What Is Your Preferred Minimal Window Manager?

By | 2009/09/23

Yesterday I spent some time playing with some alternative window managers. After spending hours and hours tinkering with the internals of GNOME in preparation for my presentation at the Utah Open Source Conference I needed a change of scenery. I experimented with evilwm and openbox primarily. They were both very interesting, and I realized there are so many more that I haven’t even considered yet. What do you use?

I keep hearing about other window managers like Awesome, xmonad, etc, etc. I’m curious about trying them out but I’m not sure I’d know where to start. If you use any of these (ie; anything other than the ‘standard’ GNOME or KDE environments) please drop a comment regarding why.

To give you an idea about my computing habits, I generally only really need the following:

  • Terminal (gnome-terminal preferred, xterm is fine)
  • Browser (chromium or something else lightweight)
  • Email (evolution or mutt generally)
  • Keyboard control (if I could spend a day without touching the mouse, that’d be awesome)

I appreciate the feedback. Hopefully I’ll be able to generate some posts based on using some of these other window managers soon.

25 thoughts on “What Is Your Preferred Minimal Window Manager?

  1. Janne

    I use Awesome, because I really prefer tiling WM's, I really can't stand those overlapping windows. Awesome is also very good looking and lightweight. It might be a bit hard to setup, but just using the default config file is great, and with some small modifications you can fix a lot of things to your liking.

    The coolest thing about Awesome is the tagging feature (might not be a unique feature after all). Instead of using the usual virtual desktops Awesome uses something called tags. A program is always tagged, for example I setup Firefox to have tag 1 and Pidgin tag 4. I can then chose to show all programs tagged with eg. 1 and 4, that shows me Firefox and Pidgin. I normally swtich between the setups one maximised program and several sharing the screen space (default keybinding meta+esc).

    A good way to start using Awesome is to use it as your WM in Gnome, try it out with:
    "pkill metacity && awesome"

    Good luck!

    Reply
  2. Scott

    There are a ton of threads surrounding this topic on the Arch Linux forums. But the basic idea is — they're all lightweight, so download each one and try it out for awhile! It all depends on how you work and what you're looking for.

    Good luck in your quest!

    Reply
  3. matt harrison

    Second on the awesome. I wish I would have started using tiling wm's earlier. (Though I'm not sure my wife agrees, since now my computer is a little harder for her to use. For that matter, using others computers is more annoying now too….)

    Reply
  4. Phil

    I have tried dwm, xmonad and awesome.
    xmonad: I am turned off by typing Haskell code in order to configure it (especially as I don't know the first thing about Haskell and don't really want to learn). Recently, while attempting to tweak my xmonad config file, I broke something, and even though I restored from a backup, the status bar is gone and I have no idea why.
    awesome: I didn't like the default Mod key being the Windows key, but that is changeable. I understand that the new version, which is either out soon or already out, is configured in Lua, about which I have the same feelings as Haskell.
    dwm: Ah, good, old-fashioned C. I find configuration much easier than for xmonad, even though I don't really know any C either. I installed a patch which enables a non-standard window layout (grid), and didn't have much trouble. I have changed the font and the colour of the status bar, and the colour of the active window, and added status bar notifications for wireless status, battery charge, and date/time, all using shell scripts and xsetroot. Compared to xmonad, this was a breeze. I'm sticking with dwm for now, partly for its relative ease of use and partly as a way into learning C.

    Reply
  5. vidak

    If you want to forget about the mouse, try ratpoison 🙂 I used windowmaker and fluxbox for years on slow hardware, I liked them both…
    Here is a list of window managers: http://xwinman.org/others.php

    Reply
  6. WiseGuy1020

    I like CrunchBang Linux's implementation of openbox. Ubuntu based w/more programs and codecs already installed. Plenty of pre-configured keyboard shortcuts. Much faster and lighter than Ubuntu, but still offering all that comes with it.

    Reply
  7. Conor

    Gnome-Do is indeed great, but I like KDE's run dialog better. It's just snazzier, although neither comes close to the slickness of Quicksilver, IMO.

    As for the OP: why not make a poll?

    Reply
  8. kernel_script

    WMs that I've tested/used and i liked very much (although my main choice is Compiz Fusion/GNOME):
    – PekWM
    – awesome
    – Openbox

    In these more oldschool-style WMs, you can use XCompMGR (back-end) and/with or GCompMGR (GUI front-end) as composite manager to give some effects and shadows, and without the need of 3D acceleration.

    Reply
  9. Aaron Toponce

    Being a former Blackbox and Fluxbox user, I really dig OpenBox. First, it's taken the right direction in a window manager, especially where Blackbox and now Fluxbox have stalled, it's standards compliant, lightweight and actually usable, and highly configurable. And, it sees regular, consistent updates, adding new features and functionality without bloating the codebase. I dig it.

    Reply
  10. cwsnyder

    I have used JWM (D__n Small Linux), but never really liked it.
    Enlightenment was better. I liked the light feel and effects without the whole Compiz thing.
    GNOME is where I do most of my work, but I really like LXDE. Introduced to it in Knoppix 6, I run one of my partitions with Debian Lenny with the LXDE desktop. I even installed Lenny with LXDE on an old Compaq Presario laptop with 64M RAM/3G HDD and it was useable, just a little slow on some things (like updates).
    Just a warning, LXDE looks like a slightly updated Win95 desktop and uses an OpenBox backend. By default, the Debian install includes the heavyweight OO.o and Firefox packages, but they can and should be replaced.

    Reply
  11. Joshua Tolley

    I've used ion3 for several years, and like it very much. Recently, I've found it crashes on one desktop, and have therefore switched to xmonad there. Also, modern versions are not packaged anywhere because of licensing issues, and the author has given up on Linux (and ion development) entirely, of late. I've never used gnome-do, but didn't particularly like dmenu in xmonad (which I gather serves an equivalent function to gnome-do). ion3's equivalent, which is a module built into the WM, is very nice.

    Reply
  12. chi

    Yet another Awesome user I am. Awesome makes me effective by managing the windows all on keyboard.

    I always use Firefox (with Vimperator), and sometimes Midori. Uzbl and Vimpression also impress me.

    Reply
  13. eswald

    After hearing about Lubuntu, I tried LXDE and liked it. This was after several "lightweight" window managers that needed far too much tweaking to be usable.

    Reply
  14. Hans

    I use FVWM. Ultra fast, ultra light weight, ultra configurable.
    Sure, you need to manually edit the config file. But it gives me an unparalleled level of control.

    Reply
  15. uht

    I use wmii on my netbook.
    Light, clear, simple config file and well documented.
    A must try for tiling WM lovers.

    Reply
  16. Phil

    LXDE is not a window manager, it's a desktop environment. I am led to understand that the window manager installed with LXDE is Openbox, which is indeed very nice; I tried it with Crunchbang in a virtual machine on my MacBook. I still prefer fluxbox, mainly for tabbing support, which will never be supported in ob.

    Reply
  17. D Day

    I would rip out my mouse and throw it away if I could. I use Gnome on my main machine because it’s what comes with plain vanilla Ubuntu. On my older machine I installed Xubuntu and am quite happy with that (xfce). I also like twm and fluxbox. I am not so married to any manager philosophy as I am happy with anything that works and doesn’t suck up my machine’s fixed resources to run, edit and compile or even browse the web.

    Reply
  18. donlelek

    one vote for openbox… nice balance between lightweight and usability, tried fluxbox, a little too spartan, and xfce is not an option under 256 ram.

    Reply
  19. Truefire

    LXDE. It's what XFCE should be. Fast and gnome-like. It can run on 64MB of RAM without issue. Google Lubuntu and Masonux. (same thing, but the latter exists already)

    Reply
  20. Guy

    I use CrunchBang with LXDE and Launchy (Gnome-Do has too many deps)- when it boots up it's only using about 150mb of RAM whereas Gnome was using over 400mb. The only issue I have is that I can't get the shutodown button to work and have to use the command line.

    Reply
  21. StillWaiting

    I tried tons of window managers and still I've not found the perfect one. What I'm looking for is a window manager, period: no panels, no popups and without useless menu. No way… I used fvwm, openbox, oroborus, oroborox, icewm, metacity and xfwm4 and tried a lot more. My perfect choice would be oroborus but it is abandoned and it lacks standard compliance (this in some case is not acceptable). I'm currently using openbox because it sucks less.

    Reply
  22. Mexican Vato Loco

    EvilWM is perfect, either the oficial version, or if you enhance it (one time i enhanced it to have a toolbar like a pannel… and a fixed position clock)

    Was pretty cool… i think, evilwm is the best coding mod experience, the dude who develops it is very very nice coder, and its KISS so, you can use your imagination and damn, its the best software … i really think so.)

    Also fwm (am not shure if its the right name… memory lags) well the one that was default years ago… damn thats also great too…

    PS: appart of watching purns and browsing… the rest made via xterm so… i think… EvilWM for me.. is the best thing…

    Reply
  23. wyderkat

    I was using many different window managers. Ratpoison for 2 years. But always I
    had conflict between usage of simple and well configured WM and those whose
    simply looks nice for eyes and brain. Candy managers:) So I’ve developed manager based on openbox which is fusion of simple but ready to eat candy manager with joy of changing easy configuration files. It’s called PlayWM and can be found here http://www.cofoh.com/playwm

    Reply

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