LJ Archive

Red Hat CDE

Don Kuenz

Issue #45, January 1998

CDE provides a Graphical User Interface (GUI) to the X Window System.

  • Manufacturer: Red Hat

  • E-mail: info@redhat.com

  • URL: http://www.redhat.com/

  • Price: $79.95 US

  • Reviewer: Don Kuenz

During the summer of 1997, Red Hat began shipping a version of the Open Group's Common Desktop Environment (CDE). CDE provides a Graphical User Interface (GUI) to the X Window System. As such, it shares some of the functionality offered by other window managers such as Feeble Virtual Window Manger (FVWM). A key difference between CDE and the others is that many of the leading Unix vendors provide a CDE package for their own native platform (AIX, Solaris, et al.) This means that users in a heterogeneous Unix environment need learn only one GUI, regardless of the underlying platform.

CDE's GUI is centered around a movable toolbar, which sits at the bottom of each of four workspaces. A workspace occupies one full screen and you can navigate between workspaces by clicking on a workspace panner, which is located in the center of the toolbar. CDE also features drag and drop functionality along with tear off menus.

What's Included?

Red Hat's Client Edition comes with a short Install booklet, a 300 page Advanced User's and System Administrator's Guide and a CD-ROM. The CD-ROM contains both software and lots of additional documentation. The User's Guide is well written with an elegance on par with Kernighan and Ritchie's The C Programming Language.

The Open Group bundles several new applications with CDE. Of these new applications, I use dtterm, dtpad and dtfile the most.

dtterm is meant to replace xterm and incorporates most of the functionality of xterm, adding a handy menu bar that allows you to cut, paste and set options. dtpad reminds me of Microsoft's Notepad. It uses ctrl-c, ctrl-v and Ctrl-x as hot keys to copy, paste and delete. If you spend any time using Windows, you should feel comfortable using dtpad. dtfile is a file manager that supports drag and drop as well as the normal options found in most file managers.


Running a simple script allowed me to perfectly install CDE over Red Hat Linux. But, CDE balked after I tried to slam-dunk (ignore all documentation, start the install script and press the enter key at each prompt) it over Slackware Linux. I'll take the blame for that failure, but it points out that you should carefully read the installation booklet if you install on a platform other than Red Hat.

Room for Improvement

In a CDE environment dtlogin replaces the command-line login. You enter your user ID with a password, and away you go—unless you are trying to login as root. In that case dtlogin denies the login. (See below for a workaround.) Red Hat needs to improve their install script to create a proper environment for root logins.

One other tiny improvement that Red Hat could make is to glue the User's Guide CD-ROM holder right side up. Somebody glued mine in upside-down.

The Open Group provides a generic login script, which causes some confusion in the Linux community. CDE sources a file named $HOME/.dtprofile to set up its environment. A comment at the bottom of .dtprofile implies that you can also source $HOME/.profile by setting DTSOURCEPROFILE=true, but that only works if you happen to use sh or csh as your shell. Unfortunately, most Linux distributions use bash, a shell that also sources $HOME/.profile.

Workaround for the root dtlogin Problem

The easiest way to handle this problem, especially on a stand-alone system, is to use Linux's virtual console. Most Linux distributions create four or more virtual consoles during the install process.

The only trick to using virtual consoles is knowing how to jump to them. To jump to the first virtual console, you press alt-F1. To jump to the second you press alt-F2 and so on. alt <- or alt -> cycles you through all of the consoles and displays, so to return to the CDE display you need to keep pressing one of those two combinations. With high resolution monitors, CDE requires a few seconds after you jump to it before it fires up. As you cycle through the screens, you can detect the CDE display because it's the only one that's blank—the remaining screens display a command-line prompt.


If you administer a heterogeneous Unix environment, it's a good bet that CDE can make your life easier by standardizing an X environment across all platforms. CDE also helps programmers develop and deploy cross-platform X applications with a minimum of fuss.

As a developer, CDE's four workspaces help me reduce clutter on my display. During a typical development session I'll open a terminal process in one workspace, use Netscape Navigator in a second workspace, use ghostview in a third and use xxgdb in the fourth.

I am very happy with my purchase. Red Hat delivers a solid product with good documentation that is well worth the purchase price of $79.95US plus shipping. Red Hat also sells a Developer's Edition for $199.00US. If you enjoy a nice GUI, you too will like CDE. CDE lends a lot of credibility to Linux as a production environment.

In 1975 Don Kuenz wrote his first program on a teletype machine connected to an HP computer, in BASIC. Don currently operates the software consulting company Kuenzsoftware, located in Casper, Wyoming. He also teaches computer science classes at Casper College. In his spare time he plays the piano, peddles around on a mountain bike and flies planes. He can be reached via e-mail at dkuenz@wind.cc.whencn.edu.

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