How to install OpenBox on a minimum of Debian 11 Bullseye


If you are using a minimal Debian 11 Bullseye server distribution and want a lightweight Windows manager as well as a low resource consumption display manager and desktop panel; so here is the tutorial to install the OpenBox window manager on a minimal Debian 11 Linux distribution using the command line.

What is the Openbox window manager?

Openbox is a very fast and lightweight window manager with high customization capabilities. It is known for its high adaptability and low resource requirements. Users can adapt or customize the desktop environment to their preference by simply editing three files. However, for easy configuration, users can use other programs that offer graphical user interfaces to configure settings and menus. In addition, Openbox is the standard window manager of LXDE or LXQt desktop environments and therefore also of Lubuntu. Whereas there are various unofficial variants of Ubuntu which also rely on Openbox.

The Openbox window manager is especially useful for those looking for an individual user interface but who are familiar with Linux operation as they have to work with a rudimentary configuration.

Steps to install OpenBox on Debian 11 Bullseye

The steps given here to install and configure OpenBox on Debian 11 are also applicable for Debian 10 Buster and Ubuntu 20.04.

1. Refresh the system APT cache

Well, the packages that we need to install are available through the Debian 11 APT package manager. Therefore, before we go any further, let’s run the update command to rebuild the repository cache and install the available system updates.

sudo apt update && sudo apt upgrade -y

2. Install OpenBox for Debian 11 Minimal

It doesn’t matter if you are on a minimal or full Debian 11 desktop, the OpenBox install command will be the same for both. Moreover, with OpenBox it will install another tool called- obconf, it’s a graphical tool that offers a graphical interface to configure Openbox preferences and configuration settings instantly. Along with this, we are also installing Xorg. the menu is to get the Debian menu in the OpenBox context menu to access the various applications installed on your system.

sudo apt install openbox xorg menu

Manual configuration files

Openbox can be fully configured using just three files: rc.xml, menu.xml and autostart. As a user you can find these files in the folder ~/.config/openbox. If they are not available, you can use the system-wide configuration files in the /etc/xdg/openbox folder as a template (copy it to your own home directory) and adapt them to your own needs.

We can configure the OpenBox by editing these config files, however, instead of editing its file globally, we prefer to edit them by user, so that their global files remain intact. Copy them for your user:

mkdir -p ~/.config/openbox
cp -a /etc/xdg/openbox/ ~/.config/


~ /.config/openbox/rc.xml : Main configuration file (appearance, keyboard shortcuts (hotkeys), etc.)
~ /.config/openbox/menu.xml : Configuration of the context menu (right mouse button)
~ /.config/openbox/autostart  : Autostart script *

To note: if you are not satisfied with the Debian menu to access applications on Openbox, you can opt for the desktop panels or the Dock.

3. Install the desktop panel for OpenBox

To read before going further: To access the Application and the menu, we can That is install the Desktop panel Where Platform. Here we have given commands for both. Choose only a of them according to your choice.

Controls for popular lightweight panels

XFCE panel for openbox

By default there will be no task bar to access system applications and menus. To enable this we can install various available Linux Desktop panels such as lightweight lxpanel. However, this is not the only option, we can use other desktop panels like fbpanel, tint2, A2Deskbar and xfce4-panel. Here we go for a lightweight xfce4 panel with a nano editor and an xfce terminal.

sudo apt install xfce4-panel nano xfce4-terminal -y

To note: Those who do not want the XFCE terminal can install gnome-terminal, just replace it in the above command.

Configure Open box to start the XFCE4 panel automatically with system start.

nano ~/.config/openbox/autostart

At the end of the file add:

xfce4-manager &

To safeguard the file by pressing Ctrl + O, press the Enter key, then Ctrl + X.

Only for Dock Panel

Dock installation for minimal open box

1. Install Dock for OpenBox using the given command. This will install and configure xcompmgr and cairo-dock utilities on your system

sudo apt install xcompmgr cairo-dock

2. Now tell the OpenBox to start the Dock automatically upon logging into the system. Edit the autostart script file.

nano ~/.config/openbox/autostart

3. Add the following line to the end of the file and save it using Ctrl + O, take it Enter key, then Ctrl + X.

xcompmgr &cairo-dock -o &

4. Install Display Manager on a minimum of Debian 11

We also need a display manager to get graphical login capabilities for your Linux distribution. It controls user sessions and manages user authentication.

sudo apt install lightdm -y

5. Restart your Debian 11 system

Once done, restart your system to activate the settings we have defined above.

sudo reboot

Here is the interface we get after following the above command with the XFCE panel.

6. Change the wallpaper in Openbox

Those who did not like the default wallpaper can follow the given steps to change the wallpaper and set the one you want.

1st method:

Install the feh package tool

sudo apt install feh

After that use to set any image available on your system or downloaded to set it as background

feh --bg-scale /path/to/your/background/image.jpg

set wallpaper to openbox

# 2nd method:

Alternatively, we can use the graphics tool such as Nitrogen to easily navigate and set the wallpaper using any command line:

sudo apt install -y nitrogen

Once the application is installed, go to Applications and start the Nitrogen application.
Click on the Preferences.

Set the wallpaper path in Debian

Select the available wallpapers then click on the Apply button.

Install the Nitrogen wallpaper manager

7. Install Thunar file manager for Openbox – Debian 11

We can install a File Manager application such as Thunar to easily access all files and folders using the graphical user interface. Thunar is a popular, lightweight, and fast file manager that won’t slow down your system at all.

sudo apt install thunar -y

Installing Thunar File Manager

8. Graphical configuration tools


With the program obconf you can configure the appearance and behavior of Openbox on Debian 11. The following configuration options are available:
option effect
Theme Choice of subject (window decoration, colors)
Appearance Fonts and window title bar layout
the Windows special window functions
Move and resize Behavior when changing the position and / or size of a window
Mouse Focus and behavior of the window when double-clicking on the title bar
Desktop computers Number of virtual offices
Margins The behavior of desktop edge areas
platform additional toolbar / program bar

Files with the extension .obt3 can be loaded directly using the To install new theme “ button. Alternatively, the downloaded archive files can also be extract manually and copied or moved to the hidden user ~ / .themes folder or, in the case of a system-wide installation with root privileges, at / usr / share / themes.

openbox graphical configuration tool

Closing Thoughts:

Well, that was the quick guide to install and start working with OpenBox on Debian 11 with minimal configuration. This gives your system GUI access without putting any load on system resources. For other configurations and for more information, see the Debian wiki page for Openbox.

Other articles:

• How to install the i3 window manager on Ubuntu 20.04 or Debian 11
Install Dash to Dock on the Pop OS Linux distribution


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