Network Administration: Linux Basics

You won’t have any trouble finding out how to point and click your way through the GNOME user interface, but before long, you’ll run into Linux file-naming conventions, terminal windows, configuration files, and a host of other significant differences.

The following sections describe some of the more important differences between Linux and Windows.

X Window

Linux doesn’t have a built-in graphical user interface (GUI) as Windows does. Instead, the GUI in Linux is provided by an optional component called X Window System. You can run Linux without X Window, in which case you interact with Linux by typing commands. If you prefer to use a GUI, you must install and run X Window.

X Window is split into two parts:

  • A server component, called an X server, handles the basic chores of managing multiple windows and providing graphics services for application programs.

  • A user interface component, called a window manager, provides user interface features such as menus, buttons, toolbars, a taskbar, and so on. Several different window managers are available, each with a different look and feel. The most popular is GNOME.

Virtual consoles

Linux is a true multiuser operating system. This means that you can log on to Linux by using one user account and then log on by using a different account, so that you’re logged on twice at the same time. You switch back and forth between the different user sessions, and actions that you take in one session don’t affect any of your other sessions.

In addition to an X Window client such as GNOME, Linux provides a traditional text-based environment called a console, through which you can enter Linux commands to perform any function available in Linux. The more you work with Linux, the more you’ll discover the limitations of even a sophisticated GUI such as GNOME. When that happens, you’ll turn to a console where you can enter brute-force commands.

Because Linux is a multiuser system, it lets you work with more than one console. In fact, you actually have six virtual consoles at your disposal. You can switch to a particular virtual console by pressing Ctrl+Alt+F1 through F6. For example, to switch to virtual console 3, press Ctrl+Alt+F3.

When a GUI such as GNOME is running, you can switch to it by pressing Ctrl+Alt+F7.