To make a useable desktop environment, you need to collect several small and large programs—text editors, image viewers, web browsers, mail readers, calculators, xterm programs, and more. Precisely what programs are important is of course a very personal question, so I can't provide you with a list. Presumably you have some idea of what you need, though.
One place to look for these applications is in the established desktop environments—primarily KDE and GNOME, but also XFce and even others, such as ROX. Even if you don't use the entire environment, you can use small or large programs from these environments in your custom environment. For instance, I have, from time to time, used tools such as KDE's KPPP and GNOME'S gEdit from custom environments.
Another way to locate applications is to use a GUI package management tool (such as the ones described in Chapter 11, "Managing Packages") to browse the programs that are installed on your system or that are available with your distribution. Chances are you'll be able to find packages for many of the small tasks you may need to do. The package manager provides tools to help you locate the executable file, so you can test the programs from an xterm and then modify your window manager or file manager configuration to provide an easy way to launch the program.
Many Linux websites provide guides to help you locate both major and minor programs. Two particularly useful starting points are http://www.linuxapps.com and http://www.linux.org/apps/, both of which list categories on their main pages and subcategories under that.
Once you've selected applications, you need an easy way to launch them. Window managers invariably provide some sort of configuration file or directory, usually dot files named after the window manager; for instance, -/.icewm is the configuration directory for IceWM. This file or directory contains, among other things, information on a list of programs that can be launched from whatever program-launch facility the window manager supports. Many, but not all, file managers support a similar feature. Some file managers enable you to configure their file-launch facilities from the running file manager rather than by editing a configuration file in a text editor.
Warning Some distribution configuration tools and program installation tools overwrite window manager and file manager configuration files without asking. For instance, Mandrake's Menu Drake is constantly overwriting my IceWM menu. Be sure to back up your configuration file so that you can recover from problems caused by overzealous automatic configuration tools.
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