Fluxbox is an incredibly lightweight window manager, with a minimal interface and an interesting twist on the desktop metaphor. In Fluxbox a blank screen is not treated as a desktop, exposed desktop areas are simply areas to access the ‘Start Menu’ of sorts. Right-clicking on an exposed desktop element shows this menu which allows access to all programs and can be easily customized. By default Fluxbox does not use desktop items, although there are programs to allow desktop items. Fluxbox includes four virtual desktops by default and also has the interesting feature of tabbing programs. By middle-clicking and dragging a program’s titlebar over another titlebar the two are joined, and become tabs, the active tab displaying that program in the window. This sort of highly configurable system is perfect for low memory systems, but users with a little more machine muscle might want to flex theirs.
Probably the biggest three window managers for Linux are Xfwm, KWin and Metacity. These are usually not referred to explicitly, because they come packaged in Xfce, KDE and Gnome respectively. These are complete desktop environments, designed to provide a working set of common applications for users and common libraries for programmers. This is perhaps the greatest asset that Linux possesses in terms of usability, as most of its programs are free it makes a huge number of full versions of software freely available on first boot. Many distributions also maintain a repository of all the applications available, which can be automatically downloaded and installed. Software management is incredibly user friendly on Linux, with applications such as Synaptic making finding software easy and fast. KDE applications are programmed around the Qt library, so they all have a reasonably uniform look, and Gnome and Xfce programs work with GTK libraries. KDE is generally considered to be based on a Windows style, while Gnome and Xfce have a more unique feel to them. Consistency can be a real issue here, as both KDE and Gnome have excellent sets of applications, and though these can run on either desktop environment they frequently don’t sit right with everything else.
Compiz Fusion sits at the highest end of the scale in terms of fanciness and having the most impressive eye-candy generally. It shakes up the desktop metaphor by placing all desktops, and there can be up to 32, side by side on a 3D object that starts out as a cube with 4 desktops and gets progressively more cylindrical. These desktops can help organize a cluttered system, keeping one for writing, one for the media player and one for web browsing for example makes it easy to switch between all tasks. For general window management Compiz Fusion has a wealth of options. Some reflect the advances of other operating systems, like the OS X Exposé feature or themes similar to Windows Vista. The rest are unique to Compiz Fusion and highly animated, for example windows can be configured to burn away when closed, or even be stretched and wobble when moved. All of these effects don’t even require that much in the way of advanced hardware; it is possible to get Compiz Fusion running perfectly on an Nvidia Geforce 4400MX.