Xfce Window Manager Tweaks

Jack Wallen
Jul 10, 2010
Updated • Dec 5, 2012

Lately I have been focusing on the desktop environment Xfce. NOTE: You can see all the Ghacks Xfce content here. Why have I been focusing on Xfce? It's a very light weight desktop that you will find much faster than other Linux DEs and it's come a long way in terms of usability and incorporating a full set of desktop elements. So much so the configuration and use of Xfce is quite easy. If you understand how to use a "control panel", a panel, a menu, etc - you will get Xfce.

But there are certain advanced configurations that I want to illustrate that might not be as obvious to the new-to-Xfce user. This time around we're talking about the Window Manager Tweaks tool.

First off - what is a Window Manager

That question is simple to explain, but must be explained so you know what exactly this tool works with. A window manager is the piece of the desktop puzzle in charge of drawing, decorating, and manipulating the windows you see. So that pretty boarder around Firefox you see - that is handled by the Window Manager. In the case of Xfce the window manager is xfwm.

The Window Manager Tweaks tool does just what you would expect - tweaks the Xfce window manager. In what way does it tweak it? The broader picture looks like this:

  • Cycling: How you want to cycle through your open windows.
  • Focus: How you want window focus to be handled.
  • Accessibility: How you access your windows.
  • Workspaces: How you access your workspaces.
  • Placement: Smart placement.
  • Compositor: If you want to use compositing and how you want it used.

Now, let's take a look at each of these more closely.


With this feature you can configure four settings. Of these only one will not be set by default: Cycle through windows on all workspaces. This option can be useful if you deal with a lot of workspaces. If you enable this option all open windows will be included in the cycling process. If you do not include it, only those windows on the current working workspace will be included. I prefer to enable this option.


This is not the same as the standard window manager settings where you can enable such features as "focus follows mouse". In fact the features in this tab either do not really work all that well or have no practical use. Even though Focus stealing prevention is a good idea, only applications that follow the _NET_WM_USER_TIME standard will adhere to this feature.


The best feature in this tab is the Key used to grab and move windows. When you press the configured key you can click anywhere on a window and drag that window around. Another nice feature in this tab is the Hide frame of windows when maximized. Although the space gained isn't much, by losing the window frame you have a much closer to "full screen" effect without losing your titlebar.


From this tab I like to set Use the mouse wheel on the desktop to switch workspaces. This means I do not have to drag my mouse all the way down to the pager to switch workspaces. There is also two wrapping features you might want to set:

Wrap works spaces depending on the actual desktop layout: Wrapping workspaces means you can take a window and drag it to the left or right to move it to the next adjacent workspace.

Wrap workspaces when the first or last workspace is reached: If you have four workspaces and you drag a window to workspace four, in order to get that window back to workspace 1 all you need to do is continue dragging to the right. So the left edge of workspace 1 is adjacent to the right edge of workspace four (or your first and last if you have more than four).


There is a really nice feature in this tab called Smart Placement. You can set it so that windows open either always in the center of your screen or centered on your cursor. Add this to the mouse menu (right click anywhere on the desktop) where you can start an application without having to go to the start button and you can dictate where all of your windows are to open.


This feature, of course, is only available to those with the hardware to support compositing. If you've read me enough you know I am a big fan of compositing. In this tab you can set the opacity of:

  • Window decorations.
  • Inactive windows.
  • Windows during move.
  • Windows during resize.
  • Popup windows.

From this tab you can also set shadows for:

  • Regular windows.
  • Popup windows.
  • Dock windows.

Final thoughts

As you can see, Xfce 4 has started to really challenge the big boys in features. Add to that the lighter footprint and lightning fast speed and you have the makings of an outstanding replacement for either KDE or GNOME.


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