A desktop environment is an integrated collection of programs that share common libraries and development, for the purpose of creating a consistent desktop. Because a DE is just a collection of software, its quite possible to byepass them all together, and create the desktop yourself by installing configuring the applications and programs you want.
The main focus in these do-it-yourself desktops is the window manager. Window managers in DE's usually tend to be small and stay out of the way of the desktop (the file manager usually). There exists window managers, however, outside of any desktop that contain most functions needed for a desktop, such as ability to launch applications, as well as display application menus, taskbars, etc. Using a well configured window manager, its easy to install and use applications from other DE's (although they might not look consistent).
DE's usually include in their software collection:
- Control center
- Login manager
- File manager
- GUI toolkit
- Session manager
- Window manager
A complete DE is one that contains a library or application for pretty much any task. They are also usually bloated, but work well for most users.
Lightweight DE's are those that only include basic or even minimal set of applications that allow you to use the desktop. They usually contain little if any eye candy and for the most part just handle desktop tasks, such as file management and basic configuration.
- A useable example desktop
- An example of a self made desktop