Introduction to UNIX or Linux and the graphical desktop

After you have logged in, you will be presented with a desktop showing several icons and a panel that is similar to the Windows taskbar. It is usually located at the bottom of the screen, but could also be located at the top, or even one of the sides. Linux and its graphical interface, the X window system, give a lot of choices and configuration options for the desktop environment. The most commonly used desktops are the KDE desktop and the GNOME desktop.

For KDE, the panel may look something like:

With GNOME, it might look like:

Some of the more important icons that you can click on are:

Getting around in UNIX and Linux

The commands that you type within a terminal window are interpreted by a UNIX shell. Your account will have been set up to use a particular default shell. The most common shell used with Linux is bash, a variation of the Bourne shell sh. Some prefer to use tcsh, a variation of the Berkeley C shell csh. All of these shells recognize the same common commands described below for creating, navigating, or copying files between directories (in Windows-speak, "folders").

When you first bring up a terminal window, you are placed in your home directory. A few default configuration files with names starting with "." have been set up for you, but otherwise your directory is empty. You can get a listing of the current directory by using the ls command (short for 'list'). This is like the DOS dir command, but you need to specify some options (followed by a dash) to get details. To get a more detailed listing including the "dot files", type "ls -lags".

To traverse to another directory you use the cd (change directory) command. This command takes an argument of the directory you wish to change to. Either an absolute or relative path argument can be specified. Absolute paths begin at the "root" of the unix file system (/). Relative paths begin from the currect working directory. For example, if you are in your home directory, you can get to the next lower directory mail by typing "cd mail". Typing "cd" by itself gets you to your home directory. These shorthand symbols can be used to refer to commonly used directories:

To create a directory, use the mkdir command, e.g. "mkdir myScripts". Note that file and directory names in UNIX are case-sensitive. "myScripts" is not the same as "myscripts".

To print the name of the current working directory you can use the pwd (Print Working Directory) command.

You can examine text files (such as all of our README files) using the more command. This command will display a screenful of a lines at a time. Pressing space bar displays the next bunch of lines, and pressing "b" takes you back a screenful. Pressing "Enter" displays one additional line. Pressing " ' " (apostrophe) returns you to the top of the file and "q" will exit the more. For example, "more tutorial1.g" will display the contents of the file "tutorial1.g", if it exists in the current working directory. The "pipe" symbol " | " can be used to send the output of one command into another. For example, try the command "ls -lags ~ | more".

Other useful commands are rm, meaning remove or delete, as in "rm junk.mail", and cp to copy one file into another, as in "cp tutorial3.g ~/myScripts/tutorials". The "-r" option lets you recursively copy a directory with its contents, including any subdirectories. For example, if GENESIS is installed in /usr/local/genesis, to make your copy of the genesis/Scripts/tutorials directory, you would type

  cd /usr/local/genesis/Scripts
  cp -r tutorials ~/myScripts

The mv command is used to rename a file or move it to a different directory, instead of copying it.

The two most common text editors for UNIX are vi and emacs. If you are not familiar with either editor, you may find it easier to learn emacs. Here is a quick guide to using emacs. For an even simpler text editor with built-in help, try pico if it is installed. If you are using Linux with the KDE or GNOME desktop, try kedit or gedit.

Documentation for most UNIX commands can be obtained with the man command. For example "man ls" will tell you about all the options for the ls command.

The standard program for reading email on UNIX is called mail. You can find more about it with "man mail". The pine program is much more user-friendly and has built in help. The Mozilla browser is also good for reading mail.

The main source for information about Linux is the web site for The Linux Documentation Project,

If most of this is new to you, now would be a good time to open a terminal window and try out some of the commands described above.