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I'm a noob on Ubuntu Server and after installing it I found that it works only in command line mode.
From this page I found that there are security risks to installing a GUI on servers.
It also recommends some lightweight GUI's such as Openbox and Fluxbox and gives various other tips on GUI's.
From your experience and of course considering my lack of it what light weight GUI would you recommend for Ubuntu Server 9.04?

EDIT: Well I finally went ahead and installed CentOS 5 on my box because it came with a ready to use GUI or Windows Manager or whatever we can call that , and I don't understand why CentOS provides a GUI when it would have compromised server security... anyway that could well be another question...

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I went ahead and voted this question up, but I think you should probably clarify a little more about the GUI... cuz it's really vague as avelldiroll pointed out. –  Joshua Kersey Oct 12 '09 at 3:25
Well I couldn't get the terminology right, as avelldiroll its more like a lightweight windows manager for servers that I'm looking at..but I guess after reading the answers servers is more about doing task from command line... –  Kevin Boyd Oct 12 '09 at 3:49

7 Answers 7

up vote 7 down vote accepted

OpenBox and Fluxbox are not server management GUIs, they are Window Managers (WMs for short), they will give you some ways to enjoy the use of your mouse, but they won't provide any tool to administer a server.

You will soon realize that a Gnu/Linux server is administered through text files, a graphical text editor might help, but it's easier to use the one on your desktop (connecting on the server to administer it) than having to install a WM on the server.

There are some tools aimed at server management, but they are web-based and don't require a WM (they only require to be accessed with a browser - the one on your desktop for example). You may want to try webmin or ebox (both have some packages ready in ubuntu repositories).

However i prefer direct interaction over web-tools, but that is a personal choice, those might be useful when you need to administer a park of server, but if you're in that position you should be able to write your own tools that match your specific needs.

My advice would be to read a nice guide about server configuration on ubuntu, while learning a little about bash (you might even consider to go a little further).

And remember: With a GUI, simple tasks are even more simple, but complex tasks are impossible.

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+1 for the recommendation of webmin... if i could give you another for the last line, I would. –  Joshua Kersey Oct 12 '09 at 3:24
Nice answer! well as I said since it's a server at my home I wont have a problem administering it directly... and yes I think investing some time in learning command line would do me a world of good!...so maybe that's the way to go.. –  Kevin Boyd Oct 12 '09 at 3:54
avelldiroll, OpenBox and Fluxbox are GUIs. what they aren't is Desktop Environments. –  quack quixote Oct 12 '09 at 5:35
@~quack: what i meant was that they aren't server administration GUIs as Kevin Boyd's question phrasing may have suggest - i edited that for you ... happy? –  avelldiroll Oct 12 '09 at 8:53
thx for clarifying! –  quack quixote Oct 12 '09 at 8:57

Enlightenment is a great lightweight window manager, one of my favourites next to the *box variants. Although installing a GUI on a server you want to remain secure is not the way to learn how to use it. I'd recommend installing a regular copy of Ubuntu on another machine or even dual boot, just to get the feel of things. Get comfortable enough with the command-line so that you can configure the server without the use of a GUI.

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Is it suitable for servers? –  Kevin Boyd Oct 12 '09 at 1:06
Keep in mind, it's been in development for 10 years now, and hasn't had an official release. I played with Enlightenment for a few months (July-September) and found it to be a bit buggy, though absolutely beautiful. –  bedwyr Oct 12 '09 at 1:10
You won't really find a GUI geared towards servers. I'd just go as light as you can to avoid all the dependencies. You could even use plain X if that's all you need. –  John T Oct 12 '09 at 1:17
@John T -- agreed. Enlightenment (dr17) was written with the intent of providing a new way of interacting with the desktop. Though lighter than some other WMs out there, I wouldn't use it on a server. –  bedwyr Oct 12 '09 at 1:20
I wouldn't use any GUI on a server, may as well update my answer to reflect. –  John T Oct 12 '09 at 1:25

Openbox and Fluxbox both feel pretty similar (they share a common ancestor: Blackbox). I've found Openbox to be very lightweight and quite easy to configure, though I haven't dealt much with Fluxbox. I suspect either would suit your needs.

Frankly, one of the best ways to determine if you like a WM is to install it and use it for several months. Give it some time to determine the pros/cons and move on to another. After this, you can make an informed decision.

If you're worried about performance, start tracking various footprint measurements (e.g. memory, CPU usage, IO, etc.) for each WM so you can better decide if one affects your server more negatively than another.

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Looking at the page that you referenced, I would go with either Gnome or XFCE. Gnome will give you more of the "Ubuntu" experience, while XFCE will be a bit lighter weight (and still be very Gnome-like).

Also keep in mind that you can install whatever window manager you like, and still configure your system to not start the X server & window manager by default. In this case, you will log in to the console session, and if you need / want to use a graphical session, you can easily start it by running: $ startx. When you log off, the X server will stop.

In Gnome, you can disable the display manager from the System>Administration>Services menu. There are other methods to do this via config files. For Ubuntu 9.04, you will need to look into configuring "upstart".

Just an FYI when dealing with graphical logins. Most window & display managers run on top of an X server. If there is some type of misconfiguration or weirdness going on with the X server, you may end up with a blank or frozen display. If this happens, you can usually use Ctrl+Alt+FunctionKey to switch to another console to reboot or otherwise attempt to correct the problem.

EDIT: I recommend installing a good virtual machine manager such as VMWare or Virtualbox on your every day pc. With this, you can create an identical "virtual server" to use for testing & learning before trying things out on your production server.

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Some very good suggestions.. However contrary to my question I have decided against any GUI at the moment.. will try to learn bash shell commands and see how it goes from there!.. –  Kevin Boyd Oct 12 '09 at 4:46
You should be okay. One other suggestion is to try nano as your text editior. It is a bit more beginner friendly than vi. –  Joe Internet Oct 12 '09 at 8:43

Usually a GUI is not needed on a server. If you have tools with GUI interfaces, you can use X11 forwarding with ssh to display them on your workstation.

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I migrated an old home server from Ubuntu 7.4 to Debian 5 recently. For some reason I wanted to make it interesting, so I did a manual install, bootstrapping it from the old OS. Then I installed Xvnc4 as the primary Xserver. I included it mainly for experimental purposes, but when my workstation is booted to Windows, VNC is the best GUI remote desktop option.

Right now, I'm using a very lightweight (and sadly very buggy) login manager called slim that doesn't speak XDMCP, and includes Openbox and Fluxbox as window managers. I do most things on the box via SSH terminals, but it's nice to have the ability to run a remote desktop session if I want, for graphing in Octave or similar purposes.

I use SSH with X-forwarding if my workstation is booted to Linux, but I'm just starting to look into Windows Xserver clients, so that's generally not an option. Like avelldiroll points out, with a GUI, simple tasks are even more simple, but complex tasks are impossible. If you want real control of your server's setup, you'll have to do it on the commandline.

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Just use SSH; in my opinion a server should be headless and networked.

Learn how to get around on the command line, and I advise that you learn how to edit using vi; it's extremely useful when you're a server admin (considering some servers come with only vi installed as an $EDITOR)

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