Originally Published: Sunday, 26 September 1999 Author: David Raufeisen
Published to: news_learn_firststep/Firststep News Page: 1/1 - [Std View]

Choosing a window manager

Which window manager is the best? Which one is fastest? Which one is prettiest? Those questions are sure to start religious wars if asked on irc, and probably rank up there with "which distribution is best" as a cause of flame wars.

Which window manager is the best? Which one is fastest? Which one is prettiest? Those questions are sure to start religious wars if asked on irc, and probably rank up there with "which distribution is best" as a cause of flame wars.

Ask any five hackers which window manager they prefer and it's possible you'll get 5 different answers. So which one do you choose? And do you use it with Gnome or KDE, or as a standalone? Well, the answer is, as is the case with many things in the GNU/Linux world, it depends."

It depends on the speed of your system - not only the system processor and available system memory but the amount of video memory as well.

It depends upon your needs as a user. If you only use your computer for simple tasks, such as word processing and web surfing, then your needs are far different than, say, a system administrator who is managing a print and file server, 100 or so user accounts, a mail gateway for said users, and playing Quake (err - I mean maintaining the corporate web site). Not to mention there's probably a discrepancy in comfort level as well - how much do you use the command line? Do you prefer to point and click?

And does it looks perty?

First off, let's tackle the speed issue. Any window manager will be faster if it is not used in conjunction with KDE or GNOME. This isn't meant as a flame towards either GNOME or KDE, it's just a fact. Both of these projects are much more than just a window manager - they are an environment. They offer drag 'n' drop capabilities, an integrated application set, the ability to set desktop icons to launch programs, and many other functions that would take several separate articles to detail. So yes, they are going to be slower than just a window manager, but not terribly slower on a fairly recent system, and you get a lot of features in exchange.

On the other hand, you could just choose your favorite window manager and run it solo. What do you lose? All, or at least some, of the above mentioned features. Gnome and KDE, for instance, allow you to have those neat little Windows/Mac style icons on your desktop to launch programs. As well as icons for mounting floppy and CDRom drives, and a trash can so you can change your mind later about deleting that file. And I can just click on the silly little .wav files I download and they'll play. I like having those features, because invariably there are two or three programs that I use more than any other, and I always seem to have a draft of something sitting on a floppy. So Netscape and WordPerfect are easy to start, and it's easy to retrieve the draft I typed while I was on my lunch break (honest - I was on lunch).

On the other hand, WindowMaker and AfterStep, to name two examples, allow me to "dock" applications that I use frequently, so I achieve nearly the same thing without the system overhead, and my system runs faster. I can even dock an application that auto-mounts my cdrom and/or floppy.

So which is better? I dunno. Wishy washy, aren't I? That's because 1.) I'm a coward, and don't want to get flamed, and 2.) I believe GNU/Linux is about choice. What I prefer as a window manager (I currently use WindowMaker, no GNOME or KDE if you must know) doesn't matter. What matters is what you like, and what helps you work most efficiently.

Try them all. It's not that hard to do. If you have a recent distro on CD you probably have a copy of all of the major window managers on the CD, so it's fairly simple to install and experiment. Don't settle for the standard desktop. Experiment until you find one you like, and then experiment some more, just in case you find something you like even better.

I personally am comfortable with WindowMaker, and I like the Next-ish feel of it. I don't have all that powerful a system at home so I prefer to use just a window manager, as opposed to KDE or GNOME, to conserve resources.

That's my choice. My wife Michelle (not to single her out, but. . .) Is a much less technically inclined user. She prefers to use KDE with the standard window manager, kwm. It reminds her of her Windows environment at work, and she is comfortable with dragging files to copy and move them, instead of using mv. KDE is still plenty fast compared to Windows, and meets her needs both aesthetically and technically.

But she prefers the "close" button on the left, instead of the right. If this were Windows - out of luck. Under KDE, it's a simple setting change. Viola, it is so.

Choice is good.

In that vein, I'll run down your window manager choices in the next few weeks, alphebetically, to help you make a fully informed choice.