By David Childers

The use of the text based command line for running applications or configuring computer systems can be a daunting task. Special commands must be used which may require additional modifiers to invoke the desired computer function. Both Desktop Environments and Windows Mangers provide a graphical method for users to control and configure a Unix operating system, without the need for using text based command line control. Graphical user interfaces eliminate the tedious memorization of text based commands.

Desktop environments are graphic interfaces that provide user control and configuration of a computer operating system in addition to installed applications. The graphic interface generally consist of menus, icons and background desktop images. It also allows users to manipulate items with the drag and drop function or use the point and click function to execute applications on the desktop itself.

The following are Open Source / Free Desktop Environment packages for the Unix operating systems. (Linux, OpenBSD, FreeBSD, NetBSD, and Solaris)

These desktop environments provide users with the ability to utilize software developed with various computer languages, and the ability to utilize the software on different computer hardware configurations.

kde logoKDE is based on the Qt 4 programming language and allows applications to be integrated within the desktop. KDE uses the KWin window manager.


gnome logoGNOME is based on the GTK+ programming language and allows applications to be integrated within the desktop. Gnome uses the Metacity window manager.


xfce logoXFCE is based on the the GTK+ programming language. Xfce uses the Xfwm window manager.

lxde logoLXDE does not have applications integrated into the desktop. LXDE uses the Openbox window manager.


The X window manager is an application that controls the function of the X Window System. It can be configured to manage the visual appearance of display windows and control panels. The X window manager also controls how users interact with these graphical interfaces.

The X Window System provides the system resources and software components necessary for the creation of graphical user interfaces (Windows Managers and Desktop Environments).

The following are the most common Open Source / Free Window Manager packages for the Unix operating systems : Linux, OpenBSD, FreeBSD, NetBSD, and Solaris.

These window managers provide users with the ability to utilize the software on different computer hardware configurations and provide various visual appearance.

- Blackbox is written in C++. It offers support for multiple workspaces.

- Fluxbox is based on Blackbox 0.61.1. It offers minimal support for graphical icons.

- Openbox was originally based on Blackbox 0.65.0. It allows users to utilize applications without a full desktop environment installed.

- Enlightenment can be used as a substitute for a complete desktop environment.

- IceWM was written in C++. It can be configured to recreate the visual appearance of various desktop environments.

- Window Maker provides drag and drop user control in addition to supporting multiple workspaces.

- Sawfish is written with a scripting language that is similar to Lisp. It provides very basic features.

- Metacity is written in GTK+. It was created for use with the Gnome Desktop Environment.

- MWM is based on the Motif toolkit. It does not support desktop icons or multiple workspaces.

- FVWM is based on TWM. It provides the ability to display a 3D visualization ( similar to MWM ) and supports basic multiple workspace.

- AfterStep was originally based on FVWM and was designed to provide a NextStep themed appearance.

- CTWM is based on TWM. It provides rudimentary GNOME desktop support and multiple workspaces.

Text based command line configuration and control can provide a comprehensive method for daily computer management and operation. Unfortunately, users are required to know the necessary unique commands and their unique structure that must be used. Graphical user interfaces alleviate that requirement and make the use of a computer both simple and effective.

You can find more information about these software applications here:

Dave Childers is a freelance Internet broadcast consultant, writer and webmaster of – The Winamp TV, NullSoft Video information website.