether.
For the GNOME settings menu, press Ctrl + Cand from there you can set the wallpaper and screen resolution, configure your Wi-Fi connection, set up Bluetooth devices and more.
You will notice that there is no window icon to close or minimize windows – use Super + Shift + Q instead of. If you want something out of the way, but don’t want to close it, move the offending item to another workspace with Super + Shift + 1-0.
Regolith basic configuration
Once you’re more at home with Regolith, confidently launching programs, and navigating like a champ between workspaces and tile terminals, you’ll probably want to change the configurations to create your own keyboard shortcuts. Before you do that, you need to copy the relevant files to a new folder in your home folder. This is called configuration staging.
cp /etc/regolith/i3/config ~/.config/regolith/i3/config
Log out and then log back in, and Regolith will detect and use it.
You can use nano to make changes to your local Regolith configuration with:
Be sure to read through the current listings to get an overview of what they do. Remember, if you mess up, you can just copy the source file one more time and start over with no permanent damage.
When you are happy with your changes, press Ctrl + O then Ctrl + X to leave nano.
Regolith makes it easy to run a Tiling Window Manager on Linux
Most people prefer desktop environments over tiled window managers because they are easy to use and don’t require (or allow) a lot of customization. Regolith gives you the full TWM experience without the hours of frustration usually associated with a radically different interface. If you don’t like Regolith, there are dozens of other Linux distributions you can try.