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Working on the GNOME Desktop in Novell Linux

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NLD uses the GNOME desktop (by default) to provide an easy-to-use desktop environment. In this chapter Joe Habraken takes a look at the basics of navigating the GNOME desktop including how to use the desktop menus, work with application windows and virtual desktops, and access a command shell to execute NLD command-line tools. First he discusses GNOME and where GNOME came from. Then he explores the GNOME desktop in a more hands-on fashion.

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IN THIS CHAPTER:

  • About the GNOME Desktop

  • Navigate the GNOME Desktop

  • Use the Menu System

  • Manage Virtual Desktops

  • Change the System Date and Time Settings

  • Get Help on the GNOME Desktop

  • Run a Program from the Run Application Dialog

  • Access the Command Line

  • About File Commands

  • Use File Commands

  • About System Commands

  • Use System Commands

About the GNOME Desktop

The GNOME desktop (GNOME stands for GNU Network Object Model Environment) is GNU (open source) software that can be run on a number of Linux distributions; it also runs on some UNIX implementations. GNOME is a desktop environment that provides the GUI that you see and use as you work in NLD.

GNOME was created and is updated by the GNOME Project. The GNOME community of developers is one of the first free software groups to create human interface guidelines for the GNOME desktop, which are also suggested guidelines for programmers creating applications for Linux-based systems.

The actual graphical display system that allows you to use GNOME and other desktop environments such as KDE on a Linux system (such as NLD) is the X Window System. The X Window System contains the programming code that allows the system to display items in a graphical format (rather than text only).

When you configure items such as your monitor, graphics card, and display resolution, you are actually configuring the X Window System. Because the NLD installation process automatically configures most X Window System settings for you, you can work in GNOME without worrying too much about what the X Window System is up to (although when you do change display settings, you are configuring the X Window System). Because it is GNOME that we actually interface with (rather than the X Window system), we should take a closer look at GNOME's geography.

GNOME provides a desktop workspace that contains a set of default desktop icons, a top and bottom panel, and a menu system in the top panel. Let's break out and define the various areas of the GNOME desktop for clarity:

  • Desktop icons—A set of default icons resides on the NLD desktop: Computer, Home, floppy (if one exists on the computer), CD or DVD (depending on the type of drive installed), and Trash. The Computer icon provides access to the computer's removable media drives (floppy and CD for example), the file system (folders on the computer), and the Network (this icon allows you to browse the local area network). The Trash icon provides quick access to the Trash folder, which holds all recently deleted files and folders.

  • Top panel—The top panel provides access to the NLD menus (Program, System, Help) and quickstart icons for the Mozilla Firefox browser, Novell Evolution, and OpenOffice.org Write. Two additional quickstart icons, Network Connection and Updates, also appear on the top panel as does the Volume Control and current date/time.

  • Bottom panel—The bottom panel contains the Show Desktop icon (which is used to clear the desktop by minimizing all currently open windows) and the Workspace Switcher. The Workspace Switcher allows you to work on multiple virtual desktops. Each of these separate workspaces can contain open windows and running applications.

As with similar graphical user interfaces (such as Windows or the Mac OS), windows on the desktop can be maximized, minimized, and dragged to new locations on the desktop. Desktop icons require a double-click to open, whereas quickstart icons on the top panel require only a single click.


The GNOME desktop provides the user environment for NLD applications and tools.

Navigate the GNOME Desktop

Working on the GNOME desktop is really a study in manipulating your utility and application windows, which can be opened using either the menu system or icons (either existing or desktop icons that you have created or quickstart icons that exist by default or that you have added). The default desktop icons (such as Computer and Home) are designed to allow you to locate and manage the files that you create using your various applications.

Open Home Folder

Double-click on the Home (username Home) icon on the desktop. Your Home folder opens.

Manipulate Home Folder

Click the Maximize button to maximize the Home folder. You can open any of the folders present in the Home folder with a double-click.

Close Home Folder

To close the Home folder, click the Close button.

Rearrange Icons

You can drag icons on the desktop as needed. To rearrange any icons that you have dragged on the desktop, right-click on the desktop and select Clean Up by Name. This aligns the icons by name.

Use the Menu System

You can access the application and other tools provided by NLD using the menus that reside in the top panel of the desktop. The Programs menu divides the installed applications into categories such as Accessories, Graphics, and Office. Selecting a particular category provides a list of applications in that category. For example, the Accessories submenu provides access to tools such as the Calculator, Dictionary, and File Manager. The Office submenu provides access to the OpenOffice.org suite, which includes Write, Calc, and Impress.

The System menu provides access to personal and administrative settings. It also allows you to quickly search for a file and provides you with the ability to log off the system.

Open Program

Select the Programs menu and then select one of the program categories such as Internet. Then click an application icon such as Firefox Web Browser. The application (in this case Firefox) opens on the desktop. You can Minimize or Close the application as needed.

Open Settings

Select the System menu and then select an item on the menu such as Personal Settings. This opens the Settings window. You can minimize or maximize the Settings window as needed.

View Desktop

To minimize the application currently running on the desktop, click the View Desktop icon on the desktop's bottom panel. You can then restore any of the open applications to the desktop by clicking its icon on the bottom panel.

Manage Virtual Desktops

Before You Begin

Navigate the GNOME Desktop

Use the Menu System

Multitasking environments such as NLD make it easy for you to run multiple applications on the desktop. However, the desktop can become quickly overrun with application windows. Even with some applications minimized, the bottom panel can contain any number of icons, making the process of switching between applications an annoyance. Virtual desktops allow you to place applications on different desktops. You can then switch between these desktops and use the running applications, without sorting through a pile of windows on one desktop only.

You switch between the virtual desktops using the Workspace Switcher on the right side of the bottom panel. The Workspace Switcher actually provides a thumbnail of each of the virtual desktops currently in use.

Switch Virtual Desktop

To switch from your current desktop (and the applications currently open on the desktop), click one of the blank virtual desktops in the Workspace Switcher. Although your applications still show as open on the bottom panel (as icons), you are provided a "fresh" desktop.

Open Applications on Virtual Desktop

You can now open applications as needed on the virtual desktop. For example, select Programs, Office, Word Processor to open the OpenOffice.org Write application.

Switch Back to Original Virtual Desktop

To switch back to the original virtual desktop, select the Workspace Switcher box for that desktop. To return a virtual desktop to its original state (meaning devoid of application windows), close the applications on that virtual desktop.

Change the System Date and Time Settings

The date and time are displayed by the Clock applet that resides on far right of the top panel of the NLD desktop. Selecting the applet displays the current month showing the current date. You can change clock preferences and even copy the time and date (and then paste it into another application) by accessing this applet.

You can also access date and time settings using the Clock applet icon; however, date and time settings are considered administrative settings. This means that you must know the root account password to change these settings.

View Month

To view the current date in the context of the current month, select the Clock (showing the current date and time on the top panel). To close the month view, select the Clock a second time.

Open Clock Preferences

Right-click on the date and time and then select Preferences from the shortcut menu that appears. This opens the Clock Preferences dialog.

Change Clock Preferences

Select the Clock Type drop-down box to select either a 12 hour, 24 hour, UNIX time (the seconds that have elapsed since January 1, 1970; this is used primarily by developers), or Internet time (a universal time reference used all over the world) for the clock. To show seconds on the clock, select the Show Seconds check box. To change the clock to UTC (Universal Coordinated Time or Greenwich Mean Time), select the Use UTC check box. When you have completed editing the preferences, click Close.

Change Date and Time Settings

Right-click on the date and time and then select Adjust Date and Time from the shortcut menu. The Run as Root dialog box appears.

Enter the Root Password

Type the root password in the Password box and then click OK. The YaST window opens showing the Clock and Time Zone Configuration.

Edit Date and Time Settings in YaST

In the Region pane select your region. In the Time Zone pane select the appropriate region. To change the time or date, select the Change Time or Date button. The Change System Date and Time dialog opens. Enter the correct time in the Current Time boxes and enter the correct date in the Current Date boxes (the correct format for each entry is provided). After entering the time and date information, click Apply. This returns you to YaST. If you want to change the hardware clock setting to local time (the default is UTC), click the Hardware Clock Set To drop-down box and select Local Time. After changing the clock settings in YaST, click Accept. YaST writes a new configuration file and then closes, returning you to the NLD desktop.

Get Help on the GNOME Desktop

Although the GNOME desktop is easy to navigate, there may be times when you need some extra help. You can quickly access the Novell's GNOME User's Manual from the desktop. The user manual provides basic information on GNOME and provides a section to make it easier for Windows users to switch to the GNOME desktop.

The manual also provides information on specific applications such as Firefox, Evolution, iFolder, and the OpenOffice.org suite. Additional information is provided on managing printers, and basic information is provided on administrative tasks and working in a command shell (entering commands at the command line). You can access Help content using the content links in the Navigation Area (the left frame), or you can search for content by performing either a simple search or a more complex search on the Search tab.

Open the Help Center

Select the Help menu on the top panel and then select User's Manual. The Help Center opens on the desktop. You can maximize the Help Center; select the Maximize button on the left side of the window.

Select Content Topics

The Help Center consists of two areas: a navigation area, which lists topics, and a view window, which shows the information contained in the selected topic. To view a particular topic found in the navigation area (when the Contents tab is selected), select that topic. To view specific information related to the selected topic, select a link in the view window (the right pane of the Help Center).

Do a Simple Search

To quickly search for specific Help content, enter a search term in the Search box above the navigation area; then click the Search button. The results of your search appear in the view window. Select specific links provided as search results to view the topic pages.

Select the Search Tab

You can also run a more complex search, which provides you the ability to set more parameters for the search. Select the Search tab of the Help navigation area. Before you run the search, you need to generate a search index for content that the Help system contains. Click the Create Search Index button at the bottom of the Search pane. This opens the Build Search Index dialog.

Generate Search Index

In the Build Search Index dialog, select check boxes of index topics that currently have a status of missing (meaning that an index has not been generated for these topic areas). Then click OK to generate the indexes. The Build Search Indices message box opens declaring that the index creation is complete. Click Close to close this message box.

Run Advanced Search

Enter your Search criteria in the Search box. Set the Method drop-down to either and (the default) or or. Use the Max Results drop-down box to select the number of results that you want to receive from the search. The final step is to set the scope for the search.

You can use the Scope Selection drop-down list to either select All or Custom (None is also a selection possibility but doesn't apply in this case). If you select Custom, you can then use the check boxes provided in the Scope area of the Search pane to select individual topic areas to include in the scope. After determining the scope, click the Search button. The Search results appear as links in the view window.

Run a Program from the Run Application Dialog

See Also

Add Items to a Panel

Add Items to a Menu

About Finding and Installing New Applications

GNOME provides menu icons for many of the applications and applets installed when you run the NLD installation. These menu icons are present on either the Programs or System menus. Additional applets and other useful utilities are installed with NLD that are not represented on the menu system. One way you can run these is from the Run Application dialog.

The Run Application dialog is also useful if you add applications or applets to your NLD installation (you can download any number of GNU applications and applets for Linux distributions such as NLD). Seldom-used applications and applets can be run from the Run Application dialog. However, if you find that you are using an application or applet a lot, it makes sense to add that application or applet to a panel (such as the top panel) as a shortcut or add the program to a menu.

Open the Run Application Dialog

Select the System menu on the top panel and then select Run Program. The Run Application dialog opens. To view a list of some of the applications installed with NLD, select the Show list of known applications. This list does not list all the applications or applets available. You can view the command that actually starts one of the listed applications by selecting a particular application in the known applications list.

Enter Program Command

Enter the program command in the command box. As you type the command, if the command is recognized, an autocomplete feature helps you complete the command. For example, a command you might find useful is the gnome-panel-screenshot command that takes a screen shot of the NLD desktop. When you run the command, it opens a dialog box that allows you to specify where the screen capture file should be saved.

Run the Application

To run the application after entering the appropriate command, click the Run button. The application or applet opens in a window. In the case of the gnome-panel-screenshot command, a Save Screenshot dialog opens, which allows you to specify the location for the saved screen capture.

Access the Command Line

Before You Begin

Run a Program from the Run

Application Dialog

See Also

About File Commands

Use File Commands

About System Commands

Use System Commands

Although GNOME provides easy access to applications and applets using the menu system and the Run Application dialog, there may be occasions when you need to access a command shell and work at the command line. The information provided here is not a comprehensive look at the command shell or the various commands that can be run at the command line but is a primer to provide you with an overview of the command shell.

In NLD the default terminal or shell program is GNOME Terminal. This terminal allows you to work at the command line without leaving the NLD desktop. Most shell commands really come in two flavors: commands that provide an immediate response, such as the ls command, which provides a list of files in the current folder, and shell commands that start a particular command-line utility. For example, the passwd command starts a utility that walks you through the process of changing your user password.

Open the GNOME Terminal

Select the Programs menu on the top panel, select the System Tools submenu, and then select Terminal. The GNOME Terminal opens on the desktop. The command line in the terminal consists of your username@linux. You enter commands at the command line.

Maximize the Terminal

It is easier to view the results of shell commands if you maximize the terminal window. Click the Maximize button on the window. Now you are ready to enter shell commands.

Execute the Command

A good command utility to try out is the passwd command, which allows you to change your user password. At the command line type passwd and then press Enter. Type your current password and then press Enter. Then type your new password and press Enter. Reenter the new password and press Enter. The password has been changed.

About File Commands

Before You Begin

Access the Command Line

See Also

Use Nautilus to Manage Folders

Browse and Open Files

Find Files

You can list and manipulate the files in your folders from the command line. NLD provides the Nautilus File Manager, which allows you to manage your files using a GUI utility. You will probably want to use Nautilus for most of your file work. However, it is not a bad idea to know and understand a few file management shell commands—at least some of the basic file commands. Table 3.1 lists a few file management commands that you can use in the GNOME Terminal.

Table 3.1 File Management Commands

Command

Purpose

ls

Lists the files in the current directory.

cd

Used to change to a particular directory folder; for example, cd Documents would move you from the current parent folder to a subfolder named Documents. The cd command would return you to the parent folder.

mkdir

Used to create a new directory. For example, mkdir joe would place a new directory (subfolder) in the current folder.

rmdir

Used to remove a directory. From the folder's parent directory, type rmdir followed by the folder name. For example, rmdir joe would remove the joe folder (the folder must be empty to be removed).

copy

Used to copy a file from one folder to another. For example, to copy a file from the current folder to another folder the syntax would be copy filename.

rm

Used to delete a file. The syntax is rm filename. Be careful with this command; it does not provide you with a second chance in terms of deleting a file.


Remember that Linux commands and references are case-sensitive. So if a folder begins with a capital letter, you must type the name exactly to manipulate that folder. In terms of experimenting with folders and files at the command line, you can create new folders within your Home folder and keep documents and other files that you use in the Documents subfolder.

Use File Commands

Before You Begin

Access the Command Line

About File Commands

When you open the terminal window, you are in your Home directory. Within the home directory are the subfolders: bin, Desktop, Documents, and public_HTML. You can use commands such as ls, cd, and mkdir to view the contents of these folders and to make new subfolders.

Use the ls Command

In the GNOME Terminal window, type ls at the command line and then press Enter. The contents of your Home folder are listed.

Use the cd Command

Type cd Documents at the command line and press Enter. This changes the location to the Documents subfolder. To view whether any files are in this subfolder use the ls command. To return to the main Home folder, type cd and press Enter.

Use the mkdir Command

You can create a new subfolder within your Home folder. Type mkdir special (where the new subfolder will be special) and then press Enter. To view the new subfolder run the ls command.

Use the rmdir Command

To remove a directory from the current parent folder, such as the special subfolder created in step 3, use the rmdir command. Type rmdir special and then press Enter. When you run the ls command you will see that the folder has been deleted.

Exit the Shell

When you have finished working with the shell commands in the terminal window, you can close the terminal. Type exit at the command line and then press Enter. You are returned to the NLD desktop.

About System Commands

Before You Begin

Access the Command Line

There are also shell commands that can quickly provide you with information related to your computer system. For example, you can use the df command to view statistics related to your hard drive including the total amount of disk space and the free space available. Other system shell commands can list information related to your computer's memory and swap space and provide a list of processes (programs) that are currently running. Table 3.2 provides a list of some of the shell system commands.

Table 3.2 System Commands

Command

Purpose

df

Lists the total disk space, space currently in use, and the free space (df stands for disk free).

du

Shows the total amount of disk space in use in the current folder.

free

Shows statistics on current memory and swap file use.

date

Shows the current system time.

ps

Displays a list of currently running processes (programs).

kill

Used to terminate a process. This is a sort of last-ditch effort to kill a program that won't shut down. The syntax is kill process ID.


The system commands provided in Table 3.2 are used to view information about the system. The only "dangerous" command is kill. kill should be used only in cases where you cannot get an application to close in NLD after you have tried all other possibilities. To use kill you must find the process ID for the offending application using the ps command.

Use System Commands

Before You Begin

Access the Command Line

About System Commands

A number of system commands are available to the end-user such as df and and du that allow you to view the disk space currently used and the amount of disk space occupied by a particular folder, respectively. These system commands do not require you to be be logged on as root (the superuser administrator account).

Use the df Command

In the GNOME Terminal window, type df at the command line and then press Enter. This shows you the amount of disk space used (and the percentage used) and the amount of free space on the drive (drive meaning volume).

Use the du Command

Use the ls and cd commands to locate one of your folders. Type du and then press Enter. This shows the amount of disk space used in that folder.

Use the free Command

Type free at the command prompt and then press Enter. This shows you memory use and swap file statistics.

Use the ps Command

To view currently running processes, type ps at the command line and press Enter. The number of processes listed depends on what you were running on the NLD desktop before initiating the ps command. Note that a pid or process id is supplied for each running process (process really being synonymous with program). You would use the pid with the kill command to terminate an errant process.

After you have worked with some of the system commands, you can close the terminal window. Type exit and then press Enter to return to the NLD desktop.

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