You know those days where something about your operating system is bugging you? The inability to drag and drop some piece of information from one place to another, some process that always wants to run in the background, slowing down your whole machine, or some other default behavior that annoys the crap out of you? Whether it’s Windows or Mac, I always encounter these yak shaving moments where a task that seems like it should be simple turns out to be needlessly complicated.
This is why I love Linux. Are Linux desktop interfaces perfect? Hell no. But when they bug me, I can switch between them at will. That’s because under Linux (as with many *nix systems), the graphical desktop interface is handled separately from lower level functions like file storage and device management. So when something bugs me about a particular desktop environment’s behavior, I just toggle over to a different one and continue working with my files and applications there. In fact, I keep three separate desktops on my Linux machine.
First, there’s Openbox, a very speedy, lightweight “window manager” that’s highly customizable and great for things like editing photos or other tasks that require manipulating lots of windows and applets at once:
Second, there’s HerbsluftWM, a “tiling window manager” that maximizes your screen real estate, is good at placing code snippets side by side, and requires very little mouse manipulation, allowing you to keep your hands on the keyboard at pretty much all times. It’s superior for programming tasks, and its ability to obviate use of the mouse probably saved me from a repetitive stress injury to my wrist earlier this year during grading season.
And lastly, for those times when I want an OS X-like “everything’s integrated” experience, I also have Gnome 3. It’s a very powerful and full-featured desktop environment. If Gnome 3 has a downfall, it’s that it’s less configurable than the others. But it’s also the most novice-friendly of the bunch and is straightforward for even first-time Linux users. Plus, since I’ve customized my other window managers to the point that they probably only make sense to me, Gnome 3 is nice to have around for those times when someone asks, “Can I use your computer for a second?”
[Image Credits: The screenshots are obviously mine, but I should mention that both of the visible desktop backgrounds come from Google+ Arch Linux Community user, Kemal E]