Awesome Thoughts

I've been meaning to write a post about awesome for some time now, but I always seem to have a problem figuring out how to approach awesome. In part because I feel like an utter newbie, and in part because it presents such a radically different way of thinking about computer interaction that I don't really have a good way of explaining it or my issue. Not only does this make it difficult for me to figure out what I need to do, but it' makes it difficult to contribute to the project by working on the wiki (which I think needs to be done.) So I'm going to just start at the beginning. Expect that this will be an ongoing series.

What is Awesome

Awesome is a piece of software for operating systems running the X11 window server (Unix/BSD/Linux) [1] that controls and determines how different clients (windows in the parlance of most systems) are displayed and allowed to interact. Unlike most other window mangers, Awesome tiles windows, so that the entire screen is used. No space is wasted.

Why is Tiling Good?

Using all available space with tiling seems like a good idea--or at least not objectionable--until you realize that if all windows are "tiled" until all space is taken up, you'll probably realize that, depending on your monitor size, as soon you hit 4 or five open windows, everything gets too squished for words. And you can't "minimize windows" in the conventional sense using awesome, so what gives? Tags.

Tags equate, roughly, with virtual desktops, as provided with OS X's "Spaces" or the virtual desktops that KDE or GNOME have. Virtual desktops/tags "multiplex" the desktop enviroment so that rather than having to cram all your windows into one "screen" you can cycle between different virtual "slates" of windows. Go to an Apple store and get someone to show you a demonstration of "Spaces" if you're still confused (or find a video of it on you tube.) It might be the kind of thing that you have to see to understand.

In any case, awesome allows for a really large number of tags. And each screen has it's own set of tags. Typically you have 9 tags per screen, but it'd be possible to have more. And there are all sorts of things you can do to tags, like assign certain applications to only open on certain tags, assign certain window tiling patterns to certain tags.

So that's all?

I hinted to this in the last section but the environment and interaction in awesome is entirely scripted in Lua. While Lua presents yet another scripting language that I don't know, it's clear even to me that there's a lot of flexibility in this approach. While you sacrifice something by not being able to dynamically adjust the settings, the extra control over shaping your interactions between the window manager is really cool.

What makes this even more cool, however, is the fact that any action, can be bound to a key command or group of key commands. Any window management task. Which means that the only need for a mouse are for very clearly "mouse related" application specific tasks. Which means that you don't need to use the mouse for very much. Less mouse use means better ergonomics and better user efficiency. Also, awesome is very "lightweight," and runs very fast because from a computing perspective it's very minimal. This is a good thing.

Ok, that's all I have for now. There's more, so stay tuned.

[1]There is a package in MacPorts, but I can't get it to install, and since OS X doesn't really use X, I'm not sure how it would work, but I'm sure it would work with GUN-Darwin.
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