In 12.04 with a two monitor setup (using unity and compiz), is it possible to switch workspaces individually for each monitor?


I spent considerable time trying to find a solution for this. My conclusion is that while compiz once had support for this, it has not been functional in a while. Since Unity uses compiz, it cannot do it either at the moment.

There seem to be very few window managers that support this feature at all. The only one I was able to find was xmonad, which is a keyboard-driven tiling window manager intended for power users willing to spend quite a bit of time learning how to use it. I think I've seen references to awesome being able to do this too, which is another similar tiling window manager.

So unfortunately the answer for compiz and unity seems to be "no, not possible", and the answer more generally seems to be "no, not unless you are willing to switch to a tiling window manager".

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  • Awesome does that, but it does that only. If I understand correctly, each monitor has its own set of workspaces and you cannot show a workspace of monitor 1 on monitor 2. Maybe it's configurable, but I've read several people complaining about that. That drove me away from Awesome. – Gauthier Jun 18 '14 at 7:25
  • You can easily move a window to the other monitor (Mod4 + o), so it's also pretty fast to have the whole workspace (i. e. every window) moved over to the other screen. – exic Feb 11 '15 at 7:48
  • Is this still true for 15.10? – Yanick Nedderhoff Mar 14 '16 at 15:59

I know this is old, but for people looking into this, Enlightenment 0.19.x (http://enlightenment.org) has good support for multiple screens, and is able to switch workspaces independently or simultaneously on two screens (haven't tried with three or more). I switched from xfce4 and haven't looked back. You can find a PPA at https://launchpad.net/~niko2040/+archive/ubuntu/e19

EDIT: The reason this isn't common functionality is that it violates a freedesktop.org specification (EWMH - http://standards.freedesktop.org/wm-spec/wm-spec-latest.html) that most window managers follow. Those window managers that support this simply do not follow the specification.

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  • 3
    your explanation of the reason this isn't common functionality is certainly useful, but it leaves me wondering why the spec doesn't cover this use case. I'm also wondering if that spec has any relevance when it comes to Wayland compositors. I'm sure that's a separate question, however. – stonecrusher May 9 '16 at 15:48
  • Then the spec is idiotic. Why, on earth wouldn't you want to move workspaces independently? Absolutely dumb. – Benjamin R Jun 9 '19 at 9:37

Actually, you don't need to use a tiling window manager. As far as I know, xmonad and awesome support this feature, and i3 does to a certain extent.

But they are all tiling. Wingo is a hybrid window manager that has per-monitor workspaces, and it can be used as either a regular window manager or a tiling manager (or both). Note that it is self-described as "very alpha".

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  • awesome seems to kind of support this feature, but every monitor has its own set of tags (ie workspaces). The monitors are so separated that if you populate your workspace 2 with windows on monitor 1, you can't later show the content of workspace 2 on monitor 2. – Gauthier May 20 '14 at 7:03
  • i3 certainly supports this, it can also treat windows as "floating" (ie the way most window managers handles them). The floating property can be toggled on already opened windows or you can configure classes of windows to always open as floating. This may be handy for those who don't want to use tiling for all windows. Also, most dialogs automatically open as floating. – Petter Adsen Jun 19 '16 at 17:35
  • It's a shame development on Wingo isn't continuing, it's an interesting idea. – Benjamin R May 10 '17 at 0:14
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    @BenjaminR That's false. Wingo is simply feature complete and will continue to work so long as I use it. (As the README says.) – BurntSushi5 May 10 '17 at 10:55
  • @BurntSushi5 Ah, good. Thanks for the clarification. – Benjamin R May 11 '17 at 5:17

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