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ROX-Filer is a file manager that is fast, fairly simple, and non-cluttered, it has a look and feel that most users can understand very fast. ROX is also very drag and drop orientated. For users wanting ROX-filer to act as a desktop, it can optionally create a pinbord, and a panel. The pinboard is the background of the desktop, it lets you "pin" files and directories to it for easy access. The panel is a small strip of the screen, usually at the bottom, that also allows you to place directory links on it (among other things) for even easier access.

The ROX desktop as a whole aspires to be a slim, highly-configurable desktop environment, but as of 2006, is mostly just a collection of programs with ROX-Filer being the center, and while fairly integrated, the ROX-Filer is kept at arms length, so no real dependencies exist between the ROX-Filer and the ROX desktop. This makes ROX ideal for people who like to have control over their desktops look and size, but still want a desktop environment-ish feel. Because the ROX desktop is mainly the ROX-Filer, everything else can be replaced, you can use whatever set of programs you want, whatever window manager, whatever application, there is no need to use ROX specific applications, which is good since the alternatives are usually better.

The ROX desktop uses zero install as a package manager of sorts, and application directories to store and run applications. Application directories are normal directories that contain a executable file "AppRun", which will launch the application. The directory also contains several other files ROX uses, such as descriptions, and icons to use, and the entire installed application can also reside in the directory. Zero install also uses application directories, and every ROX specific application is installed to its own application directory, even ROX-Filer. Symlinks are usually made to the normal /usr/bin or /usr/local/bin for ROX's applications, to accommodate command line users and scripts. ROX-Filer handles application directories, so merely clicking them will cause "AppRun" to be executes. This is in contrast to other desktop environments that use the desktop entry specification to list applications, but these dont have the advantages of application directories.

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