I've started to develop awesome
more than 18 months ago, and somehow I feel it's time to stop a bit and think where we come from and where we are going to.
I never though I'd be written a window manager one day. That seems kinda stupid when you see how many window manager there's around.
As many people, I've tested and have been using tons of window manager: Window Maker
In August 2007, I was using fvwm
since 2004 and was quite happy with it. I used the famous fvwm crystal
as a configuration starter and then rewrote lots of stuff. Digging into fvwm
configuration files was boring, and since I'm lazy, I never really configured it to fit entirely my needs.
The thing is that, in July 2007, my workstation died. I bought a new one based on the amd64
architecture. Too bad, with this new box, fvwm
decided that it will not longer runs and was segfaulting almost every time I logged in.
I was really upset. Another failure in the window manager world. So I decided to get the yearly ride of testing many window managers. I went on the no more developed stuff like the *boxes, ion3, etc but well, I did not like them, there were not powerful enough, too bugged or upstream was insane.
Then I found xmonad
. The Haskell configuration file format made my cry. I did not want to learn Haskell, it seemed too obfuscated to me. At that time it was even not packaged for Debian
, so I gave up. But I found dwm
in the meantime, and I loved it. It was simple, and the source code was almost understandable and easy to hack.
I subscribed to the dwm
mailing-list, in order to participate to its development, etc But I got really disappointed. No patch were welcome and the development seemed to be almost finish in this sight. People patches were lying around, but no one really care. Each user was managing its own set of patches.
That's not what I learnt and what I love in free software. So, as many users, I began to maintain my patches in my corner. But I began to have more ideas
I just added a 'j' in front of dwm
and started to hack it days and nights to add many feature I missed, like multi-head, etc On 5th September 2007, I created a git repository to host my code.
That's gonna be awesome.
Five days later, on 10th September, I finally found a name for my new pet: awesome, borrowed from Barney Stinson
who heavily uses and abuses this word.
The 1.x branch
The first releases until December were noted 1.x. It was just a better dwm
with a simple flat configuration file..
The configuration file used libconfig
, but it was a very poor choice. And I was not able to put in into Debian because of name clash
The 2.x branch
The 2.x branch came in January 2008 with a brand new configuration file format based on libconfuse
, which was a bit more powerful. Many concepts and features that have been added in this branch are still used in the current 3.x branch.
At this time, between December 2007 and April 2008, the community was growing smoothly.
But as I said, awesome 2 was based on a flat configuration file. That raised a problem very soon: users expectation were growing and the development team (me and a couple of regular contributors) was unable to cope with them.
One of the event that started to change my mind was the support for titlebars.
When I've added titlebar support, it was minimal. It was on top of a window, with the window title. Dot. Then I've started to add a lot of options, like the application icon drawing, the position (left, right, bottom) etc.
And then users started to ask for more, like: "add titlebar on windows only when the window is floating".
That's ok, but that's complicated: that's again another option to do some stuff conditionally. And then, why don't add titlebar on windows when <insert random events here>?
The 3.x branch
At that time, around April 2008, I'd totally stopped development. I was trying to find a solution which was simple and powerful. But after 2 weeks of thinking, I was not able to find anything else than: use a real language for configuration.
So, I've started prototyping awesome 3 using Lua
. The choice was not obvious, and despite the problem Lua
might suffer, it's one of the easiest language to integrate into an existing application. There's still a video of a first version here
But, let's go a little back: in January 2008, Arnaud Fontaine contacted me because he was interested to use awesome
as one of its school project. He decided to port awesome
, a modern asynchronous X library.
His work took some time, but in May 2008, Arnaud did finished to port git master version of awesome
to use XCB
Consequently, I decided to start a new major branch, using XCB
instead of Xlib
(no change for users in this regard) and Lua
instead of our previous flat configuration file format.
It took me a while to get from here to there, but in September 2008, it was ready. We had a simple Lua API, and the XCB port was working perfectly.
It took us some time to release and have something totally working, because we had to work on XCB
and contribute back to the project. It was really not ready to use by an application, but we did great work in this area and it's now really fine.
We're still here
Releases continue to happens, 3.1 around December 2008, and 3.2 around March 2009. 3.3 should be here in June.
One of the drawback we had, is that we moved many stuff from C to Lua. Why? Because writing things in Lua is quicker and easier to maintain than C, and makes thing more configurable for the user.
For example, the layout algorithm used to organize window were written in C until 3.2 came out. At that time, users had no choice than using a set of predefined layout to organize their windows.
Starting with 3.2, if they have minimal knowledge about geometry, they can start writing a layout function organising windows on the screen.
But this kind of API changes was a bit rough for users, since they had to port some part of their configuration file to the new API.
The thing is that the project was still a teenager
at that time, not really knowing were it will go. But I'm happy to announce that API breakage are more and more rare (so far only one minor between 3.2 and 3.3), and anyway always for the Good.
But I admit that it built a bad reputation around awesome 3.x
during its first month of existence.
I am currently working on 3.3 development. We have still many things to do. Time passing, we get more idea, and more users. And more users bring more ideas.
We also have many more contributors, and some guys are even taking maintainer-ship of some code area.
My post title is "Taking the other direction" because I feel this way.
I've got that feeling that some approaches in projects like GNOME are sometimes bad. Please don't misread me, I know we are not playing in the same yard.
When adding a key shortcut for starting an application makes you dig into gconf
, I wonder how this is a win for the user.
Well, it's probably a win for the end-user, but I surely am not one of them. And I don't intend to target them with my software, anyway.
And now, when I hear things like GNOME 3.0 and the "desktop shell
" approach, that makes me smile.
Guys, it was time, but have luck. What I see from here, is that any desktop control interface is wrong somehow, and that there's no approach that can fulfill all users wishes.
I think that we, the awesome development team (no pun intended) took the direction of building a frame-work window manager rather than a solution written in marble.
We (partially) solved the issue of UI ergonomic by not writing one and allowing the user to write his own. I don't say that's easy to do for most of users, but it's doable.
And I think it's worth it: I use window managers since I use Linux, around 1998. If something like awesome
came 5 years ago, I'd be using it so far, because you can write Fluxbox
in a hundred of Lua code. And you can write your own version of it. And it starts in less than 3 seconds, supporting almost all standard desktop specification (ICCCM, EWMH, XDG, system tray, message notification, D-Bus, etc), whereas many of the window mangers do not.
You can even write and play space invaders
Finally, I'm happy about the the road we took so far, and hope we will continue into that direction. The rants I read about our project are not that big, compared to the kudos we received.