posted by Scott Rippee on Thu 15th Jan 2004 20:27 UTC
IconAs I have recently discovered, with the right applications, ditching the GUI and using the console exclusively can be a pleasure. By knowing which console applications will suit your needs the best you can achieve efficiency in a console environment that rivals that of a GUI. With well designed ncurses interfaces many console applications are extremely usable and working in a console environment can not only free up precious resources it can also provide several other benefits that will be discussed later in this article.

Note: The use of the term GUI in this article will refer to an X server with the possible addition of a window manager and/or desktop environment. Although I have seen applications with ncurses interface referred to as having a GUI, I will refer to their interface in this article as the console or User Interface (UI).

We All Have Needs

When exploring the idea of continuing existence without your favorite Desktop Environment you must examine what your needs are when using your computer. If you are a graphic designer, working exclusively in the console is obviously out of the questions, but for many Linux users operating there computer in a console environment is a very realistic, even enjoyable, solution. Since I had an older computer lying around I decided to use it as a file and web server a couple of years back. Later, when working on my primary machine I got tired of distractions like people instant messaging me and other temptations like messing with mp3's, etc. so I decided to move these applications to the older computer. I first tried a few of the minimalistic window managers and although I am a big fan of the usability that some of them provide, I was never satisfied with the amount of resources I had to sacrifice to run X on this older machine. I decided to look for console applications that would match the functionality I had become accustomed to in the GUI programs I depend on. I needed to find an instant messaging program capable of communicating with multiple protocols, a music player that could play mp3 and ogg files, a means for surfing the net, and some applications to monitor my system resources. I didn't expect to find applications that could live up to my expectations, but it turned out that the applications I did find were not only adequate but look great, are easy to use, and made working in the console a productive and enjoyable experience.

Some Basics for the Console Newbie
(skip if you already know your way around virtual consoles)

Before proceeding I will discuss some little tricks that will allow you to work productively in the console environment that may not be obvious when starting out. First, that login prompt that comes up after your distribution finishes booting (if your not using a display manager), there are several more just like it. You can access them by pressing ALT+F(1-6).

Note: Your distribution may have less than or many more than 6 virtual consoles. The most common case I've experienced, in Linux, is the existence of virtual consoles 1-6 and 7 being reserved for the X server. It is also possible to create a greater number of virtual consoles and select which one will be used for the X server.

If you, for example, start up the X server from console 1 you will then be taken to the GUI. If you want to return to your virtual consoles you can press ALT+CTRL+F(1-6) to select which virtual console you wish to use. After in a virtual console pressing ALT+F7 will return you to the GUI.

So why is all of this useful? Because you want to load those virtual consoles up with nifty applications, streams of compiling code, and whatever else makes you and your Linux box tick!

Check the screenshots below and then go ahead and read the second page of this article.

Click for a larger view   Click for a larger view   Click for a larger view

Click for a larger view   Click for a larger view   Click for a larger view

Table of contents
  1. "Console Applications That Shine, Page 1"
  2. "Console Applications That Shine, Page 2"
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