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I have Emacs 24 running in Linux Mint 18 Xfce. As shown in the picture below by the red arrows, how can I decrease the width of the gray zones that are to the left/right of each Emacs window? The so-called "padding", I guess.

enter image description here

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    I recommend editing your question so that it's just a single question; when multiple unrelated questions get bundled together it's much harder for others find them later. – db48x Oct 15 '16 at 13:17
  • I removed the second question. Feel free to post it separately. (And consider editing, to replace the screenshot with one that doesn't include the web-browser part.) – Drew Oct 15 '16 at 15:46
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That's called the fringe. You can indeed turn it off or control it's size; see the documentation for the fringe-mode function (type C-h f fringe-mode RET).

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Just turn off both the left and right fringe (the vertical gray bars you noticed).

  1. One way: M-x customize-option default-frame-alist, and add these entries, then save.

    INS DEL Parameter: left-fringe
               Value: 0
    INS DEL Parameter: right-fringe
               Value: 0
    

    That adds these entries to the alist value of default-frame-alist:

    (left-fringe . 0)
    
    (right-fringe . 0)
    

    So for example, if the original value of your default-frame-alist option was nil (aka ()) then the new value after customization would be this:

    ((left-fringe . 0) (right-fringe . 0))
    

    C-h v default-frame-alist shows you the current value and describes this option.

  2. Another way: customize option fringe-mode, setting it to (0 . 0).

(I mention option default-frame-alist first because it is a good thing to know. It lets you configure many other frame parameters, besides just the fringe.)

For more information, see the Emacs manual, node Fringes. You can find this node yourself, by asking Emacs about the fringe: C-h r, then i fringe TAB.

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