Sunday, 3 January 2010

Mulling over WM options

Skinny’s window manager for the last two releases has been IceWM. IceWM packs a lot into a little space, is kind of standards compliant, isn’t anguishing to configure, and is fairly reliable. It’s worst sins are: its looks will never win any awards, its system tray is a bit buggy (esp. with the Network Manager applet), and development seems a bit stalled.

In what follows I muse over other lightish WM options, in no particular order. I’ll probably edit this entry as I think of/discover new stuff.


A good many people really like Fluxbox. I’ve always sensed great potential with FB but have also always had issues with it. In its current incarnation, the biggest problems are:

  • When you right-click on the taskbar for the first time, the resulting menu doesn’t show up completely on the screen. Subsequent right-clicks work fine though.
  • Raising windows from the taskbar right-click menu doesn’t work. It brings the window up for a split second, and then everything returns to the prior layering.
  • The toolbar doesn’t have a “raise on drag” feature. By this I mean the following: Let’s say you have two file manager windows open. You grab an icon in one of the windows and drag it over the taskbar entry for the other window. Many taskbars will raise the window corresponding to the entry on the taskbar that you have dragged over. FB’s doesn’t. Such a feature is really useful once you start to use it even a little.
  • FB doesn’t catch all icons for apps that other WMs do and (unlike IceWM) doesn’t seem to have a way to manually set the icons for given apps. This problem can be overcome by using an fbpanel and specifying icons there, but fbpanel adds a lot of weight to the setup.
  • The toolbar is not covered by (at least) VLC when in fullscreen mode.
  • I’ve had occasional problems coming out of hibernation … though this might not be FB’s fault.
  • Like IceWM, development seems to be stalled or at best sporadic.

Things I like about it are:

  • It packs a decent punch for its size.
  • The root menu has icons—which makes it easier to navigate.
  • It’s not a total pain to configure. There are decent GUI-ish apps to help you configure (but at the moment the keybinding editor is broken).
  • It can be made to look really nice pretty easily.


Openbox seems to be the inheritor of the *box throne (BlackBox -> Fluxbox -> Openbox). It’s the WM used by LXDE and Crunchbang Linux. It has a lot going for it, but there are few things about it that are problems for Skinny:

  • It doesn’t have a built-in taskbar-ish anything. The idea here is sound—you can choose whatever you want—but this results in quite a bit more weight. Openbox by itself clocks in at about the same size as FB or IceWM; adding fbpanel adds about double that, perlpanel scads more. tint2 may be lighter than fbpanel (I need to check), but its behaviors seem strange to me: in particular there is no menu on right-click on a taskbar item and there again is no raise-on-drag.
  • The root menu doesn’t allow icons, making things harder to navigate.


  • It seems to be well-behaved.
  • It works better with xcompmgr than either IceWM or Fluxbox (but I’ve had problems with xcompmgr in all three eventually).
  • It is actively developed.


JWM is used by both Puppy Linux and Damn Small Linux. It is very light, comprehensive, and configurable. It’s major downsides are that the config file’s syntax is a bit confusing and you must configure application icons manually for each and every app that you run. The latter is a deal-breaker for me.


I need to spend more time with this one.

  1. Ibidem

    Wednesday, June 16, 2010 - 04:27:58

    I’m a long-time IceWM/Ubuntu user, and had a few responses to the complaints about IceWM.
    First, development is not stalled. IceWM 1.3.6 was released a while after you wrote this article, and IceWM 1.3.x is the “testing/development” series, so the error is understandable.
    Second, “it’s looks will never win any awards.”
    Sounds like you haven’t tried any themes that didn’t ship with Debian. While the default themes (and perhaps icewm-themes) are admittedly indicative of very bad taste, you might try a look at the Puppy IceWM Themes Exchange:
    (note that “.pet” themes are extractable with tar -xzf, and the theme will usually be in ./root/.icewm/themes/)
    Or at Box-look:

    I’ll admit that the system tray is somewhat buggy, though Network Manager may have some issues on its side–I use wicd on Ubuntu.

  2. mithat

    Wednesday, June 16, 2010 - 11:01:52


    Thanks for the info! I’m glad that IceWM development is not stalled and look forward to working with the new versions. I see that 1.3.7 is already in Debian Testing and Ubuntu Lucid is shipping 1.3.6. This is great news.

    Regarding themes, I did take a pretty good look around the web for nice ones–including–but I think I neglected the Puppy IceWM Themes Exchange. Thanks for the tip. However, I still think it’s safe to say that really nice looking and usable IceWM themes are not easy to find.

    Finally, I’ll second your support for wicd. I use it on my laptop Skinny install and would prefer it to NetworkManager even if NM worked well with IceWM 1.2.35 and 37. But this being Linux and all, it would be great if we had the choice, and I hope the new IceWM release fixes all the outstanding issues with the system tray!

    Again, thanks for the heads up!

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