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From the Desktop: F Stands for FVWM2 and Free Market - page 3

Read My Lips

  • November 7, 2000
  • By Brian Proffitt

When I first came across FVWM months ago, I was impressed by the sophistication of this window manager. And well I should have been, as FVWM has been around for quite some time on X. It was regarded as one of the heavy hitters until it was overshadowed by the likes of GNOME and KDE.

But FVWM has not gone away. In fact, it is still in active development today and going strong.

FVWM (sometimes referred to as FVWM2, to indicate its current version number of 2.2.4) belongs to the twm family of window managers, as FVWM was originally modeled after that august (and pre-Linux) window manager known both as Tom's window manager and the Tab window manager. In turn, AfterStep and SCWM were derived from FVWM source.

FVWM, according to its proponents, is intended to provide the necessary features without being a resource hog. FVWM certainly lives up to this description.

The central focus of this window manager is basically whatever you choose it to be. If you like the Pager/Taskbar combination, such as the one that was the default in my SuSE setup, then you're good to go. On the other hand, if you want to simply use menus to get your work done, then that's cool, too. FVWM is flexible enough to do what you need it to.

A feature that I liked, for instance, was the ability to right-click the Pager screen and drag the point-of-view across the various virtual desktops, instead of having to click from one desktop to the next.

This is not the only nifty feature. Configuration is done with the .fvwm2rc file, which could reside in your $HOME directory. I say "could" because it tends to vary depending on the distribution. My SuSE platform had it in /var/X11R6/sax/config, so SaX could use it. The syntax of this file is easy enough to figure out, and the window manager has an excellent man page to help step through the trickier settings.

Because of its longevity, FVWM is one of those window managers that has been around enough to acquire some themes, which I found to be simple enough to install. This GUI also has some additional modules that extend its performance.

FVWM's flexibility may be a reflection of the way it's developed. FVWM is one of those lucky open source projects that manages to keep going in an efficient manner without a centralized development leadership.

FVWM is completely a team effort, according to Dan Espen, a developer on the FVWM project. The number of team members fluctuates, but Espen estimated that right now the number of members who are actively doing commits is around eight, with the total number of people with these privileges being 12. Espen also emphasized the others on the team.

"I don't want to downplay the contribution testers, occasional patch contributors, and others make to the project," he said.

If you go to the FVWM Web site, you can see that this is a team that does serious work, but does not always take itself seriously. Just try to find out what the "F" stands for in FVWM, and you'll see what I mean.

Espen describes the development environment for FVWM as enjoyable and rather "fluid." Tasks are not assigned so much as handled on an as-needed basis.

"A lot of what gets done is based on requests or patches coming in from users," Espen explained. "We don't have schedules, assigned tasks or plans."

The logistics of this development team are pretty open as well.

"We have an fvwm@fvwm.org mailing list for questions and requests," Espen stated. "We have an fvwm-workers@fvwm.org mailing list for discussion of development. We have a CVS server which allows of anonymous access by anyone and update by developers with passwords.

"I'd say the process works very well."

This seems to be the case, especially given the fact that as far as Espen is aware, no one from the development team has ever met face to face.

Espen cited one of Eric Raymond's best-known works to describe how the team effort functions today.

"For years FVWM was organized as somewhat of a cathedral-type project. I think we benefited quite a bit from [Raymond's] paper on this subject, and FVWM is better off with is current bazaar organization," Espen said.

This bazaar organization translates into a group where no one individual owns a particular area of development. The members just go after what areas they can.

It seems to be working out pretty well for the global team, as it is on its way to releasing FVWM 2.4, in beta right now. This, Espen explained, is the big goal.

"Compared to FVWM 2.2.4, FVWM 2.4 will bring themes, gradients, ICCCM2 compliance, GNOME compliance, session management, mouse stroke support, better menu support, layers, and much more," Espen said.

Users of FVWM will have a lot to look forward to in the months ahead, as the FVWM team insures that this window manager will not pass into obscurity.

In next week's From The Desktop, I'll take a look at a window manager that shares a lot of things with FVWM--including its name. But is FVWM95 a window manager of the future or a thing of the past?


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