Open Source

Which is best: GUI or console login?

Confused by your Linux login options? Professor Wallen is here to answer your questions.

You've spent the time installing Linux. It went well, and it's ready to roll. You boot your machine from the LILO: prompt and your machine arrives at the login prompt. Now what do you do? Where do you go? Let's find out.
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Depending on which distribution you have chosen and what release of that distribution, you will have different options. For example, Caldera Open Linux and Red Hat Linux offer options of either booting directly into a graphical or a console login. Let’s look at the advantages and disadvantages of both types of logins.

Graphical login
The graphical login (also known as runlevel 5) for both Caldera and Red Hat Linux offers a well-designed, easy-to-use login screen. It allows you to choose which login to use and then enter a password. Both the Caldera and Red Hat graphical login offer similar options; you can pick languages and default bash shells and default desktop environments. From the Red Hat login screen, it is just a simple matter of typing in your user name, followed by the password, and hitting [Enter].

The Red Hat login screen differs only from the console screen in that obviously there is a GUI involved and there are more choices. The Caldera login screen allows you to simply click a user icon, enter the password, and hit the login button.

The benefits to graphical login are obvious: simplistic graphical interface and more choices at login time.

The disadvantages are not so obvious. The slim possibility exists that a user could break the X server, thereby rendering the GUI useless. Thus it’s advisable to have your Linux box set at run level 3, which means that the boot stops at console (user must activate X Windows). By stopping the machine at console, you are guaranteed fail-safe use.

Changing the run level
There are two ways to change the run level of your machine, allowing the machine to either boot directly into X or console.
  1. Re-run (as root) Xconfigurator (by running the command Xconfigurator from a console) and choosing to either start X at boot or not.
  2. The simpler way is to manually edit your /etc/inittab file. Within the /etc/inittab file, there is a line:
    towards the top of this file. It is set to 3, which stops the boot process at the console mode. To change this to 5 (graphical mode), simply alter the line to:
    and reboot your machine. After this change, you will then be booting automatically into X Windows.

Console login
Console login is a very basic login that halts with this prompt:
xena login:

(Notice the name xena; this is the name of the machine being logged into.)

From this point, there is very little difference from the Red Hat GUI login. All you need to do is enter your user name and password, which will deposit you into your bash prompt:
[jwallen@xena jwallen]$

At this point, you can stop to do console-based computing, which is many times faster than GUI-based, or start up their X server with the

command. When the above command is run, the X Windows system will begin and the chosen desktop environment will boot up as well as the chosen Window manager.

Jack Wallen, Jr., is pleased to have joined the TechRepublic staff as editor-in-chief of Linux content. Prior to his headfirst dive into the computer industry, he was a professional actor with film, TV, and Broadway credits. Now Jack is content with his new position of Linux evangelist.

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Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website

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