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Quick guide to Desktop Environments & WM's

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khiloa

Open Source Senior
Joined
Jul 15, 2004
Location
/usa/sc/florence
This is a quick list of all the Desktop Environments and Window Managers I know, I hope someone finds this useful.

  • A DE provides icons, toolbars, applications, applets, and abilities like drag and drop.
  • A WM controls the placement and appearance of application windows under the X Window System but does NOT provide panels, applets, icons, etc.
Here is a good explanation.

So, lets get started!

Destop Environments

KDE
Homepage: http://www.kde.org/

We all know KDE, its based on QT and is one of the big two. (Gnome of course being the other) It is considered to be a little more Windowslike than Gnome. KDE is (or can be) full of eyecandy.

KDE is a network transparent contemporary desktop environment for UNIX workstations. KDE seeks to fill the need for an easy to use desktop for Unix workstations, similar to the desktop environments found under the MacOS or Microsoft Windows. We believe that the UNIX operating system is the best operating system available today. In fact UNIX has been the undisputed choice of the information technology professional for many years. When it comes to stability, scalability and openness there is no competition to UNIX. However, the lack of an easy to use contemporary desktop environment for UNIX has prevented UNIX from finding its way onto the desktops of the typical computer user in offices and homes. UNIX dominates the server market and is the preferred computing platform for computing professional and scientists. Without UNIX the internet would not be. But UNIX did not address the needs of the average computer user. This fact is particularly unfortunate since a number of implementations of UNIX (Debian GNU/Linux, FreeBSD, NetBSD etc.) are freely available on the internet. All of which are of exceptional quality and stability.

Gnome
Homepage: http://www.gnome.org/

The other of the "big two". Gnome is basede on GTK, the Gimp toolkit, which was originally developed for Gimp, the GNU Image Manipulation Program.

The GNOME project was started in August 1997 by Miguel de Icaza and Federico Mena to provide an alternative to KDE.

KDE is a free software desktop environment that relies on the Qt toolkit — a piece of software written by Trolltech that did not use a free software license. Members of the GNU project became concerned about the use of such a toolkit for building a free software desktop and applications and launched two projects: "Harmony", to create a replacement for the Qt libraries, and the GNOME project to create a new desktop without Qt and built entirely on top of free software.

In September 2000, after GNOME had become useable and was gaining popularity, Trolltech made the GNU/Linux version of the Qt libraries available under both the GNU General Public License (GNU GPL) and the QPL, removing most of the objections that had fuelled years of licensing debates. However, the licensing of Qt is still controversial for many people because the use of the GPL for a library imposes restrictions on the licensing of code linking to it, such as the KDE framework and any applications written for it.
In place of the Qt toolkit, the GIMP Toolkit (GTK+) was chosen as the base of the GNOME desktop. GTK+ uses the GNU Lesser Public License (LGPL), a free software license that allows software linking to it, such as applications written for GNOME, to use any license. The GNOME desktop itself is licensed under the LGPL for its libraries, and the GPL for applications that are part of the GNOME project itself.

Xfce
Homepage: http://www.xfce.org/

Xfce is the new kid on the block. It is based on GTK, as is Gnome. It is aimed at being a lightweight DE, less bloated than KDE / Gnome.

Xfce is a lightweight desktop environment for unix-like operating systems. It aims to be fast and lightweight, while still being visually appealing and easy to use.

Xfce 4.2 embodies the traditional UNIX philosophy of modularity and re-usability. It consists of a number of components that together provide the full functionality of the desktop environment. They are packaged separately and you can pick and choose from the available packages to create the best personal working environment.

Another priority of Xfce 4 is adhereance to standards, specifically those defined at freedesktop.org.

Xfce 4 can be installed on several UNIX platforms. It is known to compile on Linux, NetBSD, FreeBSD, Solaris, Cygwin and MacOS X, on x86, PPC, Sparc, Alpha...

Window Managers

twm
Homepage: None

twm is a a classic, simple WM that has a good chance of already being on your harddrive. Many ideas from twm were taken into modern WM's.

twm (Tom's Window Manager or Tab Window Manager) is the standard window manager for the X Window System, version X11R4 onwards. It is a re-parenting window manager that provides title bars, shaped windows and icon management, and is extensively configurable.

twm was a breakthrough achievement in its time, but has been largely superseded by other window managers and is no longer maintained. Despite being obsolete, it made a strong impact on the development of X window managers. Many others, such as swm (also by LaStrange), vtwm, tvtwm, ctwm, fvwm and their derivatives, were built on its code, while many others used concepts pioneered by it.

Although it is generally regarded as the window manager of last resort, a small but dedicated minority of users favor twm for its simplicity, light weight — rather than being written to a widget toolkit, it is written in C directly against Xlib — and tremendous customizability. twm is still standard with the X.Org reference implementation and is available as part of many X distributions.

metacity
Homepage: http://www.gnome.org/softwaremap/projects/metacity/ (Down)

This is the default WM used in Gnome (see above), and can be used on its own.

Metacity is a window manager for the X Window System, and is the default window manager for the GNOME desktop environment. It was developed by Havoc Pennington and is released under the GNU General Public License.

Before the introduction of Metacity in GNOME 2.0, GNOME used Enlightenment and then Sawfish as its window manager. Although Metacity is part of the GNOME project and designed to integrate into the GNOME desktop, it does not require GNOME to run, and GNOME can be used with different window managers.

AfterStep
Homepage: http://www.afterstep.org/

This is a WM that I have never used, and the homepage doesn't look too appealing to me, but it could be your style.

AfterStep is a window manager for the X Window System. AfterStep originally was a variant of FVWM modified to resemble NeXTSTEP, but as developers (who included Alfredo Kojima and Guylhem Aznar), this window manager further diverged from its FVWM roots.

It currently includes several modules including a pager, WinList (which helps to manage windowed applications), and a docking feature called the Wharf (which manages applets). AfterStep also supports virtual screens, and relies on a set of text-based configuration files for customizing its appearance.

For the upcoming release 2.0, currently in development, its current maintainer Sasha Vasko has rewritten AfterStep to use the functionality of the new asimagelib graphics libraries.

Sawfish (Sawmill)
Homepage: http://sawmill.sourceforge.net/

Sawfish is an alternative wm for gnome, and is highly configurable. (Thanks hawke)

Sawfish is a window manager for the X Window System. Formerly known as Sawmill, the program acquired its present name after legal problems.

Distinctively, Sawfish uses a LISP-like scripting language, rep, for all of its code, making it particularly easy to extend. For example, it can incorporate keybindings for XMMS.

Sawfish does not come with a panel and is often used with the GNOME desktop environment.

The latest released version, 1.3, was released on March 24, 2003.

icewm
Homepage: http://www.icewm.org/

icewm is designed at being easy to use, but not bloated. I don't know too much about this one personally. Arkaine says that this is a nice WM when using VNC, and that it is windows 95-esque.

IceWM is a window manager for the X11 Window System. The goal of IceWM is speed, simplicity, and not getting in the user's way.

Enlightenment
Homepage: http://www.enlightenment.org/

Enlightenment is loaded with modern looks. I'm going to try this one out myself before too long.

Enlightenment is a window manager for the X11 windowing system. Its design goal is to be as configurable as possible - in look AND in feel.

FVWM
Homepage: http://www.fvwm.org/

FVWM is very lightweight, and is very configurable.

F Virtual Window Manager (the F currently has no official meaning as the original author apparently forgot what it was originally intended to mean) is a virtual window manager for the X Window system. Originally a twm derivative, fvwm has evolved into a powerful and very highly configurable environment for UNIX systems.

evilwm
Homepage: http://www.6809.org.uk/evilwm/

Very lightweight WM.

A minimalist window manager for the X Window System.

'Minimalist' here doesn't mean it's too bare to be usable - it just means it omits a lot of the stuff that make other window managers unusable. Here is a list of features:

  • No window decorations apart from a simple 1 pixel border.
  • No icons.
  • Good keyboard control, including repositioning and maximise toggles.
  • Solid window drags (compile time option - may be slow on old machines).
  • Snap-to-border support (command line option).
  • Virtual desktops (compile time option).
  • Small binary size (even with everything turned on).

ratpoison
Homepage: http://www.nongnu.org/ratpoison/

Same ideas as evilWM.

Ratpoison is a simple Window Manager with no fat library dependencies, no fancy graphics, no window decorations, and no rodent dependence. It is largely modelled after GNU Screen which has done wonders in the virtual terminal market.

ion
Homepage: http://modeemi.fi/~tuomov/ion/

Continuing the same ideas here...

Ion was written as an experiment on a different kind of window management model. It tries to address the navigation problem by dividing the screen into mutually non-overlapping frames that take up the whole screen. Big displays have so much space that this should be convenient and smaller displays couldn't show more than one window at a time anyway. The frame layout is, of course, dynamic and different on each workspace. Given the organised tree based instead of an unorganised coordinate-based frame layout, moving between the frames can be conveniently done from the keyboard. As in PWM, the frames may have multiple clients attached, each indicated with a tab.

pekwm
Homepage: http://pekwm.org/

This is a small WM similiar to the *boxes.

The Pek Window Manager is written by Claes Nästen, the code is based on the aewm++ window manager, but it has evolved enough that it no longer resembles aewm++ at all. It has a much expanded feature-set, including window grouping (similar to ion, pwm, or fluxbox), autoproperties, xinerama, keygrabber that supports keychains, and much more.

  • Lightweight and Unobtrusive, a window manager shouldn't be noticed.
  • Very configurable, we all work and think in different ways.
  • Automatic properties, for all the lazy people, make things appear as they should when starting applications.
  • Chainable Keygrabber, usability for everyone.

blackbox
Homepage: http://blackboxwm.sourceforge.net/

Blackbox is (one of?) the orignal *box(es).

Blackbox is that fast, light window manager you have been looking for without all those annoying library dependencies. If you have a C++ compiler and the X Window System you can compile and use it. Blackbox is built with C++ and contains completely original code (even though the graphics implementation is similar to that of Window Maker).

fluxbox
Homepage: http://fluxbox.sourceforge.net/

This is the most popupular of the *boxes. I'm not sure why, but it seems to be the most popular WM from my experience.

It aims to be lightweight and highly customizable, with only minimal support for graphical icons, and only basic interface style capabilities. The basic interface has only a task bar and a menu accessible by right-clicking on the desktop. Fluxbox also supports user created keyboard shortcuts.

In accordance with fluxbox's goal of simplicity, the main menu, the keyboard shortcuts and the basic configuration are all changed by editing text files. Fluxbox's themes are 100% compatible with those of blackbox. Colors, gradients, borders, and several other basic appearance attributes can be specified; recent versions of fluxbox support rounded corners and graphical elements. Fluxbox also has several features which blackbox lack, including tabbed windows, a feature familiar from PWM, and configurable titlebar.

openbox
Homepage: http://icculus.org/openbox/

openbox is my personal favorite, unfortunately the development has nearly stopped, and there is a group of guys wanting to start a fork. (The last release was a joke)

Openbox is a standards compliant, fast, light-weight, extensible window manager.

Openbox works with your applications, and makes your desktop easier to manage. This is because the approach to its development was the opposite of what seems to be the general case for window managers. Openbox was written first to comply with standards and to work properly. Only when that was in place did the team turn to the visual interface.

Openbox is fully functional as a stand-alone working environment, or can be used as a drop-in replacement for the default window manager in the GNOME or KDE desktop environments.

Thanks to SewerBeing for a few ideas.

Also, if you are planning on running MythTV or something, you probably will not need a very fancy DE, so any of the *boxes or something similar should do just fine.

If you have any more WM/DE's you want me to add, just let me know.
 
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jnev_89

Member
Joined
Sep 2, 2004
i'm also calling for a sticky here, it sucks having all these noobs constantly asking what wm/de they should use.
 

eNightmare

Member
Joined
Feb 6, 2005
One more vote for sticky...

I'm surprised you included ratpoison. Its not for the weak. But great if you want heavy keyboard support.
 

Arkaine23

Captain Random Senior Evil
Joined
Nov 8, 2001
icewm deserves mentioning as a nice WM when using vnc, and to be called windows 95-esque.
 

Audioaficionado

Sparkomatic Moderator
Joined
Apr 29, 2002
What's the difference between Destop Environments vs window managers?

BTW icewm is the default window manager loaded up in Libranet Linux.
 
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electrorcamd

Member
Joined
Jul 27, 2004
Location
Belton, MO
Audioaficionado said:
What's the difference between Destop Environments vs window managers?
Basically, a window manager only manages the windows. It has little other functionality. A desktop environment provides a window manager as well as many other things. They provide tools for changing settings like the display resolution, keyboard settings, printing and things like that.
It's also in the very start of the op:
khiloa said:
* A DE provides icons, toolbars, applications, applets, and abilities like drag and drop.
* A WM controls the placement and appearance of application windows under the X Window System.

BTW, this is a good link for information on various window managers and desktop environments, as well as some information on the differences between them:
http://xwinman.org/
 

Audioaficionado

Sparkomatic Moderator
Joined
Apr 29, 2002
Then that's why I found KDE so much easier to use than IceWM. I couldn't figure out how to get the friggin' icons on the desktop and shortcuts going. It can be done in a WM as Arkaine did an excellent job with his Overclockix. I suppose if you always just open a console and launch via command line, you don't really need all the fluff of KDE. I like KDE because I'd rather just click on the everyday apps and only do command lines for the deeper maintenance and su-root stuff. Windows made me lazy. What can I say :shrug:

Thanx for the clarification :thup:

Edit: Now that I've taken the time to look at some of those WM sites, Enlightenment looks pretty darn good.
 
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Titeuf

Registered
Joined
Mar 7, 2006
Location
Belgium
Audioaficionado said:
Then that's why I found KDE so much easier to use than IceWM. I couldn't figure out how to get the friggin' icons on the desktop and shortcuts going. It can be done in a WM as Arkaine did an excellent job with his Overclockix. I suppose if you always just open a console and launch via command line, you don't really need all the fluff of KDE. I like KDE because I'd rather just click on the everyday apps and only do command lines for the deeper maintenance and su-root stuff. Windows made me lazy. What can I say :shrug:

Thanx for the clarification :thup:

Edit: Now that I've taken the time to look at some of those WM sites, Enlightenment looks pretty darn good.
(Almost) every WM/DE can have desktop icons:
it's included as default with Kde and Gnome but for others you can use a program like idesk to draw desktop icons.
But this isn't as user friendly as gnome and Kde, and you also shouldn't be afraid of editing lots of config files :)
 
OP
khiloa

khiloa

Open Source Senior
Joined
Jul 15, 2004
Location
/usa/sc/florence
There is gnome-look.org as well. :p I'll update this one soon. (I've been busy in alt. d/c projects lately)