Open Source

Linux users: Upgrade to Helix Gnome!

Are you still using an old version of Gnome? Why in the world are you doing such a thing when there's Helix Gnome? Ed Engelking explains his love of this desktop GUI.

Just recently, I have become what you might call a Linux fan. For the past couple of years, I’ve heard about the Linux operating system and wondered how it all might work. About eight months ago, I finally gave in to temptation and installed Red Hat 6.0, beginning my trek into the Linux world. However, I wasn’t too impressed with the Gnome GUI—that is, until I found Helix Gnome.

What is this thing you speak of?
Up until a few weeks ago, I wasn’t even aware that Helix Gnome existed at all. I would browse Linux Web sites such as and to see if I could find a better version of the Gnome GUI, as I wasn’t all that impressed with the other X Windows GUIs out there.

It was only when Gnome released GNU version 1.2 that I actually learned about Helix Gnome. I ventured to and found a link that took me directly to, the home of Helix Code. Little did I know at that time, about an hour later I would be running Linux with Helix Gnome.

Beginning the installation was a breeze
One of my biggest problems with Linux to date is the difficulty I’ve had installing software. For newbie users such as myself, it can be difficult remembering all the commands needed just to un-tar a file or run an RPM in Red Hat.

I learned that the installation for Helix Gnome was actually quite different from what I was used to. It is actually a means of PUSH technology, meaning the software that you require is downloaded off of the Internet and installed onto your machine.

The Helix Code Web site instructed me to open Xterm and to type in the following as root:
Lynx –source | sh

Now, just in case you didn’t know, Lynx is a text-based browser used within Linux. This command loaded Lynx and told it to open a source code from the Web site listed. When I hit [Enter], Lynx contacted a server, and I was instructed to choose from one of three download sites. After I selected a download location, Lynx began to download an installer program that would set up Helix Gnome for me.
Helix Gnome is a huge set of programs to install. I would suggest doing this download only if you have a very fast connection in your office or at home. Even with a fast connection, be prepared to wait while everything downloads onto your computer.
Continuing the installation
Then, a window appeared on my Gnome desktop: The Helix Gnome installer. Apparently, the command I sent downloaded an installer package, which was automatically launched in X.

The installer walks you through the installation of Helix Gnome quite well. You are asked if you want to install via an Internet connection or from another area on a network. Since I was installing via the Internet, I chose the first option and continued on. I was then given an opportunity to select which programs I wanted to download and install on my computer. There was quite a list, but I went through everything and checked only what I believed I needed to install. After all, these files weren’t exactly small downloads.

After I had made my selections, I clicked Next to proceed to the download window. This window is actually similar to the installation window you see when you first install Linux in a GUI or text mode. It shows the progress of the files that are being downloaded, and once complete, it shows the installation progress.

A simple restart, and you’re done
Once all of the files I had selected were downloaded and the installer had installed all the packages, I was instructed to exit out of Gnome and restart X.

I did just that, and I even went so far as to reboot my machine as a precaution. When I was back at the Linux prompt, I typed startx and waited for my newly updated Gnome desktop to load.

I immediately saw a difference in how the program loaded. It was almost like watching a Mac start up when it’s first booted. A welcome screen appeared, with little icons to show which programs were being loaded into Gnome. Needless to say, I was impressed.

However, the thing that interested me the most was the new menu bar at the top of my screen. It was much cleaner looking than the standard corner panel I had become accustomed to while using Gnome in the past. I could click on Programs, and a list of my installed programs would drop down.

While searching around, I also found that I had installed Sawmill with Helix Gnome, and I began to experiment with my window configurations. I’m proud to say that I am now running a Mac X theme called AquaX, and I love it!

All because of a desktop update, I have become a big supporter of the Linux revolution. And it is because of a very simple thing: ease of use. From my first day working with Linux, this had always been my biggest headache. I will openly admit that I am not a Linux power user, but I believe I soon will be, thanks to a simple little update provided by Helix Code.
Do you use Helix Gnome at work or at home? If so, we want to know what you think about it! Feel free to leave a post below or send us an e-mail.

Ed Engelking is a Web editor for TechRepublic. In his spare time, he co-owns and operates a Web site hosting company called UCANweb.

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