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Has the Development of Window Managers Slowed? 437

Posted by Cliff
from the when-updates-begin-to-slow-to-a-crawl dept.
al3x asks: "When I first got into Linux nearly five years ago, the new releases of competing window managers (like Blackbox, Enlightenment, Sawfish, etc.) were a constant thrill, and great strides were made with every release. I can't count the number of nights spent trying to get that sexy new E build to work, and what fun it was! But these days, window manager development seems to be stagnating. The last stable release of Enlightenment is from last year. Sawfish hasn't done much of anything in months, nor has Blackbox. WindowMaker had a recent update, but not with any exciting new features (it is rock solid, however). Now, verging from the paths of window manager favoritism or "they haven't been updated because they just work," why has development in this arena slowed to a crawl, and what's on the horizon?"
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Has the Development of Window Managers Slowed?

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  • Enough already? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Phil Wilkins (5921) on Sunday October 07, 2001 @06:11PM (#2399551)
    Could it be possible that yet-another-window-manager, just isn't a particularly interesting project to work on any more?

    We've had the pre-cambrian explosion, time for the mass extinction.
  • Golem (Score:4, Interesting)

    by frohike (32045) <bard.allusion@net> on Sunday October 07, 2001 @06:11PM (#2399552) Homepage
    One of the promising window managers that's (IMHO) up and coming is Golem [sf.net], being developed by a friend of mine. It's very simple but all of its features are provided by fast plugins. This is kinda like Sawfish, but without the overhead of a Lisp interpreter. Anyone looking for a new WindowManager to try out (and develop on) ought to check it out!
    • Re:Golem (Score:2, Interesting)

      Looks pretty good. After a cursory look at it, I'm impressed. It might even make me change over from WindowMaker.
  • Couple possabilities (Score:5, Interesting)

    by nuintari (47926) on Sunday October 07, 2001 @06:13PM (#2399559) Homepage
    I can't speak for all fo them, but AfterStep is undergoing a pretty big change, and as far as I know Enlightenment is getting a total rewrite. That'll slow down developement something fierce. Then ya look at some of the minimal ones, notably Blackbox and Sawfish, they both do what they were intended to do. new features aren't in the focus of some of the more minimalistic projects, so anything at this point is bug fixes. I don't know much about WindowMaker, but they could be working on a very new release, which could be in pre alpha states right now. Check the CVS of your favorites out and take a look, some of the code in the afterstep 1.9 is just great, but last time I checked, I still couldn't get it to compile completely.
    • by Glytch (4881)
      Windowmaker is pretty much in the "add little features, fix little bugs" category from what I've seen in the changelogs. 0.70 was just released a few days ago, and (just speaking anecdotally) it works flawlessly. I never even have to touch the config files by hand anymore, the WPrefs tool works fine. And coming from a die-hard Slackware control-freak like me, that's saying something.

      I think the development team should just declare it to be version 1.0. Windowmaker is stable and full-featured enough for it. :)
      • by Brainchild (4234)
        I never even have to touch the config files by hand anymore, the WPrefs tool works fine. And coming from a die-hard Slackware control-freak like me, that's saying something.

        And if you're even more of a control freak than that (like i sometimes am), you can use the wdwrite utility to store selected preferences, and then use the WPrefs tool and whatnot to handle the rest.

        I think the development team should just declare it to be version 1.0. Windowmaker is stable and full-featured enough for it. :)

        Close, but not quite. Alfredo's working on support for the _NET_WM spec (or whatever the devil that Grand Unified Post-ICCCCCM Extension is called nowadays), to support next-generation KDE and GNOME and whatnot. Once that's there, together with up-to-date documentation, then i would agree with the v1.0 thing.

    • Then ya look at some of the minimal ones, notably Blackbox and Sawfish, they both do what they were intended to do.

      Exactly. I use Sawfish and I love it. It's much lighter than E, hasn't crashed yet, and integrates nicely with Gnome 1.4. And it's not ugly (with the right theme).

      Plus it supports xinerama pretty nicely, aside from dialogs popping up in between screens once in a while.
    • by ameoba (173803)
      [blockquote]
      Then ya look at some of the minimal ones, notably Blackbox and Sawfish, they both do what they were intended to do. new features aren't in the focus of some of the more minimalistic projects, so anything at this point is bug fixes.
      [/blockquote]
      Which brings up one of the big differences between Free software and Commercial software; Since there is no real revenue stream to maintain, there isn't a long string of marketing dictatated releases after the project reaches maturity. TeX is a notable example, freezing the features, and working towards bugs (and extending the version number towards Pi).

      I'm sure everyone here has heard the "release early, release often" mantra/slogan which applies to the early part of the development process, but what universal wisdom about the back-side of the dev. process do we have? We can follow the steps of TeX (as it appears many window managers have), and be happy with a solid, stable program, or we can take the path of feature-bloat, and keep adding things because they're nifty. (Mozilla comes to mind..)
  • They matured (Score:3, Insightful)

    by C0vardeAn0nim0 (232451) on Sunday October 07, 2001 @06:13PM (#2399561) Journal
    KDE today is as good as window manager as MS windows or Apple finder, Gnome is getting closer, WindowMaker is rock solid and is small and fast, as Kojima dreamt years ago.

    Until someone comes with a unbelievable great idea, things will go slow for a while.

    And since the window managers "market" (don't know if this word can be applied to open source) are stable now, only the best and most used WM (gnome, WindowMaker, KDE) sees any development.
    • by Djaak (59417)
      ...KDE & Gnome aren't window managers but desktop environnements.
      And the finder is yet something else (I'll leave to
      Mac users to explain exactly what that thing is). I
      know this rebuttal is annoying but hey, can't compare
      apple to orange as they say !
    • KDE today is as good as window manager as MS windows or Apple finder, Gnome is getting closer

      I use a GNOME desktop with the Sawfish window manager. There are exactly no things I wish were better; as far as I am concerned, GNOME is equal to Windows in the window manager department.

      I use a pretty theme called aq3, which is vaguely Aqua-ish, but not slavishly. For my wife's account I use RedMonk, which looks and works exactly like the Windows 98 she is used to.

      I will be happy when GNOME organizes the control panel thing a bit better, and I'd like a better menu editor, and there are a few other nits I can pick... but I'm completely happy with Sawfish as it is on GNOME today.

      steveha
  • GO KDE! (Score:5, Informative)

    by ekrout (139379) on Sunday October 07, 2001 @06:13PM (#2399567) Journal
    I think that this is primarily because desktop environments have taken over. The KDE folks must be hooked-up to caffeine IVs based on how fast they release updates and totally new applications. Ximian GNOME is also quite nice, and has a large following. Basically, "window managers" as we know them have been replaced by these more full-featured environments that are helping to bring Linux to the desktop.
    • Re:GO KDE! (Score:5, Informative)

      by Nelson (1275) on Sunday October 07, 2001 @06:47PM (#2399706)
      That's correct. In fact, I'd go as far as to say the the very concept of window managers has been a hurdle slowing down the progress of the GNOME.


      For a while there was a debate about "the GNOME window manager" and then there was the whole E thing when people were getting frustrated and quitting their jobs. Sawfish came out to fill a void and that's what it has done and now it doesn't seem as important that it get's all the newest wiz-bang gadgetry.


      Newer versions of E are sounding more and more like they are trying to build a desktop or new environment than simply a window manager, that's great, more power to them.


      But the essential truth is that for the majority of Linux users the window manager concept has come and gone and that desktops are where it is all happening now.

      • Gtk broke E (Score:2, Interesting)

        by Mandelbrute (308591)
        and then there was the whole E thing when people were getting frustrated and quitting their jobs.
        When E was adopted as the gnome window manager, incorporation of a few things broke E on everything but i86 platforms, gtk was in a SERIOUS state of flux at the time and at least one individual got extremely upset at the idea of Raster having his own widgets, and possibly supporting kde hints in the future (which was done). Hence E went back to being a cross-platform window manager designed to work with both gnome and kde.

        The gimp toolkit (gtk) has of course improved enormourly since then and is now cross platform. Athough, if something like thai language support in pango is broken, then it won't compile. It was an intersting exercise finding that I couldn't configure pango to leave it out and couldn't have gtk without pango.

        The bit about Raster getting frustrated with his job was between him and an unprofessional middle manager at RedHat (who probably didn't last long) that hadn't quite worked out how to use email. It became very public because the guy didn't know how to use email.

    • And according to the KDE 3.0 TODO list, KWin is undergoing a major overhaul.

      Having poked and prodded the insides of KWin, it is a very nice window manager. Small, fast, elegant. The philosophy seems to be just manage windows, nothing else. (sort of like sawmill). I don't know much they could do to improve it.
    • The concept of `I eschew a desktop environment for a window manager' is false. All window managers are a desktop environment of some kind and contain a window manager along with other features. Got a way of bringing up an app menu? That's not part of window management, so you're also a user environment.

      Whether this is a list box or an icon is irrelevant and is certainly not the difference between a desktop env and a wm. Does GNOME stop being a desktop when everybody who runs it turns of Nautilus so that their system works properly, and runs their desktop without icons?

      Blackbox/IceWM/Sawfish is a desktop environment. Its just a less bloated / full featured as KDE or GNOME.

    • I think that this is primarily because desktop environments have taken over.

      Not completely. 'Simple' WMs still have a 'niche market' (if this term has any meaning in OSS) with people wich use relatively old hardware(and wasn't Linux praised for never obsoleting your hardware?), or for people which prefer snappy response to thight integration.

      Like myself: I still use (and hope to use for another couple of years) a Pentium 150 MHz laptop with 80 MB [the maximum it can handle]. Already had performance problems with the 1.x versions of KDE/Gnome. I'm not even going to try the 2.x ones.My current set-up is Window Maker(I like better Sawmill micro-gui theme, but WM gives me the 'dockapps' bonus), coupled with ROX-Filer (with panel).
      Not the best integrated of desktops, maybe. But I like it so much that I recently ditched Gnome (which I quite like anyway) also on my 800 MHz Athlon desktop, to try the same setup. From the increase in responsiveness (especially but not only the start/up of apps), I don't think I'll go back.

      So, thanks to all the developers of 'simple' window managers and other little tools which allows me (and I believe many others according to what I read on the Net) to build my own dektop interface.

  • Hmm... (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Phasedshift (415064)
    Perhaps because the economy sucks right now? I imagine more people are worried about their jobs and paying rent then developing a window manager that they aren't making any money off of (or very little)...

    Either that or they are really busy watching pr0n...
    • On the other hand, if you are out of work then you might do some free development to pass the time. After all most people aren't spending every waking moment looking for the next job.
  • e17 (Score:3, Informative)

    by technomancerX (86975) on Sunday October 07, 2001 @06:16PM (#2399576) Homepage
    Seems like following the progress of e17 is interesting enough in and of itself... something about a multi-threaded open gl accelerated window manager what also includes a file manager and full widget library strikes me as 'making progress'. Not to mention the coolness of the underlying libraries...

    .technomancer

  • Why E has slowed (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Raster Burn (213891) on Sunday October 07, 2001 @06:21PM (#2399597)
    I've been lurking on their devel mailing list (check out their project page [sf.net]) and E's progress has slowed because of the recent downturn the tech industry. Open source programmers need jobs too....
    • by Anonymous Coward
      Surely if they're unemployed, they have more time to work on open source projects? Or do they just spend all their time wallowing in a mire of self-pity.
      • by cymen (8178) <cymenvig@@@gmail...com> on Sunday October 07, 2001 @06:39PM (#2399674) Homepage
        They just loose hope, fire up Windows and load PowerPoint to start a job presentation, and then get a deadly macro virus that kills their hard disk with the dreaded click of death hex code patch...

        Seriously - whenever there is a problem just look to Microsoft for the cause.

        [note: for the human impaired this is a joke, of course it may or may not be funny]
      • Re:Why E has slowed (Score:2, Interesting)

        by Zurk (37028)
        well..i cant speak for all programmers but looking for a job is a full time job in itself. going for interviews, applying for jobs, looking up ads, interviewing etc etc. Also the tech downturn has left some of us no other option but to start with commercial projects in case we loose our existing jobs. part time work is also another thing that sucks up time. at times like these its better to have a full time AND a part time job as a fallback and that sucks up time.
  • IceWM? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by X-Dopple (213116) on Sunday October 07, 2001 @06:22PM (#2399604)
    I've been following IceWM rather closely for the past year, and it's at 1.0.9 - released a week or so ago, IIRC.

    Really, though, what features are there to add to window managers? If you add too many features, then you end up like Enlightenment, which IMO is more like a desktop environment than a window manager.
    • I've never been quite clear on the distinction between a window manager and a desktop environment. What does a destop environment have, that a window manager doesn't?
      • What does a destop environment have, that a window manager doesn't?

        If I had to give a snappy answer, I'd say file management in a visual fashion (so 'ls' doesn't really count). Icons on the desktop, drawers, panels, folders, all are basically file management. Using a widget set for apps to utilize and interoperate with each other is also part of what makes a suite considered a single "desktop environment", but you can patch together a desktop environment all your own with different tools, so yes, twm, tkdesk, and an xterm running vi is a desktop environment, and perfectly good for some, unacceptable to others who prefer to have the same keyboard commands and the same common menu items act the same way across applications.

        Me, I don't care, I just like the tools that make me productive. I do like having copy/paste and drag&drop work in a sensible fashion across applications tho.
      • It's only so confusing because few window managers are only window managers. A window manager manages the windows -- their placement on the screen, the manner of arranging them, and focus. Presumably it also does virtual desktops because there's no one else to do them.

        A desktop environment is pretty much everything else on the desktop -- a launcher, file manager, maybe an object system for files and components... it's kind of fuzzy. A window manager is part of a desktop environment.

        For a long time no one was stepping up to do the work of making a real desktop environment, so the people who made window managers made small steps in that direction. For instance, the dock in Afterstep and Windowmaker -- there's really no decent reason it should be part of the window manager, but no one else was making it, so what the hell.

        It probably also had something to do with a crude interface between the window manager and applications, where the specific behavior that you wanted in a dock wasn't possible to create without being integrated with a window manager. Those interfaces have been improved, so it's no longer necessary to integrate.

  • Fvwm2 (Score:4, Insightful)

    by gweihir (88907) on Sunday October 07, 2001 @06:25PM (#2399616)
    I don't know what the problem is. I am still pretty satisfied with fvwm2. And some features you don't get in. e.g. KDE. Like the virtual desktop (FvwmPager) with the individual desktops actually being next to each other. Great for very large windows! And the switching mechanism (hit the border with the mouse) rocks!

    I don't need all these graphical, slow and unintuitive menues. I am completely satisfied if I can add the shortcuts I need in 5 minutes to the pop up menues and have all the desktop space for my own use.

    And I don't want to redo customization all the time. Basically I have had the same Fvwm2 configuration for years, with only small modifications. That means I can find everything very fast, because I know where things are!
    • Re:Fvwm2 (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Rich (9681) on Sunday October 07, 2001 @07:02PM (#2399773) Homepage
      You might like to try using the NET enhanced version of FVWM. This adds supports for the extended WM hints specification agreed to by both KDE and GNOME. The homepage is http://fvwm-ewmh.sourceforge.net/ [sourceforge.net]. The existence of this extension also shows that while WM development might have slowed, it hasn't stopped.
    • Re:Fvwm2 (Score:2, Informative)

      by KerrAvonsen (518107)
      Agreed. I've tried E and Sawfish with GNOME, and I find I simply miss the FvwmPager too much. It has features (like the way you can drag windows around) that I haven't found in any other virtual desktop. Why would I want to have to fiddle around with menus that have clunky items for "Move this window one desk to the left" when I can drag the window to exactly the desktop I want, or even "drag" it out of the Pager onto my current desktop?
      It took a little fiddling, but I use Fvwm2 and GNOME together; best of both worlds, because I do actually like the GNOME panel and the like.
      And the degree of customization that you can do to the look of Fvwm2 is enough for my simple needs -- I don't need to re-do my theme to make everything look like icicles (yes, I found an E theme that did that!); I'm happy enough to change the colours and the buttons and the menus and perhaps a transparent XPM pic or gradients to make it look pretty.
      And I don't have to learn Lisp in order to do it, either!
  • by Stinking Pig (45860) on Sunday October 07, 2001 @06:26PM (#2399622) Homepage
    XFce.org -- mostly incremental improvements, as you'd expect from an aim of small and fast, but recently anti-aliased display is supported and a migration to the ROX filer is about to be completed.

  • new ones to try... (Score:2, Informative)

    by jptxs (95600)
    i agree that the big names have slowed =[ , but if you get a thrill from trying out new fun widgets (as I do as well) there have been some good ones suggested and I'll ad flwm(http://flwm.sourceforge.net/) to the list -fastest one I've ever seen. Also has a super-keen set of buttons to size windows and the title bars are sideways!
  • by Bowie J. Poag (16898) on Sunday October 07, 2001 @06:27PM (#2399630) Homepage


    Here's why the mainstays for Linux development have ground to a halt:

    1) Nobody is willing to work on something, pouring hours upon hours of work into it, only to have someone working in Company X take their code, and make a living off of tweaking it. Suppose you're writing a windowmanager for Linux. In order for your windowmanager to succeed, it probably has to be GPL in order for it to really catch on. And if its GPL, surprise-surprise, there are employees of parasitic companies like VA Linux Systems who make a nice living playing with your code. No one in their right mind is going to do something for free, working side by side next to someone who is getting paid to do the same. By simple virtue of the fact that parasitic GPL companies exist, you're effectively letting someone else make the money off your work by making it GPL. This is why companies who capitalize on Linux software development are a (tm) Bad Thing, because they assert a choking influence over the entire community. It stops becoming an exercise in fun, and rapidly becomes an exercise in profiteering.

    2) Nobody is willing to think about doing anything different, more useful, or more ergonomic right now. The main driving force driving Linux UI development is "lets make it look like Windows!" which is a horrendously bad move. Instead of giving Linux its own face, its own appeal, and its own distinct look, we're playing Poor-Man's Explorer with X11. Instead of putting our own talents to work, making something useful for us, we're playing second fiddle to a third rate design by copying it.

    Now, rather than purely bitching, here's what you can do about it:

    Start at the ground up. Get ahold of the source of a weak windowmanager like fvwm, that has all the basic guts you need to work from. Ask yourself what makes sense to you as a user, NOT what makes sense because you've seen the same thing in Windows. Give Linux its own look. Try to avoid imitating other platforms. Build it because it makes sense to build, not because "Windows has it". The sheer number of things that Windows has wrong with its UI would require a completely separate article to discuss them in detail. Think about how to represent things differently. Is there a better way to represent the same information? Do you really want an OS that resembles a browser? Think, ask, and move. Learn, modify, and repeat.

    Cheers, (and yes, Propaganda is still running..)
    • 1) Nobody is willing to work on something, pouring hours upon hours of work into it, only to have someone working in Company X take their code, and make a living off of tweaking it. Suppose you're writing a windowmanager for Linux. In order for your windowmanager to succeed, it probably has to be GPL in order for it to really catch on. And if its GPL, surprise-surprise, there are employees of parasitic companies like VA Linux Systems who make a nice living playing with your code. No one in their right mind is going to do something for free, working side by side next to someone who is getting paid to do the same. By simple virtue of the fact that parasitic GPL companies exist, you're effectively letting someone else make the money off your work by making it GPL. This is why companies who capitalize on Linux software development are a (tm) Bad Thing, because they assert a choking influence over the entire community. It stops becoming an exercise in fun, and rapidly becomes an exercise in profiteering.


      Why do they start in the first place, then?

      If a developer of a GPL project stops working on it, because a co-developer is in the lucky position of being paid to work on it, or because a company takes their great code and incorporates it into the product they need to sell to stay in business, then why did they start working in Open Source to begin with?

      I'm not being stroppy, I just don't understand the psychology.


      • Why do they start in the first place, then?

        If a developer of a GPL project stops working on it, because a co-developer is in the lucky position of being paid to work on it, or because a company takes their great code and incorporates it into the product they need to sell to stay in business, then why did they start working in Open Source to begin with?

        I'm not being stroppy, I just don't understand the psychology.


        Enlightenment, Windowmaker, Blackbox, every single windowmanager in common usage today found its genesis in the days before the rampant carpetbagging that began in late '99 and early '00. Before then, we were all in it for the sheet fun of it, and money didn't matter. The instant the first GPL-involved programmer went to work for these companies, they began making money off of someone else's freely given work. The incentive for these guys to continue working for free vanished around the same time. Would you continue to code for free if you knew a group of half a dozen guys were fiddling with your code for $50K a year?

        Hell no.

        Thats why companies that try to make money off of selling GPL'ed software are an inherently Bad Thing (tm) for the Linux community. It destroys the very incentive that caused us all to start coding in the first place.

        Cheers,

        • Thats why companies that try to make money off of selling GPL'ed software are an inherently Bad Thing (tm) for the Linux community. It destroys the very incentive that caused us all to start coding in the first place.


          Does that include distros? Wouldn't the Linux community be so so tiny without them that no one would start such big projects in the first place?

          I get the idea about not working on something when someone else is being paid mucho cash, but would you still bother if were asked to write a windowmanager for some other OS? One nowhere near as popular as Linux?

          • Not all distros are like that. Redhat likes to stick its fingers in everything, but Redhat ain't Linux.

            My favorite distro is Slackware. Just the basics. Enlightenment is enlightenment is enlightenment. KDE is KDE is KDE. Patrick does what he does best, and that's to integrate everything together into a system. There's no need for him to issue linux-2.4.10-pv9.4.2-pre6 kernels, or tweak the default themes because they aren't purple and gold, or green and white. GNOME and KDE don't get a million new menu items for all the stuff you never installed. etc.


        • The instant the first GPL-involved programmer went to work for these companies, they began making money off of someone else's freely given work. The incentive for these guys to continue working for free vanished around the same time. Would you continue to code for free if you knew a group of half a dozen guys were fiddling with your code for $50K a year?


          So if I understand the argument properly, the Open Source community is full of sour grapes?


          I fail to see what someone's income (and where that income is derived) has to do with it. How does a coder being paid to contribute to a project take away from that project?


          Of course - I could understand other issues. If those coders were taking the project in a direction that the origional author(s) disagreed with. If there was a feeling that a company with deep pockets was somehow hijacking the code base. And then, of course, there's the possibility that a company one resents is making use of one's work.


          You've got all kinds of axes to grind with VA Linux, don't you Bowie? :)


          Sometimes I wonder if the biggest test of the GPL would be if Microsoft embraced it (as unlikely to happen as that is). Would those who flock to Linux and GPL projects abandon them because they're seen as tainted? Or would things go along as normal - maybe a bit faster with some of Microsoft's resources going towards contributing code?


          I'd like to think that GPL developers aren't so shallow as to allow Microsoft's presence to derail their work. Whether they like their new contributers or not.

    • I disagree (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Greyfox (87712) on Sunday October 07, 2001 @07:02PM (#2399774) Homepage Journal
      Very few of us have monetary motivations. If you think an OSS developer has monetary motivations, you really don't get it. If you're an OSS developer with monetary motivations, you really don't get it either.

      The reasons, I think, are twofold:

      1) It's been done. You can find a window manager out there now that can do just about anything. There's not a lot of "Interesting" problem domain left.

      2) There is no itch. My current window manager suits me fine. It does everything I want it to do. I don't really see the point of starting from scratch to code a new one. If I were going to fork a window manager, I'd start with the one that was closest to doing what I needed done.



      • Theres nothing wrong with doing both. I code some things for the movement, and I code other things professionally. I don't mix the two.

        1) There isnt a single windowmanager for Linux that makes anyone's life simpler.

        2) Half of the problem is, most of the people coding windowmanagers grew up suckling the teats of Windows 95. Thats their baseline to which they will compare everything they create against, and its the ideal they will try to emulate until they're exposed to something genuinely different. None of them have stopped and looked at articles that were written at the time, or posts on Usenet about how absolutely terrible Windows 95's UI was compared to common UIs of the day. It didn't win by popular vote--It won because Microsoft had nothing else to push.

        • I program for a living too. Despite the fact that that is what puts food on the table, I tend to find it less rewarding than the projects I do in my own time for my own education. Not that I've thought any of the latter were worthy of having their code posted in a formal way. Somehow I feel that if I were working on an OSS project for money, it'd be less rewarding -- just a job, really.

          wrt. 1: What's a windowmanager do, really? Manages windows. Only so much you can do with that to make someone's life easier, in my opinion.

          wrt. 2: My biggest gripes with WinXX are that modal and system modal dialogs are ever used. These two UI components need to simply go away. Also, the fact that the program manages its frame controls means that if that program hangs and stops processing, you can't minimize it. No matter how much your Window manager looks like WinXX, if it doesn't have these features, it's infinitely better. Also, since a window manager simply manages windows, there's not a lot beyond frame look and feel that you're going to get with any Window manager.

          Of course, I prefer a clean environment; No icons on my desktop please! I never liked the idea of having to move an application to find the icon to launch another application. Gnome's mini button holder that you can put on the panel is acceptable though. That is mostly not obnoxious.

    • by Quarters (18322) on Sunday October 07, 2001 @07:04PM (#2399781)
      I hear over and over again this call to arms, "Design a desktop that makes sense. Don't just design one that looks and runs like Windows."

      Well, what would that be, exactly? There are a few basic tennants of a GUI that appear similar on all platforms:
      Text boxes
      Combo boxes
      Drop Down menus
      Radio Buttons
      Check Boxes
      Scroll Bars
      Buttons
      Tab Panels
      Icons
      Shortcuts/Aliases
      Start Menu/Apple Menu/KDE Menu/GNOME Menu
      etc...

      These are basic items that are the foundation of a GUI. Yet, when people implement these things we get the cries of, "That's just a poor man's Windows. Create what the users *want*!"

      Well, what do the users want? Don't you think that Apple and Microsoft have invested quite large sums of money figuring out what the users want? Realistically, in this day and age, if you build a GUI that completely changes the paradigm of a desktop with items on it, folders, widgets, etc... you better have an idea that immediately resonates with everyone. Else it will look alien and nobody will use it.

      So, why doesn't anyone ever list the items that would make a desktop that would be Linux's own? Isn't it about time for somebody to pony up with this grand vision, instead of just crowing about the fact that we should all be reaching for this mythic concept?

      Really, what is it that we should be doing? Which path should we be taking to achieve this epiphany in UIs?
      • by Bowie J. Poag (16898) on Sunday October 07, 2001 @07:32PM (#2399911) Homepage
        I tried. Twice. Both efforts failed, largely because people can't seem to look past Windows as the one and only example of how a UI should be done.

        For the record, the last "real" desktop I ever used was AmigaDOS 3.1. Fast, elegant, simple, all-encompassing, good design, clearly understandable, flexible, extensible and neat. The closest thing i've been able to look like it is WindowMaker, and even WindowMaker doesn't quite have it right.

        A windowmanager need not occupy anything more than a single slat at the top of every screen. Why the top? Simple. The human eye, in Western cultures, tracks diagonally from northwest to southeast whenever it encounters an image. The flow of information should conform to that--Its absolutely opposite in Windows, where the origin of an action begins in the southwest corner (the Start button) and traverses awkwardly northeast. By the way, dont whine about "Well, what about non-Western cultures??? Are we just going to leave them out???" because the answer is YES. Let them come up with their own design. We do it our way, they do it their way.

        A book is a perfect example of a proper user interface that has undergone hundreds of years of refinement. The title is at the top, relevant information is in the corners, and the page (or screen, if you will) is dominated by the body of the data. UIs should follow this convention.

        Suppose you want to do a simple action. Start a program. In Windows, there are no less than 7 or so ways to start a program. Sometimes its an icon. Sometimes in an icon in the Tray. Sometimes its an icon in the Quick Launch bar. Sometimes its in the task bar. Sometimes its in Explorer. Sometimes its in the Start Menu. Sometimes its in DOS. On, and on, and on, ad infinitum, ad stupiditum.

        A computer's UI should look and react like a television set, where all the channels are nothing but top-down views of books. Each channel has a single line across the top. It shows memory usage on the left, a date-clock on the right, and a single [x] button to kill the whole fucking thing and drop down to console. The remaining 99% of the screen can be occupied with any number of windows. No Docks. No taskbars. no trays. No icons.

        All programs that exist on the system can be listed in a single pull-down menu. Right-clicking anywhere on the backdrop of that "channel" (or workspace) will give you the option of selecting a program to launch from a menu. A single, authoritative way of launching a program, not 7 of them.

        Suppose you want to delete some junk--Fine. You need a filemanager. Not a filemanager, a browser, a text editor, a Trashcan, and a "delete" command. The filemanager is listed no differently than any other program in the menu listed above. One way for all. If you dont like it, use another OS.

        Those are just two simple little improvements that would simplify the task of using Linux with a GUI a hundredfold. More options don't always means more flexibility. More options ALWAYS mean more complexity, and more intimidation for first-time users.

        What I basically described to you is AmigaDOS 3.1's appearance in a nutshell. Installation of new apps was a snap, and it all worked out of the box. Instead, Linux has two maddenly different standards that fight for the same square foot of turf and both look retarded in the process. Until that gets resolved, you and I are stuck.

        • A windowmanager need not occupy anything more than a single slat at the top of every screen.

          A window manager need not occupy any space on your screen. A window manager need only manage the windows on your screen - allow you to move them about and iconify them, give them titlebars, etcetera. If you want some special window with buttons, menus, icons, and so on, fine, but that's not a window manager, that's one of the things you put together with a window manager to make a "desktop environment".

          And if you want such a special window, top or bottom is IMHO all wrong - it should be on the side. I want my application windows to have the whole screen height, but not the whole width. We've generally got portait-mode windows (like paper pages) on a landscape-mode monitors.

        • A bit late to the party, but these comments have 'gotten my goat' so to speak.

          The majority of comments I hear from opensource/Linux people is 'choice is good', 'no choice is bad', 'I choose to do things in manner X', etc. However, having those choices in WM front ends apparently is NOT a good thing. Apparently we need just 'one' way of doing something (actually, I'm not all that opposed, if everyone would just write to that standard instead of bitching about it).

          But... here we have an OS which is accused of being monolithic (Windows) yet it's also being criticized because there's more than one way to launch a program? So - if they lock you in to one method - it's bad. If you have choice - it's bad. Is this only because it's MS?


          • But... here we have an OS which is accused of being monolithic (Windows) yet it's also being criticized because there's more than one way to launch a program?


            My first reaction was exactly that. But then it dawned on me that there's another way to look at this.


            Say you're running Windows and need to launch Program X. There are 7 (I think that was the number used) different places you may have to look to run that app. Sometimes there's more than one way to launch the app - sometimes there's just the one. This means there's potential for a user to have to hunt around before they're able to figure out how to launch the app.


            Having said that - I would agree that having only ONE way to do something isn't a plus. One standard way would be good. But giving power users additional ways would be my choice. I'd be a bit miffed if the only way to launch an app was through the Start button (or its equivilant).

      • Well, the problem is that you do need a quantum leap in productivity in order to make a new kind of GUI resonate with users, but in order to do this, you have to throw out so much infrastructure that you can no longer support the current set of applications. You have to start from scratch. And no one knows _exactly_ what to do, otherwise we'd have done it already. And starting from scratch is a huge impediment. So there here we are, continually adding features around the edge of an architecture that will eventually have to be thrown out to make progress. I don't expect to see Apple or Microsoft make this kind of radical move. While Apple has been very creative with colors in recent years, I think their days of disruptive technologies ended with the original mac. And while Microsoft has bought up most of the top researchers in ui design, guaranteeing revenue is clearly their highest priority, and giving users what they want is clearly not. And while I think open source people can be quite creative, it has not been made clear to enough of the right people that the current direction is a dead end on the path to a _significant_ desktop competitor to microsoft.

        But you wanted a list. Well lists are a dime a dozen.
        You can get a mutually inconsistent set of lists in any of the books which lament the current user interface: See "The Humane Interface", "The Unfinished Revolution", "The Invisible Computer". Full of great ideas, but no coherent designs. This is the hard part. We need a Christopher Columbus or two to do the hard discovery work.
    • What? (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Tom7 (102298)

      I think this is a troll, but I think I should at least be a voice of dissent...

      Lots of people, including me, work on software or do research for free, and don't mind when companies profit from our code or ideas. Mainly, this is because we believe that there is a great deal more work necessary to turn code or research into a product, and that work is primarily very tedious. I like the idea of a company using my code (I don't know of any who do, but I would) because they do work that otherwise wouldn't get done.

      Second, I actually think the Windows UI is pretty good. More importantly, it is standard, which means that I can use KDE without reading any documentation. Regardless of how it might revolutionize the world (I don't think it would; the UI is pretty superficial and pretty subjective), new users are not going to switch to linux if they have to learn a lot just to use the UI.

      So, I'm not saying that your opinion is wrong, but that asserting it as an "obvious" truth is.
    • Define weak. (Score:3, Interesting)

      by ErfC (127418)
      I use FVWM2 as my window manager of choice. It's fast. It gives me amazing and easily-customizeable control over everything. What's "weak" about it? What more do you need in a window manager? (I've never found myself saying "I wish FVWM could do foo...")


      I'm not trying to disagree with you or berate you or flame you or anything. I'm honestly curious -- what's FVWM2 missing? What's wrong with it? What would you do to it?

    • Nobody is willing to work on something, pouring hours upon hours of work into it, only to have someone working in Company X take their code, and make a living off of tweaking it

      Right, they'd much rather pour hours upon hours of work into something that no one else ever works on, contributes to, or manages to make a living off of, much less profit from. That's why they give it away for free.

      Um. Okay.
  • Hopefully (Score:3, Insightful)

    by tjansen (2845) on Sunday October 07, 2001 @06:29PM (#2399636) Homepage
    Hopefully.. there's only so much you can do with a window manager, and 50 different should be enough for everybody, so people can now work on improving desktop environments or applications.
  • Perhaps it's because, in the last several years, unix went from having a few small window managers, to having many... many wrote wm's just for fun...

    Then.. things stabilized.... I mean, if you wanted to make a new wm. how do you compete with E? nothing is that sexy looking (or that bloated.. of course).

    There are basically enough window managers already... there's nothing else you need.

    You want a new release of E? Why? is it a car, where the manufacturer has to release a new model every year? Come on.. they only do that to try to make you think your car is 'old'.

  • Perhaps the development cycle has slowed down because most of the nicer and more mature window managers have become quite stable and there are becoming less and less bugs to fix. Isn't that the eventual goal of OSS, to become as stable and usable as possible. So there must be some saturation point when as we approach that peak.

    If you think about other pieces of OSS software, there is nearly no development. Utilities such as GNU text-utils or even emacs don't get updated more than once a year or two.

  • Deja vu (Score:2, Insightful)

    by tot (30740)
    My feelings.

    In the early 90's, there were many window managers, lots of hacking and configuring them, and at least I got bored with that and settled with one that did most of job right out of the box (mwm if anyone is interested--not free, but it worked). I liked gwm very much, but who wants to keep hacking a window manager with lisp--at least for me, emacs is enough.

    Time passed by, and then there were lots of linux generation window managers. Sexier, very graphical, themable, what else. Again, boredom hit me and I settled with the one that did the job needed out of the box (kde if anyone is interested, and with the default theme when themes came out). But this time, it took far less my time than during the first iteration, remembering the pain and ultimate result, and knowing what I want from a window manager.

    It least for me, window managers main function is to manage windows, and do it with resonable speed and predictability. No fancy graphics or animations, and not lots of customizations if I have to setup a new environment from scratch, thank you.

    I presume that my attitude will continue and I am not even interested about new development unless someone can show some real innovation in this area. I don't care if it looks like Windows--I have never used it, so I have no feelings in this area. The idea is simple, to manage windows, and at least currently no one has figured out how to do it differently.

  • (I don't know much about WM development, but...)

    Honestly, the only two window managers that I ever felt comfortable with are fvwm [fvwm.org] (v2 if you like) and twm (didn't find a really good link, but it's standard on NetBSD systems, so you all know what I'm talking about right?). All other managers are just visual fluff that eats memory, occupies the palette, and slows the computer down.

    There has been some other really great ideas during the last few years, like the pwm [students.tut.fi] and wm2 [all-day-breakfast.com] (and its sibling, wmx [all-day-breakfast.com]) window managers. They simple, easy to configure, and does NOT rely on tons of extra libraries.

    Someone else here was talking about environments, but I just can't see why you would want an extra "environment" on top of the perfectly usable standard Unix environment that's already there... Also, some of them comes packed with applications tailored especially for use within that particular window manager, which in reality turns each "environment" into its own, well, distribution. One can devote a separate CD for GNOME or KDE applications and support libraries, many of which just duplicates the function of already existing Unix commands. Sometimes I think someone ought start a KDE/Linux distribution just to spare everyone else from having to download that extra CD ISO.

    Then again, we might be talking about different audiences here. The teenagers might need cool "environments" to get lured into using GNU/Linux, and that might have a positive effect in 5 to 10 years. But I wouldn't be very surprised if the adoption of GNU/Linux (or any other of the free Unices for that matter) by desktop users would be slowed down by offering a vast amount of conflicting graphical environments.

    I think it would be a good idea to correct the bugs and stabilise the already existing window manages, maybe even to unify some of the more similar ones. You can make most of the more configurable managers look like each other anyway.

    All that you need is some xterm windows.

    • I'm the same way. I try to like KDE and Gnome every now and then, but I always end up ripping them out in disgust. It's far easier for me to just use an xterm for most things. The only reason I use X is for multiple xterms, graphical web browsers, xdvi & gv, Jamie's unparalleled collection of screensavers, Image Magick and the Gimp. Oh, and GKrellM is kind of nice...

      Hmmm, I guess I do need more than just xterms. But I'll be damned if I need a bunch of desktop icons, bloated file mangler, a graphical front-end to 'less', or an "office suite" for kiddies (who needs an office suite when you have emacs, TeX and perl? Heheheh.)

  • by Dag Maggot (139855) on Sunday October 07, 2001 @08:39PM (#2400168) Homepage

    Asking if the development of Window Managers has slowed is like asking if the development of television remote controls has slowed down.

    Window Managers have faded into the background as it is the tools and information inside the windows that (rightfully) recieves the focus. Since the advent of the Mac, the incredible uniqueness of windowing and the desktop metaphor in general has meant that we've spent an exorbinant amount of time focused on the UI itself instead of the tools contained by the UI.

    To put it another way... imagine I was a caveman transported to today and placed inside of a room with a window. First, I would marvel at the incredible transparent substance that formed a barrier between me and the outside world, but after a while, I would take it for granted and simply use the window to see outside.

  • What I would like to see are more window managers that use pie menus. Piewm is ancient. Pie menus for gtk seems dead.
  • With the collapse of Eazel, and a new pessimism about linux for the desktop, I think linux UI doesn't neccesarily have a clear concept of where it wants to go from here. Gnome, KDE, a bunch of windows managers, they all work. There are incremental bug fixes, small changes, and important feature additions (anti-aliased text), but a whole new class of ui development probably requires a clear concept of what kind of user the software is targetting.

    MacOS looks fucking cool, and they have a clear design concept. They're selling a consumer products computer, not a computer computer. It looks sweet, it goes fast, and ANYONE can use it. The quick start guide for an ibook is 4 color pictures.

    The big change they made with OS X is that they made lots of really cool eye candy and put the whole gui on top of an industrial strength bsd unix base. They've succeeded in having a consumer products computer that is CAPABLE of supporting super user expert use.

    The linux user is a completely different kind of user. Linux is used in a server market, specialized research computing, and super user geekware. Linux users need/want a functional, nice looking UI, and indeed I think linux UI surpasses windows handilly.

    Open source distributed development has its advantages (lots of customizabiliy and options) but it makes a centralized design methadology hard. Things come together, but an organized UI development which links applications, windows manager, OS together etc.... appear hard.

    There are tradeoffs in UI design. Powerful expert usage vs. easy for average user. Customizability vs. doing one thing well. The linux console is fantastically powerful, but incomprehensible for the average joe schmo computer user. Can linux really move out of the super user dept? Can it do so more than incrementally? I don't see Linux becoming an average desktop environment anytime in the near future (eg. I don't see linux having enough organization to do something at all like os x), but is it moving there? Does gui only need to be strong enough for server/workstation? The requirements for all these apps are different. Ok, I'll stop rambling.
  • by smartin (942) on Sunday October 07, 2001 @10:01PM (#2400386)
    One of the most promising new enhancments that I've seen are the Xinerama patches for WindowMaker. These allow for intelligent placement and management of windows on a dual headed setup. A Xinerama aware window manager will not pop up dialogs that cross between two monitors and will try to keep dialogs on the same screen as their parent.

    I'm not sure if any of the other managers are working on this but it should be really cool when it is released.
  • by llzackll (68018)
    fvwm is still in very active development. www.fvwm.org
  • by nullity (115966) on Sunday October 07, 2001 @11:18PM (#2400615) Homepage
    The glorified stature of the window manager is an odd architectural quirk of X-Windows. X-Windows is fundamentally concerned about, well, windows, so the window manager was pretty much *the* only application that every X system was running. Consquently if you wanted to add some feature (say a virtual desktop pager), you tried to get it into the Window Manager, because the window manager was already always running.

    This "window manager is everything" view is actually sort of primitive. Most advanced operating systems have turned the window manager into a really mundane implementational detail that even programmers hardly care about. BeOS, Windows, MacOS, etc.

    I hope this trend continues to GNOME & KDE...and we see the disappearance of those insanely bloated window manager preference dialogues and see the window manager behaving like the submissive quiet little technical detail it should be (at least from a user's perspective). Check out Havoc's latest project "Metacity" for an example of a well behaved CrackFree(TM) window manager.

    -Seth (gnome usability project lead)
  • for the last time (Score:2, Insightful)

    by staeci (85394)

    OSX is not a good gui.

    1 - dock icon areas do not extend to edge of dock.
    2 - dock changes size and icons move as it gets used
    3 - what if you don't like grey or blue? Maybe OSX.2 will have green and OSX.3 will have purple ....
    4 - it has vi so when I go to the apple help and type in vi I expect to see at least something.
    5 - stupid windowesque scroll bars - the scroll-bars were one of the things which NeXT got right for Steve's sake ;-)
    6 - way too much eye-candy, at least I can not install Enlightenment.

    OSX isn't unix wedded with mac, its unix buried under mac. If anything its BaCKstep.
  • Maybe... (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Etriaph (16235)
    ...it's due to the authors not feeling it's worth it to try to keep up with KDE. The K Desktop Environment has new developments all the time, usually only three months apart (and the CVS versions are usually pretty stable).

    I would also think with the way the economy has been most authors are scrambling to feed themselves, so their projects are a little on the side. How has Rasterman and Mandrake been with E since VA started getting hit? I remember the fast updates of E as well, but those are the good ol' days. If you tossed a chunk of cash at them I bet you they'd respond. :)

  • by gnrfan (45978) <ognio@nospaM.peruserver.com> on Monday October 08, 2001 @03:42AM (#2401083) Homepage
    Hey.. Now a whole new group of windowmanagers is needed for all those devices running linux. Mandrake co-author of recent versions of Enlightenment was running Blackbox on his IPaq but has coded a handheld-specific windowmanager he's calling ePaq (http://www.handhelds.org/z/wiki/ePAQ)

  • Well, the main problem is that it's hard to find cool ideas to implement. All of the standard desktop stuff seems to have been done.

    That said, I have a cool idea I would like to suggest and work on with other people. The problem is : what place can I go to to talk with *all* of the window manager crowd ? There doesn't seem to be a single gathering point where window manager issues (ideas, comparisons, ...) are discussed.

    Now on to my idea : for a project I'm working on I'd like to discuss the possibility of integrating support for joysticks/joypads/remote controls into the window manager, and making sure the window manager works well on a TV screen. This is a wholly different approach from the standard PC desktop window manager needs.

    I am not talking about the physical side, I know you can fake your mouse using any of these devices.I am talking about using large fonts, doing more full-screen stuff, starting/stopping applications, and so on. I have worked out a sample user interface using Perl on top of Gnome for my project, but I think that it would be better served using a dedicated window manager.

    Anyone wanting to discuss this further can mail me at thomas@apestaart.org

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