In the days of old when knights were bold and computers not invented. Men did stocks with wires and blocks and results were not as intended. :)
Then computers were conceived, with the result of massive sales of pizza, chips and fizzy and/or caffeine loaded drinks. The first computers were, by today's standards, slow and limited. Programs had to be written to make the best use of available CPU cycles. They had to get the most bang for their buck so to speak.
As computers have become faster so have programmers become lazier. It seems to me that individual programmers believe that their program is the only one that will run on the computer and will have access to all of its resources. They also seem to think that once a function is working then it doesn't need to be looked at, until it either needs to be expanded or is broken. These and several other reasons, often result in programs which perform under par and use much more resources than are actually needed. Once you have several programs like this on your computer then it starts running slower than molasses in Siberia during winter.
As you probably know I have recently been using an ancient, by computer standards, laptop for the past couple of weeks and it really shows up the differences between program efficiencies. Whether it is a web browser, file manager, music or video player. I have spent many dozens of hours compiling, deleting and again compiling other programs to test them out and choose the best, for me, ones.
However, even though I like my command line I also like a bit of eye candy to soothe the savage beast in me :) To that extent the window manager has to be light, both in computer resources and on the eyes. In other words I want to have my candy and eat it too. One thing I did find surprising was that the window manager has more of an effect on running programs than I thought. Then I used to think that my big toe was stuck out of bed, until I stood up to tuck it in.
I used to think that once a program was running, the window manager was out of the way and the program did it's thing. Working with slow hardware cured me of that naiveness. The window manager really does have a large effect, especially making the difference between a smooth running or stuttering video playback. I choose video playback because it is the most resource intensive visible usage of a computer. Just to recap the laptop is a P3 500Mhz with 256Mb of ram.
Still, in the interests of efficiency I eventually settled on XFCE as my desktop environment to give me a balance of eye candy and resource efficiency. It did everything quite well and I had no trouble watching videos. Until I tried playing some high resolution matroska video files. I knew that these files would push the computer to the limits but I did want to watch my Star Trek.
The poor little thing started to act like someone had shoved a whole hard boiled egg in it's mouth. It literally choked up. It did bravely struggle on and the audio was fine but the video was about one frame per thirty seconds. Not entirely good enough. So I went on the warpath for a more efficient window manager, which could still provide me with my eye candy.
Remembering back to my first days of Linux, too many years ago to count :) I remembered that there was a window manager called Enlightenment. It was far ahead of its time in terms of eye candy but the user interface paradigm was completely different to windows and I wanted something windows like. For that reason I had chosen KDE until they brought out the 4 series.
So I decided to break away from the, what Linux detractors call, windows 95 look and give Enlightenment another try. Enlightenment 16 was easy to install and looked and felt exactly the same as it did when I first became involved in Linux. It was minuscule too at using only 1.6% of the computers memory. However I wanted something more modern so I gave Enlightenment 17 a try.
Once it was installed I was immediately impressed by the eye candy. Just the default was much better than my tweaked XFCE. The memory usage was about on par with XFCE, a bit less at 3.5% compared to 4.3%. The memory usage is not the whole story however.
XFCE is a desktop environment and not just a window manager so it does have other stuff running besides the window manager. All in all about ten processes. Enlightenment only had about three. I was getting much more bang for my buck. Better eye candy and less resources used. My little old laptops total memory usage, straight after turning it on and before any programs are launched, dropped from 123Mb to 85Mb. When you only have 256Mb to play with that is a big difference.
The big test and deal sealer for me was will it blend play my Star Trek. Surprise, surprise, I actually got a smooth playing video file, with eye candy, compositing and graphical effects (rain, snow, fire, marching penguins, etc.) so I was a happy chappy.
There are caveats. E17, as it is often referred to , is still in heavy development so I am right on the bleeding edge here. It has crashed on me several times but all that happens is the window manager restarts. No other programs are affected. So I find it quite usable and am now looking at putting it on my other machines.
What window manager(s) do you use? Do you go more for eye candy or utilitarian (the so called w95 look) window managers. Do you even use window managers :) Why did you choose what you use? Can you suggest an even better window manager than E17? Tell me in the comments below.