HOWTO: IceWM Basic Configuration

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HOWTO: IceWM Basic Configuration

Postby Lou » 2006-05-23 21:01

IceWM Tips

These are excerpts from an article i wrote in 2004.

Every time i tell people that i use IceWM, they snicker, and i resent
that. :)

If you are an IceWM user, you know it's a great window manager: fast,
light, uses very little memory. It's easy to use and one of the
quickest to do work with.


# apt-get install icewm icewm-themes iceme

NOTE: if you installed x-window-system-core during the Debian
installation, make sure you install the package 'menu' in order to get
the 'Debian menu'.

For the super-minimalist, you can install 'icewm-lite', lighter and without
a taskbar at the bottom.


It gives you a ton of themes, if you like the
Gnome look there are several:

For the Gnome look: IceGnome2 and many others

For the XFCE4 look: IceBlueCurve and IceBlueOkayish

For the Mac look: aquablue, liquid, sortofaqua

For kde: pkde kde2 ,pkde2, yak

For the XP look: SilverXP, XP

I counted 70 different themes that come with IceWM with icewm-themes
package, without counting the others from other sites. There are more
themes you can shake a stick at, my favorite is Infadel2

To switch between themes, click on the start/linux button on the far
left of the taskbar to get the main menu, choose Themes from the main
menu, go down the alphabetical list, click on the theme you like, it
will switch like lightning, click on the desktop to make the main menu
disappear and voilà. Easy.

I like to use the keyboard instead of the mouse when i can, my wrist
appreciates it. So i press the Windows key to get the main menu, down
arrow to Themes, Enter, down arrow to designated theme, Enter, finito.

So that takes care of the 'looks' myth.

Remember i installed 'iceme'?
iceme stands for 'ice menu editor', launch it from the main menu:
Programs > Apps > System

Maximize the screen: Alt+F10, to minimize it: Atl+F10 again, if you
want to minimize to the taskbar: Alt+F9: Go down the list of the main
menu hilighting every item you don't want, and pressing Ctrl+X to
delete (or Delete from the Edit top menu). I ended up with this, as my
main menu:

Programs >
Windows >
Themes >
Logout >

'Programs' is the Debian menu, i don't need much else. When we get to
the keybindings you'll see why this is enough.

How did i end with 'iceme' on the main menu? With iceme opened, (this
is inside iceme), i went to Programs > Apps > System > iceme, hilited

Ctrl+C to copy it,

then i clicked on the space of the main menu that i wanted it placed
on, and pressed

Ctrl+V to paste it.

If you hilite an app and paste another app, the second one will be
under the first app. Say, you have Mozilla on the main menu, and you
want iceme on the main menu under Mozilla, hilight Mozilla and Ctrl+V
to put iceme under it.


If you like icons on the taskbar, open iceme, copy the apps as i did
above, open the Toolbar folder, and paste them inside, in whichever
order you like, logout/login and voilà.


IceWM comes with a net and cpu monitor that will give you information
you require, if you click on the cpu with your mouse left button, it
will launch the program 'top'. If you just pass the cursor over it, it
will give basic information about the CPU. If you pass the cursor over
the net monitor, it will give you lots of information about the net in
your box. If you do the same over the time, it will give you the date
and the day of the week, all this can be configured in the
~/.icewm/preferences file. For the date and time, strftime is used. It
also comes with 'Show desktop' and 'Window list' icons by default.
On the far right, if you click on the symbol (>) it will make the taskbar disappear,
to put the taskbar back, click on it again.

What more do you want?


In order to configure and/or create apps shortcuts (key bindings), you
will have to copy the Preferences and keys files from Debian's global
address, but first find out if you got them by default.

$ cp /etc/X11/icewm/preferences ~/.icewm/preferences

$ cp /etc/X11/icewm/keys ~/.icewm/keys

$ cp /etc/X11/icewm/winoptions ~/.icewm/winoptions

If you're happy with the default preferences in your icewm, there is
nothing to change. If you want to change anything, remember to
'uncomment' the line you are going to change and leave it uncommented,
sometimes, all lines are uncommented, and that makes it easier.

enable = 1
disable = 0

$ nano ~/.icewm/preferences

If you want to change the taskbar from the bottom to the top:

# Task bar at top of the screen
# TaskBarAtTop=0 # 0/1

The second line is the one that has to be edited; notice it is
commented (#) which means any change to it, will be ignored, also the
value given to it, is '0' which means it is disabled and thus, the
taskbar stays at the bottom of the screen. So, if you want the taskbar
at the top, start by uncommenting it, and changing the value to '1', so
it looks like this.

# Task bar at top of the screen
TaskBarAtTop=1 # 0/1


and the next time you start icewm, you'll have the task bar on top.

Now, in your terminal, press Alt+F10 to maximize and have a full-screen
look, all the preferences are piled together by sections, which makes
it awful hard to find anything the first time around.

These are my preferences:

# Opaque window move
OpaqueMove=0 # 0/1

# Opaque window resize
OpaqueResize=0 # 0/1

# Smart window placement (minimal overlap)
SmartPlacement=1 # 0/1

# Support mouse wheel
UseMouseWheel=1 # 0/1

# Show 'show desktop' button on taskbar
TaskBarShowShowDesktopButton=0 # 0/1

# Show 'window list' menu on task bar
TaskBarShowWindowListMenu=0 # 0/1

# Command to shutdown the system
ShutdownCommand="sudo halt"

# Command to reboot the system
RebootCommand="sudo reboot"

# Clock Time format (strftime format string)

# Clock Date format for tooltip (strftime format string)
DateFormat="%a %d %b"

WorkspaceNames=" 1 ", " 2 ",

save/exit from your editor

when you come back into the X system all changes will be effective.


$ nano ~/.icewm/winoptions

once there, i decided to erase everything and add this:

aterm.startMaximized: 1
pine.startMaximized: 1
name.class.startMaximized: 1

aterm.dTitleBar: 0
opera.dTitleBar: 0
gqview.dTitleBar: 0 0
xchat.dTitleBar: 0

The first 3 lines will launch my terminal and mail app full-size, plus any window i open.
The other apps will appear without the title bar, saving me space on my monitor's screen.


IceWM comes with many keybindings by default:
Alt-Tab to switch windows
Alt-F4 closes app
Alt-F10 maximizes screen
Alt-F9 back to original size
To move between virtual desktops: Windows key + right/left arrow

for more info see

$ nano ~/.icewm/keys

Once there, i replaced the first section with this:

key "Ctrl+F1" aterm
key "Ctrl+F2" xfe
key "Ctrl+F3" xchat
key "Ctrl+F4" gqview
key "Ctrl+F5" mozilla-firefox
key "Ctrl+F6" opera
key "Ctrl+F7" mozilla-thunderbird
key "Ctrl+F8" oowriter


Now you can launch your apps like lightning.

Debian carries the following apps that help do the above described operations, such as:



If you want a wallpaper, put this in your ~/.xinitrc or ~/.xsession whichever you use:


xscreensaver &
numlockx &
icewmbg &

exec icewm-session

Then go to your ~/.icewm/preferences and at the end of the file edit the folowing so it looks like this:

# Desktop background scaled to full screen
DesktopBackgroundScaled=1 # 0/1

# Desktop background color

Download your wallpaper to your /home, and enter it here:

# Desktop background image

And that's all folks, you've got a good looking, extremely fast, highly
configurable window manager.

IRC: Freenode server #icewm

Luis Lima aka macondo/Lou
ironwindow2001 [at]
Revised on May 23 2006

Edit 5/31/06:
In the .icewm/winoptions, the line to make the new window maximized is:

name.class.startMaximized: 1

it will be corrected in the main article.

Edit 2 June 2006:
Here's my new keybindings in:
$ nano ~/.icewm/keys

key "Ctrl+F1" aterm
key "Ctrl+F2" xfe
key "Ctrl+F3" aterm -e tinyirc
key "Ctrl+F4" gqview
key "Ctrl+F5" mozilla-firefox
key "Ctrl+F6" opera
key "Ctrl+F7" aterm -e pine
key "Ctrl+F8" oowriter
key "Ctrl+F9" aterm -e elinks


Luis Lima aka Lou/macondo
Last edited by Lou on 2007-07-17 18:56, edited 9 times in total.
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Postby Mr_Smiley » 2006-05-28 09:56


Thanks for the information, very useful. I'm now trying out IceWM and it seems quite nice. :)
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Postby Lou » 2006-05-28 14:09

IceWM is my default wm, i'm also playing with Ion3, but that's a different beast to configure, makes you appreciate icewm.

Anyways, i'm glad you like it. :)
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Postby Arnie » 2006-06-23 14:59

Very nice manual indeed, the wallpaper option will be useful if I want other people to think this is a totally normal computer. :) I do miss a calendar function in IceWM when clicking on the clock, but that can be implemented by changing the option ClockCommand to your calendar program, in my case xcal:
Code: Select all
# Command to run on clock
ClockCommand = "xcal"
Personally I just opened preferences in a text editor and edited it manually. Every option has a comment included with what it does. For example, you can remove the PPP/ETH/CPU monitors or reduce (and increase) their refreshing rates. I don't have anything with PPP so that useless monitor is gone.

Apart from the mentioned files preferences, keys and winoptions there's also the files programs and toolbar. The first contains the entries of the Programs menu in the IceWM menu, and the second contains the entries for the 'quicklaunch' buttons on the toolbar.
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Postby Kaitlyn » 2006-06-23 15:10

I'm configuring IceWM the hard way on FreeBSD since icepref wouldn't compile for me. But one thing I learned is you don't have to log out and back in to make your changes take effect. All you have to do is send it the HUP signal.

You can find the pid using
ps auxw | grep icewm | grep -v grep
The pid will be the number right of your username. Then you
kill -HUP (pid)
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Postby Lou » 2006-06-23 16:09

Thanks for the tip. :wink:
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Postby Lou » 2006-06-28 15:24

Another way or 'restarting icewm' is to give the 3 finger salute: Ctrl+Alt+Delete and from the dialog box choose:

Restart icewm

or simply press 'r'

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Postby Lou » 2006-07-05 18:30

'Windows' key + arrow (right or left)

Note: if you don't have a 'Windows' key, use Ctrl + Alt.

If you're one those users with 6 or 7 desktops going:
'Windows' key + # (desktop #)

If you want to move a window to a DIFFERENT desktop:
'Windows' key + Shift + right or left arrow OR desktop # . Not bad huh?

I have this on my .icewm/preferences:

# Auto hide task bar after delay
TaskBarAutoHide=1 # 0/1

# Use double-height task bar
TaskBarDoubleHeight=1 # 0/1

The double-height task bar allows me to 'run' any app not in my keybindings. The first line of the taskbar is like a cli, just put the cursor there and write 'sudo synaptic' or 'xfe', or any other app, press Enter and it is launched.
The auto-hide saves me space on my monitor's screen.

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Postby brendon » 2006-07-06 07:23

taskbar cli:

thanks for the article,

I found the "Alt-Ctrl-Space" key combination a good way of running apps,
as it opens the taskbar cli with the cursor ready to type, and it means I can keep a single height taskbar.

This is the relevant entry in preferences file
# KeySysAddressBar="Alt+Ctrl+Space"
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Postby Lou » 2006-07-06 12:57

Thanks brendon: your tip is even better! :lol:

This wm has so many options, i can never get to the bottom of it. Thanks again!

Have you tried replacing Alt+Ctrl with the 'Windows' key? in my kbd, saves me one step.

I went back to the single taskbar and tried your tip, it's great. Did a Windows Key + Spacebar and entered:

sudo halt <Enter>

shutdown the box perfectly. If you decide you don't need the cli, just press Escape and it takes you back to the way the taskbar shows the open windows.
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Postby brendon » 2006-07-07 08:35

Thanks Lou,
I noticed your other article on fluxbox. Do you know of an equivalent keyboard shortcut to run a command in fluxbox?
I'm now using your tips for the windows key instead of ctrl+alt, and esc to get out of the taskbar cli; I hadn't known about either of those, thanks.
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Postby Lou » 2006-07-07 13:57

brendon wrote:Thanks Lou,
I noticed your other article on fluxbox. Do you know of an equivalent keyboard shortcut to run a command in fluxbox?

Try adding in your ~/.flubox/keys

Control F10 :ExecCommand "fbrun"

restart, (Windows key + r)

Then try:

Control + F10

(should give you a dialog box to enter what you want)

Let me know if it works for you too. :)
Last edited by Lou on 2014-06-15 17:51, edited 1 time in total.
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Postby brendon » 2006-07-09 08:55

Hi Lou,
yes it worked!
(I just needed to edit my default ~/.fluxbox/init so that the "session.keyFile" had my home directory rather than the system one)
I have mainly used iceWM for the last year and will continue with it, but I notice fluxbox used in a number of small distros (eg DSL), so I am pleased to have got a personalised configuration worked out; thanks for your help.
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IceWM themes installation

Postby Lou » 2006-07-13 03:05

One of the differences i noticed while on Sid, was the new themes for
IceWM in that version. They were beautiful. After a couple of weeks i
decided to go back to Sarge; i didn't like the way Firefox and Opera
moved, the scrolling was jerky, i couldn't use Synaptic because of the
bugs, plus the daily update/dist-upgrade. Not really serious things but
after a while it anoyed me.

So i'm back in Sarge!

One of the things i kept thinking about, was the IceWM themes in Sid. I
went to see my friend Mr Google and got this page:

It gives this instructions and that was it.

mv the_theme.tar.gz /usr/X11R6/lib/X11/icewm/themes/
cd /usr/X11R6/lib/X11/icewm/themes/
tar -zxvf the_theme.tar.gz

Most of the themes come in the tar.gz format, you have to compile them.
Not having done this before, I installed:

plus the suggested packages except the manuals/docs.

I was having visions of ./configure, make, checkintall -D, and all the
uncivilized instructions Linux uses. But alas, it wasn't necessary as
you will soon see.

I went to to take a look at the icewm's themes:

there are tons of them.

Before i moved the theme from my home dir (according to the
instructions), i had to know the global address of the icewm themes, so
i opened a terminal and typed:

$ locate icewm

The address is /usr/share/icewm/themes

I decided to install the animation2 theme.

So i clicked on the tar.gz link and downloaded it to the disk, checked with
my file manager xfe, and the compressed file was there, in my /home. I
opened a terminal and typed:

$ sudo mv animation2-1.0.tar.gz /usr/share/icewm/themes

then following the instructions, i navigated to that second file,

$ cd /usr/share/icewm/themes

this put me there:


then proceeded to untar the tar.gz file:

luigi@debian:/usr/share/icewm/themes$ sudo tar -zxvf animation2-1.0.tar.gz

and it unraveled as it should:


If you want to go back to the original prompt:

luigi@debian:/usr/share/icewm/themes$ cd <Enter>

Now, i restarted IceWM:

Ctrl+Alt+Delete + r

I checked Themes from the main menu (press Windows keys) and voilà, it
was there under letter 'a': animation2, i went to my wife and told her
that i was a frigging genius! she yawned and went back to watching her
soap opera.


I use xfe as my file manager, it's very light and fast as lightning, no
waiting for it to come up. It is very configurable, fonts, colors, etc.

So, i pressed the Windows key + Spacebar and that gave me a CLI on the
taskbar with a blinking cursor, all this without launching a terminal,
and typed:

sudo xfe

This will allow me to use xfe as root.

When you go to the site i gave you at the beginning,
click on the images to take a look, press backspace to go back to the
previous page, click on the theme name link, in the next page click on
the url that ends in tar.gz . This will downloaded it to your disk.

After downloading the compressed tar.gz file to my home dir, it
appeared in xfe, i selected it and right clicked on it, chose 'Extract
to', this took me to a box (Alt+F11 to maximize it), went down to usr>share>icewm>themes, and
clicked on 'themes', then clicked on Accept, let it unravel, Close. Now
the theme is untarred in the icewm themes dir.

Restart. Check Themes from the main menu and click on your new theme.


Once you have done it once, it takes less than a minute to download,
untar, and install the new theme. If you install more than one theme,
the box to extract to, will remain on 'themes' so you can just Accept
without looking for the themes global address.

I downloaded and installed a bunch of themes, i can see how you can
become a themes junkie. :)

Now i realized i had too many, together with the ones from the package
icewm-themes, i had about 80. Time to trim the fat.

# dpkg -P icewm-themes

This took out a bunch of themes, just leaving me with the default
themes plus the ones i had installed. I guess the next time i install
debian, i won't install icewm-themes just manually install what i want.

Still i thought i had too many, i went one by one, and wrote down the
ones that i didn't like now that they were installed.

In xfe (remember i'm still root), on the left column, went to


clicked on themes, and got a list of all themes i had in IceWM. Then
right-clicked on each one i didn't want, and chose Delete from the menu
and they were gone.

Restarted and was done. Closed xfe.

This is the list of themes i ended up with:


Warning: if you install Elberg, after you untar it, and restart icewm,
it will NOT appear in the themes menu. Somehow it goes to:


To fix this, start xfe as root, go to the above file, open it, you will
see these 3 files:


Select the first one, Shift-Click on the last one, this will highlight
all three of them, right click on them, choose Move from the menu, in
the next box, enter the CORRECT file:


Accept, and Restart

Now you will see the Elberg brothers in your themes menu.

It was fun!

Edit July 14:
I installed the theme SilverXP, it was a .bz2, for this, i had to install the app 'bzip2' and then used the xfe method. After i untarred, it didn't appear in Themes menu, i did a 'sudo updatedb' and nothing. I used 'locate' and it was stashed under:


with xfe as root, i moved it to the correct dir:



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Ram used

Postby Lou » 2006-07-16 02:35

If you're curious how much ram IceWM is using type:

$ ps aux

The answer is under column RSS in kb.
Here are what some of my browsers are using:

icewm 3724 = 3,7 MB
firefox 30500 = 30,5 MB
opera 16136 = 16,1 MB
elinks 3368 = 3,4 MB

If you don't have much memory, you have to watch it, when i use OOo, to open a .pps, i shutdown all my other apps. :cry:
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