The tale of two tiling WMs

I love tinkering with my system. About a year ago, I got this crazy idea of trying different window managers (WM). Until then, I had mostly used GNOME and occasionally explored KDE. Before that I was a happy Windows XP users (that means, I did not know what I WM was!). After trying XFCE and a couple of *boxes, I came across tiling window managers. The first one that I tried was wmii (actually wmii-ruby), which I found to be very nifty. At that time, I was gung-ho about ruby, and was elated to use a WM based on ruby. After a while, I found wmii-ruby to be a bit slow. The reason the wmii was slow was ruby. The bare bones wmii was amazingly fast. So, I switched to it. But wmii is that it is very poorly documented and uses an arcane language to configure (plan9!!). It is a struggle to figure out how to change anything. There are ruby, phython, and perl ports, but then you have to deal with the idiosyncrasy of the  port.

These days I am gung-ho about Haskell. What luck then that Haskell has a tiling window manager — XMonad. Whenever I feel frustrated with wmii, I check out XMonad. It is developing at an amazing pace, is well documented (well, if you know how to read Haskell documentation) and comes with an awful lot of addons called xmonad-contrib. However, everytime I try XMonad, after a while I switch back to wmii.

After repeating this process for the n-th time, I decided to write down what is wrong with XMonad.  The major inconvenience is the tags and the key bindings. In wmii, you can have as many alpha-numeric tags as you want. In XMonad, you have nine numeic tags. With alphanumeric tags, I can name the tags based on what project I have on them, and I do not need to remember it. I look at the tag name and I know which project is there. With XMonad, things are a bit different. Tags 1 and 2 are easy (mail and browser), but tags after that are a mess. What happens when I start a project on tag 3, start another on 4, and another on 5. After a week, the first project is over. I remove everything from tag 3, and reuse it. After three weeks, I need to carry the state of all my tags in my head. It is agonizing. And usually that  is the time when I switch back to wmii. I wish XMonad would implement named tags correctly. Which means, I do not have to change my config file and recompile xmoand to change the names of my tags!

My second gripe with XMonad is that its window management model does not fit my work model (rather the work model that I have gotten used to while using wmii). Most of the time, I am either writing a paper in tex, or writing code in haskell. In both cases, I have the screen split vertically. When working on a paper, I have two xterms on the left: one with vim displaying the tex file, and the other for compiling the file. On the right side,  I have three-four pdfs open (for reference), with the column in stack mode, so that I can read the title of the pdf file. The situation is similar while coding in haskell. Vim with Haskell code on one side, ghci on the other. Another xterm for compiling the code. And a couple of browser windows for checking the documentation. So, I work in a two column mode, with two main windows: the editor and the typeset pdf, or the editor and the debugger. XMonad’s philosophy is having one main window.  That is really irritating to me. There are user packages that allows you to split the screen in two columns, where I can achieve something similar to stacked mode in each column, but the key bindings are horrible (I mean, I might as well use Emacs).

I love XMonad, especially the new prompt and integration with xmobar. And I really like hacking around in Haskell to configure my WM. But, XMonad comes in the way. And after fighting with it for a while, I realize that there is nothing really wrong with wmii. And I switch back to wmii. I hope XMonad will implement proper named tags and a true two column layout sometime in the future.