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In the X Window System, the X Server itself does not give the user the capability of managing windows that have been opened. Instead, this job is delegated to a program called a window manager.

The window manager gives windows a border and allows you to move them around and maximize/minimize them. The user interface for these functions is left up to its author. Often, the window manager is just one component of Desktop Environments suite.

This proves to be quite confusing for the new user of a X windowing environment because most other environments simply use one window manager and give the user no choice. In this sense, X is much more versatile and allows more tailoring of the environment to whatever the user wants. It allows the creation of an xterminal, a diskless workstation which runs only an X server (out of ROM) and leaves all user interface implementation to a central compute server.

The most commonly used Linux window managers are:

Other WMs include:

Tiling Window managers

Tiling window managers arrange application windows into various grid layouts, often in a manner which displays all of the windows seamlessly without overlapping. Debian provides packages for several popular tiling window managers, including:

Other tiling window managers, which can be built from source, include:

See x-window-manager packages descriptions If you use startx rather than a login manager, you'll probably want to choose a default Window Manager. To change the default window manager use

  update-alternatives --config x-window-manager

( See update-alternatives manpage).

Window Managers must not be confused with Desktop Environments such as GNOME, KDE, Xfce. These three environments use a window manager as a single part of a much larger system. And to make things much more complicated, GNOME doesn't force you to use any one window manager. They have a list of "supported" window managers that you can choose from.

Afterstep should be mentioned - (and fvwm is actually fvwm2 whereas fvwm1 already had/has lots of "functionality" and lives on a smaller foot-print)

See also

CategoryDesktopEnvironment | CategoryXWindowSystem