CSCI 251  Systems and Networks

Lab 4 – Installing the X-Window System and a Desktop Environment

Wednesday, February 3, 2009

Note: The assignment is to be completed by the end of the lab session.


Introductory Comments

Many server farms, scientific clusters, and other large groupings of computers are 'headless' i.e. the machines neither have nor need monitors. They will typically be administered remotely when necessary. They have no need of a gui (graphical user interface). Fortunately, Linux, like other UNIX variants, does not have an ornate gui entangled with the underlying OS. It runs quite nicely without a gui and, in this semi-unbloated state, is a good fit for headless systems. Good sysadmins find the command line to be preferrable to a gui. The command line with a powerful shell is more powerful and efficient than attempting general system administration with a gui. Microsoft has, quite recently, has added shell capabilities to become competitive in this arena. In this lab assignment, you will add a gui thereby demonstrating its modular design in Linux. There are times one prefers a gui, other times not. With this addition, you will have both.

As mentioned earlier, UNIX has a modularly separate gui. It is called the X Window System. This implementation of this gui used with Linux is not a part of the kernel; it is a separate body of software. Linus Torvalds and other kernel maintainers do not maintain this gui. For Linux, the X Window System is provided by the codebase maintained by the Foundation. It is used on most BSD variants including the more recent Mac OS X 10.5 (Leopard) and also on Sun Microsystems' Solaris (X86 version, only). In Debian, the associated package name is xorg.

On top of the xorg server, a window manager is added to give the 'look and feel' (desktop) environment. Linux has a wide variety of such window managers e.g.

There are many more desktop environments.

In this assignment you will be working with your vbx system to


Before starting the various tasks comprising this assignment
The tasks described below are to be performed on your vbx.

Task #1: Install the xorg package

Let's establish our base size by recording the current report from the df command:
df | tee df4-0.txt

This next step may take some time, because a rather large codebase is being installed, but the command (entered as root) is simply
aptitude install xorg

Now record the new size of our installation:
df | tee df4-1.txt

and then record the change as given by
diff df4-0.txt df4-1.txt

Task #2: Install the window manager

This step may also take some time. The command to be entered depends on which window manager you want. It could be one of these (the one chosen would be entered as root), for example:

So enter the command:
aptitude install xfce4

Now record the new size of our installation:
df | tee df4-2.txt

and then record the change from the last check as given by
diff df4-1.txt df4-2.txt

Once xfce is installed, you should be able to start the X Window System with its desktop environment by entering the command (either as root or as user):

Now you can investigate the xfce desktop. For example, does it have a browser? should it have one yet? etc. To subsequently return to the console mode, logout (see if you can find out how to do that from xfce). Record what you find in this investigation.

Task #3: Install a graphical login

You can enter startx after you boot and login or you can install a graphical login. Then once you boot, you will eventually get a graphical login, which some people may prefer to logging in at the console and then entering startx. Three possible choices would be (any should work with xfce, for example):
Before making this choice, determine what runlevel the system is in by entering

and then record the scripts scheduled to be run when that runlevel is started. For example if the runlevel command reported 2 then the scripts referenced in rc2.d would be those of interest and you could enter
ls -l /etc/rc2.d | tee rc2-0.txt

For this course choose to install xdm:
Again record the new size of our installation:
df | tee df4-3.txt

and then record the change from the last check as given by
diff df4-2.txt df4-3.txt

As we did before installing xdm, record the scripts scheduled to be run when the appropriate runlevel is started. For example if the runlevel command reported 2 then the scripts referenced in rc2.d would be those of interest and you could enter
ls -l /etc/rc2.d | tee rc2-1.txt

and then record the any change  caused by installing xdm by entering
diff rc2-1.txt rc2-0.txt

Finally, now that xdm is installed, reboot as root by entering:
shutdown - r now

Your subsequent login should be graphical, with startx no longer required.

Task #4: Install synaptic, the graphical alternative to aptitude, and try it out

To install synaptic:

aptitude install synaptic

After it has been installed, find it on your desktop, probably lurking in some menu. Activate it, and choose the Reload button from the synaptic interface, a selection which is really the same as aptitude's update. Next try the Mark All Upgrades button, which is equivalent to aptitude's upgrade. Now use it for some package work

Task #5: Changing Window Managers etc.

We'll not actually carry this task out, but you are to come up with a written plan for removing
and replacing them with
For starters, assume that you should perform these operations in console mode with no graphical display present - because you're not sure what removing xfce4 would do while xfce4 is active. Create a text file containing your plan, called switchX.txt.

Task #6: Demonstration

Before you leave for the day, ask the instructor to stop by and check your system for compliance with this assignment and to look at information you recorded in the various tasks. Once finished, ensure that the instructor enters that fact in his record book.