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Building an X Server and a Window Manager
Pages: 1, 2, 3

Once you have built X Server, you'll want to start customizing your desktop environment. If I type startx on a fresh X Server, the resulting windows may prove functional, but they look awful. If you're unsure which window manager to install, Matt Chapman's Window Managers site is an excellent resource that provides screenshots of the most popular window managers and desktops.



If you like simplicity, configurability, and a clean look to a desktop, Windowmaker and XFCE are good choices. They also perform well on older video cards and computers with as little as 16MB of RAM.

If you have a new video card and lots of RAM and like a desktop with the works, KDE or Gnome was meant for you.

The hardest part of building a Window Manager is deciding which to install. I like to build a new one every month, which gives me time to become acquainted with its features so I can rate it on looks, configurability, and performance. Every Window Manager has its own unique features you'll find you can't live without, as well as some irritating glitches you wish someone would fix.

If you configured your X Server in /stand/sysinstall, you'll be given the option to configure your desktop with a choice of KDE, Gnome, Afterstep, Windowmaker, or fvwm2. If you choose one of these, the installation will configure the desktop for root; once it's finished, you can open another virtual terminal, login as root, and type startx to see your new desktop.

To return to your other virtual terminals, use Ctrl-Alt-Fx where x is the number of the terminal you wish to access. To return to your terminal running X Windows, use Ctrl-Alt-F9. If you have two X Windows desktops running, you'll find the second one hiding at Ctrl-Alt-F10.

The file that contains the command to execute your Windows Manager is .xinitrc. If you type:

more /root/.xinitrc

you'll see that /stand/sysinstall created the necessary entries for you. If you want other users to use this Windows Manager, you'll need to copy this file to their home directory like so:

cp /root/.xinitrc /usr/home/username

If you build a Windows Manager from a package or port, or wish to have different users using different Windows Managers, you may have to edit .xinitrc by hand. Make sure you store .xinitrc in that user's home directory.

For Windowmaker, you'll need the line:exec wmaker
For Gnome with Afterstep:gnome-session &
exec afterstep
For XFCE:exec xfce

This should get you started with a Window Manager. In our next article, we'll look at configuring the Window Manager XFCE in more depth.

Dru Lavigne is a network and systems administrator, IT instructor, author and international speaker. She has over a decade of experience administering and teaching Netware, Microsoft, Cisco, Checkpoint, SCO, Solaris, Linux, and BSD systems. A prolific author, she pens the popular FreeBSD Basics column for O'Reilly and is author of BSD Hacks and The Best of FreeBSD Basics.


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