Posted on Tue 04 August 2020

please focus your attention

One thing that UNIX users have that Mac and Windows users don’t: it’s generally quite easy to change their window manager theme – and to write/draw their own.

Window decorations – a frame, a titlebar, some buttons – are handled by the X11 window manager, which is itself a replaceable part. Window managers range from minimalist exercises in reductionism through gaudy feature-festivals like Enlightenment, the original perpetrator of shaped, translucent and transparent effects. But…

But most window manager themes get something quite wrong. They focus lots of your attention on the active window, which is good, and then they make the decorations for all the other windows dim, drab – and frequently unreadable. Here’s my insight:

The purpose of decoration on non-active windows is to have a maximally readable title, so that you can differentiate them and select the right one.

The purpose of decoration on the active window is to stand out from the rest, so that at a glance toward the screen you know which one is active.

Now, I said that it’s easy to create your own window manager theme – and so I’ve followed through and created a series of themes for XFWM, the window manager that is part of the XFCE desktop. The latest is designed for large displays, 4K and more. The active window gets a bright, rounded border (in a configurable color) and the inactive windows get thin (black/white/black, 3 pixels total) frames and high contrast black on light grey titles.

And, as with all software one writes oneself, it doesn’t have to please anyone except me.

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