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Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Running multiple window managers simultaneously in debian

I am trying out lightweight window managers in my debian (debian-squeeze) box without exiting my gnome. Want to know how I am doing that? Read below

The real advantage of lightweight window manager like openbox, will give more screen real estate, will allow a different power ful feel of user interface. It is fun :)

Or another use will be running both gnome and kde simultaneously!!!!

For example I want to run openbox along with gnome (or KDE or lxde or xfce or ...), here is how I did it

Here is the default gnome window manager running and I start from here

Install the other window manager, in this example I am trying openbox so here is what I did to install openbox

sudo aptitude install -R openbox obmenu obconf openbox-themes

I used -R in aptitude to force aptitude to skip the recommended packages as the recommended packages will pull lots of extra packages, which is not needed for just testing and having a feel of new window manager

Start virtual terminal 1

Ctrl + Alt + F1 (to choose virtual terminal 2 give Ctrl + Alt + F2, for 3 Ctrl + Alt + F3 ...)

Run the installed window manager using xinit but force it to go to the next virtual display terminal using -- :n

By default xinit launches program in display terminal 0 (which is the display in which the default window manager is running by default and to get to it, we can use Ctrl + Alt + F7)

Here is the command to run it in from virtual terminal 1 (this wont run from gnome-terminal)

xinit /usr/bin/openbox-session -- :1

in the above line note -- :1

this means run the window manager or program passed to xinit in display number 1. Note :1 sends the newly launched window manager to display 2 as xinit is zero based.

replace /usr/bin/openbox-session with

/usr/bin/jwm --> for running jwm window manager
/usr/bin/e16 --> for enlightment 16
/usr/bin/enlightenment_start --> for englightment 17
/usr/bin/lxsession --> for lxde
startfluxbox --> for fluxbox

and so on

replace :0:1 with :2  or :3 ... to run the new window manager in display console 1, 2, 3, ...

Also note I am using display console to represent a virtual console which runs window manager and virtual terminal to represent a command line virtual console, display console starts 7 to 12 and command line console starts from 1 to 6, which are accessible by key combination Ctrl + Alt + F(n)

where n is the console number and press that numbered function key along with Ctrl and Alt pressed

To switch between display consoles use

Ctrl + Alt + F7 --> to switch to display console 1
Ctrl + Alt + F8 --> to switch to display console 2
Ctrl + Alt + F9 --> to switch to display console 3

Most of the light weight window managers can be accessed by right clicking on desktop

Here are some screenshots of openbox in another virtual display console

openbox configuration editor

Iceweasel running in openbox (see the minimize, maximize, close buttons and the title bar, isn't it cool to have firefox maximized to full screen!!)

Here is the openbox widgets with gradient style

Enjoy, since this is debian, this should work with ubuntu as well (and it works in my netbook!! which runs ubuntu)

I learned more about window managers from the excellent arch linux wiki, you too can read them here



  1. Thanks for this post. It helped me a lot to set up simultaneous kde and ratpoison sessions on Kubuntu.

  2. Thank you! You've solved a problem I have been trying to get a solution to for ages - running multiple window managers simultaneously! Thanks again!

  3. Friend, you are welcome as always :)

  4. Thanks a lot for this post. I need both tiling WM and smth like gnome so it really solved my problem.