Window Managers

The X server itself knows how to display the output of a program, but it does not know how to manage the different programs that it is displaying — that is the job of the window manager. The window manager looks after the behavior of the application windows, their "decorations," the look and feel of their borders and control widgets (such as close and maximize buttons), the way they interact with the mouse and keyboard, and so on.

There are a variety of window managers that range from the very minimal, such as TWM, through slightly less sparse ones, such as FVWM2, up to the integrated desktop environments, such as KDE and GNOME.

Traditionally, a window manager on the X Window system on Unix was not particularly pretty, to say the least. If you log in to your SUSE Linux system and choose TWM as the window manager rather than the default, you will see what we mean.

If you choose the installation option "Minimal Graphical System,'' you get a system with the FVWM window manager and the xdm login manager. You may want to do this if you are installing SUSE on a server for which you do not need the use of a full-blown desktop but may occasionally need to run a graphical program (such as certain monitoring tools or the Oracle installer, for example).

Back in 1996, there was a general feeling that the available window managers running on X were sparse and lacking in features compared to the graphical environments available on Windows and the Mac. A primary concern was that X Window system window managers were fine at creating and managing windows and the graphical applications that created them, but did not support the greater ease of use that users of systems such as Microsoft Windows and Mac OS have come to expect. This led to the start of the KDE project. The idea of KDE was to go beyond a window manager that simply handled mouse and keyboard interactions and to create a unified desktop environment for users. In this unified environment, clicking a file in the file manager would launch the correct application, drag and drop would work between compliant applications, all applications would share a common look and feel, and so on.

KDE made rapid progress but became involved in controversy because it is based on the Qt toolkit (produced by Trolltech), which was issued under a license that was regarded by many as unacceptable. (Although the source code was open, it did not qualify as a free software license because it did not permit the redistribution of modifications.) Some people also feared that Trolltech could unilaterally change the terms on which it offered the toolkit, thereby derailing the project. The rival GNOME project with similar aims was started shortly afterward, partly in reaction to the controversy over the Qt license. GNOME used the GTK+ toolkit, which was part of the GNU project and licensed under the GNU Library General Public License (LGPL).

In due course, the controversy surrounding KDE was solved by a change in the license. At first, Trolltech sought to solve the problem by offering a free edition of Qt under a special open source license (the QPL), but controversy continued until Trolltech agreed to release Qt under a dual license (GPL and QPL), a solution that was satisfactory to all parties.

Both KDE and GNOME are now mature desktop environments. Traditionally, SUSE distributions offered both, but with a definite bias toward KDE, whereas Red Hat showed a bias toward

In mid-2003, Novell acquired Ximian (the commercial company employing many GNOME developers), and early the next year completed the acquisition of SUSE. This meant that there

You can choose the option ''Minimal Graphical System'' under ''Other Options'' on the screen early in the installation where the main choices are KDE and GNOME.

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