SolutionBase: Performing common administrative tasks on a Fedora Core 5 workstation

Making the jump to Linux can be a daunting task for a Windows administrator. It's hard to learn the new tricks quickly. Scott Lowe explains how to do some of the most common things in Fedora Core 5.

Release on March 20, 206, Fedora Core 5 is the latest release of Red Hat's community-supported "testing ground" Linux operating system. Suitable for use as either a desktop system or a server, before new features are added to Red Hat's mainstream commercial products, these features must first be proven and vetted in Fedora Core. In this article, you will learn how to approach common administrative tasks under Fedora Core 5, with the assumption that you are using Fedora Core as a desktop operating system rather than as a true server. I'll be performing all of the examples in this article using GUI tools whenever possible.

Managing personal settings

For many users, the first stop upon getting a new computer is often changing display preferences in order to somewhat personalize the look and feel of the system and make it more appealing (or cutesy) to use. Although many organizations have policies that forbid system personalization, these policies are often overlooked and not enforced. So, in the true spirit of "if you can't beat 'em, join 'em", in this section, I'll show you how to customize your new Fedora desktop.

Of course, beyond the look, there is some real value to being able to change certain display settings, such as the resolution and color depth. You will also learn how to accomplish these goals.

Changing the display resolution and color depth

If you haven't already done so, or if you have made hardware changes, Fedora's Gnome implementation makes it super-simple (usually) to change your resolution and color depth.

From the System menu at the top of the screen, choose Preferences | Screen Resolution.

Figure A

Choose System | Preferences | Screen Resolution to open the Screen Resolution Preferences window.

On the resulting Screen Resolution Preferences window, use the Resolution drop-down box to choose the resolution that works for you as shown in Figure B.

Figure B

Choose your desired resolution from the selection list.

You may not be able to see all of the resolution choices that your monitor can support. The reason: During Fedora's installation, you may have configured your maximum resolution to be something less than the maximum supported by your hardware. But, all is not lost! You can change this configuration by going to System | Administration | Display to change the system system-wide display settings. When you open up certain applets from the System menu, Fedora prompts you for the root password, since these tools require administrative access to the machine. Once you provide the root password, the "Display settings" dialog window opens. From this menu, select the resolution that you would like to use.

Also on this screen, use the drop down box next to the Color Depth heading to change the color depth of your display, if desired. I'm changing my resolution to 1920x1200 and leaving my color depth at "Millions of Colors". After you make this kind of change, you need to exit X and restart it. I just rebooted my machine. Note that you only have to restart X if you change the resolution using the administrative tool. If you changed your resolution using the user preferences screen shown in Figure C, the resolution will just change.

Figure C

Change the maximum resolution and the color depth for your hardware.

If you installed new hardware, such as a new monitor, on the "Display settings" screen shown in Figure D, click the Hardware tab and tell Fedora what kind of hardware you are using so that Fedora knows the capabilities of your monitor and can provide you with a supported resolution list.

Figure D

Change your hardware preferences to get a complete list of supported resolutions.

Changing the desktop background

First off, I'm a huge fan of the new Fedora theme, which is based on Red Hat's Bluecurve them. I've also noticed that the theme used in the Vista betas bears a slight resemblance, but that's a story for another time.

To open the Desktop Background Preferences window, right-click anywhere on a blank portion of your desktop and choose Change Desktop Background from the shortcut menu. On the Desktop Background Preferences window, you can choose to do any of the following:

  • Set new desktop wallpaper from the existing list of images.
  • Using the Add Wallpaper button, add new images from the file system to the selection list.
  • Remove selections from the list using the Remove button.
  • Choose whether a background image will fill the screen, be centered on the screen (with the surrounding background the color selected in the "Desktop Colors" setting), be scaled to fit the screen, or be tiled, so that the same image is used over and over until it fills the screen.
  • Choose "No wallpaper" and use the "Desktop Colors" options to give the desktop background a solid or gradient color.

Figure E

Choose your desktop background display preferences.

Changing the screen saver

The final component of most people's desktop display diatribe is the selection of a suitably cute screen saver. Change your screen saver by going to System | Preferences | Screensaver.

On the "Screensaver preferences" window, choose your preferences. You can have the screen simply go blank, or display random picture, use the default Fedora theme, Gnome feet, any number of options.

The screen saver can also be configured so that it locks the console, thus requiring the logged-in user to provide a password in order to unlock the workstation. I've disabled this behavior since my Fedora machine sits in my office at home.

Figure F

Your screensaver preferences can be blank, or you can let everyone that walks by your desk know what your hobbies are by using pictures.

Creating users and groups

With the look and feel choices out of the way, now you can get on with the job of making the system more usable. First up: user creation. Separate user accounts are particularly useful when multiple people are sharing a machine. Each user gets his or her own file space and preferences, and single accounts don't disturb the settings of other users.

Create users using the User Manager available from System | Administration | Users and Groups. Add a new user by clicking the Add User button and providing a user name, name of the user, and a password. You can also choose the login shell (bash, csh, ksh, sh, or tcsh) that the user will use. By default, Fedora creates a user home directory at /home/{username} and also creates a private group for the new user.

Figure G

The User Manager screen gives you a place from which to create new and edit existing users and groups.

From the User Manager screen, you can also adjust the following user details by selecting a user and choosing the Properties option.

  • Account expiration
  • Locking the local password
  • Password expiration
  • Group membership


Speaking of groups, they are a good way to make it easier to handle permissions to files and folders and it's generally recommended that you assign users to groups and then grant groups particular rights rather than assigning user rights directly. To create a new group, in User Manager, click the Add Group option. In the resulting Create New Group dialog box, type a name for your group and click the OK button.

Figure H

Use groups to assign permissions.

Connecting to network printers

Printers are the bane of most support professionals, and also one of the most used resources on the network. You'd probably expect to be able to print from your new Fedora Core system and, in this section, you will learn to do just that.

I'm not going to go over printing when a printer is connected directly to a Fedora system but will instead go over two corporate printing scenarios (both in this, and in the next article in this series):

  • (This article) Printing directly to an HP LaserJet 4000N over the network. In this case, the LaserJet has a JetDirect card and an IP address.
  • (Next article) Printing to the same model printer, but this time, the printer is connected to a Windows file and print server.

Printing directly to a network printer

Printing directly to a network printer works well for standard equipment, such as JetDirect cards that use TCP/IP. If you use some not-well-supported means to get a printer on your network, you may have trouble printing from your Linux machine. In that case, you can connect the printer to a Windows workstation and read the next article in which I talk about Fedora and Windows integration.

In the "Printer configuration -- servername" window, click the New button to create a new printer. This starts a short wizard that walks you through the process of creating a new print queue to which you will be able to directly send documents.

On the first screen, the "Add a new print queue" wizard asks you to create a queue name and to provide a description for this queue. The queue name has to start with a letter and cannot contain spaces. I've named by queue "LJ4000N" since that is the model printer I have in my lab. Click the Forward button to continue.

Figure I

Give your new print queue a name and description.

On the second screen of the wizard, choose your queue type, as shown in Figure J. My printer has an HP JetDirect card installed, so I will select that option.

Figure J

Choose your queue type.

If you choose the JetDirect option, Fedora asks you for a name or IP address for your printer and the port on which Fedora can communicate with your printer. The default JetDirect port is 9100. My printer uses the IP address

Figure K

Type in an IP address and port for your JetDirect card.

Before Fedora can use your printer, you need to tell it what kind of hardware you're using. Provide the make and model of your printer on the next step of the wizard.

Figure L

Tell Fedora what make and model printer you are using.

After selecting the printer model, Fedora will create the new queue and ask you if you want to print a test page to make sure everything is working correctly. After a printer is created, you can use the Edit button on the "Printer configuration" screen to make more refinements to this printer's configuration. For example, you can configure the printer to spit out a banner page before each job, change the default resolution, change the printer driver and more. Figure M shows you the "Printer configuration" window with a printer created.

Figure M

This screen shows a single print queue with a printer that is not shared with other computers.

Get Acrobat Reader

There are a ton of PDF readers available for Linux, but Adobe also provides a Linux version of their ubiquitous Acrobat Reader product, available for free download from their site. When you download Acrobat, download the RPM installer version which is akin to installing an MSI file on Windows. After the Acrobat Reader installation file downloads, double-click it to begin the installation. Note that installation requires root privileges, so Fedora prompts you for the root password before continuing. On the "Installing packages" screen, click the Apply button to proceed with the installation. If your system does not meet all of the dependency requirements, the installer will prompt you to ask for permission to download necessary dependencies, as shown in Figure O.

Figure N

Click the Apply button to install Acrobat Reader.

Figure O

May the installer proceed with dependency resolution?

Linux has a reputation for being a safe operating system, partially because you don't run everything as a root, or administrative, user. However, your installation of Acrobat is being performed as the root user, so, during the installation process. Fedora warns you that software installation can be dangerous and, again, asks for permission before proceeding.

After installation completes, Adobe Acrobat is added to the Applications | Office menu.

Figure P

The Adobe Acrobat installation is done.

In general, the steps above will work for just about any RPM-based installation program.

Just the basics

There was a day with Linux when the items I mentioned here would have each warranted their own article because the end result was so hard to achieve. With each new release, Linux distributions get better and better and much easier to use. Fedora Core 5 is fast and includes GUI-based features that make it powerful and fairly easy to use.