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This may be a stupid question - But is it possible to run GUI apps (Firefox for example) on a computer where I don't have a graphical desktop installed (like GNOME, Xfce)?

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Are you simply asking out of curiosity or do you have something specific in mind? – Oliver Salzburg Nov 9 '12 at 11:49
Just curious. :) – Kitchi Nov 9 '12 at 13:03
up vote 4 down vote accepted

You can install X windows without installing a desktop, and run apps under bare X. It's a bit strange like that: no background, no window borders. Or you can add a minimal window manager.

Can I have Graphics on Linux without a desktop manager?

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Sure. There are couple of options (which you want is not clear from question).

  1. Some programs can be run in headless mode where they accept the situation where X-server is not available
  2. You only need X-server running at client computer, it is not necessary at the server running the software. For example, if Firefox is installed in server you use ssh to connect to you can use ssh -X to connect and run firefox at the server => firefox UI is drawn to your computer.
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So for example, would firefox look/behave the same even though it doesn't have X to run off of? – Kitchi Nov 9 '12 at 13:04
In short, yes. Settings, history and other stuff (if not synced otherwise) would of course be from machine executing firefox, not from one displaying the UI. – Ahe Nov 12 '12 at 6:50

Here are several headless X servers some of them are:

  • virtual x server: xpra,
  • nested: xnest, xserver-xephyr

Also, you can run xorg with dummy display driver.

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