I have been an Ubuntu user for 2 years and am contemplating moving to Arch. I love their philosophy, The Arch Way, and I admire their tenacity to bare the system to the user. I think if I am ever going to tame my Linux Box and be a superuser, it is the only way. I am willing to go all the way to get a real Arch experience, compiling packages from source to install and editing configuration files to change system settings. However, there are applications that are a part of my daily workflow and I don't know if they will run without a gui/desktop environment. Crucial among them is Firefox.

It would be great if I could use one or two graphical applications without having to install a desktop environment. Is this possible on Linux?

  • Note that there are text-only web browsers available (e.g., lynx) which don't require a desktop environment or any of the X libraries. Useful if you only need web-browsing capability, rather than graphical web-browsing capability. – goldPseudo Mar 31 '12 at 19:23
  • What exactly do you mean by "desktop environment"? Do you mean large ones like KDE or Gnome, or just an X server and window manager? – Keith Apr 1 '12 at 3:40

Well, Firefox REQUIRES X server. What you would need is to install Firefox with the help of the package management - it should install the bare minimum of the packages, including the X server. Then, you just need to run the X server without the desktop environnment. Basically something like:

$ X

Then you just start Firefox in this X server:

$ DISPLAY=:0 firefox

You can switch from the X server and the framebuffer by using CTRL+ALT+F1 and CTRL+ALT+F7.

Hope it helps.

  • Thank you! Your answer is spot on. I am going to try it as soon as I can. – Harsh Vardhan Apr 1 '12 at 16:20

Without a graphical environment, you will need to use a text-based browser such as elinks/lynx, and they are really not very pretty.

You can just run X by itself, and then spawn graphical utilities from the command line specifying "server :0" manually, however this is a real bother.

If you are into minimalism, you could try a lightweight windows-manager. See Arch-wiki Window Manager for the whole list. I don't use Arch, but some people recommend Fluxbox. You will need to experiment with them to find the one you like.

  • A window manager will be very tempting to go back to using graphical applications. I want to keep my setup as simple as possible, mainly because I intend to use my computer mostly for programming and surfing. I knew about lynx, and did try it on Ubuntu. You are right, it's not pretty at all. – Harsh Vardhan Apr 1 '12 at 16:24
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    Programming without graphical productivity applications such as IDE is like cutting your arm off before going to war. Or you have a computer with extremely little RAM. – harrymc Apr 1 '12 at 16:48
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    vim or emacs are enough for many programmers and both work well without X – schlicht Aug 23 '13 at 18:14
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    @harrymc What are your sources? What about not having graphical productivity applications is so harmful? Do you think IDEs are so much better than console-based text editors? – Kelmikra Jun 9 '16 at 19:56
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    @harrymc My experience suggests that using text editors in consoles is just as productive, if not more, than using IDEs. A cursory online searched turned up nothing relevant on the topic. – Kelmikra Jun 11 '16 at 15:04

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