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The StartX Files: Of Mice and Finns - page 2

Giving The Two-Fingered Salute

  • April 2, 2001
  • By Brian Proffitt

There are, at my last count, three window managers with the label PWM. There's the Plate Window Manager, the Photon Window Manager, and then this one, the construct of one Toumo Valkonen.

PWM is described as a "lightweight" window manager for X, and I believe it. After pulling the tiny little 78 Kb Red Hat RPM down from the PWM site, I had it installed an running on my system in an eyeblink. Binaries are also available for Linux Mandrake (stable) and Debian (development), with the ubiquitous tarballs of source available in both stable and development packages.

PWM is a very simple little window manager with one nifty little feature: the capability to combine multiple windows into one frame. While this may not seem like a big deal, I soon found it to be very handy. All you do is grab a window's frame with the middle mouse button (or, in my case, the two-fingered maneuver) and drag and drop the window control into the frame you want. Nothing could be easier.

By linking separate instances of Netscape together, I was able to build a simulated multi-tabbed browser with all of my favorite Linux haunts. I even found a nice little trick in the documentation to edit the config file to create this automatically.

All of this, and it has workspaces too, as well as some WindowMaker adoptions, such as dockapp support. In all, pretty handy and clearly very fast. But not very keyboard oriented, is it?

This distinction belongs to PWM's cousin, ion. ion is also the creation of Valkonen and shares many of the characteristics of PWM. But in this instance, Valkonen was trying for something a bit more unique.

Citing the usability problems many current windowed interfaces have because of overlapping windows, Valkonen's ion removes this issue by not letting any window cover any other. Instead, ion divides the screen into separate frames, which--like PWM--can handle more than one client window. Because it's all laid out right there, switching back and forth among the windows no longer really needs a mouse.

That's the working theory. And in reality, that's what it does. But many of the ion commands are not entirely intuitive to the uninitiated, so I will give you a piece of advice that will go a long way with ion: open the man page for ion, print it out, and keep it beside you for a while next to the keyboard. Because ion is not something you are going to learn after a few minutes of diddling around--this is going to take a small investment of your time.

The payoff, I think, is worth it. After using ion for a few days, I hardly ever had to use my mouse. And the few times I did was more out of habit than anything else. Something to try for those who are looking for maximum functionality from their GUI.

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