[SATLUG] Window Managers vs. Desktop Environments

travis+ml-satlug at subspacefield.org travis+ml-satlug at subspacefield.org
Wed Aug 25 19:02:21 CDT 2010

This is a very confusing post and I'm not sure I want to correct each
thing, so let me tell you what I believe to be the case.

xdm/kdm/gdm are just the graphical login screens.  They weren't
necessary when you loged in on a text console and ran "startx".
They're just there for people who think the command line looks old
fashioned, or people like me, who are lazy :-)

By default, your [xgk]dm is started by init(tab) on tty7 or tty8

Once you log in, [xgk]dm will start X and a "window manager" like KDE,
GNOME, or XFCE.  If you like XFCE or fvwm, you might also like
minimalist WMs like ratpoison (it kills the (need for a) mouse - get

I think that the window manager is also quite related to the GUI
toolkit, and possibly there are aspects like the "virtual file
systems" or VFS, which deal with what you see when selecting a file in
a dialog box (showing the mounted media and all that).  There may also
be issues related to some kinds of integration, such as drag and drop.

I like XFCE - use it on mythbuntu - but I can't figure out how to move
a window to another desktop.  In KDE I can define a keyboard shortcut,
but I couldn't figure it out in XFCE.

The "desktop environment", I think, is a way to refer to a choice of
all of these that work well together.  I don't think that there is any
reason why you can't run KDE apps on GNOME, or vice-versa, except that
while they're running you'll have two copies of all the GUI shared
libraries in memory.  Also, some of the integration, like drag and
drop or VFS, may not work the way you expect.

I don't see any reason at all why your choice of xdm/gdm/kdm should
matter; I think it gets entirely out of the way once you've logged in
and is therefore irrelevant.  I think the GNOME/KDE people are just
fragmenting to appeal to the masses, who judge things by their
outward appearances.

I personally wish they'd just pick something and stick to it, and have
it be configurable enough that you can have it do what you want.  I
seem to recall a WM called Guile that would let you program its
behavior in Scheme... it sounded kinda like EMACS, in a way.

Another thing that miffs me is that the configuration is stored in
weird places, and the format of those files may change when you
upgrade, so I end up having to set all my keyboard shortcuts up again
every time I upgrade my desktop.  The superficial changes they make in
GUIs really don't offset the annoyance I have at having to learn a
whole new way of doing things.  For example, to reset certain
NetworkManager states, you have to send a dbus command with five long,
non-intuitive arguments.  Why should anyone have to spend hours
learning what subsystem is involved, and how it works, just to do
something simple like fix wifi?
It asked me for my race, so I wrote in "human". -- The Beastie Boys
My emails do not have attachments; it's a digital signature that your mail
program doesn't understand. | http://www.subspacefield.org/~travis/ 
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