Prevent full-screen games from minimizing when switching workspaces

When I play games on my Ubuntu desktop, I like to switch workspaces a lot. For example, when waiting for respawn I will quickly switch to a second workspace to select a different music track, or to write a quick reply on IM. What I find very inconvenient is that a lot of games, by default, will minimize when I switch workspace. Because of that, it takes me more time to return to game – a workspace switch short-cut, and then alt+tab.

It turns out that this is SDL feature, so all games build with SDL will behave this way. However, there is an easy, little known way to disable it. Simply set the following enviromental variable

export SDL_VIDEO_MINIMIZE_ON_FOCUS_LOSS=0

before starting your game. Or, if you dislike this feature as much as I do, you may want to set that variable in your .profile file, or maybe even /etc/environment.

Enjoy flawless workspace switching when gaming!

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Multi-OS gaming w/o dual-booting: Excelent graphics performance in a VM with VGA passthrough

Note: This articles is a technology/technique outline, not a detailed guide and not a how-to. It explains what is VGA passthrough, why you might be interested in it, and where to start.

Even with the current abundance of Linux native games (both indies and AAAs), with WINE reliably running almost any not-so-new software, many gamers who use Linux on a daily basis tend to switch to Windows for playing games. Regardless of one’s attitude towards non-free software, it has to be admitted that if you wish to try out some of the newest titles, you have no other choice than running them on a Windows installation. This is why so many gamers dual-boot: having installed two operating systems on the same machine and using Windows for playing games and Linux for virtually anything else, they limit their usage of Microsoft’s OS for gaming only. This popular technique seems handy – you get the luxury of using a Linux, and the gaming performance of Windows.

But dual-booting is annoying because of the need of reboot to switch your context. Need to IM your friend while playing? Save your game, shut down Windows, reboot to Linux, launch IM, reboot to Windows, load your game. Switching takes a long time, is inconvenient, and therefore the player may feel discouraged to do so.

What if you could run both operating systems at once? That’s nothing new, run a virtual machine in your Linux, install Windows within it, and voilà! But a virtual machine is no good for gaming, the performance will be utter cr terrible. Playing chess might work, but any 3D graphics won’t do because of the lack of hardware acceleration. The VM emulates a simple graphics adapter to display it’s output in a window of the host OS.

And that is where VGA passthrough comes in, and solves this issue.

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