Quest for Window Manager: Openbox

Although, I loved using Fluxbox, I started feeling it a bit monotonous and limiting in configuration options. Then I came to know about Openbox. Openbox is also a *box style window manager which is very lightweight and highly configurable. The website also claims it to be more compliant with the standards. LXDE is actually openbox as window manager with a fixed set of accompanying programs. Openbox can integrate very well with KDE or GNOME, actually in Debian if you install openbox, you will automatically have a choice of booting into “openbox-kde” , “openbox-gnome” or openbox session. I generally prefer the pure openbox.

The most apparent  difference a fluxbox user will notice while starting  the default configuration of Openbox will be that the good old taskbar generally also containing  a clock and a systemtray is gone. This doesn’t mean that you cannot use any taskbar with openbox, but by default there is none. This gives the user freedom of using any separate taskbar program ( e.g. fbpanel, pypanel, tint2 just to name a few) that suits her.  And in case you are happy with the ALT+TAB menu, you don’t have to use any taskbar or panel. As can be seen in the screenshot, I use tint2 as taskbar. Since we don’t have any systemtray by default, there are some programs like stalonetray, trayer etc which can be used. That of  course if you want to use any.

Instead of being able to do everything under the sun, openbox does the only one  task i.e. managing the windows and It does it well. In my opinion this is consistent  with the philosophy of Unix commands which perform a very small task and they do it well. Another thing which I like  as a programmer is that the configuration file is xml based. This is of course a negative point for others who don’t find xml “human readable”. In fact I have seen many excellent looking and extremely geeky desktops which are configured by people having very little or no programming experience. So I think it is not at all required to be a programmer  to be able to tailor your desktop to your needs. It is enough just to have basic command-line skills, patience to read the documentation and spare hours in the night for tinkering.

As a drawback the first thing comes into my mind is that unlike fluxbox, the themes don’t include the panel or the taskbar. In fluxbox if you decide to change the theme the fbpanel is included in the theme configuration and automatically adapts to the new colors and fonts. As the panel is not part of openbox, the theme configuration obviously doesn’t include it so in case you are using a standalone panel, you may have to change its configuration to match the openbox theme.  This I think is not a problem for people who don’t use any panel or intentionally want the granularity of configuration.

I would not discuss the details of installation, configuration and customization here because  I don’t want to document again what is already well documented.  Openbox wiki on its home page has a very nice documentation.  On ubuntu forums, I found an extensive installation and configuration guide for openbox here, which is more or less the second official guide.

Here are my two sidux desktops running openbox with conky, adesklets, tint2, visibility, trayer, urxvt etc..


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Here are the links to my openbox, tint2 and visibility configuration files.

Main config file: ~/.config/openbox/rc.xml
Startup file: ~/.config/openbox/
Menu file: ~/.config/openbox/menu.xml
Tint2 config: ~/.config/tint2/tint2rc
visibility config: ~/.config/visibility/config