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Linux - Part 2

by Kyluke McDougall on 15 July 201420 min read

Desktop Environments, Window Managers and Login Managers.

Everything in Linux is a module

What does this mean? Well it means that everything can be replaced. If you don't like the login screen, you can change it, if you don't like the way your Linux installation looks, you can change it. This is where this article fits in.

Login Managers

A display manager, or login manager, is typically a graphical user interface that is displayed at the end of the boot process in place of the default shell. There are various implementations of display managers, just as there are various types of window managers and desktop environments. There is usually a certain amount of customization and themeability available with each one. From Arch Wiki - Display Managers Login managers handle the way you log into your PC. They vary from system to system and are often bundled together with your Desktop Environment or Window Manager.

  • Entrance — An EFL based display manager, highly experimental.
  • GDMGNOME display manager.
  • KDMKDE display manager.
  • LightDM — Cross-desktop display manager, can use various front-ends written in any toolkit.
  • LXDMLXDE display manager. Can be used independent of the LXDE desktop environment.
  • MDM — MDM display manager, used in Linux Mint, a fork of GDM 2.
  • Qingy — Ultralight and very configurable graphical login independent on X Windows (uses DirectFB).
  • SDDM — QML-based display manager.
  • SLiM — Lightweight and elegant graphical login solution.
  • XDM — X display manager with support for XDMCP, host chooser.

Window Managers

A window manager (WM) is system software that controls the placement and appearance of windows within a windowing system in a graphical user interface (GUI). It can be part of a desktop environment (DE) or be used standalone. From Arch Wiki - Window Managers Window managers, as the name suggest, manages the windows that you see on your computer screen. Window managers are traditionally very light weight in resources and don't contain a lot of "features". These would either have to be developed by you or another company/organisation.

  • 2bwm — Fast floating WM, with the particularity of having 2 borders, written over the XCB library and derived from mcwm written by Michael Cardell. In 2bwm everything is accessible from the keyboard but a pointing device can be used for move, resize and raise/lower. The name has recently changed from mcwm-beast to 2bwm.
  • aewm — Modern, minimal window manager for X11. It is controlled entirely with the mouse, but contains no visible UI apart from window frames. The command set is sort of like vi: designed back in the dawn of time (1997) to squeeze speed out of low-memory machines, completely unintuitive and new-user-hostile, but quick and elegant in its own way.
  • AfterStep — Window manager for the Unix X Window System. Originally based on the look and feel of the NeXTStep interface, it provides end users with a consistent, clean, and elegant desktop. The goal of AfterStep development is to provide for flexibility of desktop configuration, improving aesthetics, and efficient use of system resources.
  • Blackbox — Fast, lightweight window manager for the X Window System, without all those annoying library dependencies. Blackbox is built with C++ and contains completely original code (even though the graphics implementation is similar to that of WindowMaker).
  • Compiz — OpenGL compositing manager that uses GLX_EXT_texture_from_pixmap for binding redirected top-level windows to texture objects. It has a flexible plug-in system and it is designed to run well on most graphics hardware.
  • Enlightenment — Enlightenment is not just a window manager for Linux/X11 and others, but also a whole suite of libraries to help you create beautiful user interfaces with much less work than doing it the old fashioned way and fighting with traditional toolkits, not to mention a traditional window manager.
  • evilwm — Minimalist window manager for the X Window System. 'Minimalist' here does not mean it is too bare to be usable - it just means it omits a lot of the stuff that make other window managersunusable.
  • Fluxbox — Window manager for X that was based on the Blackbox 0.61.1 code. It is very light on resources and easy to handle but yet full of features to make an easy and extremely fast desktop experience. It is built using C++ and licensed under the MIT License.
  • Flwm — Attempt to combine the best ideas I have seen in several window managers. The primary influence and code base is from wm2 by Chris Cannam.
  • FVWM — Extremely powerful ICCCM-compliant multiple virtual desktop window manager for the X Window system. Development is active, and support is excellent.
  • Gala — A beautiful Window Manager from elementaryos, part of Pantheon. Also as a compositing manager, based on libmutter.
  • Goomwwm — X11 window manager implemented in C as a cleanroom software project. It manages windows in a minimal floating layout, while providing flexible keyboard-driven controls for window switching, sizing, moving, tagging, and tiling. It is also fast, lightweight, modeless, Xinerama-aware, and EWMH compatible wherever possible.
  • IceWM — Window manager for the X Window System. The goal of IceWM is speed, simplicity, and not getting in the user's way.
  • JWM — Window manager for the X11 Window System. JWM is written in C and uses only Xlib at a minimum.
  • Karmen — Window manager for X, written by Johan Veenhuizen. It is designed to "just work." There is no configuration file and no library dependencies other than Xlib. The input focus model is click-to-focus. Karmen aims at ICCCM and EWMH compliance.
  • KWin — The standard KDE window manager in KDE 4.0, ships with the first version of built-in support for compositing, making it also a compositing manager. This allows KWin to provide advanced graphical effects, similar to Compiz, while also providing all the features from previous KDE releases (such as very good integration with the rest of KDE, advanced configurability, focus stealing prevention, a well-tested window manager, robust handling of misbehaving applications/toolkits, etc.).
  • lwm — Window manager for X that tries to keep out of your face. There are no icons, no button bars, no icon docks, no root menus, no nothing: if you want all that, then other programs can provide it. There is no configurability either: if you want that, you want a different window manager; one that helps your operating system in its evil conquest of your disc space and its annexation of your physical memory.
  • Metacity — This window manager strives to be quiet, small, stable, get on with its job, and stay out of your attention.
  • Mutter — Window and compositing manager for GNOME, based on Clutter, uses OpenGL.
  • Openbox — Highly configurable, next generation window manager with extensive standards support. The *box visual style is well known for its minimalistic appearance. Openbox uses the *box visual style, while providing a greater number of options for theme developers than previous *box implementations. The theme documentation describes the full range of options found in Openbox themes.
  • pawm — Window manager for the X Window system. So it is not a 'desktop' and does not offer you a huge pile of useless options, just the facilities needed to run your X applications and at the same time having a friendly and easy to use interface.
  • pekwm — Window manager that once upon a time was based on the aewm++ window manager, but it has evolved enough that it no longer resembles aewm++ at all. It has a much expanded feature-set, including window grouping (similar to Ion, PWM, or Fluxbox), auto-properties, Xinerama, keygrabber that supports keychains, and much more.
  • Sawfish — Extensible window manager using a Lisp-based scripting language. Its policy is very minimal compared to most window managers. Its aim is simply to manage windows in the most flexible and attractive manner possible. All high-level WM functions are implemented in Lisp for future extensibility or redefinition.
  • TinyWM — Tiny window manager that I created as an exercise in minimalism. It is also maybe helpful in learning some of the very basics of creating a window manager. It is only around 50 lines of C. There is also a Python version using python-xlib.
  • twm — Window manager for the X Window System. It provides titlebars, shaped windows, several forms of icon management, user-defined macro functions, click-to-type and pointer-driven keyboard focus, and user-specified key and pointer button bindings.
  • UWM — The ultimate window manager for UDE.
  • WindowLab — Small and simple window manager of novel design. It has a click-to-focus but not raise-on-focus policy, a window resizing mechanism that allows one or many edges of a window to be changed in one action, and an innovative menubar that shares the same part of the screen as the taskbar. Window titlebars are prevented from going off the edge of the screen by constraining the mouse pointer, and when appropriate the pointer is also constrained to the taskbar/menubar in order to make target menu items easier to hit.
  • Window Maker — X11 window manager originally designed to provide integration support for the GNUstep Desktop Environment. In every way possible, it reproduces the elegant look and feel of the NEXTSTEP user interface. It is fast, feature rich, easy to configure, and easy to use. It is also free software, with contributions being made by programmers from around the world.
  • WM2 — Window manager for X. It provides an unusual style of window decoration and as little functionality as its author feels comfortable with in a window manager. wm2 is not configurable, except by editing the source and recompiling the code, and is really intended for people who do not particularly want their window manager to be too friendly.
  • Xfwm — The Xfce window manager manages the placement of application windows on the screen, provides beautiful window decorations, manages workspaces or virtual desktops and natively supports multiscreen mode. It provides its own compositing manager (from the X.Org Composite extension) for true transparency and shadows. The Xfce window manager also includes a keyboard shortcuts editor for user specific commands and basic windows manipulations and provides a preferences dialog for advanced tweaks.
  • Bspwm — bspwm is a tiling window manager that represents windows as the leaves of a full binary tree. It has support for EWMH and multiple monitors, and is configured and controlled through messages.
  • dswm — Deep Space Window Manager is an offshoot of Stumpwm.
  • Herbstluftwm — Manual tiling window manager for X11 using Xlib and Glib. The layout is based on splitting frames into subframes which can be split again or can be filled with windows (similar to i3/ musca). Tags (or workspaces or virtual desktops or ...) can be added/removed at runtime. Each tag contains an own layout. Exactly one tag is viewed on each monitor. The tags are monitor independent (similar to xmonad). It is configured at runtime via ipc calls from herbstclient. So the configuration file is just a script which is run on startup. (similar to wmii/musca).
  • Ion3 — Tiling tabbed X11 window manager designed with keyboard users in mind. It was one of the first of the "new wave" of tiling windowing environments (the other being LarsWM, with quite a different approach) and has since spawned an entire category of tiling window managers for X11 – none of which really manage to reproduce the feel and functionality of Ion. It uses Lua as an embedded interpreter which handles all of the configuration.
  • Notion — Tiling, tabbed window manager for the X window system that utilizes 'tiles' and 'tabbed' windows.
  • Ratpoison — Simple Window Manager with no fat library dependencies, no fancy graphics, no window decorations, and no rodent dependence. It is largely modeled after GNU Screen which has done wonders in the virtual terminal market. Ratpoison is configured with a simple text file. The information bar in Ratpoison is somewhat different, as it shows only when needed. It serves as both an application launcher as well as a notification bar. Ratpoison does not include a system tray.
  • Stumpwm — Tiling, keyboard driven X11 Window Manager written entirely in Common Lisp. Stumpwm attempts to be customizable yet visually minimal. It does have various hooks to attach your personal customizations, and variables to tweak, and can be reconfigured and reloaded while running. There are no window decorations, no icons, no buttons, and no system tray. Its information bar can be set to show constantly or only when needed.
  • subtle — Manual tiling window manager with a rather uncommon approach of tiling: Per default there is no typical layout enforcement, windows are placed on a position (gravity) in a custom grid. The user can change the gravity of each window either directly per grabs or with rules defined by tags in the config. It has workspace tags and automatic client tagging, mouse and keyboard control as well as an extendable statusbar.
  • WMFS — Window Manager From Scratch is a lightweight and highly configurable tiling window manager for X. It can be configured with a configuration file, supports Xft (FreeType) fonts and is compliant with the Extended Window Manager Hints (EWMH) specifications, Xinerama and Xrandr. WMFS can be driven with Vi based commands (ViWMFS).
  • WMFS2 — Incompatible successor of WMFS. It's even more minimalistic and brings some new stuff.
  • awesome — Highly configurable, next generation framework window manager for X. It is very fast, extensible and licensed under the GNU GPLv2 license. Configured in Lua, it has a system tray, information bar, and launcher built in. There are extensions available to it written in Lua. Awesome uses XCB as opposed to Xlib, which may result in a speed increase. Awesome has other features as well, such as an early replacement for notification-daemon, a right-click menu similar to that of the *box window managers, and many other things.
  • catwm — Small window manager, even simpler than dwm, written in C. Configuration is done by modifying the config.h file and recompiling.
  • dwm — Dynamic window manager for X. It manages windows in tiled, monocle and floating layouts. All of the layouts can be applied dynamically, optimising the environment for the application in use and the task performed. does not include a tray app or automatic launcher, although dmenu integrates well with it, as they are from the same author. It has no text configuration file. Configuration is done entirely by modifying the C source code, and it must be recompiled and restarted each time it is changed.
  • echinus — Simple and lightweight tiling and floating window manager for X11. Started as a dwm fork with easier configuration, echinus became full-featured re-parenting window manager with EWMH support. It has an EWMH-compatible panel/taskbar, called ourico.
  • euclid-wm — Simple and lightweight tiling and floating window manager for X11, with support for minimizing windows. A text configuration file controls key bindings and settings. It started as a dwm fork with easier configuration, and became a full-featured reparenting window manager with EWMH support. It has an EWMH-compatible panel/taskbar called ourico.
  • i3 — Tiling window manager, completely written from scratch. i3 was created because wmii, our favorite window manager at the time, did not provide some features we wanted (multi-monitor done right, for example) had some bugs, did not progress since quite some time and was not easy to hack at all (source code comments/documentation completely lacking). Notable differences are in the areas of multi-monitor support and the tree metaphor. For speed the Plan 9 interface of wmii is not implemented.
  • monsterwm — Minimal, lightweight, tiny but monsterous dynamic tiling window manager. It will try to stay as small as possible. Currently under 700 lines with the config file included. It provides a set of four different layout modes (vertical stack, bottom stack, grid and monocle/fullscreen) by default, and has floating mode support. It also features multi-monitor support. Each monitor and virtual desktop have their own properties, unaffected by other monitors' or desktops' settings. Configuration is done entirely by modifying the C source code, and it must be recompiled and restarted each time it is changed. There are many available patches supported upstream, in the form of different git branches.
  • Musca — Simple dynamic window manager for X, with features nicked from ratpoison and dwm. Musca operates as a tiling window manager by default. The user determines how the screen is divided into non-overlapping frames, with no restrictions on layout. Application windows always fill their assigned frame, with the exception of transient windows and popup dialog boxes which float above their parent application at the appropriate size. Once visible, applications do not change frames unless so instructed.
  • snapwm — Lightweight dynamic tiling window manager with an emphasis on easy configurability and choice. It has a built in bar with clickable workspaces and space for external text. There's five tiling modes: vertical, fullscreen, horizontal, grid and stacking. It has other features, like color support, independent desktops, choice of window placement strategy, reloadable config files, transparency support, dmenu integration, multi monitor support and more.
  • spectrwm — Small dynamic tiling window manager for X11, largely inspired by xmonad and dwm. It tries to stay out of the way so that valuable screen real estate can be used for much more important stuff. It has sane defaults and is configured with a text file. It was written by hackers for hackers and it strives to be small, compact and fast. It has a built-in status bar fed from a user-defined script.
  • Qtile — Full-featured, hackable tiling window manager written in Python. Qtile is simple, small, and extensible. It's easy to write your own layouts, widgets, and built-in commands.It is written and configured entirely in Python, which means you can leverage the full power and flexibility of the language to make it fit your needs.
  • Wingo — Fully featured true hybrid window manager that supports per-monitor workspaces, and neither the floating or tiling modes are after thoughts. This allows one to have tiling on one workspace while floating on the other. Wingo can be scripted with its own command language, is completely themeable, and supports user defined hooks. Wingo is written in Go and has no runtime dependencies.
  • wmii — Small, dynamic window manager for X11. It is scriptable, has a 9P filesystem interface and supports classic and tiling (Acme-like) window management. It aims to maintain a small and clean (read hackable and beautiful) codebase. The default configuration is in bash and rc (the Plan 9 shell), but programs exist written in ruby, and any program that can work with text can configure it. It has a status bar and launcher built in, and also an optional system tray (witray).
  • xmonad — Dynamically tiling X11 window manager that is written and configured in Haskell. In a normal WM, you spend half your time aligning and searching for windows. xmonad makes work easier, by automating this. For all configuration changes, xmonad must be recompiled, so the Haskell compiler (over 100MB) must be installed. A large library called xmonad-contrib provides many additional features

Desktop Environments

A desktop environment provides a complete graphical user interface (GUI) for a system by bundling together a variety of X clients written using a common widget toolkit and set of libraries. From Arch Wiki - Desktop Environments If you're coming from Windows or OSX, this is what you're going to be familiar with. This is also the standard for the larger distributions as they come with a complete set of tools and functionality out of the box. It is almost always recommended that you use this if you are a beginner.

  • Cinnamon — Cinnamon strives to provide a traditional user experience, similar to GNOME 2, but build on GNOME 3 technology.
  • Enlightenment — The Enlightenment desktop shell provides an efficient window manager based on the Enlightenment Foundation Libraries along with other essential desktop components like a file manager, desktop icons and widgets. It supports themes, while still being capable of performing on older hardware or embedded devices.
  • GNOME — The GNOME desktop environment is an attractive and intuitive desktop with both a modern (GNOME) and a classic (GNOME Classic) session.
  • KDE — KDE software consists of a large number of individual applications and a desktop workspace as a shell to run these applications. While the applications can be run on any desktop environment, using them together with the KDE workspace achieves even better integration while lowering system resource demands.
  • LXDE — The Lightweight X11 Desktop Environment is a fast and energy-saving desktop environment. Maintained by an international community of developers, it comes with a modern interface, multi-language support, standard keyboard short cuts and additional features like tabbed file browsing. Fundamentally designed to be lightweight, LXDE strives to be less CPU and RAM intensive than other environments.
  • MATE — Mate provides an intuitive and attractive desktop to Linux users using traditional metaphors. MATE is a fork of GNOME 2.
  • Xfce — Xfce embodies the traditional UNIX philosophy of modularity and re-usability. It consists of a number of components that provide the full functionality one can expect of a modern desktop environment, while remaining relatively light. They are packaged separately and you can pick among the available packages to create the optimal personal working environment.
  • Deepin — Deepin desktop interface and apps feature an intuitive and elegant design. Moving around, sharing and searching etc. has become simply a joyful experience.
  • EDE — The "Equinox Desktop Environment" is a DE designed to be simple, extremely light-weight and fast.
  • GNOME Flashback — GNOME Flashback is a shell for GNOME 3 which was initially called GNOME fallback mode. The desktop layout and the underlying technology is similar to GNOME 2.
  • GNUstep — GNUstep is a free, object-oriented, cross-platform development environment that strives for simplicity and elegance.
  • Hawaii — Hawaii is a lightweight, coherent and fast desktop environment that relies on Qt 5, QtQuick and Wayland and is designed to offer the best UX for the device where it is running.
  • LXQt — LXQt is the Qt port and the upcoming version of LXDE, the Lightweight Desktop Environment. It is the product of the merge between the LXDE-Qt and the Razor-qt projects: A lightweight, modular, blazing-fast and user-friendly desktop environment.
  • Maynard — Maynard is a desktop environment designed for the Raspberry Pi (but not limited to it) running on Wayland.
  • Pantheon — Pantheon is the default desktop environment originally created for the elementary OS distribution. It is written from scratch using Vala and the GTK3 toolkit. With regards to usability and appearance, the desktop has some similarities with GNOME Shell and Mac OS X.
  • ROX — ROX is a fast, user friendly desktop which makes extensive use of drag-and-drop. The interface revolves around the file manager, following the traditional UNIX view that 'everything is a file' rather than trying to hide the filesystem beneath start menus, wizards, or druids. The aim is to make a system that is well designed and clearly presented. The ROX style favors using several small programs together instead of creating all-in-one mega-applications.
  • Sugar — The Sugar Learning Platform is a computer environment composed of Activities designed to help children from 5 to 12 years of age learn together through rich-media expression. Sugar is the core component of a worldwide effort to provide every child with the opportunity for a quality education — it is currently used by nearly one-million children worldwide speaking 25 languages in over 40 countries. Sugar provides the means to help people lead fulfilling lives through access to a quality education that is currently missed by so many.
  • Trinity — The Trinity Desktop Environment (TDE) project is a computer desktop environment for Unix-like operating systems with a primary goal of retaining the overall KDE 3.5 computing style.
  • Unity — Unity is a shell for GNOME designed by Canonical for Ubuntu.