I have been looking at various Window Managers lately. The major desktop environments leave me feeling a little dissatisfied.

  • KDE - I loved the 3.5+ branch of KDE. However, the world is moving on and that may not be an option much longer. The 4.x branch has been unstable on my machine. It works all right and looks excellent, but my desktop sessions disappear every so often.
  • Gnome - Gnome treats me like an idiot. I don't like patronizing software. It is too eager to offer me information I don't want.

Both KDE and Gnome offer a wide variety of keyboard shortcuts, but there are many operations that can only really be done with the mouse. In both cases, I want every single window manager operation to be performable from the keyboard. Again, speaking of options, I don't think it needs to be required, but there should be no less power at the keyboard than there is for the mouse.

A quick look at the alternate window managers of the Linux world show that a lot of other hacker types want the keyboard capabilities I want. In addition, the window managers are infinitely extensible. However, I have two major problems with every one of the window
managers I have looked at or tinkered with:

  • They are ugly. I don't need Mac OS X beauty on the desktop, but I do not want something that looks like a '93 desktop put through a blender. I have to look at the screen a lot of the day. It doesn't have to be drop dead gorgeous, but it can't look like pure trash either.
  • They drop their extensibility in my lap. I appreciate that every single detail can be tweaked, but not every detail should be tweaked. Some reasonable defaults are vital, especially when evaluating window managers. If I have to spend a few days reading their APIs and writing customization files in various scripting languages, why should I invest that much effort just to learn whether or not the window manager has the potential to be what I need it to be?

Especially hard for me to understand is the first one. I can understand that to the small communities of hackers working away on their window manager, the extensibility is exciting. Since they know every detail of the innards anyway, it doesn't annoy them to have to
look at the API first.

But how can these themes be seen as anything other than astoundingly ugly? Browsing through a lot of the theme galleries just make my eyes hurt. They make Windows 95 look like the space age of computing. So, here is the window maker/desktop environment (I do not care to haggle about which it is) I want looks like this:

  • Keyboard it all. If I want to move, resize, retile, restack, etc. windows from the keyboard, I can.
  • Reasonable defaults. The full functionality is available withoutvhaving to fiddle with personal startup files. I can start it up and begin tweaking it from there.
  • Easy on the eyes. Antialiased windows, rounded off window borders, and tasteful window decorations are key. Again, Compiz/Vista like effects are not necessary. Just some good taste.
  • A respectable collection of widgets. Look at OpenBox or Fluxbox. They have many panels written for them. This is a good thing overall, but could we start by having at least one good panel included in the default distribution?

I am still on my quest. I suspect that if I work hard with Fluxbox or Awesome, I will be able to get what I want. Whether I have the time for this in the near future is, of course, another question entirely.