back to article IceWM reaches version 3 after a mere 25 years

A new version of a quarter-century-old window manager shows that there's still room for improvement and innovation, even in established, mature tools. The world of Linux desktop environments is full of sound and fury, with a constant stream of new developments and new versions. Lots of them duplicate each others' work and …

  1. Pascal Monett Silver badge


    It's astonishing to read how much work is being done on a desktop environment that practically no one uses.

    Hopefully, these efforts will bear fruit when Windows is finally relegated to the dustbin of history, where it belongs.

    1. LionelB Silver badge

      Re: Impressive

      Well, practically no-one out of ... billions? ... is still an awful lot of users, for whom plenty of fruit is borne. As one of those users I'm extremely grateful to the effort still going into development of these desktops.

      FWIW, I've been mostly using another stalwart WM for decades - Fluxbox (which appears still to be under active development, although no releases have appeared since around 2015). The killer feature of Fluxbox for me, as it happens, has always been tabbed windows. For that reason, I may well give the new IceWM (which I used a bit back in the day) a spin - although Fluxbox is rather more elegant*, in a minimalist kind of way.

      *That does require a little work, admittedly.

      1. Redact Ted

        Re: Impressive

        +1 for Fluxbox, I keep trying others but always end up heading back as my daily driver.

    2. botfap

      Re: Impressive

      IceWM still gets a lot of use in the embedded space, especially when you are dealing with display hardware that only supports 2D acceleration. We used it for our ARM and X86 devices till 2021 before we switched our stack over to wayland

      You can have have a minimal desktop and terminal in < 40 MB RAM

      1. Ken Hagan Gold badge

        Re: Impressive

        "You can have have a minimal desktop and terminal in < 40 MB RAM"

        I should hope so! Windows managed that back in the 90s and a minimal OS shouldn't be doing any more than NT did back then. (Come to think of it, a maximal OS shouldn't either.)

    3. karlkarl Silver badge

      Re: Impressive

      Pretty much 1/4 of the way to macOS. That is actually quite outstanding for desktop usage!

      It is now even starting to interact. Check out the slight fall in macOS in July 2022 and the slight increase in Linux as a result.

      I would also be interested in knowing what "Unknown" is. My guess is a fair proportion of that will be Linux with various user-agent masks.

    4. Dave559 Silver badge

      Re: Impressive

      Nobody should take anything that "Statcounter", and similar sites, say particularly seriously.

      Anyone with any sense (and the necessary nous) is likely to set up their browser + add-ons to refuse to load content from tracking/spyware sites (or, indeed, their browser might already be set up this way by default), and it is more than likely that many, if not most, Linux users probably do this (ornery contrarian types that we often are), and so are never known nor counted by such sites.

      (In fact, is Statcounter even much used these days? I don't tend to see it show up in NoScript's list of sites, on any given website that I visit, very much these days; it mainly tends to be Google, Adobe, (Demdex, Omniture, Tealium), Cloudflare(?) and assorted nefarious social networks that I mostly see in the list these days. Wikipedia seems to agree that Statcounter isn't used very much at all these days, it rather sounds like it is living subsisting on a Yahoo-like former "glorious" reputation?)

      It's quite likely that desktop Linux usage could be at least twice what these sites think it is, and even if Linux has a somewhat smaller usage share than MacOS, it is still an OS which very much fills a need for a considerable number of people. A relatively small percentage of a very large number is still quite a large number!

    5. Def Silver badge

      Re: Impressive

      ...when Windows is finally relegated to the dustbin of history...

      Archaic, monolithic kernels like Linux are not the future.

      1. Ken Hagan Gold badge

        Re: Impressive

        That was true even before Linus sat down to create it. He was well aware, for example, of Tannenbaum's Minix system. I expect it will remain true for some time to come. Fusion-powered micro-kernels for the win!

        1. Sin2x

          Re: Impressive

          Pure microkernels are academic shit too, not fit for real world usage. Hybrid kernel like NT (yep, Windows) and DragonFlyBSD are the way.

          1. Def Silver badge

            Re: Impressive

            Since Windows XP and the creation of the User Mode Driver Framework, it could be argued Windows is more microkernel than hybrid these days.

      2. cookieMonster

        Re: Impressive

        Did someone not tell Linus that a while back.…

  2. Arthur the cat Silver badge

    going full Luddite and living at a console prompt

    I'm probably 50% Luddite. My X desktop has 8 windows open by default, only 4 of which are (multi-tabbed) terminals.

    [In answer to the obvious question: Firefox, Thunderbird and 2 emacs.]

    1. karlkarl Silver badge

      Re: going full Luddite and living at a console prompt

      I am pretty much the same, just xterms and tmux.

      I used to be very passionate about desktop environments, contributing to many. Unfortunately when Gnome 2 died, it really did show that hard work can be rendered useless in an instant. I know Mate has tried to pick up the slack but I personally feel this is more just delaying the inevitable. Things like Gnome 1 and KDE 3.5 (via TDE) are still very difficult to maintain.

      But travelling light and getting comfortable with the terminal had some real benefit. For example, whether Wayland succeeds or not or if X11 does ever get replaced with an X12, it really doesn't matter. There will always be terminal emulators, my environment will never need to change. I could finally focus on more important things.

      1. drankinatty

        Re: going full Luddite and living at a console prompt

        That's what makes openSUSE going containerized all the more difficult to stomach. openSUSE still has the best KDE3 on the planet. And just as the article says, you do a minimal install with X, you get IceWM (which is fine), you add the KDE3 repository and presto, fully functional, blistering fast KDE3 (with nice updates such as native .xz handling in konqueror, etc..)

        On my system I always have 2 desktops available. KDE3 and fluxbox. I keep IceWM around from the install, but between fluxbox or IceWM, I prefer fluxbox. Thought there isn't a whole lot of difference. All of the old boxtops (blackbox, fluxbox, openbox, etc..) and IceWM are roughly the same. IceWM has matured quite a bit more and includes a wealth of additional customizations you can reach in nice dialog entry fashion, compared to hacking a 'theme.cfg' text file, but sometimes KISS works.

        All and all I'm quite pleased to see the continued development in all the old desktops. You may be wondering why older desktops? Well, powered-off to full desktop in less than 12 seconds -- it takes 3 times that long for Plasma alone to start. All of the older desktops do all of the things I need a desktop to do without the overhead and unnecessary baggage that KDE and Gnome adopted after KDE3 and Gnome2.

        There was another old desktop that had a lot of unique features that made it quite a bit of fun to use. E16 (predecessor to Enlightenment... E17). It was fast, and the old iconbox (pallet) was also a nice trick. I don't have the time to try them all as I used to, but if you are on a disto that allows side-by-side installation of desktops (all do), it's well worth installing IceWM, (or fluxbox or lxde or...) and seeing what they offer.

  3. rfrazier

    Still using it.

    I think that I started using icewm when it first came out in 1997. Still using it (desktops and laptops). Never thought that I would live to see version 3.

    Best wishes.


  4. Bartholomew Bronze badge

    Old and really powerful Window Managers often overlap

    About 25+ years ago I used to use olvwm (OPEN LOOK Virtual Window Manager) for 4x4 desktops. It was amazing how much work you could get done with 16 desktops each of which was at the very most only 7 key presses away. I may have even used 4x5 or 6x6 at one stage. Old and really powerful window managers often overlap. They make up for lack of eye candy (bloat) with speed. At the end of the day a window managers job should be to use minimal resources while providing rapid access to what you need for your task at hand, and get out of your way fast - but always be there when needed again.

    Screenshot of olvwm with a 3x2 virtual pager

    I raise a pint to all who have created WM's.

    1. tux_is_god

      Re: Old and really powerful Window Managers often overlap

      Vote for OLVWM. Moved gnome 1 because you could'nt run it under Sun Ray thin clients. Probably best WM I've used closely followed by FVWM. 3x3 grid, drag windows out of the pager and drag them back into pager. Wish it would come back as gnome/kde too bloated and slow. Hopefully XFCE will not get spoiled by devs trying to copy gnome.

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Several times I see a statement like: "on a widescreen, placing them on the side, as wm2 and wmx do, would save valuable vertical pixels."

    But I don't understand them. Once you have two or three windows side-by-side, it isn't vertical pixels that are valuable. Tabs on the side waste an awful lot of space. e.g. I have six tabs in this browser, so that's either one row of text across the top or 20 characters by six rows on the side plus maybe another hundred rows of blank space underneath them (I haven't counted them). As somebody who regularly tries to juggle the blank thirds of windows offscreen (where the designer thinks the adverts will be, or where the visual artist just thought some white space would be 'balanced'), I find horizontal space is always something I want more of.

    1. Arthur the cat Silver badge

      Re: widescreens

      Tabs on the side waste an awful lot of space. e.g. I have six tabs in this browser, so that's either one row of text across the top or 20 characters by six rows on the side plus maybe another hundred rows of blank space underneath them

      Did you look at the linked screenshots? The tabs for wm2 & wmx are turned sideways (like flwm) so they're one line of text horizontally and as many characters vertically as they need.

  6. Blackjack Silver badge

    So... eventually we will get the ram usage comparison of each one, right?

    Because yes, theee is people out there making and or running Linux in decades old machines that need that information.

    Or not so old machines that are just crap cause... Remember Netbooks?

    1. rfrazier

      Or using icewm on a desktop running an AMD Ryzen 5 3400G, with 32GB RAM and dual monitors, one 1440p and one 1080p.. :)

      As an aside, what I like about it is that it has a nice set of text based configuration files, including ones assigning programs to particular virtual desktops (I love virtual desktops!), autostarting programs, setting options for programs, setting the menu, etc. I've tried other systems for doing this, but they don't have the fine grained control and simplicity.

      Best wishes,


  7. Gene Cash Silver badge

    Gotta hand it to the author....

    He dug up a ton of WMs that I've never heard of, and I thought I knew most of them.

    1. Liam Proven (Written by Reg staff) Silver badge

      Re: Gotta hand it to the author....

      Ha! Thank you. :-)

  8. Slow Joe Crow

    I've used ICEWM but only in lightweight distros where I was doing a specific task. I could probably run it for general use since I typically only need a web browser, some office apps and a terminal or two. That's pretty much what I did when I was working in Linux daily, although the company standard was FVWM because it ran on anything and there were still a bunch of AIX and Solaris machines with the odd bit of HP-UX alongside the thousands of Linux boxes and VMs.

    You can get by with very little in the way of window managers, I've even used the ultra basic TWM that was the default with VNC on Ubuntu. I've disliked Gnome since the days of Spatial Nautilus and never took to KDE4 so my current choice is XFCE because I'm OK with the UI and file manager

  9. PRR Bronze badge

    > Remember Netbooks?

    Remember? I just wore-out one (fan squeal) and bought another.

    9" Dell Inspiron 910 , 1GB RAM, 8GB SSD

    botfap> You can have have a minimal desktop and terminal in < 40 MB RAM

    That Dell 910 has a moderately nice GUI desktop (XP) in 1GB RAM. And in its day it ran MS WORD, Netscape, and other non-trivial code.

    In the past I've had respectable desktops on <1Meg machines. The original Macintosh for one, but also an Amstrad GUI and our friend the Amiga. 1/40,000th of 40MB.

  10. jbordall

    ever since i put linux on an old toshiba laptop with only a 1st-gen pentium cpu and only 16 mb of ram, i have stuck to windowmaker and blackbox window managers. in addition to those two i also like jwm and icewm, which i use daily. and then sometimes i use fvwm and ctwm. after decades of trying many other wm's, my all-time favorite is window maker. i truly think it is the most productive w.m. there is or ever was. there are so many times in window maker that i perform an operation on my desktop which makes me wonder, "how come i cannot do this or that in other window managers?" configuring window maker is by far the easiest of any other w.m., and the session management is so powerful and easy. everyone should enjoy this kind of classic g.u.i. i can understand why kids nowadays have shirked stacking w.m.'s in favor of tiling ones, but i swear i never felt actual joy using a tiling w.m. as much as the stacking ones like icewm, windowmaker, fluxbox, and lxde (gtk3) that offer such a delightful experience to the user. (also, an honorable mention goes to amiwm for emulating the look and feel of an amiga workbench, which is also another delightful g.u.i. on which to do real, productive work.) be sure to visit for more unix-sy goodness. all those reddit fanbois ricing their desktops and posting on r/unixporn ought to contrib. more screenshots to xwinman. ya' gotta' stick to your roots!

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    25 year to get to v3

    puTTY has taken 23 years to get to v0.77 !!

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