window managers and desktop environments | Arch Linux

A window manager (WM) is the component of a system's graphical user interface (GUI). The window manager controls the appearance of an application and how it is managed: the border, titlebar, size, and ability to resize a window are handled by window managers. Many window managers provide additional functionality, such as application docking, a start menu, configuration menus etc.

A window manager (WM) is different than a full-fledged desktop environment. Window managers generally do not a complete user interface, including icons, windows, toolbars, wallpapers, and desktop widgets, which are commonly seen in desktop environments (though it is possible to add icons in a WM with another program). Because of the lack of extras, WMs are much lighter on system resources.

After installing Arch Linux, the user has a functional GNU/Linux environment, but one that is extremely bare bones. The initial interface allows users to interact with the OS via a virtual text console. This initial log-in mode is not considered a ‘graphical’ mode, and before it is possible to use programmes via graphical user interfaces (GUIs), a graphical mode must be installed and switched on.

The X Window System provides the foundation for a graphical user interface. [Xorg is a variable standard for Linux distributions] The X server initiated with the command startx. The default windows manager program called with the ‘startx’ command is ‘twm’. The settings for this call are given in /etc/X11/xinit/xinitrc

twm &
xclock –geometry 50x50-1+1 &
xterm –geometry 80x50+494+51 &
xterm –geometry 80x20+494-0 &
exec xterm –geometry 80x66+0+0 –name login

WM are distinguished according to three rough typologies. I am still learning about the relative strengths and limitations of each.

  • Stacking (aka floating) window managers provide the traditional desktop metaphor used in commercial operating systems like Windows and OSX. Windows act like pieces of paper on a desk, and can be stacked on top of each other.[For available Arch Wiki pages see Category:Stacking WMs.]

Being accustomed to traditioal desktop environments, I really enjoy having the ability to stack, move and arrange windows on the fly. I initially looked to using openbox as my WM, hoping that i could achieve 'floating' windows called from xterm, but without forcing me to exit xterm in order to spin-up a pseudo desktop environment.

  • Tiling window managers automatically organize ("tile") windows so that none overlap. They usually make very extensive use of key-bindings and have less (or no) reliance on the mouse. Tiling behaviors may be defined manual or based on predefined layouts, or both. [For available Arch Wiki pages see Category:Tiling WMs.]

I enjoy using the mouse, and an not as relaint on key bindings as are many other power users. This partially has to do with challenge of memorizing the bindings in the first place—as I use often those few I know.

  • Dynamic window managers can dynamically switch between tiling or floating window layout. [For available Arch Wiki pages see Category:Dynamic WMs.]

This sounds intriguing—like the best of both worlds! The question is how they work in practice.

See Comparison of Tiling Window Managers and [Wikipedia:Comparison of X window managers[( for comparison of window managers.

Fluxbox has the ability to tab windows.


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