Ubuntu Desktop Options

There are two common Desktops in Linux; GNOME and KDE. GNOME uses GTK to configure the graphical interfaces. GTK website,(http://www.gtk.org) describes it like this:

“GTK+ is a multi-platform toolkit for creating graphical user interfaces. Offering a complete set of widgets, GTK+ is suitable for projects ranging from small one-off projects to complete application suites.

GTK+ is free software and part of the GNU Project.”

KDE was built with QT, a C++ development framework which is an alternative to GTK.

These different development platforms do create some issues when running one Desktop and trying to use programs created for the other Desktop. However, the newer versions of both KDE and GNOME are making attempts to bridge the remaining gaps so that there is more compatibility. But it does explain why  some programs created for GNOME are not typically available when using the KDE Desktop. Each of these Desktops, GNOME and KDE, are both available on most Linux distributions.

Window Managers

In addition to Desktop environments there are window managers that are separate programs that manage the windows and interface that you use. The reason you would explore the option of a different window manager is that it will use much less resources than the GNOME or KDE Desktop. However, less resources in terms of RAM and CPU means more basic features. In initial testing in similar settings for each these are the results. It is very clear that GNOME uses considerably more resources than any of the alternative window managers.


Desktop / Window Manager


GNOME (used as standard to measure against)



4.5 % of GNOME Resources


3.5 % of GNOME Resources


4.5 % of GNOME Resources


5.0 % of GNOME Resources


10.5 % of GNOME Resources


4.5% of GNOME Resources


5.0 % of GNOME Resources

Time to check out different desktops. Most distributions provide alternative desktops, KDE and Gnome. Each distribution has a default but an alternative is usually available. Evaluate desktops and window managers based on these features:

  1. Resource use – how much RAM and CPU power does the desktop require.

This information can be evaluated by opening a terminal and typing the command:


Close the top command by choosing CTRL + C

It will list current CPU usage and available RAM. Open programs and watch this change and document the changes so you can compare.


  1. Intuitive Design – as a user, how easy is it for you to know what to click or do to open programs and work with the operating system.

  2. Effort – some of these window managers require a great deal of effort on the part of a user who is using a graphical interface for all of their programs.

  3. Ease at Making Modifications – how easy is it to modify the desktop and window manager to the way that you want.


If you select System/Synaptic Package Manager you can add any of these window managers so that you can try them out. Each has features that you may love or hate but one feature that is inherent to all is a small footprint in terms of resources.

Install the window manager that you would like to use and then at the time of login choose Select Session and choose the window manager from the menu that you would like to use.




Here you can see the various window managers listed. Simply select the one you want to use and then login using that window manager. Be sure to try several and take notes on which one you like best. Remember, that all the applications are available from each window manager, it just may be a little different getting to the menu.


The IceWM has a menu that is available by clicking the icon in the lower left hand corner of the Desktop. The menu provides you easy access to applications. It tries to create a fast, simplistic window manager that does not get in the way of the user. It is efficient on resources, uses multiple workspaces, employs themes and can be used with a taskbar. IceWM is popular with many who use Linux Terminal Server Project because it offers ease of use and yet fewer resources are used by the diskless workstations. In a terminal server setting the network must carry the load of the desktop and the programs running on each workstation so less resources on the desktop and less usage on the server are all good.


The menu is easy to work with, has lots of options and will not take any time to adjust to.



Enlightenment provides very smooth looking desktop with excellent lines and image quality. However, it will take you some time to get used to the menu. If fact, a desktop tip will show up to help you figure out what you want to do.






Blackbox used the least amount of resources in the test, it was the most responsive when using it and considerably faster than GNOME. It looks nice the menu is a right click on the Desktop and is easy to figure out.


The menu includes adjustments to the Blackbox system and the ability to easily change to other window managers.

Here is another view of Blackbox demonstrating how plain you can make it. Blackbox is designed to be simple, an alternative to images, eye-candy and gadgets. The approach of Blackbox is minimalist, it will manage the windows that you want to use as a user and give you functionality but will not give you desktop icons, shortcuts, flashy menus, tools or gadgets. In fact, Blackbox by default does not have a taskbar.




Fluxbox is a basic window manager that has a basic menu that includes adjustments to the window manager and workspaces. You can see that you can run any applications, including Totem Movie Player.



OpenBox is a very basic Desktop that allows you to use the graphical options but is limited on visual effects. Here you can see the menu which is available with a right click. Applications will be found under the Debian category. OpenBox may be used in conjunction with GNOME or KDE as a window manager or it can be run alone. It is standards compliant, fast, light-weight and extensible.



WindowMaker is basic in that the right click gets a menu but it is one of the most difficult to get used to it's way of doing things. WindowMaker attempts to follow closely NEXTSTEP(tm)'s window manager in look and feel. It has the features of an application dock, gradient windows, multiple workspaces and a graphical configuration tool. WindowMaker has a lot of nice aspects that make it a possible alternative to GNOME or KDE, especially as it saves a great deal on resources.


The looks and the floating menus with themes draws a lot of users to this option as it has many of the features of a KDE desktop but at less resource cost.



The purpose of Fvwm is that it has a small footprint so that on startup it loads quickly and has the option to be completely configurable. Because the philosophy is to use separate programs for clocks, taskbars and animated effects, these are not a part of Fvwm. However, Fvwm does have the ability to customize mouse and keyboard events, run customizable menus, set behavior and styles on applications and set icons for windows. Below is an example of the default Fvwm. The modular concept of developing individual programs with the best qualities provides an interesting aspect of using Linux. Often Linux distributions will be loaded with 3 or 4 word processing programs while the user typically learns and uses one only. Choosing the best and sticking with that will certainly make using Linux easier and less space sensitive.


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