Managing your Linux Desktop

On April 11th Jack Wallen is back by popular demand to lend his expertise of the Linux Desktop.

On April 11th Jack Wallen was back by popular demand to talk about the best and not so best ways to manage your Linux Desktop.If you couldn’t join us then, enjoy the transcript and we hope to see you on our next live Guild Meeting.

Note: TechProGuild edits Guild Meeting transcripts for clarity.

Welcome to the Guild Meeting!

JACK WALLEN: Hey hey hey everyone!

MODERATOR: I see our speaker has arrived!

JACK WALLEN: How is everyone doing tonight? Are you ready to chat about the Linux desktop? (My favorite geek topic.)

MIKKILUSA: Hi there King!

CHICLET: Howdy, Jack!

JACK WALLEN: Who's the speaker tonight? Oh wait...that'd be me!


JACK WALLEN: Hello everyone! Looks like we have about two minutes before we start.

MODERATOR: Are we ready to get started?



MODERATOR: It sounds like many of you know our speaker tonight...

JACK WALLEN: Yes, we are ready to start.

MODERATOR: Jack Wallen Jr. is the TechProGuild Linux Guru.

JACK WALLEN: <blush blush>

MODERATOR: Jack is here to answer any of those testy little glitches on your Linux. Desktop that might be driving you crazy!

MIKKILUSA: On your mark get set GO

JEFFTTTT: Quite a lag on this end

JACK WALLEN: Glitches? Who said there were glitches?

MIKKILUSA: HE is out Linux King… all hail the king


MODERATOR: We'll let Jack talk and answer questions for a while.

JACK WALLEN: ) Okay first off I want to know what our Linux experience is in this room. We’ll go around the table. Chiclet?

JEFFTTTT: Is Linux really taking over 80% of server OS?

MIKKILUSA: Well if it a meeting on Linux glitches it is going to be a short meeting. ehehehehhe.

CHICLET: I've had only one year of experience.

JEFFTTTT: Hahaha beats my one-day!

JACK WALLEN: As to your question on the 80%. I’ll answer that with this. How easy would it be to really determine just how many servers there are?

TRISTA_MIATA: I am teaching red hat, and my book is geared toward server. We have configured custom configurations, so we are working with KDE and GNOME. Book does not address these topics much--so we are having some navigational difficulties.

Server market
JACK WALLEN: I'm talking network servers print servers file servers. One thing I find is that the media has a tendency to make up numbers.

JEFFTTTT: Too many!

JACK WALLEN: Yes I’d like to think that Linux is taking over 80% of the server market and it probably is.... but what the media is really interested in is....$$$$$

JEFFTTTT: Isn’t that the truth!

JACK WALLEN: And the cost ratio of Linux vs. any other server is way out of wack! You can take a $1.99 CD from cheapbytes and a 2-300 dollar computer and blam...instant file server!

JEFFTTTT: Out of whack how so? To cheap?

MIKKILUSA: AS Bill gates once said SHOW ME THE MONEY or was that Jerry Mcguire?

JEFFTTTT: Macquire's client actually

JACK WALLEN: What I’m saying with the 'wack' comment is the cost of a windows server is soooooo much higher than a Linux server. Minus the cost of similar hardware you compare the cost of, say, IIS to Red Hat 6.2 and you'll see what I mean. Okay...let's get to some desktop chat...I’ll answer any questions (if possible) along the way. ;-)

TSEVY: What about the available talent/skills out there to support Linux?

JACK WALLEN: How many of you actually use Linux as your desktop? How many are using it right now? TSEVY: The talent required to use Linux these days is not nearly as demanding as it used to be.

TRISTA_MIATA: I am using it on my machine in the classroom.

I use it everyday
DSOWENS: I'm using it now. Everyday actually.

JEFFTTTT: Not me, that's why I'm here--to see if it would be better way to go

JACK WALLEN: I’m using Linux as we speak.

CHICLET: I'm using RH6.1 and GNOME at the moment on 6 out of my 7 PCs at home

TSEVY: I am 'tinkering' with it, right next to an NT box, more interested in its potential as server platform.

JACK WALLEN: Great! Those of you using Linux what is your desktop? I see Chiclet is GNOME (what window manager?)


JACK WALLEN: It's an amazing server platform I’ll tell you that.

CHICLET: Enlightenment

MIKKILUSA: Hard drive went bad my Linux was on I am still sadden by this devastating happening.

JEFFTTTT: Windows 98/IE5.1 here

JACK WALLEN: Okay so far we have GNOME, KDE, and Enlightenment. I use GNOME/AfterStep.

TSEVY: GNOME locally, KDE when using Dial-up from home (Exceed).

JACK WALLEN: Ouch Mikkilusa!

TRISTA_MIATA: I am between GNOME and KDE-- get the error message that you can't run gnome file manager as root with GNOME.

JACK WALLEN: Uh oh! Our first no no! Can someone point it out? Are you saying that you are running Linux as root Trista_miata?

Our Guild Meetings feature top-flight professionals leading discussions on interesting and valuable IT issues. You can find a schedule of Guild Meetings in your weekly, or on the Guild Meeting calendar.
JACK WALLEN: If so can anyone say why that is bad?

MIKKILUSA: Hmm my guess was root.

TRISTA_MIATA: For educational purposes, yes.

CHICLET: One slip of the mouse and she could toast her system.

DSOWENS: Too easy to trash the system as root.

JACK WALLEN: Right. There are two reasons why actually. #1 we've answered. Did you know that if you issued the command 'rm -rf /' as root you'd watch your entire drive be wiped away?

MIKKILUSA: All the above and add in to many writes that you do not need to people.

DSOWENS: One rm -r in the wrong place and thar she goes.

TRISTA_MIATA: I am now aware of that, the problem is, the book did not make us aware of this, so we are using user. Actually, the bashrc shell had the rm-I alias, so I would have some warning.

JACK WALLEN: Right....many many Linux user manuals neglect to mention not to run as root. I'm sorry to point that out. I don't like to make examples. =(

MIKKILUSA: Books are bad all you need to know is on TechRepublic search under Jack Wallen. heheehe.

JACK WALLEN: I get that a lot many distributions install one user at installation and that one user is root.

TRISTA_MIATA: So we have user accounts, but something’s I try teach, the class needs to be in root to do it

The single most important thing to do
JACK WALLEN: The single most important thing you do during and installation is create a user account! I see. Good point!

TSEVY: Use 'su' when they need to do something as root.

JACK WALLEN: And so long as these machines aren't production machines...a little torture won't hurt.

TRISTA_MIATA: I don't know anyway around it, when you create an account with superuser equivalent, there are still some things you cannot do... in 6.1, you can create a user account with install, but with 6.0, you are just creating root.

JACK WALLEN: That's what I usually do. And if you use the -l switch you'll gain the users configs from their .bashrc. Otherwise to run something like ipchains you'll have to always type /sbin/ipchains.

DSOWENS: Mandrake practically twists your arm into creating a user account.

MIKKILUSA: And as my son found out do not forget your password! heheeheh. It's not like Windows. If you forget it you're in a world of hurt.

JEFFTTTT: Hmmm, looks like I need a class to get full advantage of this torture.

JACK WALLEN: Correct.... nearly all new distros insist you add a normal user account at install now. Very smart!

DSOWENS: Ahhh, thanks for the info on the ipchains problem I was having.

TRISTA_MIATA: Sorry to sound like an idiot, ipchains???

JACK WALLEN: One of the nice things about the root/user difference (which I’ll pull us back to talking desktops) is if you, as user, mess up your desktop (I mean totally trash it) you can copy the configuration files (or even the entire directory) from root over to the ~/USER directory. And you're all set to go.

DSOWENS: It’s a built in firewall for Linux


MARAT: I do know it sounds stupid but how do I install Linux box on my win 98 pc?

Installing Linux box
JACK WALLEN: I just finished a drill down on ipchains. Should be out soon. I even have a three-page script that locks down a machine very tight.

JEFFTTTT: Only stupid question is the one you DON'T ask!

TRISTA_MIATA: Marat, do you want a dual boot.

JACK WALLEN: If you want to install a Linux partition on your 98 pc you'll want to do one thing first.... buy a copy of partition magic!

MIKKILUSA: 1 thing we are all Idiots here. That’s why Jack has a job so as far as idiots go you are in that boat. heheehh.

MARAT: Yeah!

DSOWENS: I'd like to take a look at that script, I just got through spending two days on mine.

MARAT: I have sc2000.

TSEVY: Can ipchains and squid both be run on one machine, assuming an always-on Internet connection?

JACK WALLEN: With partition magic you can partition your hard drive without losing your data.

TRISTA_MIATA: We did the dual boot without partition magic in my class, everyone is running fine.

MARAT: That's okay. I did that.

JACK WALLEN: If I’m correct ipchains and squid can.

MARAT: There is no exe or setup file in Linux

JACK WALLEN: You can also run a loopback distribution. Loopback distributions are really kind of neat and it's a great way to learn Linux.

DSOWENS: Explain?

MIKKILUSA: My problem was the lio portion manager not letting the MBR program I was using work Lio wanted to be the boss or nothing.

Installing Red Hat
JACK WALLEN: In fact Red Hat 6.2 can be installed that way.

TRISTA_MIATA: Marat, my e-mail address is, e-mail me and I will tell you how we did it.

MARAT: Really.

JACK WALLEN: A loopback distribution is basically a distribution that installs onto a FAT partition but thinks it's an ext2 partition.

TSEVY: Can you explain loopback distribution?

DSOWENS: Like PhatLinux?

JACK WALLEN: Distros like PhatLinux are this way. You copy the files over to the DOS drive and change a couple of lines in a Linux. Bat file and, with PhatLinux, you'll get a boot entry when you startup. Or you can click an icon to start up the distro. It's basically dual booting without having to go through the trouble of partitioning.

TRISTA_MIATA: My students call PhatLinux windux, or lindows :-)

JACK WALLEN: Plus if you want to get rid of it you simply delete the file. I’ve not tried the Red Hat 6.2 loopback yet.

MARAT: Okay.

JACK WALLEN: One thing is that loopbacks run slower than normal distros.

JACK WALLEN: But for learning purposes it's really great.

MARAT: So u say I can find the exe file in Linux to install.

JACK WALLEN: But if you REALLY want to's best to just dive in. That's how I ultimately did it.

DSOWENS: I'm moving more and more towards Linux full time; But Linux still lacks the software titles I need.

Full time Linux
JACK WALLEN: I simply gave up on windows and said 'there has to be a better way'. So I got rid of windows and forced myself to learn Linux.

CHICLET: I agree with dsowens, there isn't even a good full-featured email client.

JACK WALLEN: If I wanted to compute...I had to learn.

MARAT: BEOS is it better then Linux.

JACK WALLEN: Tell me what you need in an e-mail client that Linux doesn't have.

DSOWENS: I did not care for be it has less hardware support than Linux.

JACK WALLEN: And if you mention outlook I’ll shoot ya down really quickly ;-)

TRISTA_MIATA: Any suggestions on support for StarOffice? One of my students claims it keeps crashing on him.

JACK WALLEN: Yes there's a book called (I just bought it) 'Special Edition Using StarOffice'. It's an amazing book! I looooooooooove StarOffice!

JEFFTTTT: Uh, is Outlook a non-no for some reason? I find it useful.

MIKKILUSA: He will do it too he has a bullet with Microsoft’s name on it, eheheheh.

DSOWENS: A client that allows multiple pop accounts and doesn't lose mail.


JACK WALLEN: far as outlook is concerned...Miguel di Icaza (the creator of GNOME) is heading a project called Evolution that will be the Linux equivalent of Outlook. And will integrate with outlook as well! They are working very hard on evolution.

JEFFTTTT: Methinks I'm in the wrong place at the right time....

MARAT: Trista, I’ll send the email.

JACK WALLEN: Hopefully by the end of this year. Also...with the new Netscape 6 you can use multiple pop clients. Even with fetchmail you can use multiple pop clients.

CHICLET: Evolution is even supposed to replace the need for Microsoft email servers...

JACK WALLEN: With the addition of a single line in my .fetchmailrc file I can call as many pop servers as I want.

TRISTA_MIATA: Okay-- how will evolution interact with sendmail

DSOWENS: I'm still waiting to make sure Netscape 6 is not bug ridden before I make the jump.

JEFFTTTT: Now THAT would be nice - getting rid of MSN lack of interactoin with local ISPs

JACK WALLEN: I’ve used NS 6. If you've used any of the later Mozilla milestones you'll recognize it.

MIKKILUSA: Ehehehe a beta 1 you can bet it has few.

JACK WALLEN: Yes it does. I think about every beta software I’ve ever used has had bugs.

And some software that was supposed to be gold was buggy as all get out. Take for instance (and I really hate to say this) Word Perfect 2000 for Linux. That was a case of rushing software to the shelves way too fast.

DSOWENS: My current version 4.7 is very buggy; it locks up every time I happen on a web site with Java.

MIKKILUSA: Ah the almighty $ in action again.

JACK WALLEN: They insisted on using WINE (a windows emulator so to speak) and basically made wrappers for the windows version...thereby making it unstable! There is a font path problem with Netscape on Linux. That’s what causes the java errors.

DSOWENS: I'm new to Linux and even I know that wine doesn't work well for much of anything.

JACK WALLEN: I never get those anymore but I can't remember what the fix is. If you look at and do a search for Netscape Java Errors you should find the solution.

DSOWENS: I'll try that.

JACK WALLEN: Right. Although now that Corel basically 'owns' wine it will improve dramatically.

JACK WALLEN: At least it should. What you really should do (for the whole e-mail trauma) is use <everyone in unison> VMware! Okay.... I also want to do a shameless plug for helix-gnome

DSOWENS: I heard Corel was using a different wine that they made specifically for their products. Have you heard that?

JACK WALLEN: I tend to try to stay on top of the curve with GNOME and currently helix-gnome is it. No I believe it is the same wine. They have made modifications however.

TSEVY: Can you tell us more about helix-gnome?

Tell us about the helix-gnome
DSOWENS: Yes, yes, I'm interested.

JACK WALLEN: For those interested. helix-gnome is the newest incarnation of GNOME which is being developed by Miguel's newest for-profit company helixcode. Basically he has put together a company in order to pay GNOME developers to further GNOME and it's doing quite well!

DSOWENS: So its gonna cost me?

TSEVY: What's better about it than what comes with RH 6.x?

JACK WALLEN: The installation routine alone will blow your mind <and's still very free and will stay that way>

DSOWENS: Is it available now or still in the works?

JACK WALLEN: The instructions for installation are on the website but it's basically open up a console, su to root, enter a command which will download the installer. And away you go. It’s truly a piece of art! It's very available. And incredibly stable! I use it on all my machines. One thing they've done is that they no longer have Enlightenment the default desktop.

DSOWENS: How does it compare with KDE's very friendly GUI?

JACK WALLEN: Now they use sawmill which is a much speedier window manager. That is very flexible and elegant. I’d say that GNOME in general is as friendly as KDE. The biggest difference is that it doesn't look so much like windows. Therefore most people assume that KDE is friendlier. Therefore the equation 'looks-like-windows = friendly' hold true. The truth is that it's not. The windows metaphor was basically stolen in the first place. And yes, improved upon...but we all know that there are certain aspects of windows that are not friendly. Just like there are certain aspects of Linux that are not friendly.

TSEVY: What about fonts? I am running 6.2 beta with Netscape 4.7 at work. The appearance is terrible compared to M$ Windows, etc.

JACK WALLEN: However to assume that because it does not look like windows means it is not user friendly is to assume poorly.

From Windows to Linux
DSOWENS: A lot of users trying Linux for the first time are coming from Windows; I think the Windows look makes them more willing to try it in the first place.

JACK WALLEN: The XFree86 organization knows that fonts are a sore spot in Linux land and with version 4.0 (of XFree86) this will hopefully be solved.

DSOWENS: They don't feel too overwhelmed.

JACK WALLEN: Exactly which is why many distributions lean towards KDE. But what they are missing is that GNOME is so much more configurable than KDE.

TRISTA_MIATA: How come I have what appear to be inconsistencies between the "command line" and the xwindows--I had a huge problem last week in regards to mounting a floppy, cd rom--it was mounted in the x windows, not in the command line--would not mount or be recognized in the command line--eventually figured it out, unmounted through the x window, then could mount through the command line

JACK WALLEN: GNOME works so well with a number of window's footprint is somewhat smaller and has a better Object interface.

TRISTA_MIATA: I definitely agree with GNOME being more configurable than kde.

JACK WALLEN: Okay...with the new GUI's they've introduced the magicdev application which makes mounting floppies and cd roms automatic.

TRISTA_MIATA: I find things a lot quicker on GNOME that I really have to dig for with kde

JACK WALLEN: If you want to be able to mount them, as user, in console you'll want to open up linuxconf and go configure them to be user mountable. Then the mount command is: mount /mnt/floppy for floppies and mount /mnt/cdrom for cdroms.

MIKKILUSA: Well all it’s been fun but I got to run. Seeya Thursday!

JACK WALLEN: Yes GNOME is a bit quicker. See ya Mikkilusa! GNOME also has some really great applets that run within the panel. Right now my favorite is the gnome-weather applet...a tiny button that always tells me what the temp and forecast is! Since I’m on a cable modem I always know what the weather is.

The GNOME is quicker than it looks
TRISTA_MIATA: The problem was, in the command line, it wouldn't mount, or tell you this is already mounted in the xwindows.

JACK WALLEN: Simple but friendly. Right...I’ve had that problem a couple of times. In the gnome control center you might uncheck the automount button.

TRISTA_MIATA: I like the moon phase--I think it is in kde....

JACK WALLEN: That will sometimes solve your problem. But the applets only graze the surface of GNOME. You should all take a look at gnumeric.

JACK WALLEN: Gnumeric is Miguel's baby. This is a spreadsheet application that is becoming, quite frankly, amazing! It's opens and saves most formats. It has most of the functions of all the popular spreadsheet apps...and integrates so perfectly with the Desktop environment.

MODERATOR: Gentle reminder -- fifteen minutes of fun left - get those questions in!

TRISTA_MIATA: I was just going to ask what it was. Where is it available?

JACK WALLEN: If you can imagine how everything in windows seems to integrate together...both GNOME and KDE are reaching that same goal. Only GNOME is going to surpass KDE with bonobo. Gnumeric comes with the gnome installation. It’s in the main menu under applications. Give it a whirl it'll blow your mind...considering it's an Open Source app.


JACK WALLEN: One thing you have to be careful with is the gnumeric/gnome print issue. Make sure you are keeping up with both packages.

JACK WALLEN: If you have a newer gnumeric than a gnome print you may not be able to print from gnumeric. But I highly suggest that if you are going to use GNOME you should upgrade to helix-gnome ASAP! It is such a huge leap forward from October GNOME. So...what are those other questions? Anyone? Anyone?

Any other questions?
CHICLET: And then with Bonobo, Gnome/Linux become a real alternative to M$oft in the business desktop environment?

JACK WALLEN: Oh yes...but before anyone gets confused...bononbo is merely a component of GNOME that allows the apps to (basically) interact seemlessly. It’s not an app in and of itself. The real deal is: if you want to learn Linux and you're coming straight from Windows (and you like that interface) choose KDE. If you want to really escape the Windows metaphor...go with GNOME. If you use KDE and you find yourself growing bored...switch to GNOME. Oh and that reminds me. There’s a tool that comes with Red Hat that few people know about. It's called 'switchdesk'.

TRISTA_MIATA: That much I do know :-)

DSOWENS: It's also a part of the Mandrake distro.

JACK WALLEN: If you've installed both GNOME and KDE you can run the command (from console) 'switchdesk' and chose between KDE, GNOME, or another level.Right. Mandrake and Red Hat are very similar. Very smart move on Mandrake's part. I do believe (and I think you can mark my words here) that Red Hat is going to come out on top and set the Linux standard. As much as most hard core Linux users hate that sentiment...I believe it will come to fruition (I just wanted to use that word that's all).

TRISTA_MIATA: Any suggestions on resources for anotherlevel? I have a hard time with that desktop.

JACK WALLEN: Okay we have 10, count 'em 10, minutes left.

MODERATOR: Hey, that's my job!

JACK WALLEN: My suggestion with another level....leave it. Now I’m teasing.

DSOWENS: A real problem I have experienced is no easily implemented way of getting connect on demand Internet access.

JACK WALLEN: Do you mean dial up access?

DSOWENS: Well, I mean automatic connection when I launch my browser or e-mail client.

JACK WALLEN: Trista_miata (I have a miata ;-) ): I will look for a resource on another level. Can you e-mail me at to remind me?

TRISTA_MIATA: I know, but I have to teach this desktop--and it is very frustration--it's here, no you moved the mouse, it's gone-- what do the eyes do--nothing, and I cannot get rid of them

JACK WALLEN: Speaking of which...if anyone has any questions you can e-mail me at the same addy. I don't know of a such beast Dsowens.

TRISTA_MIATA: Thanks dude.

JACK WALLEN: However I know you can configure your modem to start up at boot. What you'll want to do is search freshmeat for such a tool. Although....hmmm........

DSOWENS: My rc.firewall script is no good until I have my connection up.

JACK WALLEN: You could create a shell script that would first call something like /etc/sysconfig/network-scripts/ifup ppp0 and then call your browser. I think it could work.

MODERATOR: 5 minutes everyone.

TRISTA_MIATA: Good night and thank you

Good night everyone
JACK WALLEN: You should use a constant firewall script. I have one that I just developed that will be a download off of TPG. Don't forget to remind me Trista. Do we have any last questions?

MODERATOR: Jack, since we're closing up, can you tell everyone when you're speaking next?

JACK WALLEN: I believe I’m speaking some Friday this month. Boy, I’m embarrassed. Ms. moderator you want to tell the guests when I’m speaking next? I don't have my schedule with me! ;-)

MODERATOR: And if anyone has suggestions for other meeting topics, please let us know.

JACK WALLEN: My next topic, I know this, is 'e-mail: beyond outlook'. Yes if anyone has any Linux related topics they'd like to see covered in the guild meetings please e-mail them to me! Don’t forget Any last questions? I guess I could through one out! ;-)

DSOWENS: A good HTML editor?

JACK WALLEN: What is the single most important feature in an e-mail client? When you say good HTML editor do you mean WYSIWYG or code? The best one I’ve ever seen is dream Weaver. But that's a Windows app.

MODERATOR: It's 10 P.M.. Thanks everyone for coming.

DSOWENS: Similar to Home site.

JACK WALLEN: The best one I’ve seen for Linux is probably bluefish. You want bluefish then. Go to freshmeat and do a search for bluefish.

DSOWENS: Thanks that help a lot.

JACK WALLEN: So you know is the place for Linux apps. Well looks like we are o-u-t of time. I hope someone learned something tonight. Please keep coming back with your questions. Linux is an amazing OS that will take you as far as your imagination will go!

MODERATOR: Thanks, Jack.

JACK WALLEN: Have a great evening all! I hope you've enjoyed. Buh bye!
Our Guild Meetings feature top-flight professionals leading discussions on interesting and valuable IT issues. You can find a schedule of Guild Meetings in your weekly TechProGuild Notes TechMail, or on the Guild Meeting calendar.