File and Network Browsing in Debian Linux and Gnome

As a little explanation, I specify in the title because, with other Linux desktops, there can be other file managers. They all do pretty much the same thing, but they can look different.

Fun Fact: Google runs on Linux.

If you have never used Linux, I think you will find your files and home network looks a lot like what you are used to. In a Linux interface, as in Windows, there can be several ways to start a program. To keep this simple, I will show only one.

File Browsing with Nautilus:

The Gnome file manager is called “Nautilus,” I think because it goes under the surface.

To start Nautilus on , go to Applications–>System Tools–>File Manager.

Start the File Manager

The File Manager will open to your home folder (a folder and a directory are the same thing. The word “folder” came into use because it described the function of a directory and was less intimidating to new users).

Home Folder

(The only files in my “home” folder are some screenshots I took for this series of posts.)

The home folder is similar to the C:\Documents and Settings\[username] folder in Windows. Unlike Windows, it does not contain pre-configured subfolders such as “My Documents,” “My Pictures,” and the like. The only pre-configured subfolder is “Desktop.” It is a blank slate for you to set up as you wish.

It also contains a number of hidden files and folders. In Linux, a file or folder is hidden by putting a period in front of the its name. “Docs” is open; “.Docs” is hidden. These folders store your preferences, menus, email database, and so on. Generally, there is a hidden folder every program you use, whether you run it from the menu or it runs automatically in the background. Hidden files perform functions like “locking” your login and user privileges.

Here’s a shot of the same folder with “Show Hidden Files” enabled under the “View” menu item:

Hidden Files and Folders

You can

    1. double-click on a folder to view its contents,
    2. double-click on a file to open it in the default application, or
    3. right-click on a file or folder to view a pop-up context menu.

The navigation panel on the left and the arrow buttons on top allow navigation about the computer. Here’s what I saw when I clicked on “File System” on the left:

File System

This is where even the most expert Windows user is on foreign territory. The folders and files in a Unix or Linux system are arranged in a way completely different from how they are arranged in a DOS/Windows world. I am not going into this subject now, save to mention that the only folders that a home Linux user is ever likely to have to look at, besides the home folders, are /etc, /usr, and possibly opt. (Fun fact: Folder names are preceded by a forward slash, not a backslash. This is why internet addresses start with forward slashes. The internet began as a Unix thing.)

There is a good introduction to the Linux file structure here.

Network Browsing:

Browsing the network is similar.

Remember that Debian asked me to configure my network settings at time of install, so the network connection was already configured at the time of the initial reboot. In this case, we are browsing using Samba, which enables Linux and Windows computers to talk with each other.

Start the network browser by going to Places–>Network Servers:

Start the Network Browser

The Network Browser opens to a list of “servers.” You can open a “server” by double clicking it. Same for a folder that’s shared over the network and for a file.

Network Browser

The picture shows

    1. The first network browser window, showing the list of computers available on the network.
    2. The list of shared folders in server “mackeral” (this laptop I’m typing on right now).
    3. The list folders and files in the “//mackeral/docs” subfolder.
    4. The list of documents in the “//mackeral/docs/manuals” subfolder.

Depending on the permissions granted on the various servers, I can delete, copy, open, edit, and move files. When I finished taking the screenshots for this post, I used the Network Browser to drag them from //swordfish/home/frankbell to //Interlock-3/blah-blah-blah/pix, where I edited them, then I dragged them from Interlock-3 to my server. (You can see a slightly-outdated diagram of the network here.)

While I was editing this post, I realized that some of the screenshots and pictures needed more work (that’s a fancy way of saying I saw that I blew it), so I opened them over the network on this here laptop, recropped them or added the captions or edited them, then saved them back to the server.

Just for grins and giggles, here is the Network Browser using the list view, rather than the icon view:

List View

And that’s a quick intro to file and network browsing with Debian Linux and Gnome.

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