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Helix GNOME: Unix For Humans

by Daniel Solin
07/27/2000

What's all this talk about Helix, Helixcode, Helix GNOME, the Helix Desktop, or whatever they call it, all about? What is it, and, most important, can it be useful to me and you? And, if we decide we want to try it out, how shall we do it?

Relax! After reading this article and the following one, you will feel much more enlightened on this topic, and hopefully even have found yourself a new favorite desktop! I think they call it the Helix Desktop, or was it GNOME, or Helixcode, or... Nah! Go on and read the rest of the article instead!

What is GNOME and Helix?

To begin with, let's straighten out some terms. "GNOME" stands for GNU Network Object Model Environment. It is a standard for how a graphical application should look and act and what libraries/toolkits it should be built with. There are hundreds of so-called "GNOME applications" that follow this standard. And by doing that, they are members of the GNOME application family.

However, what most people think of when they hear "GNOME" is the GNOME desktop environment. A desktop environment is a set of applications and utilities, like file managers and text editors, that together make a complete graphical working environment (in contrast to text-based environments, such as MS-DOS). In the case of the GNOME desktop, these applications and utilities all follow the GNOME standard.

Helix GNOME is a special "distribution" of the GNOME desktop. This version of the GNOME desktop is developed by a company called Helix Code. Helix Code aims to provide an easy-to-use and easy-to-install open source desktop. They do this by taking the standard GNOME desktop and then enhancing it with a few additional features that make it both nicer and more user-friendly. However, what basically has made Helix GNOME so popular is its awesome installation and update programs. With these programs, setting up the latest version of a GNOME desktop, and then keeping it up-to-date, has become really easy.

In the following sections, you'll learn how to set up Helix GNOME on your computer. Believe me, it's a real pleasure compared to other, manual, installation processes.

Getting and installing the Helix Desktop

Okay, your Helix GNOME journey starts at the Helix Code web site. Point your browser to this URL, and you should soon see the site shown in Figure 1.

Figure 1: the Helix Code web site.

Figure 1: the Helix Code web site.

On this web site, you can find lots of interesting information about Helix GNOME. However, what's most important, you can download and install the Helix GNOME desktop from here!

Selecting your Linux/Unix distribution
Now, go on by clicking the Download link at the top-right corner. This will take you to the page shown in Figure 2.

Figure 2.  Selecting your Linux/Unix distribution.

Figure 2. Selecting your Linux/Unix distribution.

From this page, you are supposed to select which Linux distribution or Unix version you're using. As you see, there are quite a few to choose from. And, if you're new to Linux/Unix, it can be hard to figure out which one is right for you.

However, in case you don't know, it's really easy to find out. Just take a look at the CD you installed your Linux/Unix system from. It probably has a label that indicates what's on it. Look for words like "Red Hat," "Mandrake," "Caldera," "Debian," "SuSE," "TurboLinux," "LinuxPPC," or "Yellow Dog." If you find one of these, you're using Linux, and you should choose your Linux distribution from the list. If you're not running Linux at all, your last hope is that you're using Solaris.

Anyway, when you have chosen your Linux/Unix version from the list, click on the "Go" button to the right.

Running the go-gnome script
After selecting your Unix/Linux distribution, you come to a page (shown in Figure 3) that tells you it's time to start the go-gnome script. This is a neat little shell script (a program that executes various shell commands) that will launch the best installation method for your system.

Figure 3. Starting the go-gnome script.

Figure 3. Starting the go-gnome script.

Just as the web page describes, you must open a terminal window to start go-gnome. If you're not already logged in as root (the superuser on your system), you also need to use the su command to "become" root. That's described very well on the current web page.

After you have made sure you are logged in as root, you need to use the text-based web browser lynx to download the go-gnome script and then pass it along to your shell (which will execute it for you). The exact command you need to issue is shown on the web page. Enter this command in your terminal window, and then press Enter.

After a little while (depending on the speed of your Internet connection), the go-gnome script will be executed on your system and will present some text in your terminal window. This is also shown in Figure 4.

Figure 4. Starting the go-gnome script.

Figure 4. Starting the go-gnome script.

Now, just hit Enter to continue, and go-gnome will show some further information (as shown in Figure 5).

Figure 5. Continuing with the go-gnome script.

Figure 5. Continuing with the go-gnome script.

As you see, go-gnome now asks you which site you want to download the Helix GNOME installation program from. You have three options, and you should choose the one geographically closest to you. However, all three are located in the U.S, and if you're not from the American continent (like yours truly), your best choice is probably the Helix Code main site (option 1). So, enter either 1, 2 or 3, depending on your preferred download site, and then press Enter.

go-gnome now starts to download the Helix GNOME installation program. This is about 2 Mb in size, so if you're on a slow connection, it can take about 10 minutes. However, go-gnome shows you updated information about the current download state all the time, so it's easy to see how much is left of the download.

Using the Helix GNOME installation program
When go-gnome has finished downloading the Helix installation program, the Helix GNOME installation will be launched. In Figure 6, you see how this installation program looks when it first appears on screen.

Figure 6. Starting the Helix GNOME installation program.

Figure 6. Starting the Helix GNOME installation program.

First, read the instructions in this window, and then click the "Next" button to proceed. After that, the installation program asks you where to get the Helix GNOME packages. This is also shown in Figure 7.

Figure 7. Selecting package location.

Figure 7. Selecting package location.

If you haven't already downloaded Helix GNOME (and we assume you haven't), you should select the first option, "Helix Code Mirror Site," and then click "Next."

Now, the installation program asks about a possible HTTP proxy. A screen shot of this dialog is shown in Figure 8.

Figure 8. The installation will request information about your HTTP proxy.

Figure 8. The installation will request information about your HTTP proxy.

If you don't know anything about an HTTP proxy, it's safe to select "Do not use an HTTP proxy." If you know that you need to use a proxy, select the other option, and enter the URL for your proxy in the text field. However, most people don't use an HTTP proxy. When you're done, click the "Next" button.

In the next screen, you need to select the mirror site from which you want to download the Helix GNOME packages. This is also shown in Figure 9.

Figure 9. Selecting the mirror site from which to download.

Figure 9. Selecting the mirror site from which to download.

Again, you should select the mirror that is geographically closest to you. Do that, and then click the "Next" button. Now, the package-select dialog comes up, as shown on the next page in Figure 10.

Figure 10. The package-select dialog box.

Figure 10. The package-select dialog box.

This dialog consists of two frames. In the left frame, you select the type of package, and in the right frame you select each individual package of that particular type. For example, if you select "GNOME Office" in the left frame, you'll see all packages that are members of GNOME Office in the right frame. In this way, you can select exactly which packages you want to install and which packages you can live without. However, you can also choose the "Install Everything" option at the top of the window. This will download and install the whole Helix GNOME distribution, including all packages. I personally prefer to install everything, so that I can be sure not to miss any awesome application or utility.

Anyway, when you're done selecting packages, click the "Next" button, and the installer will start downloading them for you (as shown in Figure 11).

Figure 11.  The installer will begin downloading the selected packages.

Figure 11. The installer will begin downloading the selected packages.

Depending on your connection speed and your selected packages, this can take from a few minutes up to 4-5 hours. Anyway, the download will finish sooner or later, and then the installer will go on and install the downloaded package on your system. Figure 12 shows a screenshot of the installer during the installation of the packages.

Figure 12. The  installer at work.

Figure 12. The installer at work.

The actual installation can also take a while, especially if you choose to install all packages. However, when everything is in place, you'll see the dialog shown in Figure 13.

Figure 13. Choosing the login manager.

Figure 13. Choosing the login manager.

Here, you have two options to choose from. If you choose the one at the top, the installer will configure your system to use the GNOME login manager. With this, you will see a GNOME-like program for logging on to your system. This is both nice and cool, so you probably want to use it. If you select the bottom option, the installer will leave the current configuration as is, and you will go on using your current login manager.

A note should be made, though, that these options only apply if your system automatically starts X at startup (your system uses runlevel 5). If that is not the case (your system uses runlevel 3), these options will have no effect.

Anyway, when you've made your selection, click the "Next" button.

You will now see what's shown in Figure 14.

Figure 14. Completion of the installation.

Figure 14. Completion of the installation.

Ahh! Aren't those sweet words? The installation is complete, and you're ready to start using Helix GNOME! So, click the "Close" button. But, what? What is this? Another window? See Figure 15 for a screenshot.

Figure 15. Decide whether or not to remove the installation files.

Figure 15. Decide whether or not to remove the installation files.

Okay, the installer obviously wants to know if you want it to delete the installation files or not. Well, this is up to you. However, it can be a good idea to save them some place safe, so you don't have to download them again if something unexpected happens. So, I recommend that you click "No," and then move the /tmp/helix-install directory to wherever you store that kind of files.

Launching Helix GNOME

Now, to launch Helix GNOME, simply restart X. All the Helix GNOME components will now start and together form your new, brilliant desktop. See Figure 16 for a screenshot of how the desktop looks the first time it's started.

Figure 16.  The resulting Helix GNOME desktop.

Figure 16. The resulting Helix GNOME desktop.

Looks great, doesn't it?

Summary

In this article, we started out by learning what desktops, GNOME, and Helix actually are. And, with this knowledge in hand, we downloaded and installed the Helix GNOME desktop. This was done using the Helix GNOME install program, which actually saved us a lot of work, compared to a manual installation. In the last step, you also started your Helix GNOME desktop for the first time, and hopefully your first view was positive.

In my next article, you'll get to know your new desktop and learn how to use and take advantage of it. Once you get to know it, GNOME is actually very useful, and it will hopefully make your Linux/Unix life easier.


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