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.

There is actually a fair amount of documentation available for Window Maker. A user's guide for a previous release is on-line, but it's not quite up to date with the latest (0.61.1) release. A FAQ in text form comes with the source distribution, and an HTML version is available on-line from both the main Window Maker site ( and a few other user-supported sites. Man pages for all tools included in the source distribution are also available.


Window Maker has many nice features. For artists, Window Maker makes personalizing the desktop very simple. Themes are easy to create, easy to save and easy to install. This leaves the artist time to focus on the creative side—the creation of the tiles, backgrounds and other images used in the desktop. That's the way a desktop should work.

Window Maker also has many things I don't like. The icons are too big, initially. Since most Dock applications expect to be running in 64x64 icons, my laptop screen space is compromised. I can scale these down, but I lose the functionality in the dock appicons. I also don't like having the dock appicons running along the right side of my display. I like them along the top of the display, and I couldn't figure out how to change this orientation.

The lack of a visual pager is also a drawback. Although pagers take up screen space (and you'd think I would hate that), their usefulness far outweighs their size. The Clip is helpful, but not as much as the pagers you can get with Enlightenment or FVWM2.

Most importantly, I never iconize anything under FVWM2, so all this icon twiddling in Window Maker is a bit annoying to me. I far prefer configurable menu bars, like FVWM2's GoodStuff, where I can use very small icons (mostly for visual appeal) but still have quick access to many different applications.

Despite its drawbacks, Window Maker is a solid performer in various environments. It supports both KDE and GNOME and has a very easy-to-use graphical configuration tool. Themes are a breeze to create and save.

The main web site for Window Maker is a good place to get started, but it lacks any real details. The man page is well-written, with lots of details on what directories are used and what they are used for. Most of the truly useful information you'll find on the Web will be at user sites.

Window Maker is available precompiled in most Linux distributions these days. You don't have to build from source, but it's fairly easy to do so. There are few external requirements to get it running. This is how Window Maker differs from E: you can skip the need to know about compiling and installing software from source, something that Enlightenment depends on in its current state.

I like Window Maker, but between it and Enlightenment, I still prefer the latter. Then again, I'm an experienced desktop user. If you're new to Linux, you may find the graphically configurable Window Maker a little easier to learn. Both provide multiple desktops, themed interfaces and graphic-based desktop management tools. It's mostly a matter of taste.

The last article in this series is supposed to be on AfterStep, a window manager very similar to Window Maker and also based on the GNUStep environment. However, I may go with blackbox or sawmill instead. Both are very stable and provide some minimalistic aspects I find interesting. AfterStep is very much like Window Maker, and I'd prefer to talk about a window manager with a different design intent. If you want to get a jump on me, start out over at You can find links to all these window managers there, as well as some very useful information on configuring and using your favorite.



Michael J. Hammel ( is a graphic artist wanna-be, a writer and a software developer. He wanders the planet aimlessly in search of adventure, quiet beaches and an escape from the computers that dominate his life.