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I've been hearing a lot about tiling window managers lately. People seem to love them, swear by them, even wonder why everyone doesn't use them. But after searching for a little bit, I couldn't find anyone explaining why they make any sense at all.

What am I missing? It seems like unless you have a huge screen, you can't have more than 4-5 applications open at the same time. And it seems so wasteful to only be using a tiny part of your screen for any specific task.

Please help me understand.

To be fair, it took me a while to get tabbed browsing when it first came out, so I am truly waiting to see the light here.

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should be community wiki? –  fretje Oct 7 '09 at 7:14
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I don't think this is subjective or that there isn't one correct answer. I'm not asking "why do YOU use a tiling WM?", I am looking for a canonical answer explaining the concept and workflow. –  itsadok Oct 7 '09 at 8:50
    
Windows 7's feature to have an application use exactly one half of your screen when you drag it to either side of the screen is basically a small tiling system (although only for two windows at a time) and it is really useful. –  bastibe Oct 7 '09 at 13:53

8 Answers 8

up vote 8 down vote accepted

You won't get the answer to your question by searching. You won't even understand it even after asking here and reading the answers :-) You have to try it for yourself and see the bright sides. Of course, ending my answer here would keep its informational value at 0, so please let me share my findings:

  • a tiling wm doesn't imply mandatory usage of multiple monitors (I have one)
  • a tiling wm doesn't imply mandatory usage of a huge monitor with a huge resolution (still using 1024x768)
  • a tiling wm doesn't imply all your windows are on the same virtual desktop, tiling wms can have multiple virtual desktops just like non-tiling wms
  • windows in a tiling wm usually don't have border decorations, this saves some screen space
  • switching virtual desktops and windows using keyboard only is indeed much faster and convenient as soon as you get used to it
  • if you ever decide to try a tiling wm, this doesn't mean you should just get rid of your current wm/de, change and cringe in pain. You could try a tiling wm in a virtual machine or in a window (by using a nested X server like Xnest / Xephyr)

Take this with a grain of salt, I'm a very happy tiling wm newbie and I admit I may be partially biased.

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BTW, I've configured my floating window manager, KWin, to not have borders (one can drag empty regions to move windows). –  Ramchandra Apte Oct 26 '13 at 5:53

I think the best way to understand a tiling windows manager without having used one would be this: Consider using your mouse to select a menu item and drilling into the menu to find what you want vs. using the keyboard shortcut.

  • Stop typing, move mouse, click file, click save.
  • hit ctrl-s

More work to learn the system to start but much more efficient from that point on.

For me, the most important benefit is that I no longer need to use a mouse at all.

Also, tiling algorithms can automatically arrange windows in a particular way that suits the task. One might have ten images open at once, and have them arranged so they can all be as big as an efficient arrangement would allow, or a tall browser window on the left with documentation, and two wide terminal windows on the right, one to write code and one to run it and watch the output. This flexibility allows a configuration for a three monitor setup and then something different a netbook.

So one can be more efficient in managing the windows, but also be more organised with work if it involves many windows and tasks at once.

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The "normal" window managers are based on a "search, select and use" paradigm. It means the wm gives you ways to search for the app or the doccument you are loking for. This cycle involves that the user doesn't know where's the item he wants. The user needs to cycle thru the available choices and spend a little time in selecting or discarding them. That small time multiplies by the number of posible choices before the right one.

In tiling and stacking window managers user needs to know where left the aplication and select it. There's no cycling, no selection time, but there's a time for remember where do you left the window you want, just before select it And needs some discipline from the user.

Going back to the "Desktop concept" In a normal wm you'll have a bunch of documents manually placed, and in a Tiling mode, all your documents would be placed for you perfectly aligned. Of course you'll need a bigger Desk, But you could find a document without move anything around.

There's nothing wrong with tiling, there were certain approaches to the tiling concept in traditional window managers indeed:

  • Linux multiple desktop or third party windows software with the same feature: this is a tiling concept. Divides the workspace in several desktops to leverage the time searching thru opened windows, but the user must know in what desktop is the item.
  • Mac Expose or compiz plain switcher: These 'tile' the current apps to let the user select the app without cycling.
  • The new feature on Gnome3/Unity of half maximize, or the old one from Windows 3.x "Tile/cascade windows"

In my experience Tiling is more useful when there's many windows of similar content (like terminals) and for extensive usage of one application, or few ones, the traditional.

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with a tiling manager you stop being a windows nanny dragin, resizing and moving all of them and stop that insane ctrl +tab cicle, it's just so awesome until you find the flavor in it. I use ion3 on linux and by now whenever I use a standar window manager everything feels like a mess after 5 windows opened, with ion I can have up to 30 windows opened and feel everything under control

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a tiling wm places and resizes the windows (and the windows affected by your actions) on its own. with a floating wm YOU do the job (of the wm as some might argue).

so, a tiling wm could free up some time just because the windows are placed for you and you dont have to waste time placing them and keeping them "connected".

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Interesting question. Here's how I see it at first glance.

The usability of a window tiling practice is tied essentially two two things:

  • Current resolution
  • Type of applications opened

The higher the resolution the more such a feature may make sense. In today's world where resolutions of 1440x900 and higher are quickly gaining ground as mainstream, there may start to be a practical reason to tile windows in such a way. Consider that not so long ago we were all comfortably using 1024x760 and that today we have gained ~400x200 pixels without that meaning much anything else other than more space for one application screen. One must wonder, could I make use of the added space more efficiently?

The type of applications being used may also make a significant difference in evaluating the usefulness of such a feature. It's a fact that screen real-estate is often misused without we ever realizing it. It's a deeply ingrained habit that we overlook. Consider your habit of firing up a text editor. Do we really need to see 170 characters wide of a text file, especially when we have a convenient wordwrap feature at the click of a mouse? Conversely, a browser or a full blown integrated development environment may need that space. Although I'd be tempted at reevaluate my 1440x900 browser window. Right now looking at this website I have around 400(!) pixels of wasted horizontal space.

My verdict would be like this:

It's quite possible that anyone swearing over a window tilling usage pattern may be part of an "enlightened elite"; Those who were able to overcome deeply ingrained computer usage habits that we tend to overlook. I'm pretty sure they don't support it on every case, but swear by it on many cases simply because when we really look at our screens, we get the shocking revelation that for many common tasks we have been very wasteful.

On the other hand, we cannot deny that other factors come into play. Operating systems like Windows Vista and Windows 7 are by default screen real-estate hogs with their fat title bars, not very friendly adjustment to smaller fonts and a general feeling of "big and fat everything" where it's easier to make things bigger than it is to make them smaller.

I'd say, there's room for window tiling even in here. I just tiled this website with my console and a text editor to prove that much to myself. And it dawned on me I just did what would need 3 monitors to do without any significant loss of productivity. But by no means does this mean I can do it all the time and with every application. So, I'd say keep those tools handy and become aware they are there for you to use. You may as well find you'll get to learn to use it more often than you first thought.

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I started using Winsplit Revolution when I bought a 24" monitor. Some things are almost unusable in full screen on 1920x1200, like web browsing (for example a forum that stretches text over full screen).

What happens when you start using such manager is that you get used to how easy it is to position a window exactly where you want without having to manually drag it and will probably use them with small resolution monitor.

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What am I missing? It seems like unless you have a huge screen, you can't have more than 4-5 applications open at the same time. And it seems so wasteful to only be using a tiny part of your screen for any specific task.

Well, if you have a smaller scren than most tiling window managers will automatically maximize all windows to the screen.

For my personal computers, from a desktop with a 19 inch LCD screen to my EEEPC701 with a 7 inch screen I prefer to use a tiling window manager (Awesome Window Manager).

It makes it very easy to manage windows without needing to reach for the mouse. But really it is a personal choice. I recommend you take the plunge and try working with one it for a few months.

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