To Tile or Not to Tile


I’m a generally average Linux user. I’m not a coder/designer, nor do I run any huge servers. I’m an IT major in college, and surely know my way around computers, but I’m not anything particularly special. The way I’ve always experienced Linux was with a classic Desktop Environment (DE), where basically everything I need is included. I used mostly GUI applications, and used command line sparingly.

 As I’ve become more and more comfortable with Linux, I’ve learned of the power the command line holds, and I’ve learned that the thing I love most about Linux is making it my own. I can make it look, act, and feel however I want. I can have a bloated system with all the fancy UI effects that has everything any user could need, or I can customize it to the point that others barely know how to use my computer, let alone do any harm.

As of late, my old habits changed, and I’m making the shift towards the sleek, customized feel. I’ve been playing around with Window Managers (WM) which mimic Desktop Environments in many ways, but don’t include all those unnecessary programs that I found myself cursing after some time. No, I don’t need KAlarm, Koffice, and Kate; in fact, they just get in the way of the programs I want to use.

 At first I tried e17, the Enlightenment window manager, which boasts customizability and minimalistic design. It sounded perfect for my transition from full fledged KDE or Gnome desktop environment to sleek, customized window manager. I have to admit, compared to KDE or Gnome, I really liked e17. I customized it to fit my look, and never have I used multiple desktops so efficiently. I had a black theme installed that I loved, and none of the crazy bloat that comes with most desktop environments. 

With my Linux palate sufficiently wet, I decided to start trying more and more window managers. I went through the basics with openbox and fluxbox, but nothing surpassed e17. I then heard about ‘Tiling Window Managers’ which organize your applications into many desktops, and tile themselves on your screen. At first I was reluctant because it sounded like something necessary for those hardcore ‘power users’, but after hearing of some tiling window managers I decided to give ‘awesome’ a try.

Boy am I happy I did. There are plenty of tiling window managers out there, but I decided on awesome after hearing some good things. I’ve now got 7 dedicated desktops (main, www, irc, office, im, media, and files), and two miscellaneous desktops, which keep me organized. After a quick overview of the keyboard shortcuts to switch between windows and screens, you quickly become accustomed to the shortcuts and stop needing your mouse for much outside of web browsing. I’ve also begun using more CLI programs, which use less resources and often times prove to be more efficient. Where I once used xchat, I now use irssi, and where I once used Amarok, I now use mp3blaster. Of course, I can still use the GUI programs like any other window manager, but I’ve learned to love the command line.

I think when people first hear about tiling window mangers, they worry that their screen isn’t big enough (I’m on a  16in laptop by the way, 1366×768), or that they’re made for true coders and Linux power users. If you get over your fears and try a tiling window manager, and take the time to customize it for yourself, you’ll learn to love it. My small screen works just fine, and I can use multiple desktops to have everything I need running.

To tile or not to tile? I say give it a try, and see what you think. You may just be surprised with how easy to use and efficient they can be.