Friday, April 30, 2010

My quest for a window manager (part 2)

In yesterday’s blog entry, I described some of the Window managers I was not happy with. Thankfully, I found a modern window manager that works for me.

The window manager I settled on was a recent release of XFCE, XFCE 4.4 to be exact.

XFCE 4.4 may not be the latest and greatest release of XFCE, but it is the release I can install with a simple “yum --enablerepo=extras groupinstall XFCE” in CentOS 5. Right now this looks to be the best FVWM1 replacement candidate for me. While more heavy than I would like — it takes about 20 or 30 seconds for the desktop to come up once I start X, compared to FVWM which comes up in only a couple of seconds — it is really lightweight for a full-featured desktop environment. Unlike Afterstep or any of the tiling window managers, I don’t need to learn yet another (often times poorly documented) arcane text configuration file format to configure the window manager; everything can be configured from the GUI.

It didn’t take me too long for me to figure out how to use hotkeys to change the virtual desktop I am on. Unlike FVWM, I can not move an application from one desktop to another by dragging the window; however, I can move an application from desktop to desktop by clicking and dragging its miniature image in the pager. I also was able to configure all of the panel elements to be vertical elements on the side of the screen to allow there to be as much vertical space for the xterms as possible. One advantage of xfce4 over FVWM is that the xterm windows “snap” to the elements on the side, making horizontal alignment of the windows easier than it is in FVWM1; there may be an option to configure things so that the windows “click in place” next to each other, something I wish FVWM1 had.

XFCE 4.4 has an extensive number of themes for the window decorations, a great improvement over FVWM1 which only has two minor variants on a Motif theme (an appearance used by a windowing system for UNIX called Motif which existed in the early 1990s), both of which looked sexy in the mid-1990s, dated by the early 2000s, and downright ugly in 2010. Indeed, a lot of FVWM1 derivatives (Bowman, FVWM95, MLVWM, etc) are simply FVWM1 with different looking window decorations.

The theme I opted to used is called “smallscreen”, which allows me to have xterm windows one row taller than I could in FVWM1.

I’ve been using XFCE 4.4 (not the current 4.6) for about two months now and have been happy with it; while it is a bit disconcerting having my four virtual desktops in a single vertical bar instead of a 2x2 virtual desktop, it otherwise has everything I like about FVWM1, as well as being lightweight in a virtual machine on a Dell I bought in 2007.