Inside The Open Group

A Report on Emerging Technology and Standards

Killer Windows: CDE 2.1

The latest release of CDE merges with Motif and offers new features for GUI development.

By Ellis Cohen

The Common Desktop Environment (CDE) is a graphical user interface (GUI) that delivers consistency and ease of use to system administrators as well as end users. System administrators gain a degree of control over the desktop computing environment that often has been lost in the move from centralized to client/server or distributed computing. End users gain access to the power and flexibility of today's networked desktop systems.

CDE is intended for use in enterprise computing environments composed of networked computers from various vendors running versions of the Unix operating system. It provides Unix system users with a single, common graphical desktop environment across platforms, minimizing the learning curve for users who may access applications on multiple systems in the course of a workday.

CDE also provides software developers with the Motif application programming interface (API) and additional APIs for key desktop services. This set of APIs is the same across platforms, easing the task of developing applications with the same look-and-feel for multiple platforms.

System administrators gain from CDE a common method of installing and integrating applications on various Unix workstations in a distributed environment, and a method for remote configuration and maintenance of an individual user's or group of users' CDE environments.

The original CDE release was based on the OSF/Motif 1.2 toolkit. It focused on providing a uniform desktop for different Unix systems. Before CDE, each Unix vendor or independent software vendor provided its own graphical desktop. CDE 1.0 offered built-in productivity tools (such as e-mail, group calendar, file manager, text editor and others). It also provided a "message bus" architecture to enable different applications to cooperate and was inherently network aware (including the underlying use of the X Window System). Any CDE user could interact with an application on another machine on the network as if the application resided on the user's own machine.

Merging Development Streams

A new release of CDE, version 2.1, is slated for availability early in 1997. This release is based on the Motif 2.0 GUI toolkit and merges the formerly separate OSF/Motif and CDE development streams. The Motif 2.0 software was called the "developers release" by its developers. It provides CDE with several features that ease the task of developing graphical user interfaces for CDE applications. Among these are:

CDE 2.1 also incorporates new Motif user interface objects (widgets): spin box, combo box, container and notebook. To all of the above improvements related to Motif 2.0 software, CDE 2.1 adds:

Why hasn't CDE taken over the desktop world? CDE 2.1 is not a "Windows killer" and was never intended to be one, although it does do killer windows. Unlike the Microsoft Windows environment, CDE is a creation of and for open systems. It is network, workgroup and enterprise aware. It is configurable, customizable, consistent and manageable. As such, it gives organizations the opportunity to restore order to what has become a chaotic world of desktop computing.

Ellis Cohen is a user interface architect for The Open Group. He can be reached at