Metacity window-placement patch

A patch to modify Metacity's window-placement algorithm so that all new windows are centered in the viewport.

2012-10-11 Update

I haven't touched this page in over three years. I still get occasional emails about it, so I'm leaving it here, but I'm deleting a lot of the old stuff about native packages (Gentoo portage, etc.), because it's so old that I doubt it's useful any more, and I no longer do that sort of thing.

2009-06-25 Update

Clearly, this page is in need of a serious overhaul. In the meantime, please note that the GNOME project has moved their code from Subversion to Git ( So I made a copy of their Git repository on GitHub. Specifically, the official Metacity repo is currently here: I pushed copies of their master and gnome-2-26 branches to my own metacity repository on GitHub. Then I reimplemented my center-placement changes on a new branch called gnome-2-26-center-placement for the GNOME 2.26 release of Metacity: I'd be happy to write up instruction on how to straddle two git remote repositories like that if anybody is interested. If you're a new Git user, it's probably not immediately obvious how to do something like that. It took me a few weeks of day-to-day use to become comfortable with Git.


New, simple patch that only implements center placement

For Metacity 2.14.5:

Old, fancy patch with all the options

For Metacity 2.12:

For Metacity 2.10:

For Metacity 2.8:


New, simple patch

This patch modifies Metacity's window-placement behavior so that it merely centers new windows instead of trying to tile them in groups or cascade them from the upper-left corner.

Old, fancy patch

This patch for Metacity adds a few window-placement options that can be configured in the graphical gconf-editor or with the gconftool-2 command-line program.

The following options are available:

"first_fit" ("smart" is also accepted)
This is the default Metacity window-placement behavior. In this mode, Metacity will attempt to tile new windows on the screen so that they do not overlap.
This skips Metacity's center/tile behavior and cascades new windows the upper-left corner of the current desktop. It uses Metacity's built-in cascading algorithm.
This option will cause Metacity to place each new window at the center of its workspace.
In this mode, Metacity will simply place each new window at the origin (the upper-left corner) of its workspace.
In this mode, Metacity will choose a random position on the screen for a new window.

After installing the patched version of Metacity, you can change the option as follows:

In GNOME 2.10, open Configuration Editor from the following menu: Applications --> System Tools --> Configuration Editor Then navigate to the placement_mode key: / --> apps --> metacity --> general Right-click on "placement_mode", choose "Edit Key..." from the pop-up menu, and then set the "Value:" field to the option you want.

To change the option from the command line, do this: gconftool-2 --type string --set /apps/metacity/general/placement_mode random (but replace "random" with whichever option you want).

Build and install in a home directory

I like to avoid clutter in my home directory by installing locally built apps into $HOME/opt/name-version. In this case, it would be something like $HOME/opt/metacity-2.16.3. After patching the source:
./configure --prefix=$HOME/opt/metacity-2.16.3 make export GCONF_DISABLE_MAKEFILE_SCHEMA_INSTALL=1 make install unset GCONF_DISABLE_MAKEFILE_SCHEMA_INSTALL

I usually point my local copy of metacity at the system-wide theme directory:
cd ~/opt/metacity-2.16.3/share mv themes themes.original ln -s /usr/share/themes .

After running make, you can test your build by running metacity --replace from the source directory. You should be able to do this before or after installing.

If everything works, you can make the change permanent by adding a line like the following to ~/.gnomerc: export WINDOW_MANAGER=$HOME/opt/metacity-2.16.3/bin/metacity