[xmonad] Project to make tiling window managers more accessible to newcomers

Norbert Zeh nzeh at cs.dal.ca
Wed Apr 8 14:55:26 EDT 2009

On Wed, Apr 08, 2009 at 03:04:31PM -0300, Ismael Carnales wrote:
> Lol, is this thread a joke! if now i'm willing to put all can I do to help
> you in your projects, I was trying to go in the same direction but for
> XMonad being more "open" to newcomers, nothing more.

Indeed, I thought this was something in response to Ismael's ideas. :)

> >> For those who are interested, here is a rough sketch on what I have in
> >> mind for my project: My goal is to create a modern tiling window manager
> >> that can be productively used with virtually no training, meaning most
> >> core functionality needs to be accessible in an intuitive way or drawing
> >> from well-known conventions in more conventional window managers.
> >> My target user is someone who wants to give tiling window managers a
> >> try, but doesn't want to learn keyboard commands (at least not in the
> >> beginning), read a detailed manual or write any sort of configuration
> >> file.

As such an excellent idea.  However, I see some risks or opportunities
here, depending on how you want to look at it.  The problem is that, in
my eyes, the approach traditional UI's, including window managers, is
fundamentally broken and that WM's like xmonad depart from it radically
and, as a result, become more usable to the "power user" (God I hate
this term but cannot think of a better one).

Traditional UI's aim to be intuitive to non-experts and, in doing so,
completely forget to provide the functionality that is needed for
efficient computer use once one is beyond the learning stage.  Attracted
by the eye candy, I spent a few years in Mac land before about a year
ago I re-entered the linux world because the extreme "mouseyness" of
Macs drove me insane.  There was almost no way to control my windows and
the UI without using the mouse.  So, what I think is that, if you want
to stay close to the philosophy of existing window managers (ease of use
= intuitive use for a newcomer - who cares about ease of use for
advanced users), then you'll end up with something that's a tiling
version of metacity - not very useful in my opinion, as you will never
achieve a high degree of efficiency with a mouse and, from a usability
point of view, this is exactly what sets all tiling WM's apart from
their non-tiling brothers.

A much more interesting question is:  how do you depart from traditional
approaches enough to make the system intuitive to a newbie, while at the
same time keeping in mind that the key should be to allow the user to
become a "power user" over time who masters exactly those things like
knowing the keyboard commands to control windows efficiently.  You want
it to be a gateway drug, which traditional UI's aren't.

> >> I do believe that eventually the keyboard is a more effective way to
> >> control the WM, so I will also investigate the possibility of some kind
> >> of help system, that can point out how - for example - the last action,
> >> the user did, can be done with keyboard commands instead. Alternatively
> >> tooltips could also be used to display key bindings.

Indeed, emacs has something like this when you call a function the hard
way using "M-x blah blah".  If done right, this can go a long way
towards what I said in the previous paragraph.  Great idea.


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