Judging from the search engine terms that show up in my WordPress dashboard, a lot of the visitors to this blog are searching for a comparison between either Fluxbox and Openbox, Openbox and Pekwm, or Pekwm and Openbox (search terms such as Pekwm vs. Openbox, or Openbox vs. Fluxbox are rather common).

To satisfy the desires of my dear readers, and to help those who want to know more about some window managers, I have therefore created the following table comparing four very popular window managers (or three very popular ones and one that I happen to like a lot :-)): Icewm, Fluxbox, Openbox and Pekwm.

Icewm, Fluxbox and Openbox have a wide user basis, and a very loyal following. Pekwm is a lesser known window manager that deserves more attention. I mainly use Openbox and Pekwm, and occasionally Icewm.

Please note that this table is not an indication of the most versatile, most developed or ‘best’ window manager. If a window manager lacks a feature, it may have some different strengths. Openbox, for example, does not support pixmap themes, but its theme options are the most complex and elaborate theme options of these four window managers (which makes creating themes for Openbox so much more fun!). Some features may also be primitively implemented: Pekwm supports dockapps, for instance, but its harbour is not very well developed. Nor does this chart provide an exhaustive list of features for these window manager. Icewm, for example, has a number of unique features that are not mentioned in this table (such as an email indicator and some system monitoring tools for the taskbar), and a lot of the basic features of window managers are left out.

I created the table so you could easily find out what each window manager can or cannot do. Choose whichever window manager you like best. Using one over the other doesn’t make you superior. 🙂

There is a reasonable possibility that this table contains some errors. If you find any, please let me know. If I can think of more categories, I’ll add those later.

Icewm Fluxbox Openbox Pekwm
First release 1997 2001? 2002 200?
Last stable release 1.2.34
(17-04-2008 )
Language C++ C++ C C++
Based on Blackbox originally Blackbox originally aewm++
EWMH standards partial partial yes partial
Panel yes yes no no
Support for dockapps no yes (slit) yes (dock) yes (harbour)
Native wallpaper support yes yes no no
Alt-tab dialog yes (vertically and horizontally!) no yes yes
Command dialog yes (in taskbar) yes (fbrun) no yes
Xinerama support yes yes yes yes
Native (fake) transparency no yes no no
Pixmap themes yes yes no yes
Multiple workspaces yes yes yes yes
Viewports no no no yes
Add/remove workspaces no no yes no
Usable screen edges no no no (in git version) yes
Strut support no no yes no
Right-click desktop menu yes yes yes yes
Configurable client menus no no no yes
Keyboard shortcuts in menus yes yes yes no
Dynamic menus no yes yes (pipe-menus) yes
Additional custom menus no yes yes yes
Icons in menus yes yes only in client-list-menus no (only in client-list-menu of git version)
Grouping/Tabbing of windows no yes no yes
Opaque moving/resizing yes yes only resizing yes
Minimize window to tray yes no no no
Hide windows yes no no no
Tiling yes (vertically and horizontally) no no (GrowTo… actions) no (‘MaxFill’ actions)
Per-app settings yes only grouping yes yes
Configurable key bindings yes yes yes yes
Chainable keygrabber no yes yes yes
Configurable mouse behaviour Some in the preferences file yes (in keys file) yes yes
Session management/
Autostarting applications
yes yes yes yes
Confirm logout yes no yes (3.4.7) no
Shutdown/reboot control no no yes (3.4.7) no
Graphical configuration tools plenty Fluxconf, Fluxmenu Obconf, Obmenu no

Orange and Black

April 20, 2008

To my surprise I have been using the same desktop setup (wallpaper, themes, icons, fonts, panels, etc.) for nearly two months now. Though I have occasionally gone for very different colours or a different window manager, I generally returned quickly to Pekwm and the following setup:

This environment turned out to be nearly perfect for my needs. It is aesthetically pleasing but not distracting. There are no icons at the bottom (or top) of the screen attracting my attention, and all the colours go well together, even with OpenOffice, the application I rely on most for my work.

The wallpaper is Golden, by Miemo. The Pekwm theme is a slight modification of Mire v2-orange by Lyrae/Thrynk. The Gtk theme is my own creation, though it is heavily based on MurrinaSunshine. The fonts are Arial Rounded MT 9.

The icons are my own modification of the Area O (areo) icon set, originally created by the great Heylove. They were ported, (without heylove’s consent, I believe) to Gtk, but are no longer visible on gnome-look.org. I think they are still included in some theme archive over there, but can’t remember which.

I changed the colour of the theme to match my Gtk and Pekwm theme, and made a few other modifications. The original icons set used a single icon for all file types — very impractical! — so I’ve added icons for each mimetype, indicating what file extension they have. Since the icon set is also incomplete, I’ve added a few icons to have a more uniform style. I don’t own the rights to these icons, and have only modified them for personal use, so unfortunately I can’t pass them on (I am one of those strange people that take copyrights seriously :-))

The panel at the bottom of the screen is pypanel with netwmpager on the right. The applications running in the second screenshot are (clockwise, starting from the upper left corner): the wonderful file manager Thunar, Orage, Gmpc (my favourite mpd client, which is surprisingly light), and Xfce4-terminal. At the top of the screen you can see dmenu in action.

There are a few minor disadvantages to this setup. (1) I don’t have a system tray. I don’t want to use pypanel’s tray, as the icons don’t go well with the rest of the style. If I really want/need a system tray I generally load docker in the harbour, though I have learned to work without a system tray most of the time. (If there were a text-based system tray (ttm-style), I might try to integrate it into my desktop, but I don’t believe something like that exists). (2) I still haven’t figured out how to launch OpenOffice with the Gtk widgets in Pekwm (apart from ooffice –widgets-set gtk), so I still have to launch it from the terminal. “export OOO_FORCE_DESKTOP=gnome” works in .bashrc, but not in Pekwm’s start file.

I’ve heard the Ubuntu developers want to create an orange and black Gtk theme for the next Ubuntu release (8.10). If it looks like this, I won’t complain.

I’ve recently found a very comprehensive and informative overview of window managers for Linux: ‘The Window Manager Report’.

I’m sometimes amused by the number of persons that still direct new users of Linux for more information about window managers to Xwinman.org (where Window Maker still heads the charts as most popular window manager and Openbox or Pekwm aren’t even choices in the poll). I used to think that was the only overview of window managers available (other than Wikipedia), and was therefore very pleasantly surprised to find this excellent site.

Giles Orr, the creator of the website, gives a comprehensive table of window managers, giving a brief description, linking to its homepage, Wikipedia, and Freshmeat page (where applicable), and mentioning when the wm was last updated. You can sort the table according to your preferences (name, version number, release date, etc.).

He also provides a Bloodlines chart, showing who borrowed ideas and/or code from whom.

If that wasn’t enough, he also created a table of the memory usage of window managers, indicating how light or heavy a window manager runs as well as on how many libraries it depends. If you only want a window manager written in a particular language (C++, Python, etc.), you’ll be happy to know that he also has a page for that.

The site is regularly updated. The last update for the window manager overview was done yesterday (April 7 2008). Giles Orr started with reviews of window managers last year, but hasn’t added any lately.

This site has helped me discover some unknown window managers, as well as a few neat ‘helper applications‘ (even, or especially, if that page mentions some archaic apps). Many thanks Giles! 🙂