Saturday, November 14, 2009

Linux: xmonad

xmonad is a tiling window manager. If you don't know what I'm talking about, take a peek at one of the screencasts. I've been using xmonad for the last couple weeks. It's been a couple years since I tried it last, and it's really improved:
  • It's now a lot easier to install on Ubuntu.
  • It's now a lot easier to integrate with panels such as gnome-panel or xmobar.
  • It's now a lot easier to try out various layouts, and there are more layouts to choose from.
Every time I try out a tiling window manager, I am reminded of the fact that I fundamentally disagree with the premise:
  • They think that maximizing a window as much as possible whenever possible is useful. I think that's true with terminals and chat windows, but less so for many other windows. For instance, I always want GVim to be 80 columns wide.
  • They think that minimizing windows to very small sizes is more acceptable than allowing windows to overlap. I disagree.
  • They think that forcibly resizing windows won't break them. Unfortunately, forcibly resizing windows makes the Gimp look terrible, and it often cuts off the last line of text in GVim.
  • They think that I don't care about having an integrated desktop environment such as the one GNOME provides. In reality, I like the idea of using weird window managers as part of my GNOME desktop. I really like all those things that Ubuntu puts on my gnome-panel such as the network manager, update manager, mixer, etc.
Fortunately, of all the tiling window managers, xmonad is the most understanding of my needs:
  • It works with the gnome-panel.
  • It has layout managers that can take hints from applications so as not to chop off the last line of text in GVim.
  • It can create exceptions for certain applications, such as the Gimp, placing them in a "floating" layer that is more suitable for such applications.
  • It has layouts that allow windows to overlap in useful ways.
Hence, xmonad is my favorite among all the tiling window managers that I've tried. There are a couple premises that I fundamentally agree with:
  • Having the computer help you manage your windows using smart algorithms is a good idea.
  • Trying bold, new ideas in user interface design is a great idea.
That last point is important. There's a great saying in The Myths of Innovation: "Don't worry about people stealing your ideas. If they're any good, you'll have to cram them down people's throats!" Not every new idea is good, but trying out lots of new ideas is very good.

xmonad exemplifies what I'd like to see more of in the Linux world. Linux has always been a little behind in terms of user interface design. Instead of cloning Windows or OS X, I really like the idea of creating our own new, interesting, and clever approaches to user interface design. Do you remember the time when neither Windows nor OS X had virtual desktops? I like having things that those guys don't have, which is why I'm happy to see the innovation that xmonad is providing.


Shannon -jj Behrens said...

I blogged about my xmonad setup here:

Geoff said...

You might want to also look at bluetile

It's based on xmonad, has GNOME integration out of the box, and window management is possible with the mouse as well as the keyboard.

Don Stewart said...

@Geoff : note that bluetile is a research fork of xmonad that is being merged in to the main line (the author is an xmonad developer).

Expect to see bluetile features in xmonad 1.0 (some are in 0.9)

Shannon -jj Behrens said...

Interesting. Thanks!

Shannon -jj Behrens said...

Bluetile looks very nice. I'm glad to hear it's being merged back into xmonad. I think Bluetile will open tiling window managers to everyday Linux users.

creativesumant said...

The xmonad dev team is very proud to announce that the bluetile merge was completed today. The Bluetile branch is an experimental xmonad variant whose:

focus lies on making the tiling paradigm easily accessible to users coming from traditional window managers by drawing on known conventions and providing both mouse and keyboard access for all features. It also tries to be usable ‘out of the box’, requiring minimal to no configuration in most cases.

Recently I just came across a good article on "Linux"
Here is its link.