Return to Window Maker (on Xubuntu 15.10)

I’ve been running Xubuntu 15.10 (Wily) for a while now, having converted from Ubuntu using the repositories. I converted to lower the memory usage, especially considering that my two most often used applications are Firestorm (a third-party viewer for Second Life) and Google Chrome (not Chromium). Using these two apps then lead me to further reduce memory usage by using Window Maker once again. (Note that the name is two words: the project’s original name was objected to by a maker of software for makers of windows and doors.)

I talked about this before in this blog (back in 2011). Several things have changed since then, beyond faster and bigger hardware. The wmaker-crm fork is now the source for Ubuntu Window Maker and is in active development. Free(code) has 145 projects tagged as “Window Maker” projects. Distrowatch lists a couple dozen active distributions that use a Window Maker desktop. Window Maker now has a entry in the Free Software Directory. There’s even a live CD called Window Maker Live.

Others have written about Window Maker as well. Barnaby has a nice write up on their Window Maker setup and resources. Duncan McGreggor has a fantastic description of their use of Window Maker (thought from 2009). Also from 2009, the information from Joshua Price remains useful, as does this information from Rowan Rodrick. A wonderful comparison (with Part 1 and Part 2) of the memory usage of desktops over at the Layer 3 Networking Blog, including a beautiful graph: Window Maker comes in at 7Mb, 9wm at 0.4Mb, XFCE at 70Mb, and Unity at 192Mb. (That means I went from 192Mb usage – to 70Mb – down now to 7Mb. Wow!)

The Arch Linux Wiki describes Window Maker installation and configuration extremely well. However, in current Ubuntu installations, there’s no need to build from source: one of the most recent Window Maker versions will be available (0.95.7 currently). There’s also no need to install the menu package, as it is automatically installed. So to start, just:

apt-get install wmaker

In configuring Window Maker, you’ll want some dockapplets. (I just searched through the apt repositories for apps that had a “wm” prefix or had a “.app” suffix.) Right now I am running these:

  • wmdrawer
  • wmsystemtray
  • wmclockmon
  • wmcpuload
  • wmmemload
  • wmdiskmon
  • wmtemp
  • wmnd
  • wmwave
  • wmstickynotes

All should be in the apt repositories, except wmdrawer which you can activate from right-clicking on the Window Maker prefs dockapp and selecting “Add Drawer.”

apt-get install wmsystemtray wmclockmon wmcpuload wmmemload wmdiskmon wmtemp wmnd wmwave wmstickynotes

Then start them up:

wmsystemtray &
wmclockmon &
wmcpuload &
wmmemload -b -c &
wmdiskmon -p /dev/sdb1 -p /dev/sdb5 &
wmtemp &
wmnd &
wmwave &
wmstickynotes &

Once they are started, you will have to move them from the minimized icon shelf at the bottom, over to the dock on the right. Press Alt and drag the icon over to the dock. If it triggers something in the applet, find a sliver of border and Alt-drag using that. You should see a white block in the dock when there is a place to drop the applet.

The Ubuntu Window Maker experience is much more polished now: the menu package is required (negating the need for a special installation), and it comes with 9 workspaces. I configured mine to use “focus follows mouse” and “autoraise selected window” – which can simplify things a bit, but is very different from the modern “click to focus” method.

As someone noted in the previous article, there is no need to run wicd if you don’t want to. The standard Network Manager works just fine, and you can manipulate it from the system tray (the dockapp wmsystemtray) just by running its system tray applet:

nm-applet &

My system tray also includes input language changer (using ibus), copyq (copy buffer manager), kupfer (program launcher), clementine (a music player), veromix (a mixer), solaar (for Logitech wireless devices), and the Google Chrome access icon (good for operating Chrome only for Chrome application purposes). Except for Chrome, all are included in the Ubuntu repositories. (If you want to type in Japanese as I did, add anthy as well – also in the repositories.) To install the complete set:

apt-get install ibus copyq kupfer clementine veromix solaar anthy

You can activate shadows and transparency and faded windows (on losing focus) with compton:

apt-get compton
compton -bcCGf -i 0.8 -e 0.8 --no-fading-openclose --sw-opti

You might wish to use different options – see the man page for more:

man compton

Many sources for Window Maker themes are dated: Tower’s Window Maker Themes (1999), WindowMaker Themes from LonelyMachines (2006), and Window Maker themes from (1999).

However, over at, they have numerous Window Maker themes that appear to be fairly recent.

To set the background, use the wmsetbg command as before:

wmsetbg mybackground.jpg

Note that this will set all monitors and all workspaces to the same background. You can specify which workspace in the wmsetbg command, as well as update the default. I haven’t found a way to set individual monitors to different backgrounds yet.

Here is my current workspace (it uses the Lumen_Blue theme):

Screenshot 2016-07-11 12:18:52

(The background picture is from Second Life – I’m on the left.)

As long as you exit cleanly, all of your clip icons and dock applets and system tray applets will all return the next time you log in.

There are YouTube videos about Window Maker including FreeBSD 10.2 with Window Maker and GNUStep Base and an overview of Installing and Using Window Maker Live. There is an extensive overview of Window Maker Live in Japanese, a short overview of Window Maker (running on Calculate Linux) in Russian, an overview of Window Maker on FreeBSD and an overview (from 2011) of Window Maker on Mageia Linux.

Try Window Maker and have fun with it today!

2 thoughts on “Return to Window Maker (on Xubuntu 15.10)”

    1. Unlike most people, I try all kinds of browsers, all the time. Over the years, I’ve been a user of Flock, Firefox, IE for Macintosh, Netscape, Midori, lynx, elinks, dillo, Konqueror, Vivaldi, and many others – and tried several in this instance.

      (Since bloated browsers were mentioned – let me say that I’ve also used a wide variety of Second Life viewers, including Firestorm, Singularity, Restrained Love Viewer, CoolVR, Alchemy, CtrlAltStudio, Exodus, Lumiya, and others.)

      Unlike Second Life viewers, alternate web browsers are not viable alternatives for me. Many of the web sites I use are impossible outside of a major browser. I did try, but outside of Chrome or Firefox or IE (or now Edge) there are no browsers that can handle the majority of web apps on the web.

      In actual fact, I did wind up reverting back to XFCE for my daily use. I still use Firestorm and Google Chrome (not Chromium) daily and as long as I don’t push it, XFCE seems to be ok. “Push it” means a ton of YouTube video tabs open or other heavy web sites.

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