Saturday, January 17, 2009

Window Maker and Ubuntu

Pictured right is the new setup that I've recently started using for development. I've found it to be much, much faster and more memory efficient than Gnome. When I'm developing, sometimes I want to run several server and/or client instances, and I need as many resources as possible, ready for crazy, unexpected usages. Window Maker fits the bill.

As a high school student in the 80s, I lusted after NeXT boxes and the look of NeXTSTEP. I had a collection of glossy pamphlets from the company that were kept out on my desk for regular ogling. The best I could do though, was incessantly use the Macs at the University of Maine at Orono (where I spent as much time as possible). When, as a new Linux user in '96 or '97, I discovered AfterStep, I switched from the Motif-alike FVWM. Immediately after Window Maker was released, I choose it as my primary window manager.

Since then, the Linux distributions and operating systems I've used have been distractingly varied. However, after several excellent years with Mac OS X, I'm actually quite happy to be back in Linux. Though I have generally enjoyed Gnome, I was really unhappy with how it seemed run rather slow, with delayed transitions between applications and other similar operations. With a new machine having 4GB of RAM, this seemed rather unnecessary. (However, I do run some heavy services on my machine... databases, web servers, etc.)

When I switched to Window Maker, I was stunned. Number one, it still works on a modern distro! Secondly, it's super fast. Finally, I *love* the clean desktop (I'm not a fan of having the desktop background display the contents of a folder). Not only that, but a quick test drive of some Python dockapp-writing software left me with some fun ideas for side-projects I could write to even better augment my working environment. (For example, dock apps for NetworkManager, update notifications, and Rhythmbox.)

Now I'm ready to start playing with architecture emulation for some exploratory networking projects...


  1. Have you tried tiling window managers (awesome or xmonad)? I've been using awesome for a little over a month now after years of being a KDE user and really liking it. It takes a little getting used to the commands and the keybindings but after that it's pretty smooth sailing.

    -matt harrison

    ps - Getting awesome 3+ running on Ubuntu is somewhat of a pain

    pps - If you want to tinker with python and your wm, there are a few wm's written in python. Qtile is an attempt at a tiling manager in python.

  2. Very cool, thanks for sharing the info. I know I've spent the last 6mo or so going farther and farther from my old stock Ubunbu install. First I tried out several tiling window managers (wmii, xmonad) and then settled on openbox. Now I've swapped openbox for the Awesome WM. Gone to vim for all dev work vs Eclipse, WingIDE, etc.

    It's interesting how I feel more productive the farther back in time I go with tools used. Somewhere there's a desktop revolution to be had in moving backwards.

  3. Anonymous2:50 PM

    That looks pretty. With such a big display, maybe you could take full advantage of it by using a tiling WM as awesome. I use it myself and I'm loving it! (if you like vim, you gotta love awesome / xmonad / dwm / ...).

    But! you will have to dedicate some time to configurate any tiling wm as they don't usually ship with a menu like windows maker has.

  4. I spent years using WindowMaker before finally giving up and using KDE. I miss how quick and reliable it was. This post has motivated me to look at moving back to WindowMaker again...

  5. Anonymous10:11 PM

    So why did you go fvwm->windowmaker? fvwm is still super fast and clean

    I'm still using fvwm after about 12 years. I consider trying a tiling wm, but I don't want to give up all my fvwm settings. Some of the stuff in compiz (!) is pretty nice too, and I mean the functional things like transparency, shrinking, and grouping, not the wobbly windows.

  6. I started to post a comment, but it got too big for this box :).

    I hope it can help if you start having any trouble with various desktop services being missing.

  7. Hey Drew, yeah, FVWM is super fast... but due to its design, I was a fanboy of NeXT. When I had the opportunity to run it on Linux, I couldn't resist. And I wasn't disappointed :-)

  8. Ha, I recognize the NeXT glossy pamphlets part of your story. I used to do the same thing, after working on a job on a NeXT. I must still have those pamphlets somwhere, I never could get it over my heart to throw them away.

  9. Anonymous1:10 PM

    Uhm, wow, that vim session is insane. I actually do use a "tiling" window manager (ion3), but I don't really do much tiling; I just have every window fill the display. I've pretty much always used applications this way, on Windows, Mac OS, and all manner of Linux WMs. I'd usually rather be able to see more of one thing at a time, than less of lots of things at a time; perhaps one day I'll have enough display real estate to change this.

    I have several levels of multiplexing in my setup. First of all, I have several ion3 workspaces; then, on each workspace, I have several window objects. Also, I have a gnome-terminal window for every host I'm connected to (including localhost), and in each of those windows I will typically have screen running. In vim, I'll often have several vim "tabs" open, but I rarely have anything besides a single buffer filling the vim "screen", or a vertical split with different parts of the same file side by side.