Get to know Linux: Enlightenment E17

Jack Wallen
May 14, 2009
Updated • Dec 5, 2012

I have been recently covering various Linux desktops. So far you can read about Fluxbox, Xfce 4, Window Maker, and IceWM. I also touched on creating dropshadows with xcompmgr and transparent windows with transset. If you have been reading me long enough, then you know my favorite Linux desktop is the Enlightenment desktop. I have been using this desktop for quite some time and have never felt it lacked for anything in the desktop space.

Enlightenment E17 is one of those very special desktops that has a foot in both the window manager and desktop environment arenas. It is, at the same time, both and one or the other. E17 is the natural progress of E16 which is a much more lean and simple window manager. The biggest difference is that E17 offers more in terms of traditional desktop metaphor. But just what does it have to offer? Let's take a look.


E17 has much to offer, including:

Menus: E17 has both a main and a root menu. The main window is what you would consider a "Start" menu. The root menu is a menu that appears when you click an empty space on the desktop.

Shelf: This is what you would call a panel in most parlance. The E17 desktop can hold multiple shelves which can be placed in one of twelve locations around the desktop.

Modules: You can load or unload modules as you need them.

Gadgets: You can add different gadgets to your desktop or your shelves.

Let's take a look at some of these pieces.

Figure 1
Figure 1

As you can see, in Figure 1, the E17 desktop is one of the more elegant desktops available. In this image you see the main Shelf (bottom), the root menu (lower left mid section), Gimp main window (upper left mid section), a shaded Xterm window (upper right mid section), and icons that allow you to open the file manager in different directories (upper left).

The main piece you might wonder about is the Shelf. The Shelf is a point of interest because it is highly configurable as well as usable. Let's take a look at how to configure the Shelf.


The shelf that you see in Figure 1 contains a few pieces:

  • Start Menu: Far left. This is another means of accessing the menu.
  • Pager: Second from left. This is how to warp to other desktops.
  • iBox: Third from left. This is often called the Window list in other desktops. It is where applications are minimized to.
  • iBar: Forth from left. Add applications launchers to this tool.
  • Gadgets: Last three icons. These are various applets that can be added to the Shelf.
Figure 2
Figure 2

You can configure this piece of the desktop by right clicking anywhere on the Shelf, which will bring up a new menu. From the right click menu you will see a submenu called Shelf. Click on that to reveal yet another submenu. Within this new submenu select Shelf Settings, which will open a new window. The Shelf Settings window will start out in Basic mode. Click the Advanced button to expand the contents of this window to show more options.

Figure 2 shows the advanced configuration for the Shelf. Most of this is fairly straight forward. You will, however, notice the Set Contents button. Click on this to reveal yet another window that will allow you to add and remove items to the Shelf.


You might assume that, from within the Set Contents button of the Shelf Settings window, you can add application launchers and such. You can't. What you can add is gadgets to the Shelf. Yes the iBar is where you launch applications from but just because you add an iBar to your Shelf doesn't mean there are any launchers there.

It's a bit tricky at first. Eventually you get the hang of it.

Figure 3
Figure 3

In order to add an iBar with your desired launchers you have to go to another settings window. This window is found in the Settings Panel. To get to the Settings Panel you go to the root menu, click the Settings submenu, and then click the Settings Panel entry. When this opens you will see the Apps tab (see Figure 3). Click on the Apps tab where you will see an entry for the iBar. Click on that to reveal a new window which will allow you to add and remove applications to the iBar. Once you've added/removed your desired applications click OK and the iBar will have exactly what you want in it.


Adding Themes to E17 is very easy. Download a theme from one of the many E17 theme sites and save it onto your hard drive. Open up the root menu, click on the Settings submenu, and click on the Theme entry. This will open up a new window where you can import themes saved locally. Or you can click the Online button and conveniently select one of the many themes from the online list.

Final thoughts

I bet if you give E17 a chance you will find yourself going back to it more and more until it is your only desktop. I have switched away many times, but I always wind up going back to Enlightenment.


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  1. Jim said on September 22, 2012 at 11:53 pm

    e17 is the bee’s knees!

  2. Sheldon said on March 7, 2010 at 9:47 am

    I am presently enjoying e17 right now and i can honestly say i prefer it over both kde and gnome :)

  3. Richard Chapman said on August 13, 2009 at 3:58 pm

    I tried Enlightenment (or whatever it was called then) a few years ago. I was very impressed. I am currently very comfortable with KDE 3.5.10 but I have always wanted to check in again with Enlightenment. One thing that Enlightenment represents to me is the strength of GNU/Linux (Thanks RMS) and FOSS. Microsoft wants to be everything to everyone by being one thing. They have poured a great amount of marketing “super glue” into the gears of innovation. While the rest of the IT world moves on, Microsoft is running out of lipstick. I don’t know what this era will be referred to in the history books, but it won’t be kind to Microsoft.

  4. j said on May 15, 2009 at 5:36 pm

    so i try it, installing via gentoo’s overlay. but i can’t seem to find the theme’s setting menu. i looked every place i can think of. no luck.

    is there any module have to be installed first to get that?

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