Gtk+ and Desktop Environtments

A desktop environment is a collection of applications and system libraries that provide a unified look and feel to a X Window installation. The necessity of a desktop environment arises from the distributed nature of X, where each responsibility is handled by a different process or application.

In traditional graphical interface systems, such as Windows, or Mac OS, there is just one standard of user interface that is dictated by the vendor of the operating system. On the other hand, X was created as a multi-vendor system, where each company is responsible for creating its own user interface widgets. In other words, the look and feel of the UI can change dramatically from system to system.

In order to address this difference, X Windows systems have created desktop environments to provide uniformity. A desktop environment defines the look and feel of elements such as the window manager, the toolkit, and the applications that define how they work together.

Major examples of desktop environments are CDE, KDE, and Gnome.

In a modern Linux or UNIX distribution, one of these desktop environments will be selected as the main user interface. Based on the desktop environment, distributions will tweak the look and feel of the system to provide things that all clients depend on. For example, you will see a desktop application with familiar icons, probably a toolbar with common applications and application groups.

One of the things that a desktop environment provides is a unified way to customize the environment. For example, the Gnome platform has a control panel that can be used to change properties for several features in the system. For example, one can define the color scheme used by the UI, as well as the shape of window frames, and other properties.

Since desktop environments a complex to support and use, distributions tend to use a major desktop environment. For example, most Linux distributions use either Gnome or KDE as a major desktop environment. While there are other options available, such as GnuStep, they are less used and supported.

Gtk+ can in principle be used with any desktop environment. However, applications developed for a specific environment tend to use the same toolkit in order to maintain the look and feel. Therefore, applications using Gnome will typically use Gtk+, while applications developed for KDE will use Qt. While the applications themselves will work on either environment, they coexist better with similar applications.

Tags: environment, desktop, CDE, Unix, Linux, programming, Gtk
Article created on 2010-08-19 11:25:46

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