Around the Web: X Window Revisited

X Window, X11 or "X," as it is known for short, provides the programming framework and the underlying runtime system for most Unix and Linux-based network-transparent windowing implementations. It runs on a huge number of Linux and Unix flavors, including Mac OS X and with a bit of help, on several Windows varieties. Without X11 , there is no KDE, no GNOME, and no Linux-based window manager, unless one is prepared to accept an X replacement. They do exist, and many carry a proprietary license, while X comes with a GPL-compatible license.

Many Linux and Unix desktops and window managers should actually be called X Desktops, since they use the X Window framework to provide users with a full, bitmapped system GUI. Still, most Linux and Unix users would not actually see X Window directly, except when they run X applications, like the xterm and rxvt terminals or some fairly basic games. On its own, X Window requires, but does not provide software to manage and display flexible GUI elements, e.g., windows. It provides the primitives to display them, however, including the ability to draw graphical elements and, of course, strings of characters.

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so what's the big deal?

Very few people understand the power of X. How does it differ from
(say) what you see on the screen with non-X OSes? The simple truth
is that you won't understand the power of X until you need to run
one or more programs on distant computers, and display the output
locally. This is completely foreign to those who are used to BillGates'
"one-computer, one-user" philosophy. Can you do this with other
graphics paradigms? I've not seen it done.

Without X, most supercomputers would be a pain to use. You'd have
to physically go worship the big iron. But it goes beyond that. It blurs
the boundary between client-server and peer2peer. Whether it's that
box in TechSupport with tips, or the box in Engineering with tools and
designs, or even the box in HR with Company Policies, you can reach
the info you need without leaving your desk.

While troubleshooting, I've used X to run programs cross-country,
and even trans-atlantic. You can get info from the home office, even
though it's closed and 8 time zones away, with the power of X.

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