E17 — Desktop Enlightenment

[ Saturday, 3 March 2007, michuk ]

The performance of desktop computers increases year by year. This gives the programmers great opportunities to further improve the desktop experience of the users. However, what should you do when you have an old computer that is not capable of running the latest and hottest software? How can you benefit from the great software that is X.org when you can’t run a desktop that takes advantage of its best features? No need for upgrading your PC, when you can have a usable alternative with the current one. Let me introduce you Enlightenment E17 — the window manager with minimal hardware requirements that may amaze you.

Author: Tomasz Roszak

Currently two desktops rule the GNU/Linux world: GNOME and KDE. Both require modern hardware but offer a lot of functions instead. Fortunately, programmers of both popular environments after a period of increasing requirements with each release started to work on optimization. The effects can be easily noticed when you compare GNOME in version 2.14 (or later) with the earlier ones in the 2 series. There have been many articles already about getting the most of the popular desktop environments.

However, what should you do when you have an old computer that is not capable of running the latest hottest software? How can you benefit from the great software that X.org is when you can’t run a desktop that takes advantage of its best features?
No need to upgrading your PC, when you can have a usable alternative with the current one.

X.org enables you to use any graphical user interface you like in GNU/Linux, BSD and compatible systems. You are certainly not restricted to choosing the most popular ones like KDE or GNOME. Other environments can also provide you with a great desktop experience without sacrificing as much system resources. They enable you to personalize your desktop, choose the best wallpaper, icon set, widgets and applets in order to make your desktop your second home. So, do you want a pleasant and good looking desktop with a lot of eye-candy, but fast and efficient at the same time? Let me introduce you with Enlightenment E17 — the window manager with minimal hardware requirements that may amaze you.

Enlightenment — the basics

Enlightenment has something to do with the light. It is a window manager that comes with special effects. When you first run it you usually feel strange — its looks do not resemble anything that you have ever seen on the desktop before. The toolbar, the icons, the analog clock… all this is simply amazing. You either love it at the first sight or hate it for the eye-candy you can’t stand.

But… let’s start from the beginning.

The Enlightenment project was started in 1997 as an FVWM (another lightweight windows manager) fork. The project has evolved greatly since then. The current stable version in 0.16. We are going to play with Enlightenment DR17 (Development Release 17), which will be called e17 in the article, for simplicity reasons.

The current status of e17 is alpha, which means that the final release is a long way off. You should, however, not be discouraged by that. The manager is quite stable. And “quite stable” is not equivalent to the way stability is described in the world of Windows. When compared to the stability of e17 with Windows 98 or Me (even assuming that all service packs are installed), it is not an exaggeration to say that the Microsoft products should not have reached even the alpha stage, yet.

And e17 is fast, too. One of the reasons (except for great code) is it’s modularity. E17 is built of Enlightenment Foundation Libraries (ELF). What is interesting, e17 has been written from scratch — it doesn’t share any code with its predecessor — e16.

Installing e17

There are two ways of installing e17 — either from ready-to-use packages or from source.

Using packages is easier and it is the recommended way to install e17 when you are a Linux newbie. The Enlightenment team prepares packages for many popular GNU/Linux distributions, like Ubuntu or Gentoo. On website EFL User Guide detailed instructions can be found about installing e17 in your favorite distribution.

Here we are going to present the installation in two selected distros: Ubuntu and Gentoo, and then describe the generic way of installing e17 from the CVS repository.

Installing in Ubuntu 6.10 (Eddy Eft).

You need to edit the file /etc/apt/sources.list and add the following entries:

## E17 repository "edevelop.org"
deb http://edevelop.org/pkg-e/ubuntu edgy e17
deb-src http://edevelop.org/pkg-e/ubuntu edgy e17

## E17 Repository "e17.dunnewind.net"
deb http://e17.dunnewind.net/ubuntu edgy e17
deb-src http://e17.dunnewind.net/ubuntu edgy e17

Then, update the packages info:

sudo apt-get update

And finally install e17:

sudo apt-get install e17 

It may happen that DR16 version of Enlightenment is available in the repositories. In such case it is necessary to force the dependency from 0.16.999.xxx.
To do this, enter the following lines in file /etc/apt/preferences

Package: enlightenment
Pin: version 0.16.999.*
Pin-Priority: 999

Package: enlightenment-data
Pin: version 0.16.999.*
Pin-Priority: 999

Of course, if you prefer graphical way of installing software, you can use Synaptic Package Manager and perform all these actions in the GUI environment.

Installing in Gentoo.

No reason to describe it here since there already exists a great guide in the Gentoo Wiki: HOWTO: Emerge e17. The detailed installation instructions for Gentoo are available there.

Installation from CVS

The alternative way of installing e17 is to use the CVS repository. The detailed instructions how to do this are available in the user guide. Here is a short HOWTO:

Switch to folder /usr/src and run the following commands:

$ cvs -d:pserver:anonymous@anoncvs.enlightenment.org:/var/cvs/e login
cvs -z3 -d:pserver:anonymous@anoncvs.enlightenment.org:/var/cvs/e \\
co e17/libs/eet
cvs -z3 -d:pserver:anonymous@anoncvs.enlightenment.org:/var/cvs/e \\
co e17/libs/edb
cvs -z3 -d:pserver:anonymous@anoncvs.enlightenment.org:/var/cvs/e \\
co e17/libs/evas
cvs -z3 -d:pserver:anonymous@anoncvs.enlightenment.org:/var/cvs/e \\
co e17/libs/ecore
cvs -z3 -d:pserver:anonymous@anoncvs.enlightenment.org:/var/cvs/e \\
co e17/libs/embryo
cvs -z3 -d:pserver:anonymous@anoncvs.enlightenment.org:/var/cvs/e \\
co e17/libs/edje
cvs -z3 -d:pserver:anonymous@anoncvs.enlightenment.org:/var/cvs/e \\
co e17/apps/e

Then we need to compile the sources starting from the libs directory and finishing in e17/apps/e. This can be done using the commands:

./autogen.sh && ./configure –prefix=/usr/local/e17; \\
make; make install

First run

When installed from the custom package, the new window manager is usually automatically added to your session manager (probably gdm or kdm) and it should be possible to choose Enlightenment as an option when logging in graphically.

You can also make Enlightenment run by default. This can be done by entering the following line in ~/.xinitrc:

exec /path/to/enlightenment

Your path to Enlightenment should be something like /usr/X11R6/bin/enlightenment or /usr/bin/enlightenment, depending on the distribution.

In case of installing from CVS the file should be /usr/local/e17/bin/enlightenment (in our case) or, if you entered a different prefix, in the manually entered directory.

If you want Enlightenment to be available as an option in kdm or gdm, you also need to add the entry manually.

Here is the effect of our installation:

Default E17 desktop
Pic.1 Default E17 desktop

The screenshot is static for obvious reasons, but when you run it yourself you are going to see the nicely animated menu with light effects:

E17 desktop with menu
Pic.2 E17 desktop with menu

Configuring e17

Configuring e17 can be a pain for some and for others it can be a relief. It all depends on your particular habits. I personally prefer manually editing the configuration files. Unfortunately, e17 stores them in a binary form so the only way to configure the manager is to use a dedicated tool, either command-line or GUI-based.

Command line tools

The command line tool allowing you to configure e17 is enlightenment-remote. All possible configuration options can be seen by invoking the command enlightenment-remote –help.
Here are some selected options:

Command Description
enlightenment_remote -lang-list list of available languages
enlightenment_remote -lang-set pl_PL.UTF-8 set language to Polish and encoding to UTF-8
enlightenment_remote -font-available-list show list of available fonts
enlightenment_remote -module-load load a module
enlightenment_remote -module-unload remove a module
enlightenment_remote -module-enable enable a module
enlightenment_remote -module-disable disable a module
enlightenment_remote -module-list show the list of all available modules

GUI tools

The GUI configuration currently offers almost all the functions available through enlightenment_remote. To trigger the graphical control panel just click on the Enlightenment logo on the desktop and choose Configuration from the pop-up menu. You will be presented with a panel consisting of the following options:

  • Configuration Panel
  • Wallpaper
  • Theme
  • Modules
  • Shelves
  • Application menus

The panel configuration, setting a wallpaper and choosing a theme can be left with no comment — these are standard options available in all window managers. The interesting concept are the shelves — special Enlightened toolbars. We can define multiple shelves and each one can have different content. We can put the following items on them:

  • desktop switch applets,
  • application launchers
  • main menu
  • information modules like a clock, processor temperature sensor, current weather, etc

Of course all these items can share a single shelf.

Sample icon bar
Pic.3 Sample icon bar

Another sample icon bar
Pic.4 Sample icon bar, a bit larger :)

Control panel

The e17 control panel is simple and easy to use. It looks a little bit inspired by SUSE’s YaST configuration tool, although has significantly fewer options. The ergonomics of the panel is pretty good.

E17 control panel
Pic.5 E17 control panel

As mentioned above the configuration is written to binary files so it needs to be edited using the special tools. However, some parts of it are put in plain text files and can be edited manually. The example is the menu with favorite programs. It can be easily manipulated in ~/.e/e/applications/menu/favorite/.

Backgrounds, modules and wallpapers are written to binary files with edj extension. You can find multiple themes for e17 on the Internet. One of the interesting effects in the implementation of scalable icons in the tool that resemble the Apple’s MacOSX toolbar. I personally didn’t like the default theme too much, so I changed it to another one, which is presented on the following screenshot.

My personal E17 desktop
Pic.6 My personal E17 desktop

Desktop experience

If you love eye-candy and want a desktop that can impress your friends, e17 is for you. Animated backgrounds, special effects when a button is pressed or the when you select the main menu or toolbar with the mouse pointer, all those make e17 a great environment to play with. But it doesn’t mean that the eye candy is the only feature making e17 unique. The large number of configuration options help you to configure your desktop to fit your personal needs.

You still have to remember that the environment is marked alpha. It feels stable, you don’t have to worry that it will crash every now and then or hang randomly, but still, some applications or e17 applets may have stability issues so don’t be surprised to see an “problem with application” message bar once in a while.

E17 also has some little ergonomics problems — some things could be designed in a different manner, but this is an issue for another article. The good thing is that all the stability problems are quickly resolved by the developers. Every 7-14 days a new snapshot release is made and an Ubuntu package is delivered ready for update. For other distributions it probably works in a similar way.


You need to install E17 in order to fully appreciate the magnificent work of the programmers. The direction of changes is very good — e17 delivers a nice-looking desktop with many special effects, being easy and lightweight at the same time. When compared to its predecessor — e16 — it shows that the desktop personalization and new effects do not have to trigger additional hardware purchases. I only wish I could say the same about GNOME and KDE. Also, I have to say that I wish the Microsoft products were as stable and functional as e17 in alpha phase.



This article has been first published in Dragonia Magazine, a Polish online magazine about Free and Open-Source Software.

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fold this thread Usman  Sunday, 4 March 2007 o godz. 9:38 pm #  Add karma Subtract karma  --37

The article is a joke. A clown strongly recommends to run an alpha release on my ubuntu box and in the end on the article says that i may have some problems with some modules… This is pathetic .

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fold this thread misunderstruck  Sunday, 4 March 2007 o godz. 9:51 pm #  Add karma Subtract karma  +4

Nice overview of E17! I’m a full-time user of it as well, and I have been very happy with it as a default environment. A few months ago, I was talking to someone about using Linux and when I told him I used E17 as my desktop, he asked what my “usual” desktop was. I asked what he meant by “usual”, and he replied, “What do you use when you’re not using Enlightenment? GNOME? KDE? Fluxbox?”

I said, “Um, none of those. I always use Enlightenment.”

So yes, it’s generally quite stable. In addition to occasional stability issues, I think that the other big (pre-)”alpha” quality of E17 is that updates can change where things are located (in configuration menus, for example) or how things work (such as modules and shelves).

Two other suggestions for resources:
- The easy_e17.sh script automates the cvs-based update and installation process on any system.
- The ELiveCD is useful for people who would like to try out E17 without installing it. However, the version of E17 on the cd is a few months out of date.

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fold this thread Montressor  Sunday, 4 March 2007 o godz. 9:57 pm #  Add karma Subtract karma  --8

E17 vs Duke Nukem Forever… which will come out first?

Hehe, it doesn’t matter. E17 looks very 80′s anyway.

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fold this thread Montressor  Sunday, 4 March 2007 o godz. 9:58 pm #  Add karma Subtract karma  +0

I love the site.

Polish food rocks.

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fold this thread Wilson  Monday, 5 March 2007 o godz. 12:08 am #  Add karma Subtract karma  +0

Thanks, I personally found the article very informing. I have found that alpha Linux software is about as reliable as final windows releases, so alpha doesn’t bother me. I have an old laptop that i use to telnet and do basic web configuring of network equipment and gnome drags it down to being barely usable, so I will definitely give this a try. Thanks!

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fold this thread Chhieng  Monday, 5 March 2007 o godz. 12:23 am #  Add karma Subtract karma  +0

I have been using e17 for more than a year. Since then I love it. Btw, the e16 is also an excellent windows manager too.

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fold this thread Tribaal  Monday, 5 March 2007 o godz. 1:47 am #  Add karma Subtract karma  +0

I would have loved to try out e17, but providing repositories without the corresponding gpg keys isn’t very clever.

- Trib’

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fold this thread tom  Monday, 5 March 2007 o godz. 2:23 am #  Add karma Subtract karma  +0

Thanks – works like a charm (on feisty herd 5). I’m a left handed person, so is there a nice way to switch mouse buttons (assigning menus to buttons doesn’t fulfill my needs..)?

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fold this thread Chris T  Monday, 5 March 2007 o godz. 2:28 am #  Add karma Subtract karma  +0

So try Elive! It is a very good way to try e17. And the version that it uses, is actually very stable.
To Usman: I have used e17 for over two years… all the time, every day. Yes, sometimes a new build has quirks, but so do all software packages. And I promise you, it will NOT break your system! If you decide that you don’t like it, just uninstall it!

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fold this thread stracini  Monday, 5 March 2007 o godz. 2:42 am #  Add karma Subtract karma  +0

I totally switched from windows to linux because of elive. And I never looked back. And I’m so happy with it. I totally rocks! You can install the latest release from time to time. I can do with elive anything that a my colleague does with windows and a lot more.


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fold this thread stracini  Monday, 5 March 2007 o godz. 2:43 am #  Add karma Subtract karma  +0


I can also play my two favourite games: Starcraft (Broodwar) and UT2003

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fold this thread Massi  Monday, 5 March 2007 o godz. 11:11 am #  Add karma Subtract karma  +0

Little note: put “exec /path/to/enlightenment_start” on your .xinitrc, and not “exec /path/to/enlightenment”.

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fold this thread supercandeggina  Monday, 5 March 2007 o godz. 2:19 pm #  Add karma Subtract karma  +0

to install from CVS you may use easy_e17.sh which does the hard work for you. (http://omicron.homeip.net/projects/)

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fold this thread Flashypants  Monday, 5 March 2007 o godz. 10:56 pm #  Add karma Subtract karma  +0

If you have old hardware that you think is too slow to run as a Linux desktop, do try E17 – it’s beautiful and amazingly responsive.

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fold this thread Peacepunk  Tuesday, 6 March 2007 o godz. 6:57 am #  Add karma Subtract karma  +1

I don’t like much advertising myself much, but if you are interested in seeing more screenshots you can tune to
and enjoy more of this great Window Manager.

For even sleeker looks & speed, totally unobfuscated environment, I do recommend DR16 though, it’s definitely not an “older” or “earlier” version, but a rather different one that is still under development in its own “branch”:

Cheers, an enjoyable article indeed.


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fold this thread BatSardo  Tuesday, 6 March 2007 o godz. 5:01 pm #  Add karma Subtract karma  --2

Eccezionale…provato con Edgy “dentro” VMWare, stilosissimo e veloce…potrebbe sostituire xfce 4.4

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fold this thread BatSardo  Tuesday, 6 March 2007 o godz. 5:10 pm #  Add karma Subtract karma  +0

ehm sorry…don’t know why I posted in italian ahaahaah

so…this is a GREAT WM :)

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fold this thread ed-j  Monday, 16 April 2007 o godz. 8:44 pm #  Add karma Subtract karma  +0

Wow! I finally found somewhere to leave a message?

I’m new to Linux and I just loaded E17 yesterday. That’s the most different thing I’ve seen since I first loaded KDE a few weeks ago. I’m now running Feisty with KDE and E17.

I look forward to following the development. Many thanks for E17!!! :-)

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fold this thread ed-j  Wednesday, 18 April 2007 o godz. 12:31 pm #  Add karma Subtract karma  +0

Hi People!

I am a Novice and I installed e17 a couple of days ago with instructions put on the ModFree Forum by RichBarna.


I have installed e17 onto Ubuntu Feisty Fawn (7.04) along with KDE. The only problem so far is that when I log out between desktop managers, it affects my CRT refresh-rate, which I have to reset with what limited ability that I have.

No problem, I am only learning/having a go.

Funny to read……….written to binary files with “edj”!!!

My username….ed-j (edj or ed_j in some places).

My email: ed-j [at] dsl [dot] pipex [dot] com

I don’t think I will understand, but what is an “edj extension?”

Anyway, so far e17 is very fast, and yes, not quite like anything I have seen so far.

Great stuff! Many thanks for the software!!! :-) All the best!

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fold this thread duvelr  Monday, 20 August 2007 o godz. 12:08 pm #  Add karma Subtract karma  +0

So the different binary formats E17 uses are:

* EAP (file extention is .eap) – used for icons for the menu and IBar
* EDJ (file extension is .edj) – used for backgrounds and themes


fold this thread ed-j  Wednesday, 18 April 2007 o godz. 12:33 pm #  Add karma Subtract karma  +0

Ooooops! Didn’t think my first email worked! :-) The joys of Novicehood!!!LOL

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fold this thread john doe  Thursday, 24 May 2007 o godz. 9:23 am #  Add karma Subtract karma  +0

I’ll be very interested in the authors definition of “minimal hardware requirements” here personally I think he should stay off the pipe. DR16 as someone suggested should be more appropriate for OLD hardware. Then there is the theming problem all themes look the same, well actually they don’t but they all have the same squary feeling.. yes I know it’s because E17 is under heavily development that breaks themes and there isn’t really any documentation for it etc etc.. but that not changes the fact it REALLY lacks good themes.. E17 sure is a good wm, personally I’d wish it had been more of a improved version of E16 than some sort of a xfce variant but then again it’s not gonna happen… wonder if people will make fun of it’s desktop icon support in the mid 2007.. but again it can’t beat the fact it’s a good wm.

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fold this thread Badiane  Monday, 28 January 2008 o godz. 5:50 am #  Add karma Subtract karma  +0

Nice article. I have it installed and wanted to know how to enable emacs mode for all the applications.

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fold this thread Nez  Sunday, 20 April 2008 o godz. 1:18 pm #  Add karma Subtract karma  +0

Been using e17 for about a month,having tried e16,Fluxbox,Blackbox,and a host of distro’s for a few years.This is interesting.True it is alpha,and in a Windows environment,you would be talking “in-house” tweaking,and not (general) public release.Yet this is available for everybody to try.Eye-candy,themes,and you can download your own,plus other desktop icons,wallpaper,etc.It might not be to everybody’s taste,but I shall keep it.

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fold this thread immy  Thursday, 27 August 2009 o godz. 11:27 pm #  Add karma Subtract karma  +0

Im using freebsd 7.2 and using the OLD enlightenment which is in the ports, and boy this is probably the best, most simpliest desktop manager there is.

NOt only its simple, but it has some really cool animated menu and icon effects to.

Ok yes ive heard of beryl etc, but those are resource hungry stuff.
Enlightenment does what i want it to do.

The FreeBSD ports is perhaps 2 years old, but it still does the job. Ive encountered a small bug at times fiddling with the configurations, but once everything is set, it seems like a good de.

One thing im missing is a taskbar, but ive managed to work around that, cause the window settings are sooo flexible, so i dont need a taskbar. I just double click a window and shrinks, and i can see the window below it :)

There is a module called taskbar and itask too, but ive not managed to get it to work yet.

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fold this thread Spray Insulations :  Wednesday, 27 October 2010 o godz. 11:12 pm #  Add karma Subtract karma  +1

desktop computers these days gets obsolete the day that they are shipped considering how fast technology updates.:*

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fold this thread shibin  Wednesday, 30 March 2011 o godz. 6:00 am #  Add karma Subtract karma  +0

E17 can increase the performance of your computer. It’s a modern desktop environment that help the user’s having older computer.most modern software can easily installed in minimum system requirement. For more details CLICK HERE

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