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I'm interested in trying a tiling window manager and ditching the desktop manager. I'm running NixOS, and

  • I spend much of my time in the terminal
  • the desktop manager (currently Gnome) overrides/conflicts with some NixOS configuration (e.g. XkbOptions)
  • I've heard good things about xmonad

But I'm not totally clear where the boundaries fall between desktop manager, window manager, display manager, and the X server. And there are some things that I like about the desktop manager (at least I think they're provided by the desktop manager) that I'd be hesitant to give up:

  • hit Super and type part of an application name to launch or activate it
  • Super+Tab to switch focus between applications
  • Super + ` to switch focus between windows within the same application

Is there a "getting started" guide for this sort of thing, or an accessible reference to clarify my mental model of the desktop/display/window managers' various roles and relation to the plain text console I'd log into?

Or do I just have to dive in and stumble around in the dark for a while?

  • ps Don't get too excited by the good things you hear. – saga Nov 24 '17 at 21:44
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    It only takes a few minutes to install a light weight desktop/window manager. Try fluxbox, it's solid. Look into key bindings, which are often an option, then not only would have you have a light desktop, you'd have a text file for configuration you can copy to your next install. Or a middle ground lighter weight desktop like XFCE is a nice option, it seems to be written by grownups, and doesn't break everything whenever the devs feel like introducing/subjecting you to a 'new paradigm'. Just install a bunch of the window managers, see which suites you best, then check into key bindings etc. – Lizardx Nov 24 '17 at 23:16
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    I don’t always startx, but when I do, I use lwm and nothing else. – Jeff Schaller Nov 25 '17 at 0:47
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X is a standard linux display server. It's required to run any kind of gui application on your machine. But it can't do anything other that displaying the contents of gui app window on your screen. You can't move, resize or minimize them. They will be just there on the screen.

For doing the stuff mentioned above, you need a window manager. Window manager do what the name says. They manage windows.

A Desktop environment(gnome, kde, lxde, lxqt) is just a collection of software to provide a fully fledged desktop experience. It includes a window manager, a file manager, system tray, and other software.

A display manager manages window managers or desktop environment sessions on your machine. The password prompt you see during login is a part of the display manager on your system. It takes your password, logs you in, launches the window manager or desktop environment of your choice, and handles the shutting down of them as well.

hit Super and type part of an application name to launch or activate it
Super+Tab to switch focus between applications
Super + ` to switch focus between windows within the same application

If that's all you want, you won't have any problems switching to a barebone window manager as that what window managers do. If you don't uninstall gnome, you'll have access to the applications provided by gnome as well. But they won't be well integrated as they are in a standard gnome
distribution.

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