The 5 Best Window Managers for Linux

No matter how many displays you use with your computer, you'll never be able to fit all the app windows on your desktop. Unless, of course, you have the right tool.

A window manager is a perfect tool that caters to this requirement very well and allows you to leverage the screen estate of your computer/external display to its full potential.

But what exactly is it, what can it do, and what are some of the best window managers you can use on Linux? Here's a guide with answers to all such questions.

What Is a Window Manager?

Much like any other Unix-like operating system, Linux also uses the X Window system (or X11) as its default windowing system to generate the essential GUI elements required by various GUI-based apps to function.

However, other than that, the X11 system doesn't have much to offer. As a result, you can't use it to manage and organize the app windows on your desktop to your preference.

This is where a window manager comes in. It allows you to manage the way app windows appear and behave on your computer's display or external monitor. That way, you can control their placement, and thereby the appearance, such that you can make the most of your display's screen estate and improve your multitasking experience.

The Best Window Managers for Linux

Following is a list of the best window managers for Linux—both floating and tiling—that you can use to take advantage of your screen's real estate to the fullest.

1. Xmonad

Xmonad is a free and open-source dynamic tiling window manager for Linux. It's written in Haskell and comes with a configuration file that helps you personalize its behavior to your preference.

Since it's written in Haskell, it can be quite challenging to understand and configure xmonad's configuration file right away, especially if you have no prior experience with Haskell. However, for those with a good understanding of the language, the scope of customizability and usability reaches far beyond what you can get out of most window managers.

One of xmonad's biggest advantages is that it automates window arrangement for you, so you can focus better on getting your work done. As for its feature set, the program offers an extensive extensions library, Xinerama support (for multi-display setups), and on-the-fly reconfiguration, among others.

To install xmonad on Debian/Ubuntu, run:

sudo apt install xmonad

On Arch Linux:

sudo pacman -S xmonad

On Fedora/CentOS and other RHEL-based systems:

sudo dnf install xmonad

2. Awesome

Awesome started as a fork of DWM (Dynamic Window Manager) but later evolved into a full-fledged Linux window manager of its own. One of the program's aims has been to offer a fast and simple window management solution without compromising the advanced functionalities. And for the most part, it has managed to live up to that.

It's written in Lua, which is a powerful programming language with an extensive scope of use with regard to customization. If you're a power user who wants complete control over the GUI and window management, awesome can get you pretty much everything you'd desire, with a well-documented API to aid you along the way.

One of the aspects that makes awesome stand out from some of the other window managers is that, instead of using the Xlib library, which is known to induce latency, it uses the asynchronous XCM library that ensures your actions aren't subject to as much latency.

To install awesome on Debian/Ubuntu:

sudo apt install awesome

On Arch Linux:

sudo pacman -S awesome

On Fedora/CentOS/RHEL:

sudo dnf install awesome

3. DWM

DWM or Dynamic Window Manager is one of the older Linux window managers on this list. It's a dynamic window tiling manager and has been an inspiration behind the development of popular window managers such as xmonad and awesome, mainly due to its minimal and simplistic functionality that just works well.

However, as a consequence of this lightweight approach, DWM faces certain shortcomings. One such is the lack of a configuration file, which makes customizing the program's elements complicated, as now you have to modify its source code and build it every time you want to make a change.

It's due to this reason that DWM is usually a preferred window manager of choice for those who need a no-fuss window manager that simply does one job—window management—as opposed to something that's full of extra elements and features, which could add complexity to the experience.

To install DWM on Debian and Ubuntu, use:

sudo apt install dwm

On Arch Linux:

sudo pacman -S dwm

Installing DWM on Fedora/CentOS and RHEL-based systems is easy:

sudo dnf install dwm

4. IceWM

IceWM is a stacking window manager written in C++. It's focused entirely on delivering a fast and smooth window management experience, which makes it perfect for underpowered Linux machines. However, despite being lightweight, the program doesn't compromise on essential usability and customizability.

It uses a plain text file, which is far easier to modify and makes customization a breeze. Not just that, it also offers documented guides to assist you in modifying the configuration file. Plus, there are random (read “useful”) tooltips here and there to get you acquainted with the GUI elements and their functionalities.

An interesting GUI addition in IceWM is the built-in taskbar at the bottom that further simplifies managing and organizing app windows and workspaces on the desktop. Similarly, it also offers support for both RandR and Xinerama, which is a nice touch to help you with multi-monitor setups.

To install IceWM on Debian/Ubuntu:

sudo apt install icewm

On Arch Linux:

sudo pacman -S icewm

On Fedora/CentOS/RHEL:

sudo dnf install icewm

5. i3

The i3 window manager is a manual window tiler that supports a bunch of window organization settings. It's written in C, and much like IceWM, it also provides the configuration functionality via a plain text file, which makes modifying its elements to your style easy.

At its core, i3 aims to be fast and minimal while still appealing to advanced users. As such, you get the essential features such as manual window placement, themes, multiple focus modes, along with advanced options like a taskbar, configurable keybindings, and the ability to create custom scripts for further customization.

On the whole, i3's approach is ideal for all sorts of users as it puts you in control of how you'd like to use the program on your system. You can either use it as is or modify it altogether to suit your needs. And this makes it suitable for low-powered computers as well.

On Debian/Ubuntu:

sudo apt install i3

To install i3 on Arch Linux:

sudo pacman -S i3

On Fedora/CentOS/RHEL systems:

sudo dnf install i3

Effectively Managing App Windows on Linux

If you're someone who has to jump back and forth between a bunch of apps on your computer—and displays—then you can use any of the window managers above to make the most of your screen real estate and multitask efficiently.

In case you're just getting started with Linux, we recommend checking out the i3 window manager. It's fast, minimal, and offers pretty much all the essential features you'll need to keep your app windows organized and maximize your productivity.

Author: Yash Wate

Source: Yash Wate.” The 5 Best Window Managers for Linux”. Retrieved From

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