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Office Suite Evaluation: Manager

Initial Setup

All except are X-window or X-session managers. Normally you would exec the respective startup programs at the end of your .xsession file; or if you use the systemwide default .xsession, your distro should have an automated procedure for you to choose a window manager. For testing, the procedure was to put a separate program (xexit) at the end of .xsession, exit from the previous window manager, and start up the one being tested from the command line of an xterm. This procedure let me see all the error messages.

This is version 1.0. Just type openoffice (in /usr/X11R6/bin, already on a normal path) and a GUI-based setup program appears. With the default workstation installation it wants 1.3 Mb of local storage. Type the command again and the actual program starts up. If no filename is specified on the command line, this will be the writer. This version seems to open each application in a separate window; StarOffice 5.2 had one big window (taking over your whole screen by default) in which the various apps opened subwindows. By default the word processor opens first.


Having /opt/kde3/bin on your path, type startkde and it starts. You really don't have to do any dramatic setup to make it work nicely.

On logout, by default it saves your session so it can be restored when you login again. This includes browser sessions with their URLs. If your laptop is not connected to the network when you restart, this can be embarrassing.


You will want both /opt/gnome2/bin and /opt/gnome/bin on your path. It expects the FAM daemon (file access monitor) to be running and complains repeatedly if it is missing. Type gnome-session and it starts right up. No special setup is needed to start using Gnome (except starting FAM). There was one icon pixmap that could not be found. There were no error messages during actual operation, except for the window manager complaining that xmessage and LyX do not follow conventions it expects.

As with KDE, it wants to save your session on logout, so the identical set of clients can be started when you log in again.


I have never really looked at the default menus for fvwm2, having my own extensively customized .fvwm2rc file, but I believe they exist and are serviceable. Just type the command and it starts up and manages your windows.

General Appearance

The windows are big and gray. See the screenshots of any of the components.

KDE (screenshot)

It has a double-height toolbar at the bottom with lots of little goodies and icons. These are useful, but it gives a heavyweight feel.

Error messages are emitted by most but not all of the apps, sometimes quite a lot of messages. For the most part the programs seem not to be incapacitated.

One problem is that the help index should be co-resident with the help files, in a directory owned by root. It knows to ask for the root password, but something was ineffective in actually doing the su, so the help index was not created.

One thing I don't like is, it seems incapable of focus follows mouse which is typical of X-windows. But otherwise it's fairly easy and intuitive to use.

Mysteriously, my TCL editor kept getting seg faults when supervised by KDE.

Gnome (screenshot)

The default Atlanta theme has a Euro look with sans-serif titlebars. It is easy to switch themes, and I preferred Beautiful and Free. There is a top and bottom toolbar, each one line high, user icons at the bottom and system icons and menus at the top.

The Metacity window manager does not have SmartPlacement like fvwm2 has (open new window over the biggest free background area). It could also use EdgeResistance (window stops at edge and you have to push through the edge to move it to a neighboring desktop. Possibly the features are available but I did not look far enough into the help file to find them. Bummer: Metacity completely replaces my Xresources including my keybindings. Evidently I'm going to have to reconfigure the bindings using Gnome facilities.

Formerly Gnome used the Sawfish window manager. It made the desktop look like Los Angeles Harbor after the shipping strike, with wharves filled with icons and applets.

Gnome produces few if any gratuitious error messages; messages are always for problems that it really can't handle and that need to be reported to the user, like one missing icon pixmap, or the displaced help file for Gnumeric.


Office programs can always read files produced by the corresponding Microsoft programs, at least at some revision level; however, Microsoft keeps improving their products, and the latest features will not be supported by third parties. Generally the Linux programs can also write files which are readable by Microsoft products, but normally they have a native format which has some advantage, like compactness or support of Linux-specific features.

Some programs need to have their host window manager running, and some don't. The following table shows which programs work with which window managers. fvwm2 is a standalone window manager that does not come with a big suite of applications (it has a small suite of apps specific to managing windows). It is included to illustrate which programs work in a generic X-windows environment without the special functions of a particular desktop suite.
Program fvwm2 KDE Gnome YES YES YES
KDE Applications MostYES Most
 Konqueror (web browser)YESYES YES
Gnome Applications MostYES YES
 Gnumeric (spreadsheet)YES YES YES
Independent Apps YES YES YES

KDE applications, at least most of them, will start KDE services that they need, if not already running via the window manager. Gnome provides services mainly through shared libraries rather than daemons. Its apps generally will work in foreign environments too, but with occasional problems; for example, not being able to start a help viewer like KDE could.

Conclusion: As a whole, KDE seems to have a lot of loose ends (and also see its resource usage). Of the desktop environments, Gnome is less obtrusive and more finished. But on a multi-user system we should encourage people to use fvwm2 instead, and I am satisfied with it for my own use.

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