A Look at Desktop Environments: Notion Tiling Window Manager
Notion was introduced to me by a long time friend on the IRC Network I am staff on, as part of a major gaming community. He almost exclusively used Notion for the longest time, and barely ever touched his mouse, doing nearly everything by keyboard. He was hardcore. I have dabbled with Notion from time to time, but never stuck with it longer than a couple weeks at a time.
However, I have always been intrigued by it, and actually found it remarkably useful for working, especially when I have multiple terminals going, a text document or two, a browser window, and music going. It's ESPECIALLY useful in my opinion when running multiple monitors. I will break this down further later.
Notion is one of quite a few window managers that fall into a category called â€œtilingâ€ window managers, or to break that down further, they split your screen into multiple squares / rectangles usually, that tile, and have your various programs in each tile.
The machine I used for this has the following specs:
- Intel i5-4210U
- 8GB DDR3
- Running BunsenLabs Linux using the Notion WM.
If you read my previous article about the Openbox WM, all I simply did was install Notion, log out, switch to Notion, and log back in before starting to write this. No software changes have been made.
Customization and Default Appearance
Notion can't be themed in a traditional sense. You won't be setting wallpapers or adding widgets or anything if you run notion. Actually, you won't be customizing Notion in any conventional sense, and if you decide to run a window manager like Notion than you should....get the notion....of theming out of your mind entirely (I had to...)
Notion literally breaks your screen down into tiles, that can be stacked, rearranged, split into sizes etc. When I am running a single monitor, I usually split my screen four ways, and run something like this:
You also have to ability to have floating windows (first screenshot).
When running dual monitors I find it especially awesome, because I can have Firefox with a video over half the second monitor with my IRC client on the other half, and then my main monitor can have a VPS Terminal, Local machine Terminal, Firefox meant for browsing about whatever I want, and a last window for whatever else I need it for at that time.
Each Tile can also have multiple tabs; so my VPS tile usually has 2-3 tabs each with a terminal connected to a different server each if I am working on multiple things.
These are just some examples of how you could use Notion, but ultimately you will find your own useage and comfortable setup based upon your own needs.
Notion doesn't come with a software suite of its own. It's JUST the window manager. You will use whatever you had installed on your system before Notion, and can install whatever you want from within Notion.
System Resources Used
This one is actually hard to give accurate numbers on. When I shut Firefox and LibreOffice down, my system reported still over a gig RAM being used.
However, I know that Notion runs on netbooks like there's no tomorrow, so I decided to look into exactly what processes were using RAM, and Notion wasn't even in the top 15. Xorg, NetworkManager, and systemd all were using FAR more ram than Notion was; so I'm going to go out on a limb since I couldn't find any official minimum requirements and say that you could run Notion comfortably on 256mb of RAM if you didn't intend on using Firefox, or LibreOffice but instead used much lighter software to replace them.
Notion is NOT for new GNU/Linux users, not even remotely. You barely touch the mouse when using Notion, 99% of it is keyboard controlled, and you should probably be comfortable with the terminal even though you don't need to use it, you'll probably find it easier TO use it.
However, if the idea of a tiling window manager like this interests you, Notion is definitely my favourite of the various ones out there I have tried. I love to use it when I have a LOT going on, and want to sit down and cram my work in. I actually found it perfect for while writing this article, while also working on some server related things!
What about you? What's your take on Notion? Have you ever used a tiling window manager before? Talk about your side, in the comments below and stay tuned for more window manager overviews to come!
Now Read: Check out Mike's other Linux Desktop Environment reviews here.
Once you go with a tiling WM you can’t go back. Looks like an interesting project, lua scripts are in particular, but i3 remains many steps over any other for me. Easily customizable and powerful.
Same. I’d be really interested in an article why he prefers Notion over i3. Maybe add awesome and make it a three-way shootout.
Truth be told, I don’t really know i3 as well as notion. My preference is totally biased based on experience, maybe I’d like i3 more if I used it more.
I DO smell a three-way shootout sometime in the future…
Hi Mike – enjoying your articles but can’t find your article on OpenBox – could you link to it please ?
Martin hasn’t posted it yet ;) It’s coming though!
Maybe 3 decades ago I used a Plasma IBM 3290 with up to 4 logical terminals on this one monitor. It was very handy at times to have this functionality. Is this what Notion tiling does? Background 3290 image and information at http://www.corestore.org/3290-1med.jpg and
Very similar concept yes, although Notion is far more customizable. But in essence, you could say that the 3290 is the great grandpappy of the tiling WM!
Hello, I’m trying out Notion and the big blocker I’m seeing is that I can’t find a way to work with multiple monitors at the same time. In your post you are mentioning it works, how do you do that?
That’s a plugin for Notion you’ll need to use!
I started with Ion2 almost 15 years ago, then switched pretty soon to Ion3, and then Notion and have been using that ever since. While i3 etc. are all great window managers too, and their usability mostly boils down to practice, what I’ve always found superior with the “ions” is being able to have static frame layouts, float splits, and a sensible way to arrange these. It may not be the only WM that has those, but it is very solid. I haven’t needed to use anything else in over a decade, and that has its benefits.
What I mean by static layouts is that I think about the desktop as a bunch of slots where I “drop” windows. Each thing then has a location, such as “on the left screen, bottom split, in the left tab group” and for me it feels natural to find and group things this way. When compared to typical Unity desktop, Notion absolutely devastates it in usability. Managing even a few terminal windows with Unity is an absolute pain, whereas Notion can handle dozens just as easily as a single one and display them efficiently according to needs.