October 18, 2017 San Francisco

The window manager I want to use

I spend some time thinking about my workflow - what’s good about it, and what could be better. One of the things I’ve been thinking the most about recently is window management. On my laptop I use OS X, which has a window management paradigm that is fairly familiar to people who have used a computer in the last few decades. At work, I use i3, which is my favorite tiling window manager.

The problem with my current workflow

I like the i3 way of doing things for the most part, but I realized that I spend a lot of time thinking in trees of heterogeneous windows.

As an example, on my worst days, I might have 6 i3 desktops actively being used. On most of these desktops, I’ll have a set of terminal windows. I rarely use the terminal emulator’s tab system, but I do almost always use tmux. So I have a set of tmux tabs, inside of which are sets of panes. Several of these windows will contain vim sessions. The vim sessions have their own sets of tabs, and each of these tabs can contain multiple windows.

So that’s, like, a tree of maximum depth 6?

I’m bad at holding these trees in my head. I’m a lot better at holding 2d spaces in my head.

The Ideal Window Management System

If I wrote a window management system, it would have the following properties:

  • First of all, applications should mostly not do window management on their own.
    • They should, however, offer hooks to a window manager that allow the window manager to understand the semantics of their subwindows
    • Also, the window manager should be programmable, so that applications’ subwindows can be given behavior by the user that matches the user’s preferences, or they can be given behavior by the application developer (but these behaviors should not be hard-coded into the applications)
    • The window manager should be very flexible, ideally allowing for almost any tabbing or windowing systems in use today.
  • Windows should be easy to move around in a resizable grid, with multiple virtual desktops.
  • Each virtual desktop should be infinitely scrollable and easy to reposition by panning, or by zooming in and out, or by pressing navigation hotkeys.