Why tiling window managers are not really for me (on the desktop)

January 20, 2017

For years now, the Unix geek thing to do has been to use a tiling window manager. There are a relative tone of them, and many of them promising the twin goals of simplicity and (full) keyboard control out of the box. However, I've never been particularly interested in any of them, despite my broad view that fvwm is a fairly complex window manager as these things go and definitely shows its age in some ways.

The short version of a large part of why I don't feel attracted to tiling window managers is that I generally like empty space on my desktop. Tiling window managers seem to generally be built around the idea that you want to fill everything up to make maximal use of your screen real estate. I don't feel this way; unless I'm going a lot, I actively want there to be empty space on my screen so that my overall environment feels uncluttered. If I only need one or two terminal windows active at the moment, I don't see any reason to have them take up the entire screen.

(Related to this is that I sometimes deliberately overlap windows in order to put certain windows in what I consider good or correct positions for what I'm doing without forcing others to shrink.)

I'm sure that at least some tiling window managers can be taught to leave empty space if you want it and not force the screen to be filled with windows all the time. And probably some can have overlapping, partially occluded windows as well. But it's not how people usually talk about using tiling window managers and so I've wound up feeling that it's not an entirely natural thing for them. I'd rather not try to force a new window manager to operate in a way that it's not really built for when I already have a perfectly good non-tiling window manager.

(There's also the issue of my use of spatial memory for finding windows, both active and especially inactive, which I also have the impression that tiling window managers are not so hot on.)

At the same time, I've seen tiling window layouts work very well in some circumstances when the layout is sufficiently smart; Rob Pike's Acme is the poster child for this for me. There are certainly situations where I would like to switch over to an Acme-style tiled approach to window layout (probably usually when my screen gets busy and cluttered with active windows). It's just that I don't want to live in that world all of the time (and, to be honest, there are issues with xterm that make it annoying to keep changing its width all the time).

It's a pity, though. Some of those tiling window managers definitely do look cool and sound interesting.

PS: All of this is relatively specific to my desktop, where I have a physically large display and so it's frequently uncluttered, with room to spare.

(I'm not particularly attracted by 'control everything from the keyboard', either. I like using the mouse for things it's good at.)

Written on 20 January 2017.
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Last modified: Fri Jan 20 20:38:42 2017
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