IceWM FAQ and HowTo

Last modified 2018/09/16

What is IceWM?

IceWM is a window manager for the X11 window system. It is designed to be small, fast, lightweight, and to emulate the look and feel of Motif, OS/2 and Windows.

While it is very configurable, it is not pathologically so. In short, IceWM provides a customizable look with a relatively consistent feel.

Now that you know what IceWM is and are still reading on you are obviously interested in using it. To use a program you will first need to have it. The obvious question is:

Where to get it?

See here.

Which operating systems?

IceWM successfully ran under (in alphabetical order):

How to install from RPM?

The IceWM developers provide RPM packages for all new releases independently from the distributions which use this package format. IceWM’s RPM distribution is split into several files. You need icewm-x.y.z-v.rpm. Optionaly you can download others like icewm-themes, icewm-l10n and icewm-menu-gnome.

Compile from source?

IceWM uses the standard GNU autoconf tool, so installation of IceWM is much the same as the installation of any other package that uses this tool.

First you untar the package using

    tar xzf icewm-1.4.x.tar.gz

then you change to the created directory using

    cd icewm-1.4.x

IceWM comes with a configure script that can be supplied with several compile-time options. To see them listed use

    ./configure --help

After you have decided which (if any) options you want to set, run the configure script:

    ./configure [option ...]

Assuming that the configure script exited successfully, you should then compile IceWM using


which will build IceWM with the options specified by the configure script. If everything compiles successfully, you can now install IceWM on your machine by entering

    make install

Note: To do so you will typically need to become root (at least if you didn’t supply an install directory you as a user have write access to - this you can change in Makefile).

Now you have an IceWM binary sitting on your disk. Is that what you really want? Obviously not, you want to run IceWM. The next section describes how to set up IceWM as your default window manager.

Default window manager?

In order to run IceWM, you must assure that the executable (called icewm) is in your path. You should then add IceWM to your X start-up script (which could be .xinitrc, .xsession or .Xclients).

Note: Supplying the full path to IceWM isn’t sufficient - if IceWM isn’t in your path, restarting it will fail (even if you don’t do this by hand it is done automatically on changing the theme).

Which of the scripts mentioned above is the right one mainly depends on whether you manually start X (using startx) or have X running all the time.

First I explain what you need to do if you manually start X. Then I address the case “X is running all the time” (which means that you log in via xdm or something like that). Finally I describe what both cases have in common.

IceWM at X11 startup?

If you use startx to start up X then you run your window manager from the .xinitrc file.

If your system has a graphical login (X is already running while you log in) you are using a display manager such as xdm, kdm or gdm. In this case .xinitrc has no effect (it is not read in by xdm). You must instead use a .xsession file.

Hint: It is absolutely no problem to have a .xsession and a .xinitrc file (which is especially useful for inhomogeneous networks).

Mandrake users repeatedly reported that their .xsession wasn’t read and no applications started. To work around that in the kdm login interface choose Default and add IceWM as the last entry to your .xsession.

You might have noticed that - besides being used in different cases - .xsession and .xinitrc are essentially the same. On some systems they are in fact the very same file which is called .Xclients with .xinitrc and .xsession both being symbolic links to this file.

Irrespective which start script you use (.xsession, .xinitrc or .Xclients) it must be executable. This may be achieved by issuing the following command:

    chmod u+x ~/.filename

A minimalist’s start-up file consists of only the command to start the window manager (in our case icewm). Most geeky people add other stuff to the file to make it look more complicated and confuse beginners.

Though that may be the reason for some of us, the greater majority add commands to customize X and to start some programs on login (typical example: an xterm)

The following is a (reasonable) .xinitrc file used as an example by Marko:

    # .xinitrc

    # run profile to set $PATH and other env vars correctly
    . $HOME/.bash_profile

    # setup background
    xsetroot -solid '#056'

    # setup mouse acceleration
    xset m 7 2

    # run initial programs
    xterm &

    # start icewm, and run xterm if it crashes (just to be safe)
    exec icewm || exec xterm -fg red


Note: To run IceWM, the icewm command needs to be executed. This means that all programs that are run before starting icewm either have to terminate immediately or to run in background. Also, don’t exec them because that terminates execution of .xinitrc.

IceWM Session

Beginning with IceWM 1.2.13 there is a binary icewm-session. This binary helps you to handle all IceWM subparts. Therefore you can use icewm-session to start IceWM. icewm now starts only window manager itself.

If you want to start only some parts of the IceWM, then you can add them to your .xsession or similar file before exec icewm, otherwise it is enough to use only exec icewm-session.


Congratulations! Now you have IceWM up and running. You don’t like the default look? Don’t worry: This section is on customizing IceWM.

As it is the case with most Linux and Unix programs IceWM can be configured using plain text config files.

The config files need to be changed if you want to change IceWM’s behavior. This does not necessarily mean that you have to use an editor for this - graphical configuration tools for IceWM are available, although IceWM doesn’t feature in-built configuration. More about these tools in the Utilities section. Still hand editing of these files is most effective and you can find even more than you are looking for. To notify IceWM about the changes you’ve made just send it a SIGHUP or restart it from the Logout menu.

Which configuration files?

You could not find the config files? Maybe you were looking in wrong places - the location depends upon the method you used to install IceWM.

In a plain vanilla source install, the global version of the files will be located in /usr/local/share/icewm. If you installed the standard RPM, they will be in /usr/X11R6/lib/X11/icewm/ or /usr/local/lib/Xll/icewm/. The system wide configuration files for the Debian package seem to be in /etc/X11/icewm/. Generaly you can try to use locate icewm command to find parts of IceWM.

However, if you wish to make a configuration of your own you should not edit these global config files but create a subdirectory of your home directory called ~/.icewm/. Copy the system wide files to your local .icewm directory and edit these copies.

Note: You may have to alter the permissions of the copies in order to read and write to them.

You can customize IceWM by editing the following configuration files:

The menu file controls the contents in your menu (You knew that, right?). It has the following syntax:

    prog Program Icon app -with -options

prog is a keyword, telling IceWM that it’s a program entry. Other keywords are separator to draw a separator and

menu Xyz folder_icon {
  prog ...

to open a new sub menu called Xyz. Program is the name which will be shown in the menu. Enclose it in apostrophes if you need more than one word here. Icon will be used as the menu entry’s icon, if a corresponding image is found in IceWM’s IconSearchPath. And finally app -with -options is what’s going to be started if a user chooses this entry.

Note that the menu only shows entries which are found in your PATH, IceWM is clever enough to omit non-usable entries.

There are also two advanced options runonce and menuprogreload "title" icon_name timeout program_exec

runonce is used to start application only once - if its already running do not start it upon clicking. Runonce needs some other options - see manual. menuprogreload is used to created dynamic menus: timeout is integer value, it specifies minimum time interval (in seconds) between menu reloading. Zero value means updating menus every time when user click it.

This is an example by the author of this feature:

# icewm-ps-menu.sh - Process menu for IceWM.
# Written by Konstantin Korikov.
# This is test script that generates IceWM menu
# with running user process list. It uses menuprogreload
# feature of IceWM menu. To use this script, add followed
# line to ~/.icewm/menu or  ~/.icewm/toolbar
#   menuprogreload ps - 0 icewm-ps-menu.sh

if [ $# = 1 ]; then
        set `ps -p $1 --no-header -o pid,%cpu,%mem,time`
        echo "prog 'CPU: $2%' - true"
        echo "prog 'MEM: $3%' - true"
        echo "prog 'TIME: $4' - true"
        echo "separator"
        for i in HUP INT KILL TERM; do
                echo "prog $i - kill -$i $1"
        ps -aU `id -ru` --no-headers -o '%p|%c' |
        awk -F '|' -v sc="$0" \
          '{ printf("menuprogreload \"%d %s\" - 0 %s %d\n", $1, $2, sc, $1) }'

Some more can be found in patch 993038 in IceWM patch tracker.


The preferences file is the main configuration file. The default file is pretty much self documenting, so go and have a look. In case you ever wondered about themes: they can define all the options you can use in this file - and their definitions override all your personal customization!


In the keys file one can define shortcuts for starting programs. The existing entries make clear what one has to define.


The toolbar file defines some buttons which can be clicked next to the menu in the toolbar. It uses the same format as the menu file. You can also have folders in the toolbar. The easiest way to do that is simply by copying a menu from the /menu file over to the /toolbar file.


The winoptions file can be used to define the appearance of X applications like on which desktop they should appear, if should have a border, menu, titlebar, etc.


The startup is a script (must be executable) that is executed by icewm-session command on startup.

It can look like this:

(sleep 2; psi&)&

Do not forget to make this file executable

$ chmod +x startup

Note: It is recommended to use ‘#!/bin/sh’ as the first line, to use /bin/sh to execute the script.

Also make sure all applications are starting at background (&).


The theme file is new from IceWM 1.2.10. It specifies which theme should be used


The theme file is changed every time you switch theme in menu and selected theme is therefore used after IceWM restart.


The prefoverride file is new from IceWM 1.2.12. In this file you can specify any preference which will override any preference specified by theme or anything else. This is introduced to solve troubles with order of preferences interpretation and give a user possibility to customize global things he wants to have allways the same.

What are focus models?

To answer this question it is a good idea to first take a look at the four general focus models that are implemented by IceWM:

“A window is raised” is telling and needs no further explanation.

“A window is activated, is focused, gets the focus,…” means that input (e. g. keystrokes) now are sent to that window.

In short: The focus model controls what you have to do to make a window pop up and to have it listen to what you type.

Configure mouse buttons

UseRootButtons and ButtonRaiseMask are so called bitmask options.

This concept is e.g. used by chmod where "4" stands for read access, "2" for write access and "1" for execute (or change directory) access and you add up the relevant numbers to control the file access.

As far as UseRootButtons and ButtonRaiseMask are concerned, "1" stands for the first mouse button, "2" for the second one and "4" for the third one. The following list shows which number stands for which combination of mouse buttons:

     Value   Stands for
       0     No mouse button at all
       1     Button 1
       2     Button 2
       3     Buttons 1 and 2
       4     Buttons 3
       5     Buttons 1 and 3
       6     Buttons 2 and 3
       7     All three mouse buttons

Any value greater than seven has the same effect as seven. UseRootButtons controls which buttons call up a menu when clicked on an unoccupied region of the desktop. ButtonRaiseMask determines which buttons will raise a window when clicked on that window’s title bar.

Bind menus to buttons

There is an option for each of the root menus which controls which button is bound to that menu.

     Option Name            Controls
     DesktopWinMenuButton   Window menu
     DesktopWinListButton   Window list
     DesktopMenuButton      Application menu

The value of each option determines the button to which the corresponding menu is bound according to the following scheme:

     Value   Stands for
       0     No mouse button
       1     Left mouse button
       2     Right mouse button
       3     Middle mouse button
      4-6    Other buttons

Setting the lock command

By default IceWM uses xlock (without any argument) to lock your screen. There may be several reasons for using a different lock command:

It is very easy to set a lock command: Simply add

    LockCommand="xlock -mode blank"

to your $HOME/.icewm/preferences and xlock will run in blank mode (which shows nothing but a black screen).

The example was chosen on purpose: Using this mode you have the best chance of your monitor going asleep (enter power saving mode).

Monitor more devices?

In the preferences file just change the option NetworkStatusDevice to read


Replace "eth0" by "eth0 ppp0" to monitor eth0 and ppp0.

Monitor mailboxes?

No problem either. Your MailBoxPath in the preferences file should read


Replace imap with pop or pop3 if necessary. Be sure to have save permissions on the preferences file so nobody else can get your mail password.

Disable the Alt keys?

To send all Alt+key keys to application you can use window option window_class.fullKeys: 1 However the preference you looking is ClientWindowMouseActions=0. This disable Alt+mouse drag to move window for all IceWM handled windows.

Control Applications

This section is about how you can make windows appear on a certain workspace, have them displayed without a border or titlebar, or put them above or under other windows. All this can be accomplished using the winoptions preferences file, some of it even interactively.

Assigning a particular option (icon, default layer, default workspace, etc.) to a given application or application window can be done as follows:

First, you should acquire the "WM_CLASS" descriptor using xprop. Simply run

    xprop |grep WM_CLASS

in an XTerm. The first item is the window name and the second item it the window class. You can then add the desired options to your winoptions file. Entries in that file have one of the following formats:

    name.class.option: value
    class.option:      value
    name.option:       value

The "WM_CLASS" for a Netscape Navigator window is

    "Navigator", "Netscape"

To assign the icons "navigator_*.xpm" to the Netscape Navigator window, use this option:

    Navigator.Netscape.icon: navigator

The other options work according to roughly the same pattern. The list of winoptions you can find in the manual chapter about Window Options.

Keep window on top?

There are two slightly different ways to do this. Use whatever suits your need. Option one: the window always stays on top of any other windows. Set the following option name.class.layer: onTop. Option two: the window sits in a rectangular zone of the desktop where no other windows can be placed: Use the doNotCover option: name.class.doNotCover: 1. By the way: this is how the taskbar or the GNOME panel work. It’s a good idea to use this on gkrellm, your icq client, or other monitoring tools you’d always like to have in view.

Iconify or maximize?

There may be programs that you either want to start up iconified or maximized. Until now, there is no possible entry in your winoptions file that iconifies or maximizes a windows of a given name or class as it is mapped.

Fortunately some programs (like Netscape) have a command line option to be started iconic and most X program support "-geometry" to specify a default window size.

Map to a workspace?

Either use winoptions and define

xmms.workspace: 7
Mozilla.workspace: 9

This allways starts xmms on workspace 7 and Mozilla on workspace 9, keep in mind, IceWM starts counting at 0. IceWM will switch to the nominated workspace on every start of these programs.

Or you can use icesh:

icesh -class xeyes setWorkspace 0

This move xeyes to my workspace 0.

Basic keyboard shortcuts

It should be possible to control everything by keyboard. Here we show some of the not so obvious ways to achieve important window managing tasks only with keystrokes.

Alt-Tab = Switches between the open windows
Alt-F4 = Closes a window
Alt-F9 = Minimizes a window
Alt-F10 = Maximizes a window
Alt-F12 = Rolls the window up
(leaving only the titlebar visible, press Alt-F12 again and the window rolls back down)
Alt-Shift-F10 = Maximizes the window vertically
Alt-Ctrl-arrow left = Changes workspaces from 1-12
Alt-Ctrl-arrow right = Changes workspaces from 12-1
Alt-Ctrl-Esc = Opens the  window list
Ctrl-Esc = Opens the  menu

Switch Desktop by key

You are accustomed to a window manager that allows you to switch between virtual desktops using your keyboard? IceWM allows for this, too.

Before I describe how to switch between virtual desktops I want to describe how to control their number. Imagine that your $HOME/.icewm/preferences has a row reading


This setting results in ten virtual desktops and ten buttons in your taskbar looking like this:

    | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 0 |

If you name less desktops you obtain less if you name more you get more.

For understanding how switching virtual desktops works in IceWM you should imagine that the buttons represent your virtual desktops and that these desktops are arranged in one long row.

You can imagine two ways of switching between desktops:

IceWM has both ways:

"Cursor_Left" ("Cursor_Right") represents the key that moves your cursor one character to the left (right).

If you are using "Ctrl-Alt-Cursor_Right" on the rightmost desktop you switch to the leftmost desktop. From here, "Ctrl-Alt-Cursor_Left" brings you back to the rightmost desktop.

What if you have more than ten virtual desktops? In this case "Ctrl-Alt-n" will only work for the first ten desktops while switching to the left or right still works for all desktops.

IceWM has another feature to offer: You may not only use your keyboard to switch desktops, you can also use it to move windows from one desktop to another. The next section is on this (you should read it, too).

Note: To switch desktops when moving mouse on desktop edges use preference:


then you can change workspaces automatically by moving your cursor to the left/right edges of your screen.

Move windows to desktops

In the previous section I explained how to switch between desktops. If you didn’t already read it you should do it now because moving the active window to another desktop works almost the same like switching to a certain desktop. All you have to do is pressing the "Shift" while switching to the desktop:

Command Line Interface

You should run IceWM with "TaskBarDoubleHeigth=1" because that will enable the CLI (see “What is the blank bar in the task bar good for?” for some more information).

The CLI is especially useful if you rather frequently need to access man pages and don’t want to have xman hang around all the time.

If you enter man perl and press "Ctrl-ENTER" an XTerm will pop up displaying the main Perl man page. If you press "q" not only the man page no longer is displayed but the XTerm will terminate, too.

This only is one example of how to use the CLI. You can use it to issue any other command as well. A problem that might occur is that the XTerm will terminate before you had time to read the output of a command (it terminates as soon as the command is done).

In most such cases it is sufficient to pipe the output through less (this is one of the rare cases you cannot use more because it terminates after displaying the last line). However, there are cases (mainly programs that write colorful output such as ls) that may result in trouble with less.

Fortunately Linux (any Unix version?) offers a solution to these cases, too: The sleep command. It sleeps some time, then terminates. So you could use

    ls $HOME/bin --color ; sleep 1m

to list all programs in your $HOME/bin directory. The sleep command will wait the given period of time (in this case a minute) before the XTerm automatically will close (you can use "Ctrl-C" to abort the sleep command before that time went by).

Can I use Win(95) keys?

Sure you can. Josef Oswald reported:

this is in .xinitrc

clear mod4
keycode 64 = Alt_L
keycode 113 = Alt_R
keycode 115 = Meta_L
keycode 116 = Meta_R
add Mod4 = Meta_L Meta_R

in .Xmodmap there is:

add Mod1 = Alt_L
add Mod2 = Mode_switch
keycode 117 = Menu

and then in


Win95Keys=1 # was 0

# KeySysWinMenu="Shift+Esc"

as can be seen I did not enable the above, as I don’t like pressing two keys. If one wants to use it, it does work.

On a free workspace the right Win95 opens the list of Workspaces.

Now also in Open-office I can use the right menu key to open the menus in the OOo taskbar with the letters for the shortcut I can switch to the desired menu without needing to leave the keyboard, my preferred way of working on the pc.

How to install Themes

IceWM can be customized using a great variety of themes. You can download them usually as .tar.gz archives on the net. To install themes simply unpack them into your ~/.icewm/themes/ directory.

Which image formats?

If IceWM is compiled with the standard xpm libraries, then it can only employ xpm images (as backgrounds, etc.). If, however, IceWM is compiled with imlib support, it can display all common image formats including jpeg, gif, png, and tiff.

Setting the background

If you provide the appropriate options in your preferences file and start icewmbg, IceWM will set the background color or the background image for you. You can use


to set a background color and


to set a background image. To keep IceWM from setting a background color/image you simply set both options to an empty string:



1. Commenting out DesktopBackgroundColor="color" and DesktopBackgroundImage="image" does not have the intended effect. 2. IMHO using a background image (especially a huge one) isn’t that good an idea. It awfully slows down the X windowing system.

To distinguish between filling whole desktop with image or to place it self standing in the middle you can use


DesktopBackgroundCenter is used to tell IceWM how you want your wallpaper placed on the screen. If set to 1 your picture will be centered on screen. As a result of that, you will only have one picture in the middle of your desktop. If set to 0 your picture file will fill the whole screen. That is a good thing if you are using a pattern thingy to cover the whole desktop.

Setting the clock format

Setting up the look of the task bar clock of IceWM as well as the format of the associated tooltip is rather easy. IceWM uses the same format as the Unix standard function strftime so when in doubt you can always refer to

    man 3 strftime

To set the clock format you use

    TimeFormat="<format string>"

and for the clock tooltip format you use

    DateFormat="<format string>"

Ordinary characters placed in the format string are printed without conversion (if possible, see below). Conversion specifiers are introduced by a percent character "%", and are replaced by a corresponding string.

Important Note: While "DateFormat" and "TimeFormat" both support all the format descriptors the latter only has full support if used with


(which is set equal 1 by default).

The reason for this is that there are no icons to display the name of a month, day, or time zone. To be more precise there are only icons for

  1. digits (0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9)
  2. colon, dot, slash, and space
  3. A, P, and M (for AM and PM)

Format descriptors which may only be in "TimeFormat" if "TaskBarClockLeds=0" (in general or depending on the locale) are labeled as restricted in the following table. It shows the replacement for all format descriptors available.

The values in parentheses show what the different format specifiers display for

YYYY/MM/DD HH:MM:SS TimeZone = 1999/09/04 19:09:22 UTC

on my machine with hardware clock and Linux running UTC, local being “C” (i.e. no internationalization at all):

How to add icons?

You can either copy them to systemwide icons directory or you can copy them to ~/.icewm/icons or you can use option


from preferences file. Remember that the new path you are adding must be seperated with a colon (:).

How make themes?

There is documentation on themes written by MJ Ray and update by Adam Pribyl.

What is Logout Command?

For most users, nothing. The Logout and Cancel commands were meant for GNOME integration as alternative commands that would be run when users initiated a logout or logout cancel. Since GNOME did not seem to incorporate this feature, they generally go unused.

A blank field in taskbar?

If you are running IceWM with the "TaskBarDoubleHeight" option set, a blank field in the task bar occurs. It is a command line interface.

In this field you can enter commands to start programs. If you click inside the field and enter xclock the X clock is started.

If you click on it and simply press "Ctrl-Enter" an XTerm is being started.

If you enter a non-X command and press "Ctrl-Enter" an that command is being executed in an XTerm.

Stop grabbing my keystrokes

What if you are running an application and need to use a keystroke that is grabbed by IceWM?

Marko suggests the following workaround:

  1. Activate scroll lock
  2. Do problematic key stroke
  3. Deactivate scroll lock

He advises that this will only work if "ScrollLock" is set up as a modifier.

Here is how to use the X11 xmodmap utility to setup ScrollLock as a modifier (from Marco Molteni):

    $ xmodmap -pm

    xmodmap:  up to 2 keys per modifier, (keycodes in parentheses):

    shift       Shift_L (0x32),  Shift_R (0x3e)
    lock        Caps_Lock (0x42)
    control     Control_L (0x25),  Control_R (0x6d)
    mod1        Alt_L (0x40),  Alt_R (0x71)
    mod2        Num_Lock (0x4d)
    mod4        Super_L (0x73),  Super_R (0x74)

How to lock the screen

Screen locking is something you should do whenever you leave your machine (even at home and even for only a few seconds - just imagine a cat pushing the enter button at the wrong moment). It should be a habit like logging out root as soon as possible.

… by keyboard

With IceWM screen locking is very easy: If you press


a menu pops up offering you the following tasks:

The letters that are emphasized in this FAQ are underlined in real life. The meaning of this emphasis is that you may e. g. press "W" to lock your workstation.

Another possibility (this is the one I prefer because I once to often pressed "L" in order to lock my machine) is to press "ENTER". The result is the same because the button that is active by default is “Lock Workstation”.

A more obvious reason for using "ENTER" in place of "W" is that it is easier to type in: "Del" and "ENTER" are next to each other.

You could as well use your mouse to click on “Lock Workstation” but if you are already using your keyboard to evoke the menu why not use the keyboard to select from it?

… by mouse

If you prefer to use your mouse to lock the screen you may add the following entry to your $HOME/.icewm/toolbar

    prog    xlock   xlock   xlock

You could as well add that line $HOME/.icewm/menu or $HOME/.icewm/programs but that’s not a good idea: Screen locking is often done in a hurry and if you have to scan through a menu this will increase the chance that you will not lock your machine at all.

… using a lock command

How to define a different lock command is described in section “Setting the lock command”

Support session management?

From 1.2.13 IceWM has some basic session management to manage all its parts. But this is where the more complicated desktop environments like GNOME, KDE or xfce join the game. IceWM still is mainly a window manager… but of course you can always start your favorite apps upon X start-up/login using the .xinitrc or .xsessionfiles. Or use IceWM as the window manager instead of the default GNOME/KDE wm.

Can I have icons on the desktop?

Sure, but not from IceWM. Again, this is desktop environment work, but usually done by the respective file managers, since they already know about MIME types, file endings and such. IceWM users usually use idesk, dfm, rox, kfm or gmc, where idesk, dfm and rox are better suited for work on smaller (older) machines than the other two.

My background is ignored?

Usually this is because it’s the wrong image format. It can happen when IceWM is compiled only with libXpm. With imlib, IceWM is able to read most of the often used image formats like png, gif, jpeg, instead of just xpm images with libXpm. Another reason can be, that the theme defines another image or color.

Can I have bigger icons?

From IceWM 1.2.14 it is possible to specify size of icons in IceWM preferences. There are four relevant options:


These values are default but you can change them to whatever you want. MenuIconSize specifies size of icons in menu. Three other are used for any other icon in IceWM. E.g. SmallIconSize is used in taskbar, application frames and window list. LargeIconSize is used in quickswitch.

You have to take in mind that when you change size of SmallIconsSize then all above described parts will have icons of different size, but taskbar and frames will not change their high accordingly! Also when you specify the size that is not available, then icons will be resize - this can cause some disturbance mainly when you are using xpm icons.

There is a trick to increase size of taskbar however. Taskbar height is sized according size of start button. E.g. for linux if your linux.xpm in taskbar folder is 50x32 then your taskbar will be 32 pixels high.

To change the height of frames you have to make theme with higher frames.

How to translate IceWM?

The best option is to join openSUSE Weblate.

The other option is to create a copy of icewm.pot and rename it to cs.po or whatever is right for your language. Then you have to translate the file using any of the tools for gettext file transaltion, e.g. kbabel, or you can edit it by hand. After translation you can send it to icewm-devel list or post it as patch in patch tracker.

If you want to test file yourself you can add this file into po directory under IceWM sources and then configure IceWM (./configure) and type make in po directory. This creates .mo file, which you can either copy to locale locations (e.g. /usr/local/share/locale/cs/LC_MESSAGES) or you can do make install.

How to use Xrandr?

IceWM supports since a few versions the xrandr feature of X11. This can very easily be used to define a menu item on your toolbar to change the display resolution, provided that you run recent enough versions of both X11 and IceWM that supports xrandr. You can run xrandr -q to see the resolutions supported using your present X configuration (maximum resolution and color depth). You can edit this menu fragment when you have checked which resolutions work and then you can put it into your ./icewm/toolbar file

# IceWM toolbar menu to change the display resolution.
# This needs xrandr support from both X11 and Icewm.
# Xrandr is considered an experimental feature, so your screen may go
# blank if you have a problem with some resolution setting.
# It is a good idea to close your other windows before testing.
# Check your own resolutions with xrandr -q and modify accordingly.
# This example assumes a default resolution of 1280x1024.

menu Resolution redhat-system-settings {
   prog 1280x1024 1280x1024 xrandr -s 0
   prog 1152x864  1152x864  xrandr -s 2
   prog 1024x768  1024x768  xrandr -s 3
   prog  800x600   800x600  xrandr -s 4
   prog  640x480   640x480  xrandr -s 5

The redhat-system-settings is a bitmap I picked up from my Fedora Core 3 box, you can put there whatever you want of course.

Example: configuration A-Z

This is sample of possible configuration you need to do to have IceWM running with all you need. Following applies for RedHat(9). Placement of files can be bit different.

X window login

To have possibility to switch to IceWM in GDM greeter (after start to runlevel 5 = Xwindow), then you need to do following things:

IceWM configuration

To configure all of IceWM options go to sections about configuration. Generally all you need to customize IceWM globaly, is to edit /usr/local/share/icewm/preferences etc.

Icons on desktop

Usually people want to have icons on desktop. One of most simple applications that can satisfy this need is idesk (see Tools to find it). I personaly recommend to use 0.3.x version - this has almost no requirements and is really simple.

Configuration of idesk is almost as easy as configuration of IceWM, but has one disadvantage: idesk does not have in version 0.3.x global configuration file - therefore each user needs to have proper configuration file in his/her home.

To configure idesk you need to:

table Icon
  Caption: Mozilla
  Command: mozilla
  Icon: /usr/share/pixmaps/mozilla-icon.png
  X: 22
  Y: 13

Control tools

To have some “control center” like application you can use Vadim A. Khohlov’s icecc - IceWM Control center. (see Tools to find it) His utility is also very simple, fast and has editors for all of the IceWM options.

To integrate it into menu you have to edit /usr/local/share/icewm/menu and add there line like this

prog "Control Center" "icecc_icon" icecc

Please note that icecc needs some other programs like gvim and python to work properly.

This section is a collection of tools that simplify the usage of IceWM. Head on over to the utilities section of the IceWM homepage if you want an up to date overview about all available tools.


Note: IcePref is a history these day, but you can still find it.

IcePref is a small graphical utility (written with Python and the Gtk toolkit) designed to simplify the configuration of IceWM.

It currently supports the options of IceWM version 1.0.4 and should (in theory) work consistently with versions at least as high as 1.0.4. While it is not a particularly elegant program, I have found IcePref useful and hope that it will be found useful by those who use IceWM and also have Gtk installed.

IcePref should be especially useful to those who have GNOME, and who are therefore likely to have PyGNOME and PyGTK already installed on their boxes.


IcePref2 is a successor to IcePref. It is included in IceWM Control Panel.

IcePref2 is advanced preferences file editor.


The IceWM Menu Editor allows users to edit their menu without knowing anything about config files. It is included in IceWM Control Panel.

IceWM Control Panel

IceWM Control Panel is the first full-featured, Gtk-based control panel for IceWM. It is meant to run in IceWM, but can be used in ANY window manager as a general-purpose control panel. It was inspired by the Qt-based application called IceMC, but includes many more tools, a more familiar Windoze Control Panel-like interface, and uses the MUCH faster Gtk user interface (Who runs a fast Window Manager like IceWM, to launch SLOW-running, memory-intensive Qt/KDE-based applications?? I sure don’t). Let’s face it: IceWM and fast Gtk interfaces work well together.

IceWM Control Panel includes applications for editing preferences (IcePref2), menus (IceMe), themes, sounds (IceSoundMngr), cursors, keys, mouse, wallpapers, winoptions, icon browser etc.

IceWM Control Center

This is Vadim Khohlov’s software. A good collection of the configuration software for IceWM, include: menu/toolbar editor, Ice Sound Configurator, theme Switcher, backgroundoptions editor, IceWM’s winoptions editor, keys editor.


IceWMConf is a small application which helps with configuring IceWM. It tries to be self-configuring, starting with the basic options from the system preferences files and then overriding them with user preferences.

In this way, it should pick up new options introduced by later versions of IceWM. (It does mean that old options aren’t deleted, so you have to occasionally “trim” your user file to remove lines IceWM grumbles about, but that isn’t very necessary.)

Its user interface is functional bordering on spartan, but builds its own option categories and has an option name search facility. If you want a really user friendly configuration tool, I suggest IcePref.


IceWO is an icewm’s winoption file editor. It allows you to set winoptions for any window by clicking on buttons, without manual editing winoptions file.


IceMC is a graphical menu editor for IceWM, designed to be simple and stable. You can configure your menu entries with copy, paste, and drag’n’drop.

MenuMaker is utility written entirely in Python that scans through the system for installed programs and generates menu for specified X window manager. It is by far more superior to existing solutions in terms of knowledge base size, maintainability and extensibility, and has a number of features that have no counterparts in its class. MenuMaker is intended for users of lightweight *NIX graphical desktop environments.


iDesk gives users of minimal wm’s (fluxbox, pekwm, windowmaker…) icons on their desktop. The icon graphics are either from a png or svg (vector) file and support some eyecandy effects like transparency. Each icon can be confgured to run one or more shell commands and the actions which run those commands are completely configurable. In a nutshell if you want icons on your desktop and you don’t have or dont’t want KDE or gnome doing it, you can use idesk.


DFM is a file manager for Linux and other UNIX like Operating Systems. DFM is the abrvabation for Desktop File Manager. “Desktop” stands for the capability to place icons on the root window.

Bugs and Problems

This section is for problems that are intrinsic to the philosophy of IceWM or that are caused by bugs.

IceWM ignores my colors

Some users wonder why the colors specified in their preference files seem to have no effect upon the actual appearance of things. The reason is that these settings may be overridden by settings in the theme file.

The theme file can control all of the options controlled by the preferences file, but usually theme authors are decent confine their meddling to superficial aspects of window manager behavior and leave control over most important behaviors to the user.

If this wasn’t the reason: If you are running X in 8-bit mode then it is possible that the specified color simply isn’t available.

You don’t know if X is running in 8-bit mode? Run

    xwininfo | grep Depth

in an XTerm and click on the root window (the desktop). If this command displays

    Depth: n

you are running X in n-bit mode (n typically is 8, 16, 24 or 32).

Programs are missing from menus

A very annoying problem are programs you added to the menu file but that are missing in the corresponding menus. That isn’t really a bug of IceWM. The point of view of IceWM is that it makes no sense to display a program that are not present.

The crucial point is the meaning of “to be present”. It does not mean “to be installed” but “to be found using the present path” (echo $PATH or which program to find if program is in PATH).

To fix the problem you have at least three possibilities:

  1. You give the full path and not only the program name itself.
  2. You set the path in your .xinitrc, .xsession or .Xclients.
  3. You use a wrapper script for running IceWM.

The first two solutions are straightforward. Using a wrapper script is a bit tricky therefore I’ll describe how to do it.

Become root and move icewm to icewm.bin.

    mv /usr/local/bin/icewm /usr/local/bin/icewm.bin

Edit icewm so that it reads something like this:


    PATH=<what the path shall be>
    export $PATH

    exec icewm.bin $*

It is very important to add the "$*". Otherwise all command line arguments (such as “use another theme”) will be ignored.

Hint: Using bash, ksh and zsh you can contract

    PATH=<what the path shall be>
    export $PATH


    export PATH=<what the path shall be>

You could also add directories to the path (instead of simply overwriting it). To do this you use

    PATH=$PATH:<what shall be added>

IceWM maximizes windows over the GNOME panel

This used to be a really annoying problem, but seems to be gone with newer versions of IceWM and GNOME. If it still happens on your machine try to set

    Panel.doNotCover: 1

in your winoptions file.

Screen locking doesn’t work

The reason for this is that the standard lock command (xlock) could not be found by IceWM. See “Setting the lock command” for details on setting a different lock command.

Background does not show up

IceWM is divided in few separated parts. One of them is icewmbg. This part takes care of bacground setup. Therefore if you want IceWM to take care of desktop background you have to start icewmbg at IceWM startup. The proper way is to start “icewm-session” in your X startup instead of just icewm. See “Configuration”.

Font settings are ignored

IceWM uses two ways of font handling - corefonts OR fonts provided by xfreetype library.

These fonts can be specified in preferences or theme default.theme.

For X server provided fonts (configure –enable-corefonts option) the definition looks like this:

    ActiveButtonFontName = "-artwiz-snap-regular-r-normal-sans-10-*-*-*-*-*-*-*"

For Xft (xfreetype) library (used by default, disable using option –disable-xfreetype), then specification is like this:

    ActiveButtonFontNameXft = "Snap:size=10,sans-serif:size=12:bold"

To provide correct fonts to Xft you have to specify them in /etc/fonts/fonts.conf. X server font are either provided by X server itself e.g. /etc/X11/XF86Config - Section “Files”, or by XFS (X Font Server) defined in. /etc/X11/fs/config.


This document is released under the terms of the GNU Library General Public License.