From the gopherhole: I started using linux in 1995. From 1995 to July of 2019, whenever I used a graphical environment, I used a floating window manager. During that time I mostly used standalone window managers, with the occasional stint of working in a desktop environment. Best as I can remember, my linux graphical linux journey started with twm and progressed roughly as follows: twm; fvwm; window maker; afterstep; fvwm2; fluxbox; openbox. This progression was occasionally interrupted spending time in the desktop environments: enlightenment; cde; tkdesk; gnome; kde; lxde; rox; and; xfce. Keep in mind that this was all over a 24 year period. I was not in a constant state of changing window managers, I ended up using openbox with the tint2 panel for the vast majority of this time.
That is more or less how it went, even though I am sure I have left some out. Each of the above listed standalone window managers, as well as those used in the listed desktop environments are floating window managers. What sticks out to me is that: I would rather use a window manager than a full blown desktop environment; until last year I operated within the floating window paradigm (even if it may have hampered my work flow–more on that later); and I tend to over use semicolon separated lists :-).
Whenever I think of the word paradigm, I think of a deck of cards being dealt out on a table face up, one by one. If just one of the clubs in that deck were red, most people would not notice that one card was the wrong color. People are just used to clubs being black; the paradigm of suit colors is strong enough, that most people will not notice the paradigm shift. While my use of the word, and the whole suit color paradigm example may be flawed, what I am trying to say is that the floating window manager is all that I knew; it was just the way the computer graphical interfaced worked–even if it was not the way I worked.
During this whole time, I found myself using the applications I used the most maximized to use the whole screen. The apps I used less frequently would not be full screen, and would only be brought to the top to float over the full screen applications when needed. That (and using lots of desktops on dual monitors) is mostly how I used the graphical environment.
I had heard of tiling window managers, but until I actually spent time in one I always thought that a tiling window manger would restrict my work flow by taking the control of window placement away from me. I assumed that tiling window managers wouldn’t let me work the way I wanted to, that I would be at the mercy of the tiling window manager’s predetermined window placement scheme.
Last July I retired (gave to my wife) my old thinkpad T520 after I bought a new thinkpad T590 for myself. I put a fresh debian stable install on T520 for the wife and installed debian sid on the T590. As with every debian sid install I have done, I use the net installer and only install what i need/like. What I need/like on a brand new laptop looks like this: openbox, tint2, and the full xfce, gnome, and kde dekstop environments. I then disable the display manager, boot the computer up and then configure it to start openbox and tin2 when I type the startx command after logging in. I know that installing 3 full desktop environments that I don’t intend to use is a waste of disk space, but I have the space, it’s a new laptop, and I want the programs.
That being said, I did start kde/plasma, because I had read great things about it having low resource requirements, and it can be customized to act the way I want–like openbox/tint2. I lived in kde/plasma for a month or so, and was on my way back to using openbox and tint2, when I thought to myself, I should try a tiling window manager first.
Mainly because the i3 tiling window manager is easily configured and very well documented, I decided to start my tilling window manager journey with I3. I will say here that it is VITALLY important that anyone who, like me, has solely lived within a floating window manager paradigm, will need to not just TRY to use a tiling window manager. What is necessary is that you actually USE the tiling window manager. As Yoda once said, “You must unlearn what you have learned…No. Try not. Do… or do not. There is no try.”. There are two reasons for this: the paradigm shift (windows are tiled, and do not float by default); and tiling window managers are largely keyboard driven (you can configure most tiling window managers to almost never have to use the mouse at all). Of these two reasons for having to live in and USE a tiling window manager in order to know if it is right for you, the main one is it’s keyboard driven nature. The actual tiling part is a behavior of the window manager that can be understood with relative ease (especially with i3 since it is a dynamic tiling window manager as opposed to manual), but the part that takes time is developing the muscle memory and learning the keyboard shortcuts that allow you to interact with and manage the windows.
I won’t go into a lot of detail in this post about i3/i3-gaps or how I have it set up, nor will I explain how to use it since the i3 documentation is most excellent (more on all that in another post). I will just say, that for my work flow, the i3 window manager, especially with dual monitors, REALLY fits my work flow. Not having to use my mouse to move, resize, rearrange, and in all other ways manage windows is a welcome paradigm shift, and one that I wish I had made a LONG time ago. I can gladly say that after almost 26 years of using linux on the desktop, I can never see myself wanting to use a floating window manager again. I wish I had made the switch much earlier. It is exciting when an old dog learns new tricks.