The Desktop is an environment. When the Desktop appears as the computer session begins hundreds of programs and settings work together to provide the working environment for each user. In other words, when you turn on a computer the working area that is viewable is the Desktop. All graphical operating systems have an environment which they create, Windows, Mac or Linux. Understanding the purpose and design of the Desktop is an important aspect of employing the Desktop to work for you and with you.
The Linux system can either run with the graphical user interface which is the interface that allows users to see images and text. Or the Linux system can run only in text mode which allows you to do everything faster and more efficiently but requires extensive knowledge of Linux commands and programs. Each option can compliment the other. In fact, many users find it more productive to use both interfaces.
The GUI, graphical user interface, gives you a background which you can change, icons which are links to programs, and visual aids which are available for word processing, image manipulation, spreadsheets, etc. The GUI uses images to help the user make decisions as to how to use the operating system through the use of icons. This process is intuitive, meaning for the most part if a user sees a series of options in button form they instantly realize that these represents options to programs. This intuitive process makes it much easier in terms of training as most computer aware users can easily pick this up rapidly.
The text mode has no hints through the use of icons, or arrows, etc. The user must know the commands necessary to accomplish each task. For a new Linux user the aspect of understanding even a fraction of the 10,000 Linux commands with variations is overwhelming. However, every Linux user must be able to use 10-20 commands so the command line still is important in Linux.
The graphical interface of Ubuntu 8.04 opens to the Desktop. This is where everything will start for the user. Desktop icons provide shortcuts to programs that are commonly used and the bar across the bottom of the desktop includes minimized programs, a place to change to another workspace, minimize all programs and a trash can. On the top of the Ubuntu 8.04 Hardy Heron desktop you will see another grey panel that includes a full Gnome main menu to the left broken up into three sections Applications, Places, and System. The main menu contains access to most of the applications computer locations and system commands that are needed with Ubuntu 8.04 Hardy Heron. Also on top are icons that link to Firefox 3.0, Evolution, and help. To the right of the top panel is a clock and numerous shortcut icons including a red power icon which allows the user to log out, lock screen, switch user, hibernate, restart or shutdown. Ubuntu 8.04 Hardy Heron includes Gnome 2.22 which offers a sleek environment to operate in along with many new features.
Note that much effort goes into creating icons which are intuitive, for example the Evolution mail program link is represented by an envelope. The terms “Applications”, “Places” and “System” are self descriptive terms which help a user understand immediately the basic concept behind each of the terms.
Another important concept in terms of the Desktop environment is that it is a flexible environment. Each aspect of the Desktop is able to be manipulated and configured in a way that is most effective for the user.