What are Window Managers (WM) and Desktop Environments (DE)?
The default X Windows is extremely sparse. All it does is create windows, allow clients to draw to them, showing them on the server, and destroys windows. As far as a protocol and a platform, this is well in line with the Unix Way.
Window Managers provide the wrapper around each window. This wrapper usually provides a title bar, borders that allow you to resize the window, and buttons such as "maximize" and "close". Window Managers also manage which windows are on top. Even with a window manager, there are many things people expect that are missing, such as a taskbar, a launcher button, and short cut keys. These things, however, can be built on top of the window manager as distinct applications.
Desktop Environments include a window manager (although the window manager can usually be replaced with a similar one) and a suite of applications and tools to make the experience very rich.
What DEs are out there?
GNOME is probably the most American DE in Linux. It is well-funded and well-supported. However, I really don't like it. The reasons I don't like it are:
- I don't like GTK. I really, really like Qt.
- GNOME feels slow and foreign to me. I've been using KDE for the vast majority of my Linux history.
KDE is my favorite DE. It is very popular in Europe. It is a very chaotic DE. The recent KDE 4 launch dramatically changed the experience. I still don't know if it was the best way, but it certainly feels like it is better than KDE 3.
What WMs are out there?
- BlackBox: Very minimal.
- FluxBox: Like BlackBox, but more features added.
- XFCE2: I had a good experience with this, although it is more of a lightweight DE than a WM.