Spotlight on Fluxbox

I go through phases in my usage of Linux. Or rather one phase every once in a while. It’s my minimalist phase. There is this part of me that looks at a mouse as a “new fangled” invention, or thinks I would be better off without any sort of GUI. This part of me is stupid, I’ll admit, but regardless of that, I still have these minimalist urges.

In order to slake my thirst for the minimal, I experimented with a number of different window managers before settling on Fluxbox.

During my non-minimalist time, Gnome has served me well (Metacity also being an excellent window manager), but when I do without an environment, I find that fluxbox does exactly as much as I want it to.

By that I mean that it manages windows and not too much more. To be fair, much of what I am going to say about Fluxbox is also true of PekWM, however, I found fluxbox first and have used it more.

The first and foremost feature to look at in fluxbox is window tabbing. With the exception of Apple’s Exposé, tabbing is the best desktop clutter reduction method I have used, and the best one available on a linux box. If you use Firefox, or any of a number of other browsers, or if you can understand a pretty straighforward metaphor, you are familiar with tabbing. On average, I have about 9 browser pages open at any given time, though they all share one window. This makes things much easier to find, and much less instrusive on my desktop.

In using fluxbox, I discovered that there are many other sorts of windows that I might like to tab. For instance, if I start up a program from a terminal window, and the program sends some of its output/error messages to that terminal window, I’d often tab them together, which makes it much easier to find said terminal when I need it. I usually have a bunch of terminal windows tabbed together. Now, there are many terminal emulators which allow this functionality (tabbed terminals, that is), but using them means that my terminal tabs behave differently than my web browser tabs, which isn’t a huge deal, but it seems as though consistency in a user interface is something we ought to shoot for. If you could set just one key combination for tab-switching, that worked on all your tabs in all your applications, surely that’s preferable.

The other thing about fluxbox that I would like to extol is its ease of configuration. Changing the theme, menu options, and key-combos is easy, merely editing a text file or two (hell, there are even gui tools that will edit the files for you).

When I’m in my non-minimalist phases, and I go back to Gnome, I am alway startled by how much more cramped the screen feels, or, at the least, how much busier it feels. And sometimes I like the busyness, but when I’m not in the mood for that, fluxbox serves me well.

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