Over the past couple of weeks, I have been playing with the Awesome WM. I hate to spoil an article in the second sentence, but, I didn’t find it that “awesome”. In the past, I’d given “i3” a pretty fair amount of time, checking it out to appease my curiosity about ‘Tiling’. I still come across screen-shots every once in a while where I’ll say, “WOW that looks (uh-oh) awesome”, in regards to someone posting a shot of their ’tiling’ desktop. The most recent case being on youtube when I stumbled across a video tutorial posted by “msjche” about Gentoo and Awesome WM. He does a great job with his ‘how to’ videos! (You can find all of “msjche’s” youtube videos here.)
While I’m no LUA writing champion, I can find my way around the scripting language. It really is amazing how much you can learn with ‘Ctrl-C’ and ‘Ctrl-V’, or, otherwise known as “copy and paste”! In the end, I was able to turn my VSIDO desktop (my distro of choice of course, based on Debian’s SID branch) into a near duplicate of the Gentoo desktop that ‘msjche’ shows in his youtube video.
On a side note, the wonderful thing about Linux is the multitude of people like ‘msjche’ who are willing to share and give so much to the community as a whole! (another shameless plug here for my favorite distro, VSIDO, developed by Terry Ganus aka VastOne)
Awesome WM is configured entirely with the LUA scripting language. If you’re a Linux user, and you’ve never heard of LUA, then Awesome is definitely not going to do you any good! Yes, upon install it will give you a default setup file, (rc.lua) but with no previous exposure to LUA you’ll a) either end up lost, or b) put your machine into a non-useable state. The default config leaves a LOT to be desired. Also know that if your going to try a ’tiling’ WM, you need to have some awareness of key-bindings. ‘Tiling’ WM’s are made for keyboard lovers. Guy’s and gal’s who’s hands never leave the keys. They have no time for the nuisance of a mouse! Not to mention whether or not to ‘left-click’ or right-click’!
That said, if you are a buff, LUA god, you can really make Awesome look and behave ‘awesomely’! (as demonstrated admirably by ‘msjche’) It can really be made to shine given the right amount of LUA configuring. (and “TIME”)
There are also hundreds, if not thousands, of “rc.lua” files out there that people have generously uploaded to the web for you to try. Remember though, they were written for a particular machine/user and will inevitably need to be adjusted, rearranged, or totally re-written to work on your machine.
Another minus for Awesome, when there is an upgrade, your carefully built and honed ‘rc.lua’ will be over-written by the upgraded versions. No problem you say, I’ve backed mine up! Unfortunately, your older ‘rc.lua’ file is sometimes not compatible with the new version. This is terribly frustrating for the guy who has a 1400 line rc.lua config file! Oh yeah, we haven’t even began to talk about the configuration file for the widgets, the ‘wi.lua’ file! It can end up being bigger than the ‘rc.lua’ config file! There are literally dozens of .lua files you can configure within the Awesome WM. Believe me, it can turn into a really big job!
And then, there’s Fluxbox! Lots of documentation, all the configuring is done either with the graphical ‘Fluxbox menu editor’, or via easily understood text files! The three most used, being “startup, menu, and keys”. As I just mentioned, the ‘menu’ file can be done now with a graphical front end rather than editing the existing text file by hand. Fluxbox can also be made to look pretty much any way you want it to. From a simple ‘flat’ style, to a blinged out pseudo ‘plasma’ looking setup. It is far and away easier than the pain of setting up Awesome. And takes a fraction of the time.
While both of these WM’s are pretty easy on resources, Fluxbox is the defacto winner there as well. All of that LUA running does take a toll. With todays PC’s and laptops, this shouldn’t even be a consideration. However, if your using an older computer, Fluxbox is definitely more resource friendly!
While Awesome is designed mainly with the ‘Tiler’ enthusiast in mind, Fluxbox will also act as a tiling WM. Tiling is an OK way to work, but I’ve found that using the ‘Tabbed’ feature of Fluxbox is far more efficient! I did not see that much difference between what Awesome refers to as ‘Tags’ and other WM’s call ‘virtual desktops’. They seemed to me to be essentially the same thing. Both of these WM’s will also utilize key-bindings pretty much the same way. I will add that using key-bindings is a very cool and easy to do feature. In Awesome, you can set them up via the .lua file, and in Fluxbox via the ‘keys’ text file. If you’ve never taken the time to try using key-bindings, you’ll be amazed at how much simpler they can make your computing life!
The end result, I am back to my beloved Fluxbox! While I had a fun couple of weeks playing with Awesome, it was in the end, just too much effort. Had I simply used the default rc.lua config file rather than grabbing someone else’s work, it would have been a LOT tougher. So again, thanks ‘msjche’ for putting yours out there as well as the great ‘how to’ youtube videos!
One last thing I should mention; in the SID repo’s Awesome is still at or around version 3.4 whereas the Awesome homepage has a version 3.5.6. There was no .deb file for Debian users to be able to take advantage of dpkg to install it. I had to download the tarball and build it from source.
All in all, Awesome is not something a beginner would want to tackle.