Artists' Guide to the Linux Desktop, Part 1

The first in a series by our favorite artist to take a look at the most commonly used window managers.
Changing Window Managers

How do you use your window manager of choice? If you're using KDE or GNOME, you're probably logging in and everything is already set for you.

With GNOME, you can specify a separate window manager just by editing your $HOME/.Xclients file. You probably don't have one of these to start, but you can create it by hand. For example, to run GNOME with Window Maker, your .Xclients file would look like this:


KDE is a little different. It needs to start a couple of different programs. If you have the startkde script (available on Red Hat 6.x or similar systems, possibly on others), you can replace kwm in that script with the window manager of your choice.

Whether you start X manually (using startx, for example) or have it start automatically when you log in, modifying your .Xclients file should be sufficient to get your window manager going.

So that's an introduction to desktop environments and window managers. It can seem complex, but it really isn't hard to understand after you've used it for a while. As with anything new, unfamiliarity breeds contempt. You just need some time to make friends with this new world.

In the next article, I'll cover the Enlightenment window manager in depth. This will include issues on building, installing, configuring and using it. That will be followed by articles on Window Maker and AfterStep. In the end, you'll become familiar enough with these so that you can pick and choose from the many window managers available. At that point, your computer will no longer be someone else's idea of a desktop. It will truly be yours.

Michael J. Hammel ( is a graphic artist wanna-be, a writer and a software developer. He wanders the planet aimlessly in search of adventure, quiet beaches and an escape from the computers that dominate his life.