Tiling window manager

Appearance move to sidebar hide The dwm window manager with the screen divided into four tiles.

In computing, a tiling window manager is a window manager with an organization of the screen into mutually non-overlapping frames, as opposed to the more common approach (used by stacking window managers) of coordinate-based stacking of overlapping objects (windows) that tries to fully emulate the desktop metaphor.


Xerox PARC

The first Xerox Star system (released in 1981) tiled application windows, but allowed dialogs and property windows to overlap. Later, Xerox PARC also developed CEDAR (released in 1982), the first windowing system using a tiled window manager.

Various vendors

Next in 1983 came Andrew WM, a complete tiled windowing system later replaced by X11. Microsoft's Windows 1.0 (released in 1985) also used tiling (see sections below). In 1986 came Digital Research's GEM 2.0, a windowing system for the CP/M which used tiling by default. One of the early (created in 1988) tiling WMs was Siemens' RTL, up to today a textbook example because of its algorithms of automated window scaling, placement and arrangement, and (de)iconification. RTL ran on X11R2 and R3, mainly on the "native" Siemens systems, e.g., SINIX. Its features are described by its promotional video. The Andrew Project (AP or tAP) was a desktop client system (like early GNOME) for X with a tiling and overlapping window manager.

MacOS X 10.11 El Capitan released in September 2015 introduces new window management features such as creating a full-screen split view limited to two app windows side-by-side in full screen by holding down the full-screen button in the upper-left corner of a window.

Tiling window managers

Microsoft Windows

Tile Vertically or Show Windows Side by Side Tile Horizontally or Show Windows Stacked

The built-in Microsoft Windows window manager has, since Windows 2.0, followed the traditional stacking approach by default. It can also act as a rudimentary tiling window manager.

To tile windows, the user selects them in the taskbar and uses the context menu choice Tile Vertically or Tile Horizontally. Choosing Tile Vertically will cause the windows to tile horizontally but take on a vertical shape, while choosing Tile Horizontally will cause the windows to tile vertically but take on a horizontal shape. These options were later changed in Windows Vista to Show Windows Side by Side and Show Windows Stacked, respectively.

Windows 7 added "Aero Snap" which adds the ability to drag windows to either side of the screen to create a simple side-by-side tiled layout, or to the top of the screen to maximize. Windows 8 introduced Windows Store apps; unlike desktop applications, they did not operate in a window, and could only run in full screen, or "snapped" as a sidebar alongside another app, or the desktop environment.

Along with allowing Windows Store apps to run in a traditional window, Windows 10 enhanced the snapping features introduced in Windows 7 by allowing windows to be tiled into screen quadrants by dragging them to the corner, and adding "Snap Assist" — which prompts the user to select the application they want to occupy the other half of the screen when they snap a window to one half of the screen, and allows the user to automatically resize both windows at once by dragging a handle in the center of the screen.

Windows 10 also supports FancyZones, a more complete tiling window manager facility allowing customized tiling zones and greater user control, configured through Microsoft PowerToys.


The first version (Windows 1.0) featured a tiling window manager, partly because of litigation by Apple claiming ownership of the overlapping window desktop metaphor. But due to complaints, the next version (Windows 2.0) followed the desktop metaphor. All later versions of the operating system stuck to this approach as the default behaviour.

List of tiling window managers for Windows

X Window System

In the X Window System, the window manager is a separate program. X itself enforces no specific window management approach and remains usable even without any window manager. Current X protocol version X11 explicitly mentions the possibility of tiling window managers. The Siemens RTL Tiled Window Manager (released in 1988) was the first to implement automatic placement/sizing strategies. Another tiling window manager from this period was the Cambridge Window Manager developed by IBM's Academic Information System group.

In 2000, both larswm and Ion released a first version.

List of tiling window managers for X Tiling X Window Systems


Wayland is a new windowing system with the aim of replacing the X Window System. There are only a few tiling managers that support Wayland natively.

List of tiling window managers for Wayland


Tiling applications

GNU Emacs showing an example of tiling within an application window

Although tiling is not the default mode of window managers on any widely used platform, most applications already display multiple functions internally in a similar manner. Examples include email clients, IDEs, web browsers, and contextual help in Microsoft Office. The main windows of these applications are divided into "panes" for the various displays. The panes are usually separated by a draggable divider to allow resizing. Paned windows are a common way to implement a master–detail interface.

Developed since the 1970s, the Emacs text editor contains one of the earliest implementations of tiling. In addition, HTML frames can be seen as a markup language-based implementation of tiling. The tiling window manager extends this usefulness beyond multiple functions within an application, to multiple applications within a desktop. The tabbed document interface can be a useful adjunct to tiling, as it avoids having multiple window tiles on screen for the same function.

See also


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