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.
Image is Everything

Window Maker doesn't permit quite as much variation to the window border system as Enlightenment does, but this actually simplifies the creation and use of themes. The last item in the default menu, “Appearance”, allows you to access some predefined themes and styles (essentially the same thing, from a user's perspective). The Preferences Utility is used to make specific changes to window borders and backgrounds, after which you select the Appearance-->Save Theme option to save those settings.

The Preferences Utility is not what you use to set the background, however. To set the background image, you use the wmsetbg program. Unfortunately, there doesn't appear to be a way to choose files randomly for setting the background built into the default configuration. You'll have to add entries to the root menus for each image you wish to use as a background. On the plus side, once you've set the background for a given workspace, you can save the setting so that it's always used in the future.

The Window Maker Preferences Utility (see Figure 8) is the heart of configuration for the look and feel of WM. All visual settings are configured here:

  • Animations can be disabled here. Useful for memory-limited systems like laptops.

  • Icons can be sized up or down from their default 64x64 size.

  • You can configure extra paths to search for pixmaps and icons.

  • Many keyboard shortcuts are configurable by using a graphical interface. This is very useful for someone like me. On my laptop for instance, I have one of those post mice (IBM-style red-capped post). I hate it, and I don't like moving back and forth to my real mouse on my desktop, either. I prefer just bouncing around using the keyboard when possible. Being able to configure these shortcuts easily is a welcome feature.

  • The mouse is fully configurable, too. You can specify which mouse button will open menus, how fast the mouse responds to double clicks and so forth. This is a very useful but seldom provided feature for window managers. It's especially nice that it has a graphical interface.

Figure 8. The Window Maker Preferences Utility

The Window Maker Preferences Utility, known simply as WPrefs, is also used to configure the backgrounds, window borders, title bars and icons to use for specific windows. You can't get as creative as you can with E, but the interface for making changes is fairly sophisticated and rather intuitive. As I mentioned before, the only thing it doesn't do is set the background image of the root window, which must be done manually using wmsetbg.

Some changes made using the WPrefs utility are immediate, while others require restarting Window Maker to take effect. Things like icon sizes, window auto-focus and window auto-raise all require restarting the window manager. The Exit-->Restart menu option in the Root Menu will restart Window Maker without requiring you to exit your X sessions.

Until I discovered how to resize the icons, I really hated Window Maker. I'm a minimalist at heart; my FVWM2 configuration uses very little screen space for the GoodStuff bar. The large icons are annoying to me, so I resize them down quite a bit. This has a drawback, however. Since clocks are docked appicons, they tend to require lots of space in order for me to see the clock analog hands or digital text. Similarly, many of the dock applications require at least a 64x64 appicon, or else you can't read their contents. In other words, they're cute, but they take up too much space for my taste.

One other thing about Window Maker is it supports sound. I don't like my computer making noises at me. That's why I have a stereo; I pipe CDs played on the computer through the stereo, so I don't use the sound features found in Window Maker or other window managers. However, sound support is there, if you want it.


As with my Enlightenment testing, I ran Window Maker on two systems: a 400MHz AMD K6 desktop with 256MB memory and a 200MHz Celeron laptop with 32MB memory. Both systems ran stock Red Hat 5.2 using glibc 2.0. I also ran with the latest release of Window Maker, namely the 0.61.1 release. Performance on the desktop was good in all cases. Performance on the laptop was nearly as good, although a little jumpy in a few places.

Window Maker is a little less resource-intensive than Enlightenment, mostly because Window Maker doesn't provide the wild window borders you can get with Enlightenment. That feature of E is visually stimulating, but also memory-intensive.

I found that Window Maker performed quite well on my laptop, certainly as good if not better than Enlightenment. Opaque window moves are the default and require constant redraws. This wasn't so noticeable on the desktop, but was obvious on the laptop. Opaque moves are fairly slow to update and make WM appear to be sluggish, but in reality it's not really bogged down by such movements. This can be turned off, forcing transparent (outline only) moves which give the appearance of much better performance.

Window shading was not very smooth on the laptop, even with the fast speed set. I found it worked much better if I turned off the animations on my laptop. When I double-clicked on the title bar, the window (except for the title bar) just disappeared. Double-click on the title bar again, and it comes back. Since this happens very quickly, it makes it appear as if the system is working more efficiently.

Animations, including 3-D animations for iconizing windows, were generally fairly smooth. Neither shading nor animations are as smooth as on my desktop, but neither is slow enough to be distracting or prevent me from doing other work. The bells and whistles of Window Maker can all be turned off, so performance shouldn't be a big issue for laptops.

Running Netscape and GIMP on my laptop with Window Maker was no problem. Of course, very large GIMP files will bog down any system, so I just worked on small web-sized images. Still, Window Maker ran quite well.