Up to WM Report

Window Managers - My Biases

Unlike Fox News, I would never claim to be "fair and unbiased" even though I suspect I'm closer to that than they are. I couldn't manage it anyway, and it would make my reviews boring if I did. It's important to know where I'm coming from because if your biases don't agree with mine, you'll read my reviews a bit differently.

I started using Linux in 1994: Slackware with a 1.0.13(?) kernel and (more importantly to this discussion) an old version of FVWM. I didn't like FVWM's look and feel back then. However, I fell in love with the multiple workspaces concept immediately. Having come from dual-booting Windows and OS/2, I knew of Marko Macek because of his fine editor FTE and I found soon enough that he had a rather good WM called icewm which I used for many years. I didn't use icewm because it emulated OS/2 (it can, to some extent), but because it's highly functional. I spent a year or so using CTWM after that, then used pekwm, pwm, and ion to a lesser extent. I spent most of a year on wmii, but when I switched (back) to a dual head box wmii fell down badly and I returned to fluxbox which I've used on and off for years.

As you can see from the above paragraph, I've always been fascinated by window managers, and that fascination brought me to write this report for a presentation for the annual University System of Georgia computing conference at Rock Eagle in 2003. In 2007 I'm doing an extensive update and trying to make this more comprehensive. Window Managers appear and disappear at a furious rate, and can be very hard to track.

My major requirement in a WM is keybindings - preferably ones I can change myself. If I have to use the mouse for everything, I get very put out. Not that I want to use the keyboard for everything, but I do use it for a lot of getting around, most notably from desktop to desktop and window to window.

I'm a dedicated vim user, but I'm not interested in bashing anyone else's choice of editor: if you use emacs, nano, or nedit, more power to you. Use what works best for you. I tell you my preference to let you know that I personally don't like Ctrl-key or Esc-key combos, I prefer single letters when possible, or Alt or Win-key combos. This may seem insane to you: that's fine, just so long as you know where I'm coming from. I'll do my best to mention the slant of the WM: for example, evilwm was written with vi-like bindings, ratpoison was written with emacs-like bindings, and evilpoison is a remapping of evilwm to make it use ratpoison-like (ie. emacs-like) bindings. Many WMs don't show such an obvious slant, although there are some "common" keybindings: Alt-F<N> is often used for changing desktops.

If there's a taskbar/toolbar in the WM, I move it to the top of the screen as fast as possible. My logic is that my mouse is more often at the top of the screen than the bottom, so I don't have to move as far, and I think it looks better.

I really don't like viewports on large desktops, and would much rather have a bunch of desktops each the size of my screen(s). I usually make viewport-oriented WMs behave as if each viewport position is a single, isolated desktop.

I'm a Debian user (and sometimes an Ubuntu user). Many packages were installed via "aptitude install batowm", and if it wasn't available as a Debian package, I'd build it myself and then use checkinstall to create a Debian package and install that.

by giles