Using Desktop and Productivity Applications

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The first thing you'll encounter when you use any operating system is the user interface. On Linux-based systems, the user interface is usually the X Window system (typically embodied as XFree86), and a desktop or window manager. After the desktop environment, many users consider the "office productivity" environment and similar tools to be the next most crucial software. This section describes the X desktop manager and a set of major productivity tools for the case study system.

Desktop Environment

The desktop environment is probably the most immediate and therefore comprehensive part of an operating system with which the user interacts. Thus, choosing the desktop environment for this case study defines the character of that environment.

On the other hand, choosing a desktop environment typically doesn't define the software you can and cannot use on your system. For example, choosing the KDE system does not prevent you from using programs written to work with the GNOME environment. From this perspective, then, the selection of a desktop environment does not greatly affect the selection of software you can use.

In other words, your choice of desktop environment is largely a matter of taste. It can have some impact on the way you work, but it usually doesn't prevent you from using a particular program. The worst case is probably excessive memory consumption. For example, if you normally use GNOME but run a KDE program, that program may need to load a variety of KDE-related shared libraries that will only be used by that one program; normally these libraries would be shared among many KDE programs, but they aren't used by GNOME programs.

The Selection: KDE

Observe the following details about the K desktop environment:

  • Location:

  • Version: 3.0

  • Package: Many packages; included with Red Hat 7.3

  • Description: A complete, full-featured, open-source X desktop environment, and related productivity tools

This case study was configured to use KDE. KDE was installed during the Red Hat Linux distribution installation (rather than after the fact) simply by selecting the KDE high-level package set. With few exceptions, each of the other programs mentioned in this chapter will work just fine with KDE, even if they're intended for a different environment.

In a nutshell, use whatever desktop environment you wish to. If you find yourself using many programs from another environment (such as using many GNOME programs if you're a KDE user), then you may wish to consider switching, but in the end it doesn't matter a great deal. Excellent documentation exists online for each of the major environments, so it's really quite hard to go wrong.

The Alternatives: GNOME, GNUStep, Sawfish, BlackBox, and FVWM

Perhaps the most popular competitor to KDE is GNOME. Both KDE and GNOME have been mentioned in this book several times, and are well-documented elsewhere. However, there is actually a substantial number of other desktop environments and window managers that are less well known than these two "giants." Table 14-1 lists several such environments, and provides URLs to information on them. Some of these environments are quite intriguing, so you may wish to check them out when making your own decision.

Table 14-1: Desktop Environments and Window Managers





Open source implementation of OpenStep


Scriptable via the LISP language


A minimalist window manager


A popular, classic window manager

Table 14-1 is by no means comprehensive. A simple search in your favorite web search engine will reveal several metric tons of X Window managers. You should take a look around and see if anything catches your eye.

At any rate, if you feel like this section has glossed over the desktop environment topic, you may be right. This book is about the distribution, tuning, and customizing of your system. These days, every distribution worth its salt includes packages of several window managers, and selecting a window manager is as simple as whipping out your package management tool (such as RPM or apt-get) and installing the correct files. Spending much time on something that's so old hat seems like a bit of a waste, especially when it doesn't matter a great deal. So, just choose what you like and move on!

Office Productivity

Many users swear by their office suites, and indeed such software has become a staple of modern computing. Several such suites are available for Linux systems. This section describes some of them.

The Selection: OpenOffice

I choose the OpenOffice suite for this case study primarily for its extensive support for importing and exporting files to other office suite formats. This ability becomes crucial when you need to interact with other people who may not use the same suite you do—such as when you're writing a book on tuning and customizing a Linux system! However, if this is not relevant to you, you may be able to use one of the alternatives listed later. Here are the details for OpenOffice:

  • Location:

  • Version: 1.0

  • Package: OOo_1.0.0_LinuxIntel_install.tar.gz

  • Description: A complete, open-source office productivity suite

Installing OpenOffice

OpenOffice is distributed from as a tarball—a .tar.gz file. Since it's not an RPM, you won't be able to use that tool to install and manage the program. Moreover, this means you have to install the software yourself manually. OpenOffice is a pretty large software package, and so the tarball includes an installation script, even for binary distributions.

Ultimately, you can treat OpenOffice the same way you treated Sun's Java Development Kit, as discussed in Chapter 13. That is, both are prebuilt distributions of large software projects in .tar.gz format. Essentially you just extract them, although in the case of OpenOffice you then have to run an installation script. Most of the techniques you read about in Chapter 13 also apply to OpenOffice, in terms of the need to update PATH variables, and so on.

However, there's one thing you'll need to keep in mind when installing OpenOffice, which is that unfortunately the installation is not really multiuser. Specifically, the user who runs OpenOffice has to own the installation files. This makes it impractical to install a single copy—such as in /usr/local or /opt—for all users to share. Each user must have her own copy, which can become quite a waste of disk space. (It is very likely that support for such multiuser installations will be added in a future version, however.)

Once you get past these difficulties, though, OpenOffice is a very capable application. You should check out the OpenOffice site at for more information.

The Alternatives: Koffice, Abiword, HancomOffice, Applixware, and Wordperfect Office

OpenOffice is not the only game in town. Table 14-2 lists several other office suites and productivity programs (though of course even Table 14-2 isn't an exclusive list). Some of them have RPM packages that can be installed (making configuration easy), whereas others use other packaging formats. Really, there's not much more to say than that; installing these packages will vary from simply installing the RPMs to more complicated procedures similar to those described in Chapters 8 through 13. You can also obtain source code packages for some, as well, and build the programs yourself.

Table 14-2: Office Productivity Applications





The KDE office suite; included with Red Hat Linux


Another open-source word processor


A commercial office suite


Another commercial office suite

Wordperfect Office

Another commercial office suite

Personal Finance

Personal finance software helps its user manage income, checking accounts, investment accounts, and so on. Such software is very popular among computer users, and competition in the area is fierce—at least, in the Windows world. Today, a few open-source personal finance software packages are available, though not quite as many as in the Windows world.

The Selection: GNUCash

GNUCash is the personal finance software chosen for this case study. GNUCash is a fairly straightforward and functional personal finance program, and should be easy to learn for anyone who's used such software before. Notably, GNUCash also supports several standard formats for personal financial data, giving it a degree of interoperation with electronic and web banking. Red Hat Linux 7.3 includes an RPM package for GNUCash, making installation trivial. Here are some details about GNUCash:

  • Location:

  • Version: 1.6.6

  • Package: gnucash-1.6.6-3.i386.rpm

  • Description: A personal finance manager

One thing to be aware of is that GNUCash uses the GTK+ X widget set. This means that while it works fine with KDE, the two aren't really integrated. Probably the biggest concern this raises is that GNUCash might consume more memory than it would if you were using GNOME (which is also based on GTK+), since they'd be able to share memory for the widget sets. This is unlikely to be a problem unless you have limited memory, though.

For documentation, users' manuals, and so on, see the GNUCash home page at

The Alternatives: Kapital

GNUCash appears to be the only release-quality open-source personal finance application. However, there is another alternative: the Kapital application produced by TheKompany. Kapital is not open source, and in fact is not even nocost; you'll have to purchase a license from TheKompany. Many users do find it superior to GNUCash, though, so it may be worth checking out if you're dissatisfied with GNUCash.

You can find information about Kapital at Once you've selected a personal finance manager (if you want or need one), you can read on to choose a web browser.

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Tuning and Customizing a Linux System
Tuning and Customizing a Linux System
ISBN: 1893115275
EAN: 2147483647
Year: 2002
Pages: 159 © 2008-2017.
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