Fluxbox: an ignored but sexy, fast window manager for X (Unix/Linux)

I am hoping that this little blog about a great window manager might help rekindle some interest in this wonderful piece of software. Fluxbox is a window manager for Unix or Linux operating systems. It is packaged and available for all of the most popular Linux distributions, is easy to install and relatively easy to configure. Fluxbox is lightweight, fast and can be made to look very cool and sexy.

A typical fluxbox desktop.

Fluxbox seems to have taken a backseat to many other desktop environments and a few other window managers (in particular, Openbox), but for the life of me I know not why. It is still developed on a 6 monthly cycle by a small group of dedicated programmers. More frequent updates would probably be useless because Fluxbox has essentially been perfected to its initial requirements. In other words it does exactly what is needed, has very few to no bugs and is just a great little piece of software.

Fluxbox with a lighter weight Linux distribution can make a 10-year-old computer faster than some modern Windows computers. I have been using Fluxbox on a number of different computers for about 8 years and I have never noted a bug or a crash and it always just works as it should. Over that time fluxbox users have added some wonderful themes and much better documentation.

Because fluxbox is considered a lightweight window manager it does not:

  1. manage icons on your desktop nor,
  2. update its menu structure when you add/remove software packages nor,
  3. include GUI configuration utilities.

It is therefore not recommended as a window manager for Linux newbies who were previous MS Windows users. In order to change the desktop look and feel the user may need to manually edit some of fluxbox’s configuration files. Hence, my recommendation is to use fluxbox only if you are familiar with text editing and like to control your window manager by hand rather than have it add things to your desktop/menu automatically. Fluxbox puts you in control of your desktop, in other words. If you are not prepared to do these trivial tasks then it would be better to stick with a complete desktop environment such as Gnome, KDE or xfce.

Below is a small snippet from the main “init” fluxbox configuration file, showing its relative triviality:

session.screen0.focusModel: ClickFocus
session.screen0.noFocusWhileTypingDelay: 0
session.autoRaiseDelay: 250
session.tabsAttachArea: Window
session.forcePseudoTransparency: true
session.doubleClickInterval: 250
session.appsFile: ~/.fluxbox/apps
session.styleFile: /home/larry/.fluxbox/styles/carbonium_blue
session.tabPadding: 0
session.colorsPerChannel: 4
session.configVersion: 13

And now a snippet of the “menu” configation file:

[begin] (ArchLinux FluxBox Menu)
[exec] (Browser) {chromium}
[exec] (File Manager) {thunar}
[exec] (Terminal) {urxvt -e tmux}
[submenu] (Development)
[exec] (Arduino IDE) {sh arduino}
[exec] (Python IDE) {idle}
[submenu] (Editors)
[exec] (Leafpad) {leafpad}
[exec] (Vim) {urxvt -e vim}
[submenu] (Graphics)
[exec] (GIMP) {gimp}
[exec] (nvidia-settings) {nvidia-settings}
[exec] (pdf reader) {epdfview}
[exec] (Viewer) {gqview}

Notice that the configuration files have a simple structure – what they do and their keywords are reasonably obvious.

The coolest facility in fluxbox is its grouping and tabbing abilities. Essentially you can group (with tabs) a number of windows into the same frame and then treat entire windows as you would the tabs in a browser. This is an interesting and easy way to interact with a number of open applications and is especially useful for those with small screen real estates, for example netbooks.

Fluxbox desktop showing a tabbed group (the large window).

If you are someone who absolutely must have icons or an animated toolbar on your desktop (i.e. the pop-up menu and hotkeys are insufficient for your experience) then I highly recommend using the lightweight wbar quick-launch tool.

Fluxbox with the “wbar” launcher at top of desktop.

For a video demonstrating Fluxbox’s speed under ArchLinux view this video:

I can highly recommend Fluxbox to all Unix-Linux operating system users. It is especially useful for those who have slower CPU’s or less than 1GB of RAM or those who have smaller than 20″ LCD screens where a tabbed window manager will be very useful. For a thorough explanation of installing, configuring and using fluxbox see the Archlinux fluxbox wiki.

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