7 Issues You Ought to Know Earlier than Switching to a Window Supervisor

The idea of ​​creating a personalized desktop forces many Linux users to install a window manager. There are many reasons to ditch your current desktop environment and switch to a window manager instead, but since each comes from a different form, this is not a "one-size-fits-all" case.

Here are a few things to know before replacing your desktop environment with a window manager.

Windows managers vs. desktop environments

A window manager is a program that is responsible for positioning and displaying windows in a GUI. These programs can be part of a larger desktop environment or can be used as a stand-alone desktop.

A desktop environment usually consists of a window manager, widgets, and other utilities that interact with the rest of the applications to provide an interactive user experience. Some popular desktop environments are KDE Plasma, GNOME, Xfce, LXQt, Cinnamon, etc.

i3wm, bwspm, dwm, KWin (used in KDE) and Metacity (used in GNOME) are some examples of window managers.

1. Windows managers use fewer resources

Are you someone who really believes in the saying "free RAM is wasted RAM" or do you want to use a lightweight desktop to minimize the memory consumption of your system? If you can relate to the latter then congratulations, using a window manager will feel right at home to you.


According to Unihost, GNOME and KDE use 736 MB and 633 MB of memory, respectively. On the other hand, window managers like i3wm and awesome only use 3MB and 9MB of memory while running. Note that this amount does not take into account the memory required by other utilities that you need to install, such as menus and status bars.

In conclusion, if you want to compromise on looks for better performance, Window Managers are the one for you. However, this doesn't mean that window managers don't look attractive and noticeable.

2. Window managers are highly customizable

While desktop environments like KDE Plasma are known for their immense customization options, they stand no chance against window managers when it comes to customization. You can literally change every aspect of your desktop with window managers, including (but not limited to) window placement, how it looks, title bars, taskbars, and more.

To see the real power of window managers, go to r / unixporn and check out the WM desktop customizations (or "rice") submitted by users. If you too want to create a personalized desktop that looks and works the way you want it, window managers are definitely a better choice for you.

3. Window managers are complicated

There is a great deal of complexity associated with the power of customization. The behavior and appearance of window managers are usually derived from text files known as configuration files. After installing a window manager, you spend most of your time working with configuration files, changing variable values, and adding commands.

An experienced Linux user can get through the customization phase without much trouble, but newbies can often find it difficult to learn how to change the configuration file, let alone that each configuration file follows a different syntax. This is because each window manager is written in a different programming language and uses a different format to interpret the commands it writes.

4. You will need to set up the basic utilities manually

Unlike desktop environments, a window manager doesn't even come with basic utilities like a menu or status bar. You have to install each program manually and set it up to your liking. In addition, with each new program comes a new configuration file that you have to deal with, which further increases the complexity.

If you don't want your first window manager experience to be a blank dark screen, consider installing a menu system, status bar, wallpaper utility, and compositor along with the WM package.

5. Window managers have keyboard-centric navigation

If you are used to navigating the system with the mouse, you will find it difficult to get used to the keyboard-driven navigation of most window managers. However, that doesn't mean you can't use a mouse or touchpad at all.

You can still click and browse the system with your mouse, but in general, window managers are best for those who have a high fondness for keyboards.

Navigating a window manager depends on custom keyboard shortcuts that include a mod key (usually the Super Key). For example, to open the terminal in i3wm you need to press Mod + Enter. You can also change the position of the next window with Mod + H or Mod + V, depending on whether you want a horizontal or vertical orientation.

Because window managers are highly customizable, you can add new key bindings to the configuration file and even change the default settings.

6. Choosing an ideal window manager is difficult

As with other things on Linux, you will be overwhelmed with the number of window managers available. While for some users this increases choice, for others it is a red sign that comes with indecision and frustration.

Which one you should choose depends on the features you want. Do you prefer stacking or tiling window managers? Perhaps you need a window manager written in a language you are familiar with. In either case, you have several options to choose from.

Related: The Best Windows Managers for Linux

7. Window managers can be difficult to customize

It was difficult to get used to the desktop the first time you installed Linux. And so will switch to a window manager. But if you are willing to work hard and invest your time, you will quickly get past the initial learning phase.

Since you will be customizing the desktop yourself, you will already know most of the things about your system. Starting programs, moving between workspaces, and changing utilities are some of the things you need to learn. The best way to get familiar with the user interface is to install a window manager next to a desktop environment and use it as your daily driver.

As a newbie, should you use window managers?

New Linux users may feel overwhelmed when exposed to window managers. While there is no rule that you cannot use a WM as a beginner, it is still not recommended given the complexities associated with window managers. But Linux is for the tinkerer and people who like to try new things, and you can install and use whatever you want.

You should only replace your desktop environment with a window manager if you are determined to hold out with all of the loops that come with it. If you're not ready to move on to a window manager, consider installing different desktop environments and see which one works for you.

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About the author

Deepesh Sharma
(96 published articles)

Deepesh is Junior Editor for Linux at MUO. He writes informational guides on Linux with the aim of providing a blissful experience for all newbies. I'm not sure about movies, but if you want to talk about technology, he's your man. In his spare time he can be found reading books, listening to different genres of music, or playing guitar.

From Deepesh Sharma

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