The 5 best Windows managers for Linux

No matter how many displays you use with your computer, you will never be able to fit all of the app windows onto your desktop. Unless you have the right tool.

A window manager is a perfect tool that fulfills this requirement very well and allows you to use the full potential of your computer / external display’s screen.

But what exactly is it, what does it do, and what are some of the best window managers to use on Linux? Here is a guide with the answers to all of these questions.

What is a window manager?

Like any other Unix-like operating system, Linux also uses it the X Window System (or X11) as the standard window system to generate the essential GUI elements required by various GUI-based apps to function.

Otherwise, the X11 system doesn’t have much to offer. Therefore, you cannot use it to manage and organize the app windows on your desktop the way you want.

This is where a window manager comes in. With it, you can manage the display and behavior of app windows on the screen of your computer or external monitor. In this way, you can control their placement and thus their appearance, so that you can get the most out of your display and improve your multitasking experience.

The best Windows managers for Linux

Below is a list of the best window managers for Linux – both floating and tiling – that you can use to take full advantage of your screen space.

1. Xmonad

xmonad window manager

Image source: Komrade Toast /Wikipedia

Xmonad is a free, open source dynamic tile window manager for Linux. It’s written in Haskell and comes with a configuration file to help you personalize the behavior to your liking.

Since it is written in Haskell, understanding and configuring xmonad’s configuration file right away can be quite difficult, especially if you are new to Haskell. However, for those who understand the language well, the level of customizability and ease of use goes well beyond what you can get with most window managers.

One of the biggest advantages of xmonad is that it automates the window arrangement for you so that you can concentrate better on your work. As far as the range of functions is concerned, the program offers, among other things, an extensive expansion library, Xinerama support (for multi-display setups) and spontaneous reconfiguration.

To install xmonad on Debian / Ubuntu, run:

sudo apt install xmonad

Under Arch Linux:

sudo pacman -S xmonad

On Fedora / CentOS and other RHEL-based systems:

sudo dnf install xmonad

2. Fantastic

great window manager

Credit: Wikipedia

Awesome started as a spin-off from DWM (Dynamic Window Manager) but later evolved into a full-fledged Linux window manager. One of the goals of the program was to provide a quick and easy window management solution without sacrificing advanced features. And it has largely managed to do justice to it.

It is written in Lua, a powerful programming language with an extensive scope in terms of customization. If you’re a power user who wants complete control over the GUI and window management, awesome can give you pretty much anything you could want with a well-documented API to help you with that.

One of the things that sets it apart from some other window managers is that instead of using the Xlib library, which is known to cause latency, it uses the asynchronous XCM library which ensures that your actions are not exposed to as much latency.

To install Awesome on Debian / Ubuntu:

sudo apt install awesome

Under Arch Linux:

sudo pacman -S awesome

Under Fedora / CentOS / RHEL:

sudo dnf install awesome

3. DWM

dwm window manager

Image source: Anselmgarbe /Wikipedia

DWM, or Dynamic Window Manager, is one of the older Linux window managers on this list. It’s a dynamic window tile manager and was an inspiration for developing popular window managers like xmonad and awesome, largely due to its minimal and simple functionality that just works well.

However, as a result of this lightweight approach, DWM has several shortcomings. One of them is the lack of a configuration file which complicates customizing the program elements since you now have to change the source code and build it every time you want to make a change.

Because of this, DWM is usually the preferred window manager of choice for those who need a straightforward window manager that does only one job – window management – as opposed to something that is full of additional elements and features that add complexity could become an experience.

To install DWM on Debian and Ubuntu use:

sudo apt install dwm

Under Arch Linux:

sudo pacman -S dwm

Installing DWM on Fedora / CentOS and RHEL based systems is easy:

sudo dnf install dwm

4th Ice World Cup

icewm window manager

Image source: Eryk Wdowiak /Wikipedia

IceWM is a stacking window manager written in C ++. It focuses solely on providing a quick and smooth window management experience, which makes it perfect for underpowered Linux machines. While the program is lightweight, it doesn’t compromise on basic usability and customizability.

It uses a plain text file that is much easier to modify and makes customization a breeze. It also provides documented instructions to help you change the configuration file. There are also random (read “useful”) tooltips here and there to familiarize you with the GUI elements and their functions.

An interesting GUI addition in IceWM is the integrated taskbar at the bottom, which further simplifies the management and organization of app windows and workspaces on the desktop. Similarly, it also has support for RandR and Xinerama, which is a nice touch to help you with multi-monitor setups.

To install IceWM on Debian / Ubuntu:

sudo apt install icewm

Under Arch Linux:

sudo pacman -S icewm

Under Fedora / CentOS / RHEL:

sudo dnf install icewm

5. i3

i3 window manager

Image source: Michael Stapelberg /Wikipedia

The i3 window manager is a manual window tile that supports a number of settings for window organization. It is written in C and similar to IceWM it also offers the configuration functionality via a plain text file which makes it easy to adapt its elements to your style.

At its core, i3 aims to be fast and minimal while appealing to advanced users. As such, you get the essential features like manual window placement, themes, multiple focus modes, plus advanced options like a taskbar, configurable keyboard shortcuts, and the ability to create custom scripts for further customization.

On the whole, i3’s approach is ideal for all types of users because you have control over how you want to use the program on your system. You can either use it as-is or customize it entirely to suit your needs. And that makes it suitable for low-powered computers too.

Under Debian / Ubuntu:

sudo apt install i3

To install i3 on Arch Linux:

sudo pacman -S i3

On Fedora / CentOS / RHEL systems:

sudo dnf install i3

Effectively manage App Windows on Linux

When you need to jump back and forth between a bunch of apps on your computer – and displays – you can use any of the window managers mentioned above to make the most of your screen space and multitask efficiently.

If you are just starting out with Linux, we recommend that you try out the i3 window manager. It’s fast, minimal, and has pretty much all of the essentials you need to organize your app windows and maximize your productivity.

Install i3 tile window manager
Get more productive on Linux with the i3 Tiling Window Manager

Would you like to save space on the screen and at the same time increase your productivity under Linux? Switch to a tile window manager like i3 today.

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