Desktop Environments Are Bloat

27 August 2019

What is a Desktop Environment (DE) you may ask? Well, it's probably the only thing 99% of people know and use on computers around the world.

Microsoft Windows, macOS, many Linux distro's and BSD use DE's. The DE is what you see and use every day. They have icons, menu bars, maybe a Start button, or some kind of button to launch applications.

They have floating windows that the user has to move around with the mouse cursor. When new applications are launched, they overlap the existing windows unless the user pushes them around or flips between then with a button or hot corner someplace. The user must resize the windows to their liking as well. The user has to contend with these things every time they log in and launch their programs. What a mess!

I've been living in DE's like every other mortal out there for almost all of my tech computing life. I might be able to discount a short period before Microsoft Windows made the way to my school, and we had terminals to run programs on. This was way back before they even had hard drives. All we had were 5.25 inch floppies. But once Windows made the way to the school, it was all I've used since then, and I'm now in my 40's.

In my journey from Microsoft Windows to macOS to Linux, I've used DE's. About 13 years ago, I made the switch from Windows to macOS (OS X at the time) and learned to make my workflow translate to the new OS. It took me some time to learn the whole Apple ecosystem and how to do the work and tasks on it that I was used in Windows. But I did it and at home have used the Mac for almost a decade and a half.

About two years ago, Microsoft Windows pissed me off for the last time at work, and I switched to Linux for my main office PC and have been happy with it.

In recent months and maybe even the last few years, Apple has pushed me away from their products. They didn't piss me off or anything, but they're pricing me out of buying their stuff anymore. So I decided to dump Apple at home and make the switch to Linux full time.

During this full-time switch at home, I distro hopped quite a bit and watched a lot of YouTube videos on Linux to find something I liked and wanted to stick with. This has been an exciting, fulfilling, and learning experience.

I don't know where I first saw tiling window managers (WM), but I quickly wanted to try them out because I loved what I saw.

They're clean. They're organized. They're predictable.

WM's are very lightweight as far as programming overhead and file size especially compared to your traditional DE. Depending on which WM you choose and the options you wish to configure with it, you don't get much out of the box.

WM's aren't for newbies and require a high level of skill, knowledge, and patience. But if you're savvy enough and dedicate some effort toward them, a WM is well worth it.

You don't have to organize, resize, move overlapping windows, fumble around searching for stuff or anything like that.

You configure your most used programs to keyboard hotkeys and then use another hotkey to bring up a most minimal menu utility, usually a program called dmenu, to search for something else you need to run.

Once you run your program, you know ahead of time where it's going to be and how you size it on your screen. You can adjust the sizes and positions either with keyboard bindings or the mouse cursor, but the resizing is dynamic, structured, and well-pleasing to the eye. It never overlaps another window or program. Of course, most WM's do offer floating window support, and some apps require it, but for the most part, those are individual cases.

The gist is that you get to keep your hands on the keyboard far more often. By doing so, you significantly speed up your computing productivity by not having to stop, reach for the mouse and fumble your way around to complete a task and then go back to the keyboard.

I've been using a WM for the past 2 or 3 months, and I've gotten well used it, and I love it a lot. I wish I had found this type of system years ago. But I was stuck on Windows and macOS and had no idea of their existence. But I'm glad I found it eventually.

Now I'm not saying that DE's look terrible or anything, because some of them are very nice looking, especially those DE's that you can customize to your liking. macOS, or previously, OS X, you could customize the DE a little bit with an app like CandyBar back in the day. But Apple has long since removed almost every way to customize their DE's except for what small scraps they allow you to do. Thank you proprietary software.

In Linux, there are numerous DE's to choose from to load on top of your distro of choice. There are DE's like Gnome, XFCE, MATE, KDE, and Plasma. All are very nice in their respects and add a nice bit of flair to your DE. But they're still a DE just like Windows and macOS except that they're free as in freedom from proprietary and free as in no-cost.

The other day I built a new PC for myself at home and wanted to load a fresh install of Arch Linux on it. I did that and also for a change wanted to try a new DE on it. XFCE 4.14 released after several years of development. I loaded it up and got started. It looks lovely, it's clean and sharp and has all the essential elements of a DE. Of all the Linux DE's, XFCE is probably the cleanest and most lightweight.

But it lasted only a day. I felt like my workflow became instantly sloppy, slow, and cumbersome. I had to revert to using the mouse for almost everything, and it slowed me down a lot.

So the next day, I loaded the WM that I've been using on the new PC, and after a short configuration session, I felt back at home on my PC.

I'm amazed at how quickly I took to liking and using a WM. I'm equally surprised at how much I now dislike using a DE. I used a DE for practically my entire life, and now I no longer want to use them because I love WM's so much!

DE's are bloat. They're all heavy on resources, take up a lot of disk space and are slow and cumbersome to use.

Sure, I'm making a bit of hyperbole here about DE's, but if you can and are willing to try out a WM, you'll get what I'm talking about here.

I started with i3wm for my WM and have been using it since. It's a manual WM, and once of these days, I'm going to try out a dynamic WM, like Awesomewm, DWM or another one. I loaded Awesomewm on my laptop the other day but haven't played with it much yet.

WM's suck less. DE's are bloat.