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The question might have an obvious answer. I believe it is not possible but I am not able to test it myself on the Rpi zero W until next week. I assume Tkinter requires a “window manager” from an OS that has a desktop environment. Is there a workaround to starting a Tkinter program directly from the terminal, other than installing the raspios desktop environment? I am trying to keep the system as light as possible and preferably auto start the program on boot. Thanks in advance for any advice!

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  • I don't think tkinter can start unless there is a window manager – Unsigned_Arduino Aug 6 '20 at 15:40
  • Wrong -- but I will write an answer. – goldilocks Aug 6 '20 at 15:41
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I assume Tkinter requires a “window manager” from an OS that has a desktop environment.

To clarify a few terms that have a specific technical meaning in GNU/Linux based operating systems:

  • Window(ing) system: Software that provides the basis of a desktop GUI, which is mostly about relationships with the kernel and hardware. The predominant windowing system in GNU/Linux (including Raspbian/RpiOS) is X. It also, as the name implies, provides a simple interface to draw on a 2D surface including rectangular windows in which an application can run, and a HID interface (human input device, eg. mice and keyboards). The "2D surface" can include multiple desktops, screens, etc.

    Running a TkInter does require this, but it is probably not what you think it is. If you run bare X without a window manager, you get a black screen with a small white "X" shaped mouse pointer. There is then no way to do anything other than move the X around. However, you can script it to run applications when it starts, including a window manager (and/or your TkInter app)...

  • Window manager: Software that provides a fancier interface by adding things like window borders, titlebars, etc. Sometimes these also provide menus and taskbars and can be run alone, although normally they are integrated into a desktop environment. Examples of window managers (abbreviated WM) are fvwm2, fluxbox, kwin, and openbox (which I am pretty sure is the default used with Raspbian).

  • Desktop Environment: Software that provides hefty top level things such as a file browser, taskbars and menus, app widgets, etc. On Raspbian this is an LXDE (their names often end in DE) spin-off that used to be called PIXEL but now seems not to have any name.

You don't need the last two, although a WM might end up being useful. You can start X running a single application full screen, which I think is what you want. If you auto-login this at boot it's called a kiosk and you'll find lots of discussion on that here and elsewhere.

The basic technique to running a single application is to put it in an .xinit file. You can then start the GUI from a console with the startx command. If you look around for information about these (startx and xinit) you will find enough of it.

You do not need to use the Raspbian/RpiOS desktop version to do this. You can start with the lite version and install X.

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  • Thanks a lot for the answer! Was like going back to school! :D I now have some better understanding on how to get it working! – qeiynn Aug 6 '20 at 18:09
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    A vastly under-appreciated answer methinks. – Seamus Aug 31 '20 at 19:57

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