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1. Introduction

TkDesk is a graphical desktop manager for UNIX (with a slight emphasis on Linux, but it also runs just as well on AIX, Solaris, HP-UX, SGI Irix and other UNIX flavors) and the X Window System. It offers a very complete set of file operations and services, plus gives the user the ability to configure most aspects of TkDesk in a very powerful way. The reason for this is the use of the Tcl scripting language as the configuration and (for the greatest part of TkDesk) implementation language. This makes TkDesk not just configurable but truly programmable. TkDesk has been influenced by various other systems and file managers: NeXT, for laying out the file browser windows, Apple Finder, for the idea of file annotations and, (shock horror), Windows 95, for some other (of course minor and unimportant) inspirations.

This is a brief overview of the most prominent features of TkDesk:

  • Arbitrary number of automatically refreshed file browsers and file list windows,
  • Configurable file-specific popup-menus,
  • Drag and drop,
  • Files and directories may also be dropped onto the root window, a.k.a. desktop,
  • Configurable application bar, with several displays and cascaded popup menus for each button, files can also be dropped here,
  • History of visited directories, opened files, executed commands, and others, which is automatically saved to disk,
  • Find files through their annotation, name, contents, size, age, or other criteria,
  • A trash can for safe deletion of files and directories,
  • Calculation of disk usage for directory hierarchies,
  • All file operations (find, copy, disk usage, etc.) are carried out in the background,
  • Traversal of directory hierarchies through recursive cascaded menus,
  • Bookmarks, create menu entries for often used files/directories,
  • Comprehensive hypertextish online help,
  • Built-in multi-buffer and undo-capable editor,
  • Remote control of XEmacs,
  • Close coupling with Netscape Navigator for displaying HTML files or selected URLs,
  • Sound support,
  • Powerful on-the-fly configuration of nearly all aspect of TkDesk using Tcl/Tk, this also allows the Tcl-literate to extend TkDesk in arbitrary ways,
  • Free of charge! But see the file COPYING, or menu entry Help/License for information on usage and redistribution of TkDesk.

1.1 Acknowledgments

TkDesk uses a number of other freely available packages without which TkDesk would not have been possible. I [Christian Bolik] would like to say many thanks to the following people:

  • Chris Sterritt for setting up and managing the first TkDesk mailing list,
  • Alan V. Shackelford for seamlessly taking over the list next,
  • Gerald Willman for making the current mailing list available at majordomo@lists.stanford.edu,
  • Ken Hornstein for his wonderful netscape-remote package,
  • Ioi Kim Lan for making an XPM image reader for Tk available,
  • George Howlett for his great BLT, of which parts are used by TkDesk,
  • Michael McLennan for his massively useful [incr tcl],
  • John Ousterhout for Tcl/Tk, which is definitely the best thing since sliced bread,
  • Greg Hankins and Matt Welsh for putting together the most wonderful linuxdoc-sgml package,
  • and of course, Linus Torvalds whose Linux kind of changed my life, really!

And a very big thank you to the growing TkDesk user community, which provides me with a constant flow of bug reports (getting less now :-)), suggestions for enhancements of TkDesk, and lots of motivation and encouragement.

Special thanks to Chuck Robey for revising a previous version of this guide.

1.2 Using TkDesk's Help System

If you check menu entry Options/Use Netscape for Help, TkDesk will use that for displaying this User's Guide on-line. Otherwise, to reduce overhead, TkDesk uses its own help system. It features hypertext links, context sensitivity (which is not yet fully utilised by TkDesk) and full text search.

The help window consists of four areas:

  1. A listbox listing all the section headings. A section can be selected by pressing the left mouse button,
  2. the text display, which contains the actual help text,
  3. a text entry field in which a regular expression may be entered (such as [Ff]eatures). After hitting Return, the whole help text is searched for this expression. Pressing Return again continues the search,
  4. three buttons: "Print" prints the complete help volume, "Back" jumps back after a hypertext link has been followed (see next paragraph), and "Close" to close the help window.

Text that is displayed blue in the help window is a hypertext link. When the left mouse button is clicked over such a link the display will automatically change to the referenced section. You can jump back by pressing the "Back" button described above.

The following keys are bound when the mouse pointer is inside the help window:


Moves to the next section.


Moves to the previous section.


Moves to the first section.


Moves to the last section.

Up, Down

Scrolls one line up/down.

Page up, Page down

Scrolls one page up/down.


Jumps to start of help text.


Jumps to end of help text.


Equivalent to pressing the "Back" button.

Meta/Alt-c, Escape

Equivalent to pressing the "Close" button.

1.3 Command Line Options

Usually TkDesk is started simply by executing the command "tkdesk" from the shell prompt or your X initialisation file. However, you may specify the following options to this command:

-configdir dir

Reads the configuration from directory dir instead of ~/.tkdesk.


Reads the default configuration of TkDesk instead of the user's one in ~/.tkdesk.


Iconifies all file browser and file list windows created by TkDesk during start-up.

-layout file

Reads the window layout information from file file instead of the default ~/.tkdesk/_layout.

-startdir dir

If this option is given, the first file browser will open with directory dir.


Don't use icon windows when file browser or list windows are iconified. Some window managers liek twm cannot handle these properly.

For example, the command "tkdesk -twm -iconic" tells Tkdesk to not use icon windows and start with all windows iconified.

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Maintainer: J. Chris Coppick