The following article nicely explains the differences between a display manager, a window manager, and a desktop environment:

What is the relationship between Unity, Gnome, Gnome 3, Compiz, Metacity, and LightDM?

Over time, I have grown very fond of using Openbox. Here is typically how I use Openbox:

  1. Install Ubuntu server (no desktop)

  2. Install openbox and a system tray application.

  3. Add "startx" to my .profile script. After I login, it automatically brings up Openbox window manager.

In this case, is it fair to say that I don't have any display manager installed?

I am just trying to understand what is it I am missing by not having a display manager. I am quite happy with the way my setup works.

Also, is it correct to say that I don't have any desktop environment either? Regards.


The display manager takes care of automatically starting the display server ( X11 ), and then prompts you to log in instead of starting your desktop environment as the user the display manager is running as ( root ). startx starts the display server and your desktop environment as you, when you are already logged in. What you are missing by not having a display manager is the ability to log in within the gui instead of having to log in at the command line.

  • 2
    Appreciate your help. Looks like the display manager does not add much value for my purpose. I wonder why there are so many display managers when all they do is present a login screen:-).
    – Peter
    Jul 21 '15 at 4:23

Yes, you can have a desktop environment without a display manager.

With your setup, it is fair to say that you don't have a display manager. It is also fair to say that you don't have a desktop environment

With your setup, you are not missing out anything from not having a display manager

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