Getting started with Linux file management

Many PC World readers have installed Linux for the first time from one of our cover CDs or the Linux Minibook, and in this column we will begin with some fundamental concepts and work toward more technical areas over following issues. This first article will concentrate on graphical file management utilities.

One of the first things with which a new user needs to become familiar is the idea that the operating system consists of two distinct parts: the command line (or shell) and the X Window System which is the graphical display.

When you start Linux and log in via a display manager (the screen that first appears, prompting you for a username and password) your window manager or desktop environment will begin. The difference between a window manager and a desktop environment is that the former displays graphical programs in windows, and a desktop environment also allows you to perform changes to your system without using the shell. The two most popular desktop environments for Linux are GNOME and KDE. Both have native file managers that make it easier to adjust from a Windows or Mac environment.

Midnight Commander

A popular terminal (or console) based file manager is the GNU Midnight Commander, or simply Midnight Commander. To begin Midnight Commander, start a terminal emulation program such as rxvt or xterm and at the prompt execute:

$ mc

The terminal screen will change to a split listing of the current, or working, directory. The key will switch the cursor from left to right, allowing you to select different directories and transfer files between them. Midnight Commander uses the function keys to perform such tasks as changing or creating directories, copying or moving files, and viewing or editing text. For example, the key is used for viewing directories and files such as plain text and text-only HTML.

With one hand on the cursor or arrow keys and the other on the key, you can quickly enter and leave directories throughout your home directory and entire file system. To copy a file from one directory to another, have the source directory on one side of the split view and the destination directory on the other. With the cursor over the file, press and a dialogue box will appear asking you to confirm the transaction. It won't take a new user much time to get used to Midnight Commander: it's fast, and everything is controllable with simple keystrokes.

GMC and Nautilus

GMC is the GNOME version of Midnight Commander and is a complete graphical application. Reminiscent of Windows Explorer, GMC lets you navigate your directory structure with a mouse. It's divided into two parts, a directory tree and an icon listing.

The main viewing area will display the directory icons as folders and associate files with their appropriate applications. For example, an rpm file will be shown as a box with the rpm logo on it. You can easily customise the look of the main viewing window to display properties of each element, such as file size, by clicking on the buttons above the location bar. By default, GMC will allow you to view files, such as text and HTML, by spawning an external application. For example, if you double click on an HTML file in your home directory, GMC will launch Netscape Navigator.

As of GNOME 1.4, the graphical file manger Nautilus (developed by the now defunct Eazel) will replace GMC. Nautilus has much improved file viewing attributes, and uses Mozilla for Web browsing. See the June 2001 issue, page 144, for a more detailed review of GNOME 1.4 and Nautilus.

KFM and Konqueror

Users of the K Desktop Environment, or KDE, can take advantage of either KFM (pre-version 2.0) or Konqueror for file management. KDE has a link to Konqueror for viewing your home directory on the desktop and on the panel. Unlike other desktops, a single click will launch any KDE application, including Konqueror.

KFM and Konqueror are similar to GMC in that, by default, all display your directory tree in the left frame. The thing that sets Konqueror apart is its native file viewing capabilities. Clicking on text files, HTML documents and images will reveal them natively within the Konqueror browser. Additionally, Konqueror is a fast and stable Web browser that conforms to all the major standards and even has support for Netscape plug-ins.

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Rodney Gedda

PC World
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