The Grand Unified Desktop

How developers and distributions can make diverse software work together better.
Menus and Icons

What is left to achieve a nice GUI? Menus and icons. A desktop entry standard that describes, regardless of the environment, how to build menus, how to launch each application and so on, already exists at It does have some limitations, namely the lack of a common place where .desktop files should be put and the hardwiring of menus, coming from the fact that they simply mirror how these files are located on disk. A virtual folder extension to the standard is being written to overcome these limits. Another specification with a similar scope is available to standardize icon locations and theme selection.

Ease of Installation

Yes, if you distribute the source, everyone can compile and install your program, but why make it hard for others to figure out why the program can't find which libraries are installed? Why hard code things so they will work only on one distribution? The Linux filesystem hierarchy from the LSB group is your friend here, whatever application you plan to write.

Conclusion and Credits

I have nothing against pure KDE or pure GNOME. I only hope that the next generation of desktop applications will make it easier for everyone to build his or her own environment from any combination of programs without sacrificing real functionality and performance. The methods and tools described here are a good way to build such applications, and I am grateful to their developers. Many thanks also to Havoc Pennington, Keith Packard, the members of the kde-devel list and everyone who answered on the web site to help me in writing this article.



Marco Fioretti is a hardware systems engineer interested in free software both as an EDA platform and (as the current leader of the RULE Project) as an efficient desktop. Marco lives with his family in Rome, Italy.


Articles about Digital Rights and more at CV, talks and bio at

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