Debian Linux Desktop Tour

Here’s a quick tour of the default . This is the 4 v 5 desktop, but I looked at some screenshots of 5, which just came out, and it doesn’t seem to have changed much.

This is not a HOWTO. It’s the highlights of WHATIS. For a detailed description of the contents of Debian, you can go here. If you have never tried , what I hope you will conclude after looking at the rest of the post is, “This isn’t so different from what I’m used to after all.”

I’ll preface this by saying I’m not a Debian fanboy. I’m a Slackware fanboy. (And not even the most rabid Slackware fanboy would recommend that a new Linux user start with Slackware, although, in fact, that’s what I did start with.)

But Debian is what’s on my test computer right now, so here’s some Debian.

Debian uses the Gnome desktop, one of three popular desktops. (The other two are KDE and XFCE; XFCE is the newest of the three.)

Here is the default desktop, (my captions are in red):

Annotated Desktop

    Applications: Displays the standard menu, listing the applications and untilties that come with , plus an embedded “Debian” submenu for system configuration and administration. There is some duplication between the “Debian” submenu and the other submenus.

    Places: Allows for navigation within the computer (home folder, peripherals, file finder, and so on).

    Desktop: Allows for configuration of desktop preferences.

When programs are minimized, they go to the Taskbar Panel.

The Change Workspace tool in the bottom right allows navigation to different workspaces or desktops. Different applications can be active on different workspaces at the same time. Linux has long allowed for multiple workspaces to be active at the same time. Most distros that I’ve used default to four.

(Most Linux distros customize their desktops and menus. The menus from one to the other may look a little different. In many cases, the difference is less than the difference between Windows 95 and Windows XP menu designs.)

When I use a computer, I spend most of my time on the world wide web, using email, or writing documents. Here’s what Debian gives me for that.

For an office suite, Debian includes Open Office, a fork of Sun’s Star Office. OO includes programs for word processing, managing databases, designing slide shows and other presentations, creating and managing spreadsheets, and drawing. (I have been using OO Writer and Calc–the spreadsheet program–for years, in both its Windows and Linux flavors.)

Here’s a shot of the word processor program with the “Save As” dialogue showing:

Open Office Writer

OO can read and write in many document formats, including most Microsoft Office formats, notably *.doc, *.ppt, and *.xls, though I must say that, in documents with extremely complex formatting (styles embedded in other styles, for example), the formatting doesn’t always come out right when “saving as” a Microsoft format. OO also can export a file directly to PDF format, so you can make your own PDFs; it will not edit existing PDFs.

There are two web browsers, , which is a Firefox variant, and , the Gnome browser. (Here is the backstory on Iceweasel.) Here is a shot of Epiphany:

Epiphany Web Browser

For email, it includes , the native Gnome email client, and Mutt, a text-based email client. In addition to handling all email formats, Evolution can work with Microsoft Exchange and sync calendars and the like in the workplace.

Evolution Email Client

If you like to manipulate images, such as photographs, there is the GNU Image Manipulation Project, commonly referred to as “the ”:


I’m not real good at using the GIMP. When I play with pictures, usually all I want to do is crop them and do simple brightness and contrast enhancements. I use simpler programs for that.

There is, of course, much more in a default Debian load. Two and half gigs worth of stuff, in fact: Audio and video players, a sound recorder, network tools, RSS and torrent tools, much, much more.

But I figure this, a look at the applications most persons are likely to use most of the time, is enough for a first look.

Next: File and Network Browsing.

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