What you get for free

Edit: Unfortunately, the images originally included in this post are gone, because of hosting problems in late 2009. My apologies.

For good or for evil, a default Ubuntu Hardy command-line-plus-xorg system doesn’t leave you penniless and stranded. You actually get a fair smattering of clunky little programs that work just fine, but are ugly as sin and unlikely to make you happy — unless you’re working at around 100Mhz or so.

You can put together an ugly-stepsister system like this with about 20 keystrokes. This will give you everything mentioned here, and at a bargain-basement price.

sudo aptitude install -y --without-recommends xorg twm

In keeping with the ugly-and-fast theme here, I’ve installed twm, which is a sparse window manager for X … from 1990 or something. :P

Note that these aren’t command-line, console-driven programs — these are X-default programs, for lack of a better name, and are fully graphical. Things like this are useful on machines that dip below the 200Mhz line, if you want to pigeonhole them.

Here are a few examples, just for illustration’s sake. This is xcalc and xterm, which you have probably seen before.

xcalc is quite workable. I’ve used it before when I was too lazy to install galculator or something bulkier. So long as you’re not working on the grand unified theory, it should handle most anything you throw at it, including your income taxes.

xterm is impossible to get away from. It follows you around no matter what you do in Ubuntu. Half the time I work with Ubuntu I’m trying desperately to force some other terminal emulator to get picked as the default, but xterm still bounces up, grinning like a Grade 1 student who knows the answer to a question. Oh well. It’s not pretty, but at least it works well.

Here are a few more: xclock, xedit and xmag, all at once.

xedit is a darn good little text editor. Not beautiful, a little unorthodox for loading and saving, but works just fine for editing configuration files or keeping a short text list. No fancy frills on this — it’s all work and no play. But it works great and you can rely on it in an emergency.

xclock is something you probably didn’t even know you had. Try it from a terminal line and check out all the different options you can use. It’s a very nifty on-screen clock and it’s yours already.

xmag is showing a pixel-blowup of the edge of xclock in that screenshot. It might not be very obvious to you, but the hash marks on the clock and the lattice background pattern are what you’re looking at. Sometimes handy, even on a full-blown Ubuntu system.

Say cheese: xman, xfontsel and xclipboard, in a happy love triangle.

xman is a man page reader, and a godsend when you’re stuck trying to decipher the command-line flag options for twm. ;) Fully menu-driven, no nonsense, easy to work and easy to manage. It’s also a heckuva lot more intuitive than the console man pages.

xfontsel is something you might find beneficial if you’re setting up a configuration file, and you want to track down the specific font string that will give you the look you like. Ubuntu drops a smattering of old-school default fonts on your system when you install xorg, and while most are faces only a mother could love, they do ease the relationship between you and your computer. This utility lets you adjust and experiment with relative ease.

xclipboard is another little something you probably didn’t know you had. Nobody likes the clipboard behavior in Linux — close the program and anything you “copied” to the clipboard is somehow gone. There are a thousand ways around that issue, and this one is already there for you to take advantage of. Use it like a stopover point between programs, when you need to transport information.

One last set: xvidtune, xev, xmessage, xbiff and xsetroot, with the last one being only a subtle desktop correction.

xsetroot takes the background and makes it an agreeable color, instead of that awful pattern. Just something as simple as xsetroot -solid lightblue in your .xinitrc file will keep you from strangling yourself over that crazy root desktop. You can feed it hex codes if there’s a specific shade you prefer, or you can give it HTML color names, and it’s happy with that.

xvidtune is a generic utility that gives you some control over your desktop display, but comes with a disclaimer in capital letters, so you probably shouldn’t tweak that unless you’re sure you know what you’re doing. Try it out all the same.

xbiff is among the networking utilities that come with xorg. I will admit I haven’t set it up completely, so I don’t know how easy or difficult it is to get it working, but it could be cute. I think if you get mail, that little mailbox flag pops up. Ingenious!

xev is also in that screenshot. xev falls into the “crucial utility” category for anyone who has a funny keyboard, a laptop with programmable keys, or maybe even a mouse with extra buttons. xev tells you what’s happening in your computer’s little brain, when you click this button or press that key. What’s the use? Well, from there you can customize your X environment to respond to those keypresses and clicks. Aha, you say … now it becomes clear. (The full utility of xev isn’t something I can discuss right now. Check out the forums or elsewhere on the ‘Net for ideas.)

And of course, there’s xmessage in the mix there too, being friendly. What’s that good for? That’s for you to decide.

There are lots more available too. X has its own snapshot utility, graphic viewer and a bunch of other utilities, already installed. Check the package search pages for what gets installed with xorg, or try using command-line completion from a terminal — most of them start with “x” in their names.

They all fall into the “ugly but functional” category I suggested earlier. If you’re willing, and you’re comfortable with these, they can easily take the place of a larger, heavier application on a computer that needs the speed. They can also come in handy in a pinch, when you’re searching for something that will just allow you to solve a sum, edit a text file or show a basic on-screen clock.

Furthermore, combine these with a few highly polished console programs, and your system will run like greased lightning, even if it looks like … :P :mrgreen:

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5 Responses to “What you get for free”


  1. 1 anzan 2008/04/08 at 10:52 PM

    That’s great, thank you.

  2. 2 Dirk Gently 2008/04/09 at 9:22 PM

    lol, xedit. I use if for all my needs.

    I have gnome, barely, on my 300mHz pc so i’m not too far off.

  3. 3 Jeff Flowers 2008/04/09 at 10:49 PM

    Twm can be modified quite a bit with a twmrc (consult the twm manpage). Here is an older screenshot of my Arch Linux box using Twm as the window manager, Urxvt-Unicode instead of Xterm, Feh to set the wallpaper, and Xclock for the time:

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/agent69/2377984466/

  4. 4 AndresVia 2008/09/11 at 11:43 PM

    You can choose default terminal with

    update-alternatives –config x-terminal-emulator

    On Debian based systems.


  1. 1 More fun X-based stuff « Motho ke motho ka botho Trackback on 2008/09/09 at 10:20 AM

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