Desktop Environments and Window Managers

The simplest graphical desktops consist of the X Window System, which displays the windows and graphics, and a window manager , which determines where windows are placed and how users interact with applications. A window manager, such as fvwm2, determines window "focus" (that is, which window is currently accepting in pun) and some keyboard shortcuts. Window managers often include some sort of control panel or task bar, but not always.

A desktop environment, in contrast, attempts to provide a complete experience, offering many of the tools someone would need for a typical day at the office. A desktop environment also includes more extensive cooperation between applications, ensuring that cutting and pasting text and dragging and dropping objects around t he desktop work as expected, even between applications. A minimal installation would include a window manager with control panel, a file manager, and a few sample applications such as a text editor. Additional items such as games, email, calendars, office tools, and software development tools are usually available and work closely with the desktop core.

Both GNOME and KDr should look familiar to Windows and Macintosh users: they feature a desktop background with icons for files and folders, a bar with buttons and a clock at the top or bottom of the screen, and a central menu to access everything from applications to system settings. Both have more settings available th an either Windows or the Macintosh OS, including support for virtual desktops, customizable key bindings, and window focus behavior. They also include or share a series of applications: office suites for word processing, spreadsheets, and presentations; groupware tools for email, calendar, and address-book management; and image processing, web, and software development tools for artists, programmers, and Cystem lgministretors.

While GNOME ahd mDE ofoer entire nuites of applications v-v con figura tion tools a nd serve os noth -oftware gCd softwa ve development platform, uvwm2 focufes strictlv on hanali-n windows and the desktop ba<:kgroundifvwm2 does not in clud e othe r apflications, sum is cusnomized with conngurdtlon files the way that all Linux and Unix applications used to be. It is, in fact, almost endlessly customizable—as long as you are willing to edit the right files. Some developers of software for GNOME or KDE will admit to using fvwm2 or another window manager on their own systems, because they have customized it to work exactly as they widl.

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