On screensaver daemons

Quite a while ago, I noticed that my laptop would turn its screen off after 10 minutes of keyboard and mouse inactivity, no matter what I was doing or whether any program had an active screensaver inhibition, and that there was no setting I could find that would prevent this or even change the delay. (As you will see, though, I merely didn’t look hard enough at that time.)

I blamed my long-standing franken-half-GNOME-half-other-stuff desktop configuration, but left things as they are and dealt with it.

Until last week, when I finally decided to investigate this behavior again after getting sufficiently fed up with the lack of respect for screensaver inhibitions.

It turned out to be the X server itself doing it; all DPMS timeouts were set to 10 minutes. A quick xset dpms 0 0 0 (disabling the timeouts but leaving DPMS enabled so the screen could be turned off when I lock the machine) fixed it for the rest of the current session, but I wanted to solve this in a more permanent manner in a nicer way than just causing that xset invocation to occur on session startup.

But while deciding what to do about that, I noticed that my screen now never turned off when I left my session locked.

My screensaver daemon has always been gnome-screensaver. I carried it over ever since I switched (way back when) from running a full GNOME 2 session to running a custom session that still used GNOME components for any parts that I didn’t specifically want to replace with something else.

I never needed any other functionality from a screensaver daemon than screen blanking and locking (I’ve always preferred a blank, ideally powered-off, screen over graphical demos for this purpose), so gnome-screensaver lived on in my session even as my session continued to evolve over the intervening years.

Somewhere along the line, gnome-screensaver got almost completely gutted. There’s not much more it’s capable of nowadays other than blanking the screen and implementing a screen lock, so I never noticed. The gutting included anything to do with power management, so it was the X server’s built-in timeout, and nothing to do with gnome-screensaver, that was making my screen turn off 10 minutes after I locked my machine (in addition, of course, to 10 minutes after taking my hands off of it for any other reason).

This was greatly disappointing (especially in the way that it escaped my notice for so long), so after looking around at a few options (and how they handle power management, which involved some source-diving), I switched to xscreensaver. I felt a little odd doing so given the disagreements (including one very recently) between its upstream and Debian, but of the available options it was the one that appeared to fit my needs best that wasn’t specifically made for some other desktop environment.

With Mode set to Blank Screen Only, and with “Quick Power-Off in Blank Only Mode” checked, it does everything I need, and if I decide at some point that I do want graphical demos after all, it has me covered.

All because I still want my display to be turned off, but I want it to respect screensaver inhibitions, so the power management trigger logic needs to be in the screensaver daemon…

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