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In one of the previous chapters we examined Linux system administration from within the KDE interface. While it is true that administering your Linux machine from a graphical desktop environment is easy and quite convenient, it is important for you to be aware that many Linux administrators prefer using shell commands for system administration. There are several reasons for this. The first being that, once you become comfortable working with the shell, you often can accomplish tasks much faster than you can through a graphical interface. Another reason is that there are occasions when you may want to run your Linux machine without any graphical interface at all, and that would necessitate administering it via shell commands. Although most people, especially those coming from a Windows background, prefer the graphical interface, you should be aware that it is quite possible, and in some instances even desirable, to run Linux without any graphical interface. If, for example, your Linux machine is used as a Web server, mail server, or file server, there may be no need for any of the features present in a graphical user interface like KDE or GNOME. You should bear in mind that any program, including a desktop environment, uses resources. Therefore, running a graphical desktop environment will use some of your system’s processor time and memory. If you can run the system without the desktop environment, you will free more of those resources for the tasks the server must perform. This means that if you are working with a very old machine that has limited resources or if you are pushing your machine to its maximum performance, you can improve that machine’s performance by working entirely from the shell and foregoing the graphical interface.
Of course there are some significant disadvantages to working without a graphical interface. Without KDE, GNOME, or some other desktop environment, you would not have access to any of the interesting applications we have explored in previous chapters. You would normally want to use a desktop interface for any system that will be an individual’s home computer or business workstation. Working purely from the shell with no desktop environment is generally appropriate only for machines that will be used as specialized servers.
In this chapter we will examine how to perform basic Linux system administration from the shell. This will include activities ranging from managing users and groups to configuring and activating your network interface card. What this means is that we will expand on the shell commands you previously learned. We will add several new commands and explore some previous commands in more depth.
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