Alternative windowmanagers

Polytropon freebsd at
Fri Sep 2 11:09:35 UTC 2011

On Fri, 02 Sep 2011 03:43:12 -0400, Allen wrote:
> I don't know a lot about Gnome3, because a lot of my machines aren't
> very powerful by today's standards, and if what I read on RAM
> requirements was true, I won't be able to use it on any machine except
> this one anyway. I can't Believe how bad Gnome has become....

All the "big ones" do "catch up" with the requirements of the
"Windows" versions they want to be "on par with", in order to
gain usage share. This sadly makes them unusable except you
are willing to regularly dismiss working hardware and buy
something new.

If you're machine is not "very powerful", you should look at
window managers primarily - those that manage windows _and
nothing more_. All additional functionality can be provided
by other programs that you can compose a desktop of, excatly
as you like it.

For example, if you want a Mac OS X like application launcher
and dock, there's a separate program for it. If you want
icons on the desktop, there's also a program for it. Need an
international clock? Get the one you like.

Just to have an impression, have a look at VirtualBSD:

You can see some screenshots here:

This is also a "compositum" of different programs, nicely
arranged for for a unit that is much more efficient than the
"one huge size fits all" attitude that seems to be the driving
force behind KDE, Gnome, and maybe even Xfce.

> And KDE4,
> though very pretty, is another one I don't like.

To _me_, KDE always was a no-go as I had to invest too much
time to make it do what I need. Of course, for other users
it might fit perfectly well in the default configuration.

> If the people who work on Gnome are going to go
> Linux only, than, f them.

Gnome, and maybe also Xfce (for using the same Gtk infrastructures)
will _maybe_ turn into a Linux-centered project, and maybe eventually
become an own distribution. That is nothing bad per se, it just
means that using future Gnome on FreeBSD will be problematic, or
maybe even impossible. On theo other hand, concentrating on _one_
OS platform might give Gnome the boost that it needs for developing
better speed, better integration and better functionality, but only
if the Linux OS environment allows it to.

> I clumped those sections together, because I'd like to reply to
> basically all of it at once, so, here is MY Opinion:
> I'm a little weird when it comes to Window Managers. I always have been.
> When I first started straying away from Windows, one of the things I
> really liked about Linux and BSD, was that I could basically make my
> desktop look however I wanted. I mean, I did use KDE quite a lot, but, I
> found myself logging out and back in a lot to try a new one out.

This is called _freedom_. :-)

> I'm basically a user of multiple versions of Linux, and then FreeBSD and
> PC-BSD (Which, really now, it's just FreeBSD with a paint job and a few
> custom apps, but it's still cool lol) and I Honestly couldn't pick a
> favorite Window Manager if I tried.

Please do not confuse KDE with a window manager. A window manager
is _part_ of KDE, which itself is a complete desktop environment.
Today, KDE is even more, it's a software compilation.

> I really couldn't.... I like being able to change how my Desktop looks,
> and I don't like being tied down to one Window Manager.

I've seen environments where some programmers did use different
window managers in parallel (on two or three workstations). One
of them had a dual-screen setup on one machine, running a tiling
window manager where he had his coding windows on. On a machine
next to it, he had something that looked like IceWM. On a third
machine, he did multimedia stuff in an environment that looked
like Mac OS X (but he told me it's a Linux system). The funny
thing: He did move between those different paradigms without
any problems. "Consistency? Hey man, I'm using over 50 different
programs here, why should I want them to look the same?!" :-)

> I'll be sitting
> here working on something, and, then, out of on where, I'll be like
> "Hmm, I feel like making this look different" and then I'll save my
> work, or stop what I'm doing, log out, select a different Window
> Manager, and log back in, and pick up where I left off.

A side note:

WindowMaker has the ability to keep your work, quit itself and launch
a different window manager. This is simple because the programs
that are currently running are not tied to the window manager,
which is also just a program. So for example, I can click on
the desktop or press the "Stop" key on my Sun keyboard, activate
the WM menu, and select Session - Start IceWM or Start Blackbox.
Windows lose their "management control elements", and IceWM
comes up, adding its decorations. From IceWM, I can then also
go back to WindowMaker.

> I have ADD
> pretty badly, so Unix in general has always worked well for me, as Unix
> / Linux / BSD, they all seem to have that magical ability to use any
> Window Manager you want, and I like that a lot.

Given the _right_ window manager, window management policies,
interactive access to functionalities and so on can benefit
the work, as distractions are limited to the point that _you_
can define, and that fits your individual preference. "Windows"
does tend to annoy users and keep them from doing their actual
work. This is called "entertainment". :-)

> Now, as I said before; I do like KDE, and I also like Gnome, but from
> what I understand, those are "Desktop Environments" and not Window
> Managers in the true sense of the word. I don't really care a whole lot
> about that, as it's nit picking to me lol, but here are the others I do
> Love:

It's not nit picking, it's terminology. :-)

> Window Maker. I LOVE Window Maker. It's nice looking, it fast, and it
> has a lot of nice themes I saved, since, well, you can't seem to ever
> find any of them anymore, except for that one web site where the guy has
> like 10 or so of them that are like space and stuff, which I'm not into.
> So, I grabbed my SUSE Linux 8.1 and 8.2 Professional DVDs, popped them
> in a machine, and copied over the Window Maker themes those versions of
> SUSE came with, as they are WAY nicer. So, once I did that, I opened up
> the RPMs, and grabbed all the themes. So now I have them for any Linux
> or BSD I use.

I'd like to add that it also has _excellent_ keyboard support. You
can program window manager functionalities on keys directly. For
example, my Sun USB keyboard has a 2 x 5 key matrix on the right.
This is used for accessing window management functionality (window
roll up, foreground, background, hide from desktop) or start programs.
I have _not_ found this nice functionality in the "big ones".

> Window Maker in general is cool, and, it can look REALLY nice. And, it's
> very simply. It also doesn't use up all your Resources which is a huge
> plus as well.

It's _fast_ and it stays out of your way. It can also quite easily
handle focus independently from foreground / background (a concept
that is not present in "Windows", but benefits work a lot).

> FVWM - I'll lump FVWM, FVWM2, and FVWM-Crystal all in one here, and just
> say I really like those too. I've used all of those, and also FVWM95,
> but I didn't like 95 as much as the other ones. Again, these are very
> fast, look cool, and use very little in resources.

What I like about fvwm is that you can easily control it by a
simple configuration file (here WindowMaker lacks), and you can
get rid of all the stuff you don't want in a limited environment.
For example, I run it on my service laptop which has a physical
800x600 display, so I intendedly don't want window borders or
title bars. Keyboard and mouse actions can be configured quite

> I'd like to figure out one day how to configure the Themes and menus
> myself, but for now, they rock either way heh.

There's good documentation about that.

> Enlightenment - E16 and E17.... These are some of the best looking
> Window Managers I've EVER had the Pleasure of using... I can't say
> enough good about Enlightenment... I LOVE Enlightenment.... The look is
> simply amazing, and the Special FX, awesome. And the fact that it
> somehow managed not to use up all your RAM and CPU, amazes me even more.
> I totally LOVE E, and I Hope they continue making it work.

It has been part of the FreeSBIE 2.0 live system CD, if I remember
correctly. And next to the fact that this CD is quite helpful and
good for diagnostics, it looks great. :-)

> IceWM - IceWM is another one I've used countless times. I again, can't
> say enough good things about it. It's fairly light on the requirements
> as well, so, give that a try if you like. There are also countless
> themes for it, so you can change how it looks with a few clicks.

It also has a good configuration file (text based) and features
a lot of functionality that you won't find in the latest "Windows".
In fact, IceWM was my first window manager on FreeBSD (coming
from Linux with fwvm). :-)

> TWM - I know TWM is dated, but when it comes to "Light on Resources"
> it's hard to beat. I don't use it a whole lot, but when I do, it's
> always been very responsive, and easy to keep the memory use low.

Hey, I even know people who use olvwm, and that seems to be
even much more dated. :-)

The fact that twm is still there shows that it didn't lose any
of its functionality, and it does it job quite well.

Maybe you're interested in having a look at this page:

Thre are some nice suggestions for customization with screenshots
and configuration file examples.

> I know that FreeBSD has a metric ton of Window Managers you can install
> very easily, and I couldn't tlk about them all, or remember them all,
> even if I tried, but I know that it's pretty simple to basically do this:
> pkg_add -r bunchOfWindowManagers moreWindowManagers
> And so on. Or at least that's how I do it normally.

Binary installation is a common method of installing programs,
nothing wrong here.

I'm not sure if I haven't mentioned it yet, but there's also
XFCE 3 (using the "old-fashioned" Gtk version 1). If you need
a window manager that gives you the look & feel of CDE with
its predictability, you should have a look at it. I still have
a 300 MHz P2 that runs such a system, and it's still very fast
and versatile, even on limited resources: office applications,
multimedia, web browsing and programming are _no_ problem on
that system.

Magdeburg, Germany
Happy FreeBSD user since 4.0
Andra moi ennepe, Mousa, ...

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