Work productively without starting X server in Linux

May 24, 2007
When was the last time you logged into a console only mode in Linux ? By console only mode I mean in run level 2 or 3 where X server is not running? Obviously now-a-days you needn't resort to such a drastic step as the GUI applications have gotten richer and the end user has a variety of choices before him. More over, most Linux distributions boot into graphical X by default the very first time they are installed. I am willing to bet that in a couple of years time, the new users embracing Linux won't have any idea of what a console mode is unless somebody specifically tell them.

This was not the same till a few years back (go back to 8 years) when even the average user had to first deal with the console mode and learn to start X by running a command before he was put into a graphical environment. He had to learn the syntax of the XF86config file (it is now xorg.conf), learn to use a console editor and so on before he was able to enjoy the fruits of Linux in GUI mode.

On this note, if you are wondering how the heck then the people using Linux were productive, it seems there were a number of command line tools at ones disposal. They are still around (if one bothers to look). Luke at "Terminally Incoherent" blog has compiled a nice list of command line tools in an article titled "A day without X", where he lists console programs that help one to accomplish common tasks like sending and receiving emails, web browsing, viewing images and so on. Another blogger, K.Mandala has also compiled his own list of command line applications which you can read here.

Who knows, if you face a situation where your favorite uncle gifts you with a 486 machine loaded with a stripped down version of Linux as a birthday present, you can genuinely be happy (instead of just pretending) and assure him that you will put it to good use....


  • How could they be productive without X?
    After getting used to console applications (vim|emacs),(mp3blaster|mplayer|moc),wget... joining them in a GNU screen session makes you MORE productive than using all that point&click apps.

    Those apps are far more scriptable than GUI ones, and that makes a big difference in your productivity.

    Of course, these tools are not as intuitive as graphical ones, so there's a steep learning curve, but after that, the question would be:

    Work productively starting X server in Linux.