Give Tiling Window Managers a Shot!


In a previous post I mentioned the i3 tiling window manager and I think this topic deserves some additional words.

What is a tiling window manager?

The default window managers on Windows and the most Linux distributions are stacking, floating, or compositing window managers. They all allow the overlapping of windows which means that the user often has to bring windows back into the foreground in order to interact with them. Since Windows 7 it is easier to arrange windows besides each other by dragging it to the left or right screen border and Windows 8 apps are arranged in a tiling fashion to improve the usability on mobile devices like tablets. The next step is to use tiling as the main way of organizing windows and this is what the tiling window managers do. The most of them still allow floating windows since there can be useful or even necessary in some cases but most of the time the windows are tiled.

Why i3?

There are many different tiling window managers available for Linux. The most popular one is probably Awesome. It has a dynamic window management style in contrast to a manual management on i3. Means that on i3 you have to decide yourself how to arrange the windows on the screen which is what I prefer. A more detailed comparison can be found on ArchWiki.
Tiling window managers have to be highly customizable in order to align with it’s users workflows. i3 is customized by a simple text file with basic commands that don’t require the user to learn another programming language. It still is very powerful since it allows to bind the execution of shell scripts to a key. Here are three of my shell scripts I use in the i3 config:

The i3 config that I’ve built together with Onse is in my dotfiles repo on GitHub. You can use it as an inspiration if you like.

This is how i3 looks on my notebook:

i3 in action
i3 in action

Pretty minimalistic, isn’t it?

Get started

If you want to try i3 out, you can get it here or by using your favorite package manager.
I like the documentation and especially the user’s guide of i3 so I think there is no need to introduce it’s functions myself.

i3 definitely increased my productivity and I encourage you to give it a shot! Adapting to the new navigation takes a few days but it’s worth it.

2 Responses to “Give Tiling Window Managers a Shot!”

  1. u.

    Interesting. I wonder: if you have several windows accepting input opened, couldn’t it happen easily (by accident) to type into the wrong window? E.g. sending something to IRC that was intended for instant messaging, or writing a blog comment into the chat instead the web page etc.

    • Martin Körner

      Good point!
      Still there is only one window active at the same time and it’s highlighted with a colored frame. For example the purple frame in the screenshot above (by default the frame is a little thicker).
      After a few hours of familiarizing this should be no problem.


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