RHEL 6 for the Clueless: Initial Configuration of the Desktop

By Ed Hurst | Posted at 12:46 AM

Last time, we got the basic Linux system set up. Now, you need to orient yourself. Things may look a little different here than you are use to on other systems, but nothing is nearly as mysterious as it might seem. The main menu system is in the upper left-hand corner. In the upper right is the notification area (“Systray”). On the lower toolbar, the left is where the open windows are listed, and the lower right is an iconic representation of multiple desktops with your desktop “trashcan.”

Windows does have a way to create multiple virtual desktops, but it's not simple and many say it's pretty cranky and unstable. I see this as a serious hindrance, because I'm often working with six or eight application windows open, and that's too many for one desktop. In Linux, multiple desktops are the default. Right click on that display and you'll see an option to configure preferences. Select that and you'll see you can have even more desktops, and can configure them to display stacked in rows. Unless you make that bottom toolbar wider, it usually works best to keep them in a single horizontal row. But get used to the idea of having multiple desktops, because it allows you to organize the way you use Linux to get work done, by grouping open windows according to your work pattern on different desktops. To switch between the windows simply click on the miniature display at the lower right for the desktop you want, noticing as you do the open windows on each are thumb-nailed.

You make the toolbars wider by right-clicking on any blank space and select “Properties” to see the options. In the second tab, you can change the colors or even use a background graphic. You can also elect to add other nifty applets to the toolbars, if you look around in the context menu system. The GNOME desktop is loaded with similar features. Play around and get to know things. Setting more of the features at once comes by clicking the “System” menu, then “Preferences” followed by “Appearance”. You can change the window frame style, the color scheme, and the fonts. We'll do more with fonts — a whole lot with fonts — later. You can change the wallpaper on your desktop by right-clicking on the wallpaper itself.

The context menu is the same idea as in Windows. For example, I prefer the clock in 24-hour mode, so I right-click on the time display and set the properties. You can get a reasonable weather report right next to your date and time display, once you tell the applet where you want the report sited. Explore; you'll find it. You can also find the screensaver and power usage settings under the System > Preferences menu. Further, check the item marked “Sounds” — if you like audible cues coming from the interface, you'll need to enable them.

One of the first things you need to watch for is a bright orange icon up in that notification area, looking like an explosion. That's the update notification. It will require you to use the root password because it means changing the system. Click on it, read and follow the instructions. Let it do what it wants to do. If it lists an update using the word “kernel” you'll have to reboot. This was actually one of the first updates after Red Hat released this version, so if you don't see that notification within the first fifteen minutes, we'll need to take action later to wake it up. It's rare when you install any variant of Red Hat something or other without updates already waiting.

When you first install RHEL, it's pretty light on desktop applications. They can be added easily enough, once you know what sort of things you find missing, and what RHEL calls them. Click on the “System” menu, then “Administration” and find at the top “Add/remove software.” You'll have to use your root password again, but it should open a window and display what's available. You may find the logic behind the layout a little hard at first, but you'll get used to it.

In Linux generally, whoever supplies the operating system typically offers a wide array of software for it. For example, rare is the distribution of Linux which doesn't have OpenOffice (or one of the variants, LibreOffice and Go-OO). RHEL 6 and clones call it OpenOffice, and it's the latest, version 3.2.1 (at this writing). It's not installed under the Software Development Workstation profile, but you can probably find it in the software installer utility and add it. The system automatically takes care of matching up the dependencies. Because it's such a large package, it will take awhile.

Also, look for something called “alacarte” — that's the package you need so you can edit the menus. We'll need that later. Tomorrow we'll secure Firefox, the one thing most people want to use first.

Ed Hurst is Associate Editor of Open for Business.