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I'm a bit confused about this one. Does Ubuntu use two different window managers at the same time?

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up vote 22 down vote accepted

They're not used at the same time but I can see the cause of the confusion.

  • Metacity handles lightweight composting and also does window decorations.
  • Compiz only does the window management garb and hands off window decoration to gtk-window-decorator or emerald. By default gtk-window-decorator is used to emulate the current Metacity theme but it also has its own cairo-based themes.

So while they might look similar in some aspects, apart from the actual theme files used, they're very different underlying code.

But why have both at all?

Because Compiz needs better hardware to run. Lots of people still don't have hardware that supports DRI, so Ubuntu includes both to give everybody a desktop.

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It's not just a matter of hardware. I have encountered several cases in which compiz itself will run without problems, but some particular software (such as OpenGL applications, or DisplayLink's USB driver) will not and switching to Metacity fixed it. It avoids the reliance on 3D acceleration in graphics cards. – Reinier Post Oct 7 '15 at 11:17

It uses one or the other depending on your settings. If you open System -> Preferences -> Appearance and go to the visual effects tab, if you choose none then metacity is used, otherwise compiz is.

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You can only use one window manager at at a time. As psusi has written Ubuntu chooses between Metacity and Compiz depending on your settings.

Metacity and Compiz are just the two window managers available in Ubuntu's standard setup but there are many more available and most of them can be used with Gnome. xwinman gives a good overview on what's available and has a short explanation on the general concepts behind window managers.

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