5.7. Desktop Environments

Contributed by Valentino Vaschetto.

This section describes how to install three popular desktop environments on a FreeBSD system. A desktop environment can range from a simple window manager to a complete suite of desktop applications. Over a hundred desktop environments are available in the x11-wm category of the Ports Collection.

5.7.1. GNOME

GNOME is a user-friendly desktop environment. It includes a panel for starting applications and displaying status, a desktop, a set of tools and applications, and a set of conventions that make it easy for applications to cooperate and be consistent with each other. More information regarding GNOME on FreeBSD can be found at http://www.FreeBSD.org/gnome. That web site contains additional documentation about installing, configuring, and managing GNOME on FreeBSD.

This desktop environment can be installed from a package:

# pkg install gnome2

To instead build GNOME from ports, use the following command. GNOME is a large application and will take some time to compile, even on a fast computer.

# cd /usr/ports/x11/gnome2
# make install clean

GNOME requires /proc to be mounted. Add this line to /etc/fstab to mount this file system automatically during system startup:

proc           /proc       procfs  rw  0   0

GNOME uses D-Bus and HAL for a message bus and hardware abstraction. These applications are automatically installed as dependencies of GNOME. Enable them in /etc/rc.conf so they will be started when the system boots:


After installation, configure Xorg to start GNOME. The easiest way to do this is to enable the GNOME Display Manager, GDM, which is installed as part of the GNOME package or port. It can be enabled by adding this line to /etc/rc.conf:


It is often desirable to also start all GNOME services. To achieve this, add a second line to /etc/rc.conf:


GDM will start automatically when the system boots.

A second method for starting GNOME is to type startx from the command-line after configuring ~/.xinitrc. If this file already exists, replace the line that starts the current window manager with one that starts /usr/local/bin/gnome-session. If this file does not exist, create it with this command:

% echo "exec /usr/local/bin/gnome-session" > ~/.xinitrc

A third method is to use XDM as the display manager. In this case, create an executable ~/.xsession:

% echo "#!/bin/sh" > ~/.xsession
% echo "exec /usr/local/bin/gnome-session" >> ~/.xsession
% chmod +x ~/.xsession

5.7.2. KDE

KDE is another easy-to-use desktop environment. This desktop provides a suite of applications with a consistent look and feel, a standardized menu and toolbars, keybindings, color-schemes, internationalization, and a centralized, dialog-driven desktop configuration. More information on KDE can be found at http://www.kde.org/. For FreeBSD-specific information, consult http://freebsd.kde.org.

To install the KDE package, type:

# pkg install x11/kde4

To instead build the KDE port, use the following command. Installing the port will provide a menu for selecting which components to install. KDE is a large application and will take some time to compile, even on a fast computer.

# cd /usr/ports/x11/kde4
# make install clean

KDE requires /proc to be mounted. Add this line to /etc/fstab to mount this file system automatically during system startup:

proc           /proc       procfs  rw  0   0

The installation of KDE includes the KDE Display Manager, KDM. To enable this display manager, add this line to /etc/rc.conf:


A second method for launching KDE is to type startx from the command line. For this to work, the following line is needed in ~/.xinitrc:

exec /usr/local/bin/startkde

A third method for starting KDE is through XDM. To do so, create an executable ~/.xsession as follows:

% echo "#!/bin/sh" > ~/.xsession
% echo "exec /usr/local/bin/startkde" >> ~/.xsession
% chmod +x ~/.xsession

Once KDE is started, refer to its built-in help system for more information on how to use its various menus and applications.

5.7.3. Xfce

Xfce is a desktop environment based on the GTK+ toolkit used by GNOME. However, it is more lightweight and provides a simple, efficient, easy-to-use desktop. It is fully configurable, has a main panel with menus, applets, and application launchers, provides a file manager and sound manager, and is themeable. Since it is fast, light, and efficient, it is ideal for older or slower machines with memory limitations. More information on Xfce can be found at http://www.xfce.org.

To install the Xfce package:

# pkg install xfce

Alternatively, to build the port:

# cd /usr/ports/x11-wm/xfce4
# make install clean

Unlike GNOME or KDE, Xfce does not provide its own login manager. In order to start Xfce from the command line by typing startx, first add its entry to ~/.xinitrc:

% echo "exec /usr/local/bin/startxfce4 --with-ck-launch" > ~/.xinitrc

An alternate method is to use XDM. To configure this method, create an executable ~/.xsession:

% echo "#!/bin/sh" > ~/.xsession
% echo "exec /usr/local/bin/startxfce4 --with-ck-launch" >> ~/.xsession
% chmod +x ~/.xsession

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