In terms of graphical computing and design in computer and software business Desktop Environments refer to a system, style or theme of graphical (user) interfaces following the idea and concept of the desktop metaphor, that is used in the majority of today’s computer systems.
History and Development of Desktop Environments
Apple Inc. was one of the first cooperations making the use of Desktop Environments on early personcal computers back in the early 1980‘s with the Apple Lisa (1983), but is was the Xerox Cooperation being the company with the first used Desktop Environment on the Xerox Alto ten years before. This fact is much less popular then the rumor Apple was the first company introcuding GUIs (Graphical User Interface) / Desktop Environments, mainly due failing at the market because of marketing issues.
Over the years the GUIs and Desktop Environments evolved to their current style, featuresand functionality. A major breakthrough where among others the famours Windows Operating Systems and the X Window System used on Unix-based Operating Systems (e.g. Linux), which is mostly known for it’s flexibility and wide range of features and functions. Other indipendent Desktop Environments include Gnome, KDE, Xfce, CDE, Java Desktop System, EDE, IRIX Interactive Desktop and GEM
General Usage and Implementation
What the user sees as Desktop Environment in the end is a system consisting of multiple sub-routines based on a universal window system or window manager in connection with the actual used software.
Generally such window managers run on top of the system core of an operating system. These managers are either directly integrated into an operating system (Windows OS) or an independent software used by an operating system (Unix-based Systems like Linux).
The window manager and it’s graphical representation are created and coded (if necessary) by window and widget toolkits (also: GUI toolkit) in combination with the code base of standard libraries/frameworks (like the famous .NET framework) or libraries of the currently used Operating System.