What is a Tiling Window Manager

GIF providing a visual example of a tiling window manager.
Reading Time: 3 minutes

To appreciate the Tiling Window Manager fully, let’s get a handle on what a window manager is and the various types.

Window Managers

In it’s most basic form a window manager is software that draws the frame around applications in a Graphical User Interface and controls the placement of those “windows” as well as defining how the user interacts with them. Window Managers can include many other features such as managing wallpapers, toolbars, titlebars, etc etc. There are three types of window managers when taking core functionality into account:

  • Stacking ( AKA Floating )
  • Tiling
  • Dynamic


Stacking Window Managers allow the user to overlap application windows like they might do with notebooks, papers, and objects on a desk.

Example of an Old Blackbox setup with a custom style.
Example of a Blackbox window manager (Stacking Window Manager) with a custom style.

Tiling Window Managers do not allow for application windows to overlap. The application windows are arranged on the screen in a tiled fashion. They can be tiled manually, in a pre-determined fashion, or on the fly. Tiling windows managers usually make heavy use of keybindings to interact with the windows instead of encouraging the use of a mouse.

GIF providing a visual example of a tiling window manager.
HOWM is an example of a tiling window manager that is designed to behave like everyone’s favorite text editor, VIM!

Dynamic Window Managers allow for the user to switch between these two previous management types at will. Most modern windows managers boast at least light features of both tiling window managers and stacking window managers. For example, in Windows and Ubuntu you can drag your window to the edge of a screen and the window manager will automatically tile the application window based on what edge you drag your app to. You can also have windows behind and in front of these tiled applications making the window managers in use for Ubuntu and Windows dynamic window managers with limited tiling features.

Qtile is Dynamic Window Manager that allows you to take what you want from Tiling and Stacking setups.
Qtile is Dynamic Window Manager that allows you to take what you want from Tiling and Stacking setups.

Ditching The Mouse

If you’re a power user you may have found that if you can use your keyboard more, and your mouse less, you can get work done faster. While most window managers already pack a serious punch when it comes to keyboard shortcuts, tiling window managers are often designed with the keyboard only (or only when necessary)  approach in mind.

I personally use a dynamic window manager called Qtile that advertises its self as a tiling window manager because that is its focus. It’s written in Python, and you’re going to need to have a desire to learn Python, or already know it if you’re going to jump into using it. I say that because the configuration file is in Python, and the installation can be a pain if you’re new to working with Python dependencies, using package managers, and the Linux CLI. You’re definitely going to want to modify the configuration file and probably even write your own from scratch. That’s exactly what makes it so powerful and fun!

If you’re interested in going Mouseless check out my post where I outline what you’ll need to get started with Qtile and VimFX, a firefox plugin:


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *