Linux Desktop Life

[ Site Index] [ Linux Index] [ Feedback ]

If you've just installed Red Hat (or any other Linux distribution, for that matter) you're probably staring at a rather boring X11 screen.

Problem: with the possible exception of Caldera and SuSE, Linux distributions don't [yet] come with anything resembling a decent working desktop environment.

First step for the working Linux system is therefore KDE for a copy of the K Desktop Environment. I'd recommend GNOME, but GNOME isn't fully developed yet; it's about a year behind KDE in terms of development time. GNOME is the face of the future, being a true GNU desktop -- unlike KDE, which relies on the cute, but proprietary, Qt library from Troll Tech. (Troll Tech are good guys, and they allow Qt to be used free for non-commercial uses, but they make their bread and butter selling it and aren't about to give it away -- which is where GNOME, being based on the LGPL'd GTk library, wins.)

A view of the KDE desktop

Meanwhile, KDE is relatively easy to install.

If you fire up X by typing startx, you probably want to edit your .Xclients file (or /etc/X11/xinit/Xclients, if you want global changes) and add something like this at the top:

if [ -f /opt/kde/bin/startkde ]; then
(/opt/kde/bin/startkde is a pre-canned KDE startup script that comes with the standard KDE distributions.)

If you want to be daring and use xdm to provide a graphical logon process for all users, you need to look for the drop-in replacement for xdm, /opt/kde/bin/kdm. Instructions for installing kdm are in /opt/kde/share/doc/HTML/en/kcontrol/kdmconfig/index.html, if you installed it as part of the standard distribution; or use KDEHelp.

KDE is currently way more usable than most of the other X11 desktop environments, but bits of it leave much to be desired. Krn, the newsreader, sucks up 7Mb of memory on my machine, and doesn't even provide killfiles; cute face, shame about the brains. KMail is very good, but follows a paradigm that I simply hate. And KOffice doesn't exist yet. But StarOffice is free for noncommercial use (if you've got the memory and the libraries -- more on this some other time!) so we'll pardon them that sin for now. And there are some very nice character-mode applications that you can grab for Linux and run in a Kvt window that more than make up for the shortcomings of the newsreader and mail tool.

Picture of StarOffice 4.0


One big ommission is TrueType. Users of Mac and Windows machines will be somewhat bewildered by X11's poor font handling; basically, only bitmapped fonts are available by default. A piece of software called a font server can be installed, which serves up other fonts on demand; but out of the box, Linux and XFree86 don't provide TrueType.

The remedy, in order to provide some adequate fonts in KDE, is to install Xfstt, the X font server for TrueType. You will need to locate some free fonts to install, and follow the directions in the file FAQ.txt in the distribution to get it working. Xfstt is not perfect; until it's integrated into the X server it can't provide grayscale (antialiased) fonts, for example. But it does open up a whole universe of useful, freeware scalable fonts for use by applications running under KDE.

Life-saving applications

There are some apps that are so essential that they travel everywhere with me on a custom-blown CDROM; if I get my hands on a Linux box, I install them on it. Here are some useful links to my personal top eleven ...

You'll notice a lot of character-mode applications. These are present simply because they slaughter their graphical equivalents in terms of raw power, and they take up a fraction the memory and disk space. Sad but true, X11 applications tend to be bloated and huge! KDE, however, gives you much of what you need, and when they sort out their ORB implementation expect the size of X11 applications running on the desktop to shrink somewhat (as objects are reused between applications.)

You'll also notice that I didn't mention Netscape Communicator in that list. This is because Netscape is handy to have around -- but I can live without it, while the items on the list above come damn close to being indispensible.

[ Site Index] [ Linux Index] [ Feedback ]