Often in today’s high powered computer world, the mindset seems to slowly be drifting toward more complex and all encompassing desktop environments and windows managers. Perhaps it is the luring features that capture our attention and draw us in, or the availability of high end computer systems that push us towards utilizing vital system resources for more complex background functionality, creating a simpler and more glamorous user interface. There are, however, many lightweight desktop environment and windows manager solutions available still have a valid place in today’s modern computer world.

While time would fail us to discuss the best or most useful of these lightweight environments and windows managers, instead we should focus on two practical reasons one should consider using one.

First, let us consider the most obvious reason: hardware limitations. While we all want to utilize the latest and greatest software available, our current physical system may not be able to handle the high requirements of some of the larger desktop environments such as Gnome 3 or Unity. It is not that these environments do not have good merits of their own, but that lack of ram or processing power may keep your proverbial hands tied when trying to get any work done. For example, using LXDE, IceWM, or Enlightenment are resourceful ways to save your company money and utilize older laptops or desktop computers.

A second reason to camp in the lightweight department is to direct more of your system resources towards your programs. This is especially true of servers, but can apply to other platforms as well. If you know that you are going to be using a program that is literally a resource hog, it might be wise to consider spending less resources on presentation, and more resources on functionality. While running multiple virtual machines with Qemu, KVM, Virtualbox and the like, you can quickly run out of resources. Using about 1% of your system resources to run JWM, as opposed to nearly 10% to run Gnome 3 (in the case of the computer that this was written on) makes a huge difference when you are setting up two virtual machines to run simultaneously.

Obviously, there are times when a heavyweight desktop environment or windows manager is appropriate. Some of these time include new users, who are still learning how to navigate in Linux, or perhaps day to day office machines, or systems with too many resources and nothing to use them on…. The possibilities are endless, and that is one of the greatest things about Linux, it is completely up to you.

Often people overlook the lightweight desktop environments or windows managers because they don’t “look cool”, rather than the functionality of them. However, with a little bit of research, you may find that they can be quite ornate and glamorous in their own right. Meanwhile, you just might be getting your work done faster with the extra resources available to you when you travel light.

Linux – keep it simple.

4 Replies to “Lightweight desktop environments and windows managers are still viable resources in today’s modern computer world.”

  1. You should ask your brother if he still has a version of the simple program launcher/front end/shell that he wrote a few years ago available. It was IIRC one of his programming class projects. It worked REALLY well, was simple and easy to use. It was half way between the command line and a full on GUI.

    Simple to launch on the command line, then it had shortcuts for 4 or 5 other commands or programs. I found at the time that you could nest multiple instances of itself inside it as launchable entries, and have almost infinite sub lists of commands and programs launched from a simple non GUI shell, but without having to directly use the command line.

      1. I once wrote an ncurses based menu program, but I don’t think I could find the code again.

        This article gives a somewhat incomplete picture of the desktop debate. Now that I’ve been using Gnome 3 for quite a while, I see that Gnome 3 isn’t really about “looking pretty” as you imply. Actually, the primary design consideration behind Gnome 3 was improving workflow, especially by designing an interface that was less cluttered and that allowed quick, easy management of of windows, workspaces, and multiple monitors. Right now, I’ve got five workspaces on my system, including ones for Bible study, church ministries, e-mail, web browsing, and TODO lists, and I can switch applications around and move documents here and there easier than I could on a real desk.

        Also, something that Gnome 3 did, but that is lacking in the minimalistic WMs, was to reorient the desktop experience toward the latest (and now extremely popular) interface paradigm, the touch screen. I’d trade my laptop in for a tablet tomorrow if I could afford one with a decent screen size.

        I think most of the resource (memory and processing) demand from Gnome 3 comes from all the 2D graphics manipulation going on. Not counting that, I don’t think it is going to be much different from any desktop running with a minimalistic WM. On my laptop, gnome shell idles at 0.1% cpu usage, and jumps up to 1% when I switch workspaces. I don’t think the 2D graphics is an issue anymore on the tablets, with decent co-processors. Cheap cell phones are still a problem, of course.

        P.S. How do you access the RSS feed for this blog?

        P.S.S. Hey, not to sound pushy… but, well, now that you have spent hundreds of hours hacking Gnu/Linux on cell phones, and several hours writing this cool blog… you know it only takes five minutes to create a PGP key, right…? And another five minutes to tell your e-mail client to use it…? Just saying… 🙂

        1. You make some very valid points. As I mentioned, there are good reasons to use a heavyweight, and I should have put more valid reasons in there. However, there are many good reasons to use a LWDE or WM, as stated here. Thanks.

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