With all of the major desktop environments already covered, I thought perhaps we should also look at some of the lesser known graphical environments for GNU/Linux.
One such example is the window manager called Openbox. Openbox is actually the very same window manager used by the LXDE desktop environment, however window managers do not actually require a DE to be installed to be used, and Openbox is a great example of this.
The machine I used for this has the following specs:
- Intel i5-4210U
- 8GB DDR3
- Running BunsenLabs Linux, the community continuation of the CrunchBang distribution after the lead developer retired from the project.
Customization and Default Appearance
Openbox is quite different from your typical graphical environment. While this distro already has Openbox to be lightly themed, it still is quite drastically different from how you might typically be used to seeing things. For example, there is no kicker menu.
There IS a panel at the top of the screen with basic information and a few application launchers, but you'll not find (by default at least) a typical menu system in your panel. Instead, you right click on the desktop, or the panel, and a menu will appear.
Right clicking inside an application will still function as it normally would, but right clicking outside of an application will call up the menu. This is quite a handy thing, as it means, depending on where your mouse is sitting, you may not need to drag it across the screen to call up the menu.
You also can use keyboard shortcuts to call up the menu wherever the mouse currently is located, in this case it's SUPER+SPACE (win+space), and voila, even though my mouse was sitting inside the LibreOffice screen, my menu is now available to be clicked.
Openbox actually can be themed quite heavily, one example that I discovered while browsing DeviantArt was this.
So, while being extremely minimalistic by nature, there is some serious theming potential too for those who are into customization.
Something to note is that window managers do not come with their own software, they are literally just a UI to click around your system with. When you install a distro that only uses a window manager, this isn't really an issue.
However, if you are building your own system through an Arch Linux install, Gentoo, or LinuxFromScratch, then you should be aware that while you may have a window manager, you won't have any applications for it if you don't install them manually...
System Resources Used
Openbox is by default very light on resources. With Firefox AND LibreOffice running, I barely used over 500MB of RAM.
The second I closed Firefox, I dropped to just over 250MB of RAM used. Now, the OS that I chose is based on Debian Jesse, and has quite a bit of software and other things installed by default. I know from prior experience that Openbox can use even less memory when run on a more minimalistic distro such as Arch Linux, with minimal amount of packages being run in the background.
The official requirements for BunsenLabs Linux, state that 1GB of RAM is the Recommended amount, so if that's all they say you should need, that should put into perspective just how light the system is.
If you are looking to go even more lightweight than LXDE itself which is the lightest of all the major DE's available, then Openbox is a great way to go; yes LXDE uses Openbox, but when you cut out the extras from the DE, you get a more pure and tiny installation. Openbox does everything you need from a graphical interface, can still be themed to be pretty, and is organized and setup quite efficiently; just my two copper.
What about you? What are your thoughts on Openbox? Do you use a WM rather than a DE?
More about window managers to come!