Openbox 3.4 (Shallow Thoughts)

Akkana's Musings on Open Source, Science, and Nature.

Sun, 17 Jun 2007

Openbox 3.4

It was a bit over two years ago that I switched from icewm to fvwm as my window manager. Fvwm proved to be very fast, very configurable, and "good enough" most of the time. But lately, I've found myself irritated with it, particularly with its tendency to position windows off screen (which got a lot worse in 2.5.18). It looked like it was time to try another window manager, so when I learned that the Openbox project is headed by a fellow LinuxChixor, I had to try it.

Openbox impressed me right away. I'd tried it once before, a couple of years ago, when I found it a little inconsistent and immature. It's grown up a lot since then! It's still very fast and lightweight, but it has good focus handling, excellent window positioning, a good configuration window (obconf), and a wide variety of themes which are pretty but still don't take up too much of my limited screen space.

But more important, what it has is a very active and friendly community. I hit a couple of snags, mostly having to do with focus handling while switching desktops (the problem that drove me off icewm to fvwm), so I hopped onto the IRC channel and found myself chatting with the active developers, who told me that most of my problems had already been fixed in 3.4, and there were .deb files on the website for both of the distros I'm currently using. Indeed, that cured the problem; and when I later hit a more esoteric focus bug, the developers (particularly Dana Jansens) were all over it and fixed it that same day. Wow!

Since then I've been putting it through its paces. I have yet to see a window positioned badly in normal usage, and it handles several other problems I'd been seeing with fvwm, like focus handling when popping up dialogs (all those secondary GIMP Save-as dialogs that don't get focused when they appear). It's just as flexible as fvwm was when it comes to keyboard and mouse configuration, maybe even more so (plus it has lots of useful default bindings I might not have thought of, like mousewheel bindings to change desktops or "shade" a window).

I was going to stay out of theme configuration, because there were several pretty good installed themes already. But then in response to a half-joking question on my part of whether a particular theme came in blue, someone on the IRC channel made me a custom theme file -- and I couldn't resist tweaking it from there, and discovered that tweaking openbox themes is just as easy as fiddling with its other defaults.

I don't use transparency (I find it distracting), but my husband is addicted to transparent windows, so when I noticed on the web site that openbox handles transparency I pointed him there. (He's been using an old Afterstep, from back when it was still small and light, but it's been a constant battle getting it to build under newer gccs.) He reports that openbox handles transparency as well as afterstep did, so he's switched too.

I haven't looked at the openbox code yet, but based on how fast the developers add features and fix bugs, I bet it's clean, and I hope I can contribute at some point.

Anyway, great focus handling, great window positioning, fast, lightweight, super configurable, and best of all a friendly and helpful developer and user community. What more could you ask for in a window manager? I'm an openbox convert. Thanks, Dana, Mikachu and all the rest.

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[ 13:13 Jun 17, 2007    More linux | permalink to this entry ]