I used to use fvwm as the window manager under Gnome 2, but as I understand Gnome 3 can't be used with a non-default window manager, so I'm looking for alternatives. Are there other desktop environments that have the option of switching to a different window manager?

What I know so far:
- Mate presumably does, since it's a Gnome 2 fork
- LXDE does (source)
- Razor-qt does (source), but it seems pretty early in development

Information from answers/comments:
- Xfce does
- KDE does
- I may be able to use the Gnome tools I want without running Gnome Shell

I'm still not sure about the Gnome3 Fallback mode, and I'm probably missing other options.


4 Answers 4


but as I understand Gnome 3 can't be used with a non-default window manager

That's not quite correct. It's true if you mean the Gnome Shell, the default user interface for Gnome 3.

Gnome consists of many different parts: login manager, window manager, shell, gsettings daemon, GVFS virtual file system, keyring manager, etc. The Gnome Shell is bound to the window manager. But there's nothing preventing you of choosing a different window manager and not using Gnome Shell. You still can enjoy a Gnome 3 desktop with most the features Gnome offers, except the window manager and the shell, although some components (for example the screensaver/locker, IIRC) have been moved into gnome-shell and thus cannot be used with a custom WM.

Probably the easiest way is to create your own session which you load and select in your login manager.

  • It sure is a little confusing with GNOME Shell, usually the panel is not indistinguishable from the WM.
    – sr_
    Oct 12, 2012 at 9:34
  • Fair enough - I haven't actually seen Gnome 3 installed, so I don't have a very precise idea of what can and can't be separated from the wm. I was mostly thinking about the equivalent of the Gnome 2 panel with elements like the network settings, display settings, etc - those will be part of Shell, right?
    – weronika
    Oct 12, 2012 at 15:22
  • If the elements you talk about implement the freedesktop SysTray specification they are independent of the shell or window manager. Provided that fvwm implements a SysTray, it should not be a problem to use those applications.
    – Marco
    Oct 12, 2012 at 15:45
  • Good to know, I'll try to find that out!
    – weronika
    Oct 12, 2012 at 16:03

Xfce allows to use custom wm. LXDE is set of Openbox (wm) and panel, menu, etc, so it obviously allows. If you like Gnome2, you probably should try Mate, though I can't recommend it because I heard that it is buggy. Why don't use clean wm? Just install applications you need from gnome2 and use them. If you need panel, there are a lot of alternatives like tint2.

  • Xfce does, really? Awesome, I should try that. I don't suppose you know how to make the change? I'm having trouble finding the info. As for just using fvwm with no DE - that's definitely an option I'll look into, although last time I tried I had trouble getting wireless working, but that was years ago. And thanks for the tint2 rec, that looks very useful!
    – weronika
    Oct 12, 2012 at 6:40
  • You should install it and make new session with your wm. I found manual for xmonad link , some points about making new session can be applied to your wm too. Hope it helps!
    – kirill-a
    Oct 12, 2012 at 7:14
  • Thanks, I'll give that a try on a work computer tomorrow.
    – weronika
    Oct 12, 2012 at 7:20
  • I haven't tried the full instructions (also found a set here), but just running fvwm inside Xfce with fvwm --replace seems to work fine.
    – weronika
    Oct 12, 2012 at 19:58

XFCE definitely does (although I ended up just using xfwm when I switched from Gnome2 - I had previously used openbox with gnome2 but xfwm did everything I cared about so was easier to just use the xfce default)

Note that if you want all your apps to have a consistent look (fonts, buttons, colours, etc), you'll need to use a theme that supports both GTK2 (e.g. for xfce and gtk2 and gnome2 apps) and GTK3 (e.g. for newer gnome apps, like latest evince etc).

I use Clearlooks-Phenix (used to be called Clearwaita), which was packaged for debian sid and testing recently.

Description-en: GTK3 port of Clearlooks theme
 Clearlooks-Phenix is a GTK3 theme which is a port of Clearlooks, the
 default theme for GNOME 2.  Files for GTK3 correspond to significant
 changes of Adwaita, the default GNOME 3 theme. Files for GTK2 come
 from the unmodified Clearlooks theme.
Homepage: http://www.jpfleury.net/en/software/clearlooks-phenix.php

I'm sure that people who actually care about window-manager bling would be able to find fault with it, but IMO it's a nice clean minimalist theme with no distractions or jarring colours or attention-grabbing graphics. i.e. it doesn't annoy me by calling attention to itself.

  • Xfwm seems fairly nice, but I'm far too attached to my heavily customized fvwm keybindings - good to know I can definitely keep those under Xfce. And you know, I don't recall ever setting a theme besides window border colors etc, and I honestly couldn't tell you whether my apps have a consistent look... Maybe I should look into that.
    – weronika
    Oct 12, 2012 at 23:13

You can find that kind of window manager just like the following steps:
1. Have a look at a wiki page that list available window managers. (Arch wiki for example).
2. Find out the ones you may like.
3. Have a look at its homepage and find out if it have support for your environment.

If you do not want to change your window manager, its homepage will tell you how to work with your environment or google it with the keywords of both the window manager and the environment.

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