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Thread: Linux and GUIs

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  1. #1

    Linux and GUIs

    Ok I'm a long time Windows user, and a recent adopter of linux. One thing I am unlear on is just what it is that a GUI adds to the Linux picture. Currently I am running Debian Lenny without a GUI as a development server, but I may need to use it as a workstation in the future.

    As I see it with Microsoft there is not a clear demarcation between O/S and GUI, they are more or less indelibly joined. And that includes servers.

    With Linux it is not so clear to me. Without a GUI I guess you are restricted to text only displays, and basic dialogs? Without a GUI for example am I restricted to a text only web browser such as Lynx? Or maybe just a primitive Office type application?

    Perhaps my questions arise from a fundamental uncertainty about what exactly a Linux GUI provides in terms of functionality, besides a different way to access functionality that is already there.

  2. #2
    Penguin of trust elija's Avatar
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    Either at home or at work or down the pub
    The simple way to find out is to download a Live CD of something like Ubuntu or Mandriva and have a look
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  3. #3
    Linux Engineer GNU-Fan's Avatar
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    Mar 2008
    It is even more complicated than Text vs. GUI

    Linux is the kernel. It speaks to the hardware and it allocates/assigns memory and computing time to the applications. The kernel itself has no specific requirements on how it is controlled. But without any input it would just idle forever.

    Usually you want your computer to respond to the environment. This input may come from a mouse, from a keyboard, voice recognition or even some sensor.
    Think of a panel in an elevator, where you push the button of the floor you want go.
    You see there are many ways to control a computer. And Linux doesn't demand a specific device for input/output as long as a driver has been written for the hardware at hand.

    Of course a GUI is something many people know and it is very convenient.
    But it is just one of the many possible ways of interaction. Without programs to accept and interpret text input, called a "shell", it wouldn't even do that. From the point of Linux, it doesn't matter whether the shell is graphic or text. All it needs is some application to tell it what to do (delete that file here, start that application there, reboot, beep! ...).

    (This is one of the reasons why I usually refer to the operating system as GNU/Linux. It reminds that there is something more involved than just Linux to make my computer useful for me.)
    Debian GNU/Linux -- You know you want it.

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  5. #4
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    GNU-Fan, i think your post is really great (from the ground up, just like i like it), but i don't think it really answered the questions initially asked. (Or maybe it's just me.)

    I hope i actually got the question right...

    fguy64, you can use a GUI and command-line-interface (aka CLI) at the same time in Linux.
    The modern desktop environments (fully developed GUIs, no less than Windows) all have aplications that let you have a CLI window beside your normal windows.
    Just like the DOS prompt (or whatever you call it) in Windows. In fact these usually look prettier in my opinion. (But i almost never really used the DOS prompt in Windows for anything serious. (And not that i have much experience with Linux either, i'm a newb overall. But seeing both was enough.))

    Take a look at this for example:

    You can, for example, type the command "firefox" in a window for the terminal program `Konsole' if you use the desktop environment KDE, or `GNOME Terminal' if you use GNOME, and it will launch a Firefox window as if you would have clicked on its desktop shortcut. (Of course if you have it installed. =P)

    So in the end, if you want it to be like in Windows, you simply need a desktop environment like KDE or GNOME, or the more lightweight Xfce (and there's a few other options). Those all have programs that let you have a command-line window like the DOS prompt of Windows.
    Ah and, i think you first have to install the `X Window System' if it's not installed already. That's basically the base of the whole GUIs in all the Unix-like systems from what i know.

    ... Don't want to be hijacking the thread but i always wanted to ask this:
    Is it possible to install the X Window System but not a desktop environment?
    I mean, would it launch the applications that have GUIs of their own, like a graphical browser?
    What's the least you need to install, to be technically able to run all the `daily-use' programs like Firefox, graphical file browsers, media players, etc.?
    (Actually i really don't need anything else than a graphical browser. I would be happy even with a command-line based media player. =P)

  6. #5
    Administrator jayd512's Avatar
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    Feb 2008
    GNU-Fan & TaylanUB pretty much summed up the explanation.
    I can't really add anything helpful to it.

    However... @TaylanUB
    Yes, you can install X without having a DE/WM installed. Not sure why you would do this, but that's none o' my business
    You would still have to have X running in order to do anything graphical like running Firefox.
    So as far as 'the least'... you could try twm. Very minimal, but very customizable.

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  7. #6
    Linux Guru reed9's Avatar
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    Is it possible to install the X Window System but not a desktop environment?
    I mean, would it launch the applications that have GUIs of their own, like a graphical browser?
    Yes, but it'd be a pain in the ***. I saw a post were someone did this when running heavy games on moderate hardware to save resources. You can manually specify the size/geometry/placement the app. There would be no decorations, I don't think there would be any way to switch between windows, you certainly couldn't move them.

    There's a mention of running X without a window manager here, as well.
    Guide to X11/Window Managers - Wikibooks, collection of open-content textbooks
    Last edited by reed9; 09-15-2009 at 12:48 AM.

  8. #7
    Is it possible to install the X Window System but not a desktop environment?
    Yes you can
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  9. #8
    Linux Guru reed9's Avatar
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    Feb 2009
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    Yes you can ratpoison - SWiK
    I'm pretty sure he meant without window managers or desktop environments, given the context.

  10. #9
    It's possible and even easy to run apps without a window manager, which is what I do with a windows game when I don't want it interacting with the window manager (GNOME runs on screen 7, 'Battlezone 2' runs on screen 8, without a WM).

    but like was previously stated there is no minimize and barely any move capabilities, nor is there window decorations and other basic stuff that you expect from a window manager.

  11. #10
    Linux Guru reed9's Avatar
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    Feb 2009
    Boston, MA
    Roky has a good point, though. If you're looking to ditch the bloat of a GNOME or KDE, just install a lightweight window manager, such as ratpoison, though that's a little difficult to use. I use openbox as a standalone window manager and heartily recommend that. I also quite like pekwm. (Don't let the default appearance of pekwm turn you off, it can actually be made quite beautiful. The Dust theme for GNOME was ported to pekwm, so you can actually make it look almost exactly the same as Ubuntu, say.)

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