GNOME 2.0 Desktop for the Solaris Operating Environment User Guide

Chapter 2 Overview of the GNOME Desktop

This chapter introduces you to the features and main components of the GNOME Desktop. Before you start to use the desktop environment, read this chapter to familiarize yourself with the various features, and how the main components work. The desktop environment is very configurable, so this chapter describes the typical default configuration.

Introducing Desktop Environment Components

When you start a desktop environment session for the first time, you should see a default startup screen, with panels, windows, and various icons. Figure 2–1 shows a typical desktop environment.

Figure 2–1 A Typical Desktop Environment

A typical desktop environment. Callouts: Menu, Menu Panel, Desktop, Windows, Window List applet, Bottom edge panel, Workspace Switcher applet.

The major components of the desktop environment are as follows:

The most powerful features of the desktop environment are the high degree of configurability and the multiple ways that you can perform tasks.

The desktop environment provides interoperability of the desktop environment components. Usually, you can perform the same action in several different ways. For example, you can start applications from panels, from menus, or from the desktop.

Your system administrator can make configuration changes to suit your needs, so that the desktop environment might not be exactly the same as described in this chapter. Nevertheless, this chapter provides a useful quick guide to how to work with the desktop environment.


You can add or delete panels at any time. When you start a session for the first time, the desktop environment usually contains at least two panels, as follows:

You can perform the following actions with panels:

To Create Panels

To create a panel follow these steps:

  1. Right-click on a vacant space on any panel, then choose New Panel.

  2. Choose the type of panel that you want to create from the submenu. The panel is added to the desktop environment.

You can create as many panels as you want. However, you can only create one Menu Panel. You can create different types of panel to fit your own requirements. You can customize the behavior and appearance of your panels. For example, you can change the background of your panels.

To Delete Panels

To delete a panel, right-click on the panel then choose Delete This Panel.

To Hide Panels

Except for the Menu Panel, panels can have hide buttons at each end of the panel. You click on the hide buttons to hide or show the panel.

To Add Objects to Panels

A panel can hold several types of objects. The panel in Figure 2–2 contains each type of panel object.

Figure 2–2 A Panel With Various Panel Objects

A panel with various panel objects. Callouts: Calculator launcher, Menu, CD Player applet, Drawer, Lock button.

You can add any of the following objects to all types of panels:

To Manipulate Panel Objects

You can manipulate panel objects in the following ways:


You can access all desktop environment functions through menus. Your default panels contain menus, so you can use a combination of menus and panels to perform your tasks. The Menu Panel contains Applications and Actions menus. You can also add the GNOME Menu to your panels.

You can use the Applications menu and the Actions menu to access almost all of the standard applications, commands, and configuration options. You can also access the items in the Applications and Actions menus from the GNOME Menu. The items in the Actions menu are at the top level of the GNOME Menu.

To add a GNOME Menu to a panel, right-click on the panel then choose Add to Panel -> GNOME Menu. The GNOME Menu is represented by a stylized footprint, as follows:

GNOME Menu icon.

Click on the GNOME Menu button on a panel to open the GNOME Menu.

You can add as many additional menus as you want to any of your panels. To open a menu that you add to a panel, click on the menu icon on the panel. You can perform other actions on your menus, such as copy menu items to panels.

Windows in the Desktop Environment

You can display many windows at the same time in your desktop environment. Each window has a frame. The window frame contains active control elements that you can use to work with the window.

Types of Windows

The desktop environment features the following types of window:

To Manipulate Windows

You use the frame of an application window or dialog window to perform various actions with the window. Most of the control elements are located on the top edge of the window frame. Figure 2–3 shows the top edge of a frame for a typical application window.

Figure 2–3 Top Edge of Frame for a Typical Application Window

Top edge of application window frame. Callouts: Window Menu button, Titlebar, Minimize, Maximize, Close Window buttons.

The active control elements of the window frame are as follows:

Control Element 


Window Menu button

Click on the Window Menu button to open the Window Menu.


You can use the titlebar to move and shade the window.  

Minimize button

Click on the Minimize button to minimize the window.

Maximize button

You can use the Maximize button to maximize and restore the window.

To maximize a window click on the Maximize button. To restore the window click on the Maximize button again.

Close Window button

Click on the Close Window button to close the window.


Right-click on the border to open the Window Menu.

To change the size of windows grab the border of the window, but not the titlebar. Drag the border until the window is the size that you require.

To Give Focus to a Window

A window that has focus can receive input from the mouse and the keyboard. Only one window can have focus at a time. The window that has focus has a different appearance than other windows.

You can use the following elements to give focus to a window:




Click on the window, if the window is visible.  

Shortcut keys 

Use shortcut keys to switch between the windows that are open. To give focus to a window, release the keys. The default shortcut keys to switch between windows are Alt + Tab.

Window List

Click on the button that represents the window in Window List.

Workspace Switcher

Click on the window that you want to give focus to in the Workspace Switcher display.


You can display many windows at the same time in your desktop environment. Your windows are displayed in subdivisions of your desktop environment that are called workspaces. A workspace is a discrete area in which you can work.

Every workspace contains the same desktop, the same panels, and the same menus. However, you can run different applications, and open different windows in each workspace. You can display only one workspace at a time ion your desktop environment but you can have windows open in other workspaces.

Workspaces enable you to organize your desktop environment when you run many applications at the same time. When your current workspace becomes crowded with windows, you can move your work to another workspace. You can also switch to another workspace then start more applications.

Workspaces are displayed in the Workspace Switcher applet. In Figure 2–4, Workspace Switcher contains four workspaces. The first three workspaces contain open windows. The last workspace does not contain currently active windows.

Figure 2–4 Workspaces Displayed in Workspace Switcher

Workspace Switcher. The context describes the graphic.

To Switch Between Workspaces

You can switch between workspaces in the following ways:

To Add Workspaces

To add workspaces to your desktop environment, right-click on the Workspace Switcher applet, then choose Preferences. The Workspace Switcher Preferences dialog is displayed. Use the Number of workspaces spin box to specify the number of workspaces that you require.

Nautilus File Manager

The Nautilus file manager provides an integrated access point to your files, applications, and FTP sites. To open a Nautilus window, choose Applications -> Home Folder. The following figure shows a Nautilus window that displays the contents of a folder.

A sample Nautilus window. The context describes the graphic.

A Nautilus window contains the following panes:

Side pane

Enables you to navigate through your files. This pane also displays information about the current file or folder. The side pane is on the left side of the window.

View pane

Displays the contents of files and folders. The view pane is on the right side of the window.

Nautilus enables you to do the following:

Nautilus also creates the desktop.

To Open Files From the File Manager

To navigate to the folder where the file that you want to open resides, double-click on the folder icons in the view pane. When the file that you want to open is displayed, double-click on the file icon to open the file.

To Move Files Between Folders

You can move files between folders by opening two or more Nautilus windows. Open a different folder in each window, then drag the files from one window to the other.

Desktop and Desktop Objects

The desktop is an active component of the desktop. You can use the desktop to perform the following actions:

The file manager manages the desktop.

To Open Desktop Objects

To open an object from the desktop, double-click on the object. You can set your preferences in a file manager window so that you click once on an object to execute the default action.

To Add Objects to the Desktop

You can add desktop objects for convenient access to files, folders, and applications that you use frequently. You can add objects to your desktop in the following ways:

Start Here Location

Start Here icon.

The Start Here location enables you to access the following functions:

You can access the Start Here location in the following ways:

Desktop Environment Preferences

You can use desktop environment preference tools to configure almost every feature of the desktop environment. Each tool controls a particular part of the behavior of the desktop environment. For example, you can use a preference tool to select a theme for your desktop environment. A theme is a group of coordinated settings that specify the visual appearance of a part of your interface.

For convenience, the tools are grouped under the following headings:

You can open your desktop environment preference tools in either of the following ways:


The applications that are provided with the GNOME Desktop share several characteristics. For example, the applications have a consistent look-and-feel. The applications share characteristics because the applications use the same programming libraries. An application that uses the standard GNOME programming libraries is called a GNOME-compliant application. For example, Nautilus and the gedit text editor are GNOME-compliant applications.

GNOME provides libraries in addition to the libraries provided by your operating system. The libraries enable GNOME to run your existing applications as well as GNOME-compliant applications. For example, if your operating system is UNIX-based, you can run your current X11 applications and Motif applications from the GNOME Desktop.

Some of the features of GNOME-compliant applications are as follows:

To Find Out More

The desktop environment provides help if you want to find out more about the following areas:

To Find Out More About Desktop Environment Topics

You can find out more about particular desktop environment topics in the integrated Yelp help system. To start the Yelp help system, choose Applications -> Help.

To Find Out More About Applets

To find out more about a specific applet, right-click on the applet, then choose Help.

To Find Out More About Applications

To find out more about a specific application, start the application, then choose Help -> Contents. Alternatively, start the application then press F1.