December 20, 2014

.comment: Essential Console Applications - page 3

Working Directly from the Command Line

  • June 21, 2000
  • By Dennis E. Powell

Someday, someone is going to crank out a console clone of the DOS edit program: A simple text editor so uncomplicated that if you've ever even seen a computer you can probably figure out how to use it without resort to any documentation. Its users will achieve the contempt of old Linux hands, but that won't matter when it's just you and the command prompt. So far, though, while there is a world of great menu-driven X-based editors, there's nothing approaching a common user interface among those that run on the console.

Having built and used a selection of editors, the one that seems to me easiest to use is Pico, known to survivors of the BBS days as the editor often used to create messages online. It uses a fairly simple Control + Hotkey interface. There is a good chance that you already have it installed, because it comes with Pine, which is . . . .

. . . A Good Email Program
Though Mutt is the favorite among longtime Linux users, Pine (a non-GPL production of the University of Washington, as is Pico) is easy to configure in a pinch and isn't tough to figure out, even without reading the docs. It doesn't hurt to go ahead and set it up ahead of time, though.

Is it already on your machine? Best way to find out is to go to a console (or terminal emulator), type pine and hit enter. Ditto for Pico (pico).

If you don't have Pine/Pico, is the place to go.

A Way to Get Online
There are several fine little programs that automate the process of going online from a dialup--if you're running X. (If you have DSL, a cable modem, or a T-1--yeah, right--you're online already, so you are less desperate in this regard.) At the command prompt, the customary procedure is the use of ppp-on and ppp-off scripts, which you have the honor of creating yourself. This is not as difficult as it might as first sound, and there's plenty of documentation to aid you (about which more in due course). It is something that you want to do ahead of time, though, perhaps from a terminal emulator. You want to know ahead of time that your scripts work.

File Transfer and Web Browsing
There is another console tool that you probably have without knowing it, another one with which it's a good idea to become familiar. It's the Lynx browser, and the reason you want to know about it is that it eases the search for answers on the Web and it makes it a little easier than command prompt ftp to download files. If Lynx isn't on your machine, you can relieve the lack at You'll be surprised to learn that the Web is useful even without flashing graphics and pictures.

A File Manager
There are few things that spark envy more than watching a really good console hand, a true master of Linux commands, at work. Things happen with tremendous speed and efficiency amid an unbroken stream od cat commands and pipe characters, of long strings of command switches and the muffled ticking of the hard drive head actuators beating their little selves to death.

For the rest of us, there is Midnight Commander, one of my favorite Linux applications. A simple mc at the command prompt imparts an instant sense of being in control--not a bad illusion into whose grip to fall when panic looms. Midnight Commander lets you do just about anything you want to files, directories, whatever. And all without the need for X. It is not included with all Linux distributions, but it should be. If you don't have it, it's at

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