8 Great Alternative Desktop Managers For Linux

Most of the Linux users should be familiar with Gnome and KDE since both of them are the most commonly used desktop managers in the various Linux distros. Now, if you are using an old PC with low hardware specs, you might find that the above two desktop environments are too heavy for your computer to handle.

In this case, you will have to consider using an alternative lightweight desktop manager for your Linux. Here are 8 of the best lightweight desktop managers that I personally use and recommend.

1. XFCE

xfce   8 Great Alternative Desktop Managers For Linux

Xfce is a lightweight desktop environment for unix-like operating systems. It aims to be fast and lightweight, while still being visually appealing and easy to use. It is based on the GTK2+ toolkit which is the same as Gnome, so if you have always been a Gnome user, you will find some of the design and icons very familiar in Xfce.

A good thing about Xfce is that it is as fully customizable as both Gnome and KDE. The full Xfce package is split up into several projects , each for different parts of the desktop. You can either install the full package to make use of its full functionality, or only install the components you need to reduce the burden placed on the hardware. In addition, you can easily customize every single part of the Xfce package to create the best looking desktop for your daily use.

2. Enlightenment

enlightenment   8 Great Alternative Desktop Managers For Linux

Enlightenment is the lightweight desktop manager that I like the most. It is revolutionary, visually appealing and extremely easy to use. While most lightweight managers strip out all the graphical effects to reduce the hardware requirement, Enlightenment does the opposite. You will be amazed how it can make everything run so smoothly and gracefully, even if it is running on a low-end PC.

When you first log in, you will be surprised to find that there are no menubar, panel or icons in Enlightenment. All you have is a blank canvas and a pager at the bottom of the screen. To access your menu, you simply click anywhere on the canvas. Shift your mouse around or scroll your mouse wheel and you will see the visual effect of the window minimizing to the pager. It may be difficult to get used to the interface at first, but once you are used to it, you won’t want to use any other desktop manager anymore.

3. FVWM-Crystal

fvwm crystal   8 Great Alternative Desktop Managers For Linux

If you like eye-candy, then I am sure you will like FVWM-Crystal too. FVWM-Crystal is based on the FVWM window manager. It retains the flexible and highly configurable traits of FVWM and has added plenty of improvement to the interface. What results is a cool interface with semi-transparent windows and lots of eye-candy.

Among all the lightweight desktop managers, FVWM-Crystal have the fastest speed, be it in booting up or loading applications. It also integrates well with XMMS, XMMS2, MPD, Quod Libet and cdcd. If you are looking for a fast, pretty desktop manager that can link to your music server easily, then FVWM-Crystal is clearly the choice.

4. LXDE

lxde   8 Great Alternative Desktop Managers For Linux

Being someone who has experience in Gnome and KDE, I have found LXDE extremely easy to use. The reason being, LXDE is simply a lightweight version of Gnome and KDE combined together. You have a KDE look-alike bottom panel and Gnome-style interface, so there really nothing new that you need to learn here. If you have a low-end PC and do not want to deviate too much away from Gnome or KDE, then LXDE would be a good alternative.

5. IceWM

icewm   8 Great Alternative Desktop Managers For Linux

IceWM is simple and highly configurable. All the settings are stored as plain text files in the user’s home directory, making it easy to customize and configure the settings.

In case you are concerned about the Windows 95 lookalike interface, IceWm is also fully themeable. You can apply your favorite theme and make it look like Windows Vista, Mac OS X or whatever design you want.

6. Fluxbox

fluxbox   8 Great Alternative Desktop Managers For Linux

Fluxbox is considered a minimalist desktop manager as it has minimal graphical support with only a taskbar in the whole desktop. You don’t see any menubar around, but you can easily access the menu by right-clicking your mouse. The interface is fully themeable and most of the settings are controlled by text files which can be edited easily.

7. Window Maker

window manager   8 Great Alternative Desktop Managers For Linux

Window Maker is one of the few desktop managers that offers a graphical tool to configure the system setting. Wprefs (the graphical tool) is easy to use. It eliminates the use of plain text files and ensures that any users, be it a newbie or a seasoned Linux user, can configure and customize the settings easily.

Like Fluxbox, Window Maker is also a minimalist desktop manager. There are only four icons on the whole desktop. One of them is to access the terminal while the other is to open the Wprefs. To access the main menu, you just have to right-click your mouse and the menu will appear.

8. AfterStep

afterstep   8 Great Alternative Desktop Managers For Linux

Originally based on the look and feel of the NeXTStep interface, AfterStep provides its users with a consistent, clean, and elegant desktop that can run on any low end PC. As the same as other lightweight desktop managers, it is fast, stable, easy to use and easy to configure.

The above mentioned lightweight desktop managers are the ones I use and recommend. There are plenty of other desktop managers out there. Which one do you use? If your favorite is not in the above list, which one do you recommend?

The comments were closed because the article is more than 180 days old.

If you have any questions related to what's mentioned in the article or need help with any computer issue, ask it on MakeUseOf Answers—We and our community will be more than happy to help.

44 Comments -

0 votes

housetier

I use icculus.org/openbox/index.php/Main_Page openbox as my favorite window manager. It reminds me of oroborus.org/ but is updated more frequently.

Openbox does what I need, stays out of my way otherwise, and works very well in conjunction with rox.sourceforge.net/ the superior ROX-Desktop.

0 votes

Mackenzie Morgan

Xmonad. There is nothing more efficient than a nice tiling window manager. I really hated having two 22″ screens this summer because I like to have the entire desktop covered, which means maximizing things, which means the windows are too darned big. I wish I’d known how to use Xmonad at the time. It could definitely make situations where the screen is too big be much more bearable by neatly arranging the windows without a single gap.

0 votes

Anonymous Coward

Ratpoison

It’s extremely lightweight in that there really isn’t really much in the way of an interface. Everything is controlled with keystrokes and windows are always maximized. It’s (as you can imagine) fairly lightweight. I have to confess – I don’t actually use Ratpoison, but it’s worth mentioning.

0 votes

Vincent

Ew, Xfce looks really ugly there. Xubuntu, for example, looks very nice by default, and a lot more is possible with Xfce: http://www.23hq.com/Vincentt/search/display?mode=photos&search_key=D73CF0391CB5F4BFCB8AB

0 votes

ltr

yeah, openbox rocks

0 votes

PantsMan

I use Awesome Window Manager, which itself is based on DWM, but it has been made to be much more easily configurable.

0 votes

deepspawn

Well, I think the difference between desktop managers and window managers should be clarified yet it’s really hard to make a proper distinction.

I think the diference comes more into this: window managers are usually standalone applications and while they provide a lot of functionality they lack a lot of features that a new user would expect, more like the features you find in a complete desktop environment.

Now as I see it, desktop managers provide a selection several applications that are glued carefully to work together including a window manager.

At last the real difference is how much effort you have to do to setup your desktop environment, on the desktop managers you get most of the work done including the application selection, On the other side most window managers let you decide and just pick what you need.

In my case: I use awesome-wm, gajim, firefox, xmms, emacs and urxvt(plus a lot of cli apps). and that makes my desktop environment.

0 votes
0 votes

Izkata

Once again, tiled window managers aren’t even considered.

Check out WMII ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wmii ) – once I tried it, I can’t go back to floating window managers like the ones you posted above.

0 votes

sdubois92

evilwm

It is extremely lightweight. And by this I mean completely barebones. No window decoration, no menus or toolbars, just a blank screen and a keyboard combo to open up a terminal. It works wonderfully with feh (background images), dmenu (application launcher) and dzen2 (infobar). It is very similar to xmonad, just without the Haskell and the tiling.

0 votes

diablow

Check out Equinox Desktop Environment @ equinox-project.org/ . While it doesn’t look very modern, but it’s fast even on old computer systems.

0 votes

told

i like Fluxbox, simple is the best.

0 votes

ugn

I’ve been using fluxbox for my older machines for a long time and JWM compares very well to it. It is less minimalistic then the former, follows windows ui feel (start button and taskbar) and provides a nice mix of features and configurability combined with small footprint.

0 votes

Rohan

I used to love Blackbox. What happened to that? I remember having used it on my Pentium -120 Mhz with 32MB of RAM, and it flew!

0 votes

gatuus

I love AfterStep and Enlightenment(DR16), this 2 DM’s have an honorable place in the linux community because they have always been with us since a long long long time ago…

Bravo AfterStep theme!
Bravo Rasterman & theme!

me.

0 votes

devnet

Openbox, Openbox, Openbox, Openbox. Openbox, Openbox, Openbox, Openbox. Openbox, Openbox, Openbox, Openbox. Openbox, Openbox, Openbox, Openbox. Openbox, Openbox, Openbox, Openbox. Openbox, Openbox, Openbox, Openbox.

I hope this resonates enough for you. It’s the best of the *box wm’s.

Gratuitous screenshot:
http://linux-blog.org/uploads/Posts/openbox3461-screenshot.png

0 votes

Jerbone

Gnome is where its at.

Can’t see any benefit from these other managers. Used to use KDE – Gnome just kicks ass =P

0 votes

Mackenzie Morgan

Yeah, lets see you get GNOME running at a usable speed on a Pentium 2.

0 votes

Damien Oh

I second this. GNOME is just too resource intensive for a low end PC

0 votes

Scott

Fluxbox FTW.

I normally don’t say “FTW” but in this case I really mean it. Fluxbox is perfect for my needs. Thanks for adding it. :-)

0 votes

Mired

Openbox is my personal favorite, used it for awhile now and never looked back.

0 votes

Tim Jones

Another excellent option is the Etoile desktop based on GNUstep with a lot of new features for more recent hardware.

0 votes

lapubell

Why show a screen shot of Enlightenment 16? 17 isn’t in the stable state yet, but it is totally usable. Check out ELive if you don’t believe me. That is desktop art.

0 votes

Robsku

I use Ion3, one of many (as someone already mentioned) tiling window managers that were all left out here… Considering ratpoison way too stripped on features for mee, Ion3 seemed like a good, ultra-lightweight, 100% keyboard operable and extensible (via lua scripting) it seemed like something I wanted to try and never could really go back to fluxbox (I love fluxbox & Enlightenment DR16 when it comes to floating window managers though). I have considered trying out if I’d like wmii even better – it does seem great.

0 votes

somedood

I have a laptop with a fried ide controller and I installed puppy linux to a usb for it. Must say I’m really starting to like JWM, would have never even tried it without the broken hardware. For a lightweight desktop it’s great. I used to run Blackbox on the older stuff but JWM is taking that spot over, still run a version Blackbox on the windows boxes.

0 votes

Frank J

An absolute goldmine! This article was an eye opener. I use Openbox and it’s my favorite so far.

0 votes

David Zmick

WMII is the best, it takes some getting used to, but then it is excelent

0 votes

Duncan

i use WMII at work, been using it for around a year, I can’t stand dragging windows around with a mouse now, haven’t used any other tiling window managers however I think WMII despite being pretty basic does everything you could want, tag based window management so that windows appear on a range certain desktops, simple customizability, and a pretty code base :) what more could you wish for?

0 votes

Enzo

all of those look like shit.

0 votes

jacki

Looks like LXDE is Good.

0 votes

Jake

A nice feature about Fluxbox (my preferred window manager on all my systems now, although on my higher spec systems I use it with a lot of KDE apps and utilities) is that you can tab together windows. For instance, I always run Pidgin with the messaging window and buddy list tabbed together to save space:

http://jake.wasdin.net/files/Screenshots/flux-tabs.png

0 votes

Damien Oh

Thanks for that. I didn’t know about this feature.

0 votes

Mikko

WindowMaker, OpenBox, Pekwm.

0 votes

Vincent

serbianlad, you’re definitely looking for Xfce (though 128 might be a bit tough for it). If you install Xubuntu, it’s about as user friendly as GNOME (that screenshot above really doesn’t cut it much slack – take a look at my current desktop). Admittedly, it’s not that quick on 256 MB either, but it’ll do :)

0 votes

serbianlad

A few days ago I have installed a fresh Ubuntu 8.04 on my cousin’s old computer. At this point I can’t recall weather it has 128 or 256 megs of RAM, but either way I was somewhat underwhelmed because it turned out that windoz xp used to work faster…

How likely are things to improve if I install XFCE or some other DE instead of Gnome? I must stress that these people were pretty much struggling with windows. So, these minimalistic enviroments won’t do. Which one of these would you say is faster, but not (much) uglier than Gnome?

Thanks in advance!

0 votes

Damien Oh

Using a lightweight DE definitely help in your case. I would recommend any of the above 8, especially fluxbox (or openbox).

0 votes

youknow

I tried xubuntu on my parents old p4 256 ram. The 256 ram was the bottle neck and made the system suck. so I installed lxde. which I loved and made the system much faster and a decent usable speed except for the rox desktop. I found it unintuitive after using the folder style file managers all my life. While I don’t have a problem relearning things like that my parents would hate it and never use it. They ended up upgrading ram but I found this link that might be of interest. Haven’t tried it myself.

ubuntuforums.org/showthread.php?t=746131

Just a thought

0 votes

youknow

actually it looks like ulite is the way to go.

u-lite.org/

0 votes

serbianlad

I’ve just installed fluxbox. Well I’m using it right now. It’s a rather new experience. I love the “almighty right mouse button” ;) Is there any way to create shortcuts on the desktop or that is considered too heavy :)

I tried to install enlightment as well, but apt-get says that package isn’t available or something like that… Do I need another repo or is it something else that’s causing the problem?

0 votes

Damien Oh

To install Enlightenment, you have to type in

sudo apt-get install e16

e17 is not in the repo yet.

0 votes

Mark

I can’t believe the author missed ROX-Desktop. :eek:

Then again, maybe he just doesn’t like it :(

0 votes

Matthew C

I really like Fluxbox, it’s better than many window managers and doesn’t use much screen space.

0 votes

Ben

e17, when setup like it is in Elive w/ Compiz and the new OpenGEU is the most beautiful desktop. I prefer it heavily over even GNOME and KDE. It actually gives me better battery life, somehow, than wm’s like openbox, it seems, which makes no sense to me.

However, I’m an Arch user, and I personally love FVWM-Crystal now. Even large applications open obsurdly fast and, without ever having programmed in my life, my friends are in awe at what I can do to my desktop by just changing one config file (or even just typing into the FvwmConsole). Try Fvwm-Crystal.

The one problem is that when used in conjunction with Nautilus (as a Desktop Manager) FVWM (the Window Manager) takes about 10 seconds to turn on after log in, as compared to a usual 0.5. I’m looking for an alternative, but I don’t like ROX.

0 votes

Shawn

I like the look and feel of XFCE, but I really don’t feel that it can truly be called “lightweight” anymore. It’s footprint isn’t all that far removed from Gnome at this point.

As a general rule I prefer IceWM over JWM, simply because I find JWM looks outdated, even though it is perfectly functional.

I’m currently enjoying Openbox a great deal. It forces me not to abuse my desktop, and has a nice elegant way of doing things. Plus I love the fact that it gives a really fast boot time.