Good bye ratpoison, hello xmonad
Xmonad is a tiling window manager for the X window system. Tiling means, the application windows are ordered on the display in a way that they don’t overlap. So you get the most out of your display screen estate. There exist different layouts for tiling, including a full-screen-mode, where every application just uses the whole screen. Therefore xmonad has more modes than ratpoison. And like ratpoison xmonad is fully controllable via keyboard. So the perfect companion if you have to code most of the time.
Another special thing about Xmonad is that it is implemented in Haskell. Haskell is a functional programming language. But not only is xmonad implemented in Haskell, you also configure it via Haskell. You create sort of a xmonad-configuration-file, nothing more than an Haskell application, which gets compiled by xmonad to the executable used to run xmonad. On the one hand, this is great, as you can configure xmonad in an way not possible with other window managers. You can implement your own functions for the window manager if you want. On the other hand, if you don’t know Haskell (I am currently learning it), starting configuring xmonad is a little bit complicated.
There are a lot of tutorials and documentation on the xmonad-website. The beginning is not that rough. And with the api build into xmonad even more complicated configurations are not that hard to accomplish. But if you don’t know Haskell, some of the errors output during compilation of your configuration might get tedious.
If you want to start with xmonad very simple, just try the "gnome with xmonad"-configuration offered for example by ubuntu 12.04 or debian unstable. You have to install gnome-panel beforehand and create the file ~/.xmonad/xmonad.hs with the following content:
import XMonad import XMonad.Config.Gnome main = do xmonad $ gnomeConfig
Afterwards login while choosing "gnome with xmonad" and you should see the standard gnome panels above and below the main area. Just open your webbrowser and go to the xmonad guided tour. Have fun. If you want to get back to your old configuration, just log out, log in again while using the configuration you used beforehand.