The Artist's Guide to the Linux Desktop, Part 3

In this episode, Mr. Hammel tells us about the Window Maker window manager, a less flashy but more mature product than Enlightenment.
Figure 5. The Default Dock Applications

The default Dock applications are shown in Figure 5. The top one is the Dock itself. The next one down will launch generic xterms. The last one opens the Window Maker Preferences utility. The icons you see may differ if you are using the TIFF-based icons instead of the XPM-based icons.

Root and window menus can be partially displayed off-screen depending on where you open them, but you can scroll them back into view by moving the mouse pointer to the edge of the screen (while over the menu) and holding it there for a moment. You can see this by right-clicking near the left or right edge of the display.

Figure 6. Example of Themed Root Menus

In the default root menu (see Figure 6), the entry “Preferences Utility” under “Appearance” didn't work for me. That's because I changed the default installation directory (using --prefix when I built from the source). To fix this, edit the file $HOME/GNUstep/Library/WindowMaker/menu and comment out the line for “Preferences Utility”. You don't actually need this if you use the Application Dock. The last icon on the dock in the default configuration, the one with the heartbeat line, will launch the Preferences Utility correctly.

Clicking in the title bar of a root menu will anchor it—the menu gets a close button in the upper right, and doesn't close when the other menus are closed. To close it, click on the Close button.

There is a tool in the Preferences Utility for managing the root menu graphically, but if you use it, you lose access to the text-based versions of the menus. The graphical tool converts the text-based menu into a sort of compiled format. For moderately intelligent users, the text-based menus are quicker to update, and for internationalized menus, you are required to use the text-based menus—internationalized menus can't be managed using the graphical utility. Making manual changes to the text menus does not require restarting Window Maker; the changes are recognized the next time you open the root menu. If you choose to use the graphical interface for menu management, its updates are also recognized immediately.

The default root menu is GNUstep/Library/WindowMaker/menu. This single file holds all the menus you see hanging off the Root Menu (the Applications, Editors and Miscellaneous menus, for example). To add or delete entries from these menus, just edit this file using your favorite text editor. The root menus will get updated automatically once you save the file back to disk.

Desktop Management

Now you know what you're seeing on-screen. The next step is to decide what to do with all of this. Many of Window Maker's features have equivalent counterparts in Enlightenment, such as shaded windows: double-click the title bar to shade the window, again to open it back up. Windows can be grouped in E using manual configuration. In Window Maker, you have to select windows. Left-click in the root window, hold and drag over the windows you want to group. You can now drag these windows to another desktop. To unselect them, just left-click once in the root window.

Moving between desktops is easy: simply type ALT-#, where # is the desktop number as shown in the Clip. This is a fast way of bouncing around your desktops, something I can't currently do in my window manager, FVWM2. You can also move between desktops using the root menu Workspace submenu, the Clip menu, and, if it's enabled, by moving the mouse to the left and right edges of the display.

As you've seen, an important part of the Window Maker desktop is the Dock. It allows you to launch applications quickly. It can also be used by special Dock Applications, small programs (similar to E's epplets) that run right in the icon. Examples of these programs include clocks, system information, stock and weather reports and a chess game (see Figure 7).

Figure 7. Some Sample Dock Applications

Docked applications can launch multiple instances of an application using the technique described earlier. Some applications don't behave properly under Window Maker, however, and you can't disable their application icon, so that technique won't work. Never fear: there are alternate ways to launch multiple instances. The simplest is to use the Launch option in the docked appicons menus (right-click on a docked appicon). Selecting Launch will open another instance of that application. Alternatively, you can change the command to run in the “Settings” dialog, also from the docked appicons menu. For example, XV is normally launched as xv. This gets changed to

/bin/sh -c "exec xv&"

Now, a double click on the XV appicon in the dock will launch a new instance of XV every time.

There are many dock applications available for Window Maker. The primary web site for finding these is the DockApps Repository at

You can also find a number of interesting icons and themes plus various bits of useful documentation at


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