Section 3.1. Why Use a Graphical Desktop?

If you plan to run your Linux machine as a server, there is no need to install any of the packages described in this chapter (unless you want to use graphical administration tools). X and the desktop systems require significant memory, CPU time, and disk space, and if your system never has a monitor attached to it, installing them is a waste of time and resources. Similarly, if you will just be doing programming and have no interest in viewing results graphically or using graphical integrated development environments (IDEs), you could well get by without these conveniences.

But for all other systems, KDE and GNOME make Linux appropriate for mass use. They do the kinds of things the average user expects his computer to do for him, such as the following:

  • Display many different kinds of content automatically when their icons are clicked, without the user having to specify the program used for display

  • Cut and paste both text and pictures from one window to another, even when these windows run different applications that store data in different formats

  • Save and restore sessions, so the user can log back in and pick up as much as possible just where she left off

  • Aid the user with hints as to where he is, such as thumbnail images and tool tips

  • Offer a wealth of beautiful backgrounds, screen savers, and themes

  • Allow a dizzying extent of customizationbut in a subtle way that allows most users to feel happy with defaults

To offer all these features, both KDE and GNOME require hefty computing power and memory. Modern hardware can handle them comfortably (and they're both getting trimmer over time), but some users prefer to use more lightweight graphical systems that lack some of the power. If you want something partway between a plain command-line console and the resource-intensive environments of KDE or GNOME, try the xfce window manager. It comes with many distributions and can be downloaded from, along with its documentation. With a much smaller footprint than KDE or GNOME, it offers a surprisingly rich range of features.

Because KDE and GNOME were designed to be intuitive and borrowed many ideas from other popular graphical environments, their basic use is intuitive for most computer users. In this chapter we'll explore some of the neat things that they and their key applications offer, but which you might not have found out through everyday experimentation.

Part I: Enjoying and Being Productive on Linux
Part II: System Administration