Four Tiling Window Managers Compared


I’m an enthusiast for tiling window managers. I’ve tried out quite a few over the years, and here I offer my assessment of the four I’ve liked best: spectrwm,  i3, xmonad and dwm.


Summary for the impatient

My outright favourite is Spectrwm because I find that it offers all the features I want without making things over-complicated. Configuration via the text file is easy and the commands quickly become intuitive and automatic. Dwm is almost as good as Spectrwm but lacks some features that I want. i3 seems to be a popular WM and is better known than Spectrwm, I like it quite a lot but I find Spectrwm more intuitive to use. Xmonad is an attractive WM but is irretrievably let down by requiring Haskell to configure it.

The window managers in more detail

Note: For further details about WMs other than spectrwm, please follow the links below each entry.


1. Spectrwm
This is currently my favourite. Configuration by a plain text file is simple.   I should say that it is the most flexible and intuitive WM that I’ve tried.

Here are some screenshots.

Firefox in master position; two other windows open
Screenshot 2

Enlarge master window (Mod + L)
Screenshot 3

Change to horizontal split (Mod + Space)

Screenshot 4

Make a window fullscreen.(Mod + E)

Screenshot 5

Switch to Workspace 2 containing xsane (Mod +2 or Mod + R. arrow)
Screenshot 6

Note: xsane was started from xterm; the xsane windows  are floating (set via Quirk in ~/.spectrwm.conf)

More information

My Spectrwm configuration file

Get spectrwm here

Detailed comparison of Spectrwm and i3 .


2. i3
I liked i3 quite a lot and used it for a time. Configuration is simple since it is done in a plain text file. In many ways it is similar to spectrwm but  the windows are arranged i differently. i3 seems to be better known than Spectrwm with a larger following However, it has some slighly irritating idosyncracies, and  having tried out both of them fairly extensively I find I prefer Spectrw.. For my reasons see the detailed comparison of Spectrwm and i3 .

More information

My i3 configuration file

3. Xmonad
This has a large user base and a helpful mailing list. It has many of the features I want and is quite similar to Spectrwm but is let down by its being configured in Haskell, which makes any configuration beyond the most basic a major undertaking requiring hours of research on the internet. There is also a large disk space overhead required to house the libraries needed for said configuration. For these reasons Xmonad loses out to its competitors, at least for me.

More information

Setting up xmonad

4. Dwm
Dwm is the forerunner from which many other tiling WMs forked. There is still a lot going for it: it’s simple and functional and easy to learn. Configuration is via C, but don’t be put off; it’s easier than it looks even if you don’t know C (I don’t). If you are not willing to embark on learning Haskell, dwm would be an attractive alternative. If Spectrwn were not available I’d use Dwm.

More information

Setting up dwm


No Trackbacks


Display comments as Linear | Threaded

Asem on :

Yeah, XMonad is really nice. Especially the total freeodm of configuration, the numerous layouts, the easy keyboard shortcuts I really think that tiling WM are the way to go, floating every windows just wastes so much time in reorganization and resizing. As to why this is still the predominant paradigm I would venture that tradition has much to do with it (going back to the first WMs by Xerox) and also the fact that most tiling WMs target a keyboard-using audience which is traditionally limited to advanced computer users.Getting to know a tiling WM is slightly more demanding than KDE, Metacity or Windows (though those now sports some shortcuts that beginners never know exist) but it’s much more rewarding in the end and XMonad’s stability and reactivity makes it one of the best choice in this field nowadays.My first contact with XMonad came after I grew tired with some bugs in Metacity (Gnome’s WM) and I might say that I won’t ever be coming back to Metacity since I can’t see anything in it that XMonad don’t do better already.

Greg Strockbine on :

Xmonad has another problem, it doesn’t handle Java applications, like Netbeans and Eclipse.

the first time you launch, say Netbeans, you get a grayish blank window. The fix is to lie about the name of the window manager.

the second time you launch Netbeans, it looks okay. But when you try to type text into the search box of the find in projects dialog box, you discover you can’t type anything. It doesn’t have the focus.

I found several blog entries that claim to fix it, but I never got it to work.

I changed to spectrwm and Netbeans works fine without any tuning.

Xmonad was my first tiling WM. I had known about tiling WMs for a while, but never tried one, they didn’t seem to make sense to me. Now I love them.

msx on :

spectrwm was my real first tiling WM, understanding for real the first one that took over my heart (thanks to E1NS for that!). Before it I played with lot of different WMs for some time like Musca (I loved it), Ratpoison, StumpWM, Awesome, wmi, Subtle… you name it; however those were just fleeting affairs.
Like you say spectrwm brings a sane configuration file which you can edit without learning a new programming language – nice to see some common sense.However I eventually departed from it as I discovered I wanted still more control than any dynamic tiling WM could ever give me…
That’s how I briefly tried Notion which I liked a lot but found somewhat outdated. Then I experienced this old-love revival with hlwm (herbstluftwm is THE minimalist manual tiling WM), Musca’s sucesor.But yet again after some months I hit some invisible walls so once again I took my gear and hit the road again. And I couldn’t be any happier nor more grateful: i3

msx on :

Hum, no idea why the entry was chopped, anyways here’s the mising part:
And I couldn’t be any happier nor more grateful: i3

Add Comment


Enclosing asterisks marks text as bold (*word*), underscore are made via _word_.
E-Mail addresses will not be displayed and will only be used for E-Mail notifications.
Form options

4 thoughts on “Four Tiling Window Managers Compared”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.