Desktops for Linux - An Overview

  1. Desktops currently available

    • KDE (The K Desktop Environment)

      This is my main desktop, and will be the basis for most of this presentation

    • Gnome (The Gnu Network Object Model Environment)

      I will feature the GNOME desktop in the October meeting of the Linux SIG.

      This is a newer desktop environment, and is built entirely on free software. It provides roughly the same features as the KDE, although it is still in early beta (0.26)

    • TkDesk

      At first glance, TkDesk looks like more of a utility app than one of the desktop environments as described above. It is a configurable button bar similar to the NeXTSTEP dock or the fvwm GoodStuff module, but includes several small programs for file management, text processing and man page reading.

      Since it is built for an older release of Tcl/Tk, you might not be able to (easily) run it with a newer Linux distribution. Christian Bolik, creator of TkDesk, says on his website that this problem will soon be resolved. He also kindly gave me permission to include the following text and information from his website.

      TkDesk is a graphical desktop and file manager for several brands of UNIX (such as Linux) and the X Window System. It offers a very rich set of file operations and services, and gives the user the ability to configure most aspects of TkDesk in a powerful way. The reason for this is the use of Tcl/Tk as the configuration and (for the biggest part of TkDesk) implementation language. Another benefit of using Tcl/Tk is that TkDesk is very portable and runs on virtually any UNIX platform.

      TkDesk has been influenced by various other systems and file managers: NeXT, for laying out the file browser windows, Apple Finder, for the idea of file annotations and, (shock horror), Windows 95, for some other (of course minor and unimportant ;-)) inspirations.

      This is what TkDesk (or rather: a part of TkDesk) looks like.

      (Regarding the Tcl/Tk version mentioned earlier)
      The good news is though that it's not a problem to have both Tcl/Tk 8.0 and Tcl 7.6/Tk 4.2 that is required by TkDesk installed on the same machine, you just need to choose different installation directories. You'll find more on this in the file INSTALL that comes with TkDesk. And if you're running Linux, you may even fetch the static binaries and don't need to install Tcl/Tk at all.

      The following is an overview of the features of TkDesk:

      • Arbitrary number of automatically refreshed file browsers and file list windows
      • Configurable file-specific popup-menus
      • Drag and drop
      • Files and directories may be dropped onto the root window a.k.a. desktop
      • Configurable application bar, with several displays (currently date, load, mail, state of dial-up link) and cascaded popup menus for each button
      • History of visited directories, opened files, executed commands, and others, which is automatically saved to disk
      • Find files through their annotation, name, contents, size, ownership or age
      • Trash can for safe "deletion" of files and directories
      • Calculation of disk usage for directory hierarchies
      • All file operations (find, copy, disk usage, etc.) are carried out in the background
      • Traversal of directory hierarchies through recursive cascaded menus
      • Bookmarks, create menu entries for often used files/directories
      • Built-in multi-buffer editor, providing virtually o unlimited undo
      • Comprehensive hypertextish online help, the complete TkDesk User's Guide is available online (TkDesk also comes with a PostScript version of this guide)
      • Remote control of Netscape and XEmacs
      • Sound support
      • Powerful on-the-fly configuration of nearly all aspects of TkDesk through Tcl/Tk, allowing for unlimited extensibility
      • As TkDesk is distributed under the terms of the Gnu General Public License, it is free of charge!

      There is a very good article about TkDesk in the March, 1998 issue of the Linux Journal. That article is unfornately not available on-line.

    • XFCE

      This is a opensource lookalike of the CDE, a commercial UNIX desktop environment seen commonly on newer SparcStations, HP-UX machines, and other proprietary vendor-supplied UNIX.

      Newer versions of XFCE include its own Window Manager, xfwm, but there is no requirement to use it. It supports some neat features like background management and color schemes.

      XFCE is built upon the Xforms library, which is free for non-commercial use.

      Olivier Fourdan, creator of XFCE, very politely gave me permission to use the following text and screenshot from his website:

      XFCE is a set of applications for the X Window System, including a Toolbar, a Window Manager and a Backdrop Manager, designed to provide an easy way to launch other applications of your choice and manage your working environment.

      Click here to see a snapshot of the default desktop under XFCE.

      There is a lot of different toolbars on X, and XFCE is yet another one, but XFCE is really easy to use and configure.

      Unlike many other programs on X Window, XFCE is entirely configurable with the mouse. No need to learn special syntax before writing a configuration file, XFCE does it itself!

      XFCE has a nice 3D look, and provides an interface to XFwm, the XFCE's Window Manager.

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Presentation by Tom Wheeler @ SLUUG Linux SIG -- 9/19/1998