The X Window System

The X Window System, known simply as "X", is a portable, network-transparent window system which runs on many different computers. It is frequently used in conjunction with the UNIX operating system. Popular platforms include workstations from companies such as Sun Microsystems Inc, and Silicon Graphics Inc, and standard IBM-PCs running Linux, which is a freely available implementation of UNIX, often including XFree86, a freely available implementation of X. This tradition of the entire system, including numerous applications, being released without a profit being made, makes the latter combination a particularly popular choice, and is preferred by many to less cost-effective, and sometimes less flexible offerings from mass-market operating system companies.

There have been numerous versions of the X Window System, but it was not until the eleventh version, known simply as "X11", that it was widely released and began to gain the popularity it enjoys today. Since then there have been many further releases which added extra functionality while attempting to remain largely backwards compatible. The current release is the sixth one, and is known as "X11R6" or simply as "R6".

Window Managers

One of the guiding philosophies of The X Window System (and also UNIX itself) is that its functionality is achieved through the co-operation of separate components, rather than everything being entwined in one huge mass (or should that be mess?). The advantage of this is that a particular part of the system can be changed simply by replacing the relevant component. The best example of this is the concept of a window manager which is essentially the component which controls the appearance of windows and provides the means by which the user can interact with them. Virtually everything which appears on the screen in X is in a window, and a window manager quite simply manages them.

Let's face it, people are different, and those that use computers use them in different ways for different tasks. So why do some think we should all use (suffer?) the same interface? Fortunately X doesn't suffer from this degree of rigidity, and to this end, a large number of window managers have been developed, which between them provide a large range of different appearances and different behaviours. Furthermore, most of these window managers are themselves heavily customisable. This means that a newcomer to X has firstly a choice of window manager, and then a choice of the precise configuration of the chosen window manager.

And on top of that, more recent developments have created a new breed of desktop environments which aim to provide a more complete interface to the operating system, and supply their own range of integrated utilities and applications. This convenience and ease of use makes them particularly attractive to new users, which has made them very popular in the rapidly growing Linux market, with distributors like Red Hat bundling the two main freely available desktops (KDE and GNOME).

That's where this site comes in - to guide you through the main options and illustrate what's available. It contains screenshots of the window managers and desktop environments, to help you chose which one to use, and example configuration files where applicable, to give you ideas for your own customization. In addition there are other sections discussing related topics such as installation, and some collections of icons and textures. There is also an interactive forum for posting relevant announcements and discussions, and a voting page to express your opinions, and see how many people agree with you. I hope you find the site useful...