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Working With Windows

Working With Windows

The graphical system used by all UNIX-like operating systems, X Window System, allows you to have several windows on your screen, with a different application running each in each window. By itself, however, X Window System can only do very low-level operations, so it is always used in conjunction with another piece of software, called window manager. A window manager provides windows' borders and buttons, allows you to move, close, and resize windows, etc. Gnome can work with many window managers. The most popular are: Enlightenment and Sawfish (formerly known as Sawmill). Each window manager can use many different styles of window decorations and buttons (this is referred to as "window manager theme"). Since it is impossible to cover them all, in this section we only describe the default window manager shipped with Gnome, Sawfish, and its default theme (MicroGUI). An example of the window border in the MicroGUI theme is shown in Figure 2

Figure 2. Window Border in MicroGUI Style.

So, what can you do with windows?

Closing, minimizing, and maximizing windows

To close a window, click on the button with the small yellow "x" in the right side of the window border. If the application has any unsaved data, it will prompt you to save it.

To maximize a window, i.e. make it fill the entire screen (except for the part taken by the panels), click on the button with small yellow "up" arrow. Clicking on this arrow once again will restore the window to its original size.

To minimize (hide or iconify) a window, click on the button with small yellow "down" arrow. The window will disappear from screen. However, it is not lost forever — the application in this window continues running, no data is lost — it is just temporarily hidden. All minimized windows are shown in the tasklist applet and can be restored as described below.

A convenient alternative to minimizing windows is "shading" them. When you shade a window, it "rolls up" into its own title bar, so the title bar is the only part of the window left on screen. To shade a window, double-click on the title bar; to unshade, double-click again. Try it!

Raising and lowering windows

Windows on your screen can overlap, so that one of the windows is "on top" of another. You can "raise" a window (i.e., put it on top of all others) by clicking on the window title bar. You can also switch a window from raised to lowered and back by clicking on the title bar with the middle mouse button, or by clicking anywhere inside the window with the right mouse button while holding down ALT key.


Of all the windows on your screen, only one is active (in computer parlance, "focused"), which means that anything you type on the keyboard will be sent to the application running in that window. (It does not mean that the applications in other windows are idle — they can be running as well.) To help you see which window has focus, the title bar of this window has different color (left side is blue, as opposed to gray for all other windows). To change focus to another window, just click anywhere in this window. You can also click in the window title bar to focus and raise the window simultaneously.

Moving and resizing windows

To move a window, drag its title bar to a new location using left mouse button (i.e., click in the title bar and move the mouse without releasing the button). You can also move a window by clicking anywhere inside the window while holding down the ALT key.

To resize a window, place the mouse cursor on any of the window borders (except the top one) or corners. The mouse cursor will change to an arrow pushing a line or corner, allowing you to drag the border or corner to a new position.


All the windows on your desktop (including the minimized ones) are shown in the tasklist, located on your Panel. For each window, a mini-icon and beginning of the window title is shown. To restore a minimized window, just click on its title in the tasklist. Right-clicking on the window title brings up the pop-up menu whihc allows you to shade a window, close it, or kill the application running in the window. The last option should only be used when an application is frozen and does not respond to "close window" command. If you kill an application, you lose all unsaved data!

Window Operations Menu

Sawfish also provides a menu for each window; this menu contains all the operations for this window described above, and then some. To access this menu, click on the button in the left side of the window title bar (with the small triangle pointing down). You can also invoke this menu by right-clicking in the window title or clicking anywhere in the window with the middle mouse button while holding down the ALT key.

Desktop Menu

Finally, Sawfish also provides a "desktop menu"; it can be accessed by clicking on any empty space of the desktop with the middle mouse button. It contains the following options:


Provides list of all windows, including minimized ones. Selecting one of these windows restores it (if it was minimized) and raises it over other windows. Very convenient if you have so many windows that the one you need is completely covered by others.


Allows you to switch from one workspace to another, create and delete workspaces. See Sawfish manual for details.


Same as Programs section of the Main Menu.


Allows the user to customize all properties of the Sawfish behavior. For a new user, we recommend trying various Appearance settings, but leaving all other subsections alone.


Provides links to Sawfish web page, Sawfish manual (beware: this is not a user's manual but rather a manual for people who write extensions/customizations to Sawfish using LISP programming language), link to Gnome Users Guide, and to Gnome Web site.