This week, Linux just ushered in it.28th birthday. Since the early 1990s, Linux desktops have evolved from simple window managers to mature, complete desktops. So how exactly did it develop step by step? As a veteran user who has been using Linux since 1993, FreeDOS founder Jim Hall started with the original window manager and carefully combed the evolution of the Linux desktop ——
X and window manager
The first "desktop" on Linux is a window manager that runs on the X Window System. X provides the basic building blocks for the graphical user interface, such as creating windows on the screen and providing keyboard and mouse input. To run the X graphical environment, users need a way to manage all the windows in the session, which is where the window manager comes in. Run X programs like xterm or xclock and they will open in the window.
The window manager is responsible for tracking windows and performing basic task management, such as moving windows and minimizing them. The rest depends on the individual, you can start the program by listing X in the ~/.xinitrc file, but usually, the user will run the new program from xterm.
The most common window manager in 1993 was TWM, which dates back to 1988. TWM is very simple and only provides basic window management.
TWM on SLM 1.05, shown in the xterm, xclock, and Emacs editors
Another early window manager was the OpenLook Virtual Window Manager (OLVWM). OpenLook is a graphical user interface developed by Sun Microsystems in the 1980s and later ported to other Unix platforms. As a virtual window manager, OLVWM supports multiple workspaces.
OLVWM on SLS 1.05, pictured as xterm and Virtual Workspaces selector
When Linux became popular, creating a new window manager with smooth performance and improved interface didn't take much effort. The first of these new window managers is FVWM, a virtual window manager. FVWM is more modern than TWM or OLVWM. Of course, for modern people, TWM and FVWM may seem normal.
FVWM on SLS 1.05, pictured as xterm and file manager
The Windows desktop at the time looked quite simple. Windows versions 1 through 3 use a normal launcher called “Program Manager”.
Program Manager and Notepad Editor on Windows 3.11
In August 1995, Microsoft released Windows 95 and changed the modern PC desktop environment. At the time, Windows 3.x looked awkward and ugly, and Windows 95 was obviously more fluid and beautiful. More importantly, Windows 95 has changed the definition of the desktop.
The Windows 95 desktop means integration. The program manager disappears and is replaced by the taskbar at the bottom of the screen, which allows you to start a new program with a simpler "Start” menu. The Windows 95 interface is more flexible and easier to use than previous versions of Windows and even other Linux window managers.
Notepad Editor on Windows 95
Linux developers are not outdone, creating a new version of FVWM that mimics the Windows 95 interface and is called FVWM95. The new window manager is still not a desktop, but it looks much better than before. The user can launch a new X program using the “Start” menu in the taskbar, and the taskbar also displays a running program using a button similar to Windows 95.
FVWM95 on Red Hat Linux 5.2
While FVWM95 and other window managers are constantly improving, the core issue remains: Linux does not really have a desktop. It only has a series of window managers.
First Linux desktop
In 1996, Matthias Ettrich wanted to integrate everything together, just like a real desktop. So he began to study the K Desktop Environment (KDE) and completed it in July 1998. KDE 1.0 has a significant improvement over the normal window manager like FVWM95.
KDE represents a major advancement in Linux, and since then Linux has true desktop application integration and more modern desktop icons.
KDE is designed to be similar to Windows 95. It has a taskbar at the bottom of the screen that provides a shortcut to Windows 95's start menu and several applications. In addition, KDE also supports virtual desktops.
But not everyone is satisfied with KDE. To abstract the GUI from the system, KDE uses Trolltech's Qt toolkit library. Unfortunately, Qt is not released under a free software license. Trolltech allows Qt to be used free of charge in free software applications, but it costs to use it in commercial or proprietary applications. This puts the Linux distribution in a dilemma: Should KDE be included? Or use an older but free software graphical user interface, such as FVWM?
Soon, things have changed. Miguel de Icaza and Federico Mena began working on the new Linux desktop in 1997. This new project is called GNOME and is used in the GNU Network Object Model environment. GNOME is designed to be completely free software and uses a different toolkit from the GIMP Image Editor, the GTK (GIMP Tool Kit).
When GNOME 1.0 was finally released in 1999, Linux had a modern desktop environment.
Since then, KDE's competition with GNOME has continued for some time. In 1999, Trolltech re-released the Qt library under the new Public License ——Q Public License (QPL). However, the new license is still limited, and QPL only applies to Qt's use in open source software projects, not commercial projects. Therefore, the Free Software Foundation believes that QPL is not compatible with the GNU General Public License (GNU GPL). This licensing issue will continue until Trolltech re-releases the Qt library under the 2000 GNU GPL Release 2.
The Linux desktop continues to mature. KDE and GNOME enter a healthy competition and promote new developments. By 2004, both GNOME and KDE had made significant progress, but only incremental changes were made to the user interface.
KDE 2 and 3 continue to rely on the taskbar concept at the bottom of the screen, but include buttons for running the application. One of the most obvious changes to KDE was the addition of the Konqueror browser, which first appeared in KDE 2.
KDE 2.2.2 (2001)
KDE 3.2.2 (2004) on Fedora Core 2
GNOME 2 also uses the taskbar concept, but it splits the bar into two parts: the top of the screen is used to launch the application and respond to desktop alerts, and the running application is displayed at the bottom of the page. In addition to a simplified user interface, GNOME has added a file manager called Nautilus, developed by Eazel.
GNOME 2.6.0 (2004) on Fedora Core 2
Over time, KDE and GNOME have taken different development paths. Both offer feature-rich, powerful, and modern desktop environments, but they have different user interface goals. 2011 can be said to be a watershed between GNOME and KDE. KDE 4.6 (January 2011) and KDE 4.7 (July 2011) provide a more traditional desktop while continuing to rely on the taskbar concepts familiar to many users. From the appearance, KDE has not changed much.
The other side of GNOME completely changed its direction in 2011 with a new desktop concept. GNOME 3 is designed to create a more streamlined desktop experience that allows users to focus on what they are doing. The taskbar disappears and is replaced by a black status bar at the top of the screen that includes volume and network controls, display time and battery status, and allows the user to launch a new program from the redesigned menu.
Choose the right desktop
Some people like KDE, some people like GNOME, choose the one that suits you best. To be sure, both KDE and GNOME have critics and supporters. Perhaps the most famous critics are Linus Torvalds, who in 2011 loudly condemned GNOME as "unholy mess" and gave up on it, but returned again two years later.
Many others have similarly criticized GNOME 3, so that some developers fork the GNOME 2 source code and create a MATE desktop. MATE inherits the traditional taskbar interface of GNOME 2.
In any case, there is no doubt that the two most popular Linux desktops today are KDE and GNOME. Their current versions are very mature and feature rich. Both KDE 5.16 (2019) and GNOME 3.32 (2019) attempt to simplify the Linux desktop experience, but in a different way. GNOME 3.32 continues to target the simplest look and remove all distracting user interface elements so that users can focus on the application and work. KDE 5.16 still uses the more familiar taskbar approach, but adds other visual improvements, especially improved icon and widget handling.
Compatibility libraries are available for every major Linux distribution, so compatibility is not lost, and users can run KDE applications on GNOME and vice versa.
The benign competition between KDE and GNOME makes it possible for both camp developers to break through, which is a good thing. Whether you're using KDE or GNOME, you have a modern desktop with a high level of integration.
Most importantly, this means that Linux has the best features in free software: choice.
This article is translated from:Opensource.com