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Choosing Your Window Manager and Desktop Environment

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Software

The Linux graphical user interface (GUI) system may be very different from what you are used to if you are coming from a Windows or Mac OS X background. The GUI of an operating system is commonly referred to as its shell. While virtually all versions of Windows since Windows 95 have used variations of the same basic shell (explorer.exe), there are numerous shells available for the Linux GUI. These Linux shells are called window managers and desktop environments. The term window manager is used to address the simple core user interface of a shell, while the term desktop environment is much more inclusive, covering the shell itself in addition to the various other programs that are integrated with it.

Due to the vast number of window managers available for Linux, many new users often feel overwhelmed at the idea of having to learn their way around them. We must emphasize that many people experiment with several window managers before settling down with one that feels right for them, and there certainly is no need to learn all of them. Due to their modular nature, it is common to have several window managers installed at once.

Much like part one of this series that dealt with choosing a distro, this guide will help you to choose a window manager/desktop environment by introducing you to several of them and addressing their strengths and weaknesses.

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