From a Linux book, I found the following text:

A typical Linux system will run six virtual consoles and one graphical console 

- Server systems often have only virtual consoles 
- Desktops and workstations typically have both

Could someone explains these three words please?


There is two ways to answer this question: from your question point of view (where Linux can be) and from more general point of view (different types of hardware).


  • Desktop: your normal computer. In the context of this question, also laptops.
  • Workstation: similar to your normal computer, but more powerful.
  • Server: used to provide services for users, for example websites or emails. Often dedicated server hardware.


Your normal home computer. In the context of this question, also includes laptops. Typically you want to run graphical environment on your own computer, as almost any typical task - reading emails, browsing the web, watching videos - is easier with current graphical environment. Virtual (text-based) consoles on normal desktops are nowadays more legacy than something people use (however, for fixing some specific problems virtual consoles are useful).


High-end (typically professional) desktop computer, including more memory, better processors and so on. May include added redundancy (for example dual power source) too. From time to time, this term is used for any desktop computer.

From that Linux book point of view, workstation is identical to desktop: it's just more powerful (and expensive).


(From here)


Computer providing services to other computers, for example websites or email service. When talking in context of this question, server can be any hardware from a laptop/desktop to dedicated server hardware.

When running Linux, servers often do not run graphical console, as it is unnecessary for normal tasks, and consumes system resources (memory and CPU time). Administrators (or users) can still use graphical console remotely, depending on the configuration.

Dedicated server hardware is more or less designed for server usage: it offers remote services reliably. No-one is sitting next to it (except for maintenance, in some cases). This means, there is no need for (powerful) graphics card, sound card, or for low-noise fans. Often servers are mounted to rack and have dual power source for reliability.

Rack server

(From here)

| improve this answer | |
  • 1
    I want to upvote, but I'd have to argue that Server Hardware is hardware that has been specially designed for higher reliability, performance, and (typically) fault tolerance than other 'normal' computer hardware. Workstations also sometimes include some of these features. – Chris S Feb 20 '11 at 18:29
  • @Chris: I have to argue that when answering to original question, server hardware do not have to be specially designed to be a server. I am pretty sure there is large number of Linux servers built on common hardware. (Think about google too, ahem.) – Olli Feb 20 '11 at 19:10
  • Google's hardware solution is some of the most customized server hardware on the planet, specially designed to be combined with specialized software to create an ultra reliable and high performance system. Hardware running server software is not magically granted the performance, reliability, or resiliency of server grade hardware. You can run server software on desktop hardware (as you have pointed out); you can even run desktop software on server hardware. – Chris S Feb 20 '11 at 23:32
  • @Chris: I modified my answer to clarify that it's answer to this question, not general definitions. Google do have customized server hardware, but they are still running those without much performance (it's about same processors and memory as in common desktop computers) and without much hardware reliability. As you said, they are running specialized software (surprise) that works around hardware failures. – Olli Feb 21 '11 at 8:01

When start server, init start six virtual consoles(Alt+F1,Alt+F2,...,Alt+F6)

enter image description here

0        0  9646  0.0  0.0  3800  544 tty1     S     2010   0:00 /sbin/getty 38400 tty1
0        0  9648  0.0  0.0  3800  540 tty2     S     2010   0:00 /sbin/getty 38400 tty2
0        0  9649  0.0  0.0  3800  540 tty3     S     2010   0:00 /sbin/getty 38400 tty3
0        0  9650  0.0  0.0  3800  540 tty4     S     2010   0:00 /sbin/getty 38400 tty4
0        0  9651  0.0  0.0  3800  540 tty5     S     2010   0:00 /sbin/getty 38400 tty5
0        0  9653  0.0  0.0  3800  544 tty6     S     2010   0:00 /sbin/getty 38400 tty6

For desktop, also start graphical console(Alt+F7):

enter image description here

root      1056  0.0  0.0  93780  1460 ?        Sl   Feb18   0:00  \_ /usr/lib/gdm/gdm-simple-slave --display-id /org/gnome/DisplayManager/Display1
root      1070  2.4  3.1 234776 96332 tty7     Ss+  Feb18  77:16      \_ /usr/bin/X :0 -nr -verbose -auth /var/run/gdm/auth-for-gdm-sECtwI/database -nolisten tcp vt7
root      1644  0.0  0.0 103792  1300 ?        Sl   Feb18   0:00      \_ /usr/lib/gdm/gdm-session-worker
| improve this answer | |
  • You run a service for other hosts on machine you want to be reliable, and always up so clients can reach service; that is why you pick hardware and install type of software on specific host and call it a server. You don't need graphical interface for server; as nobody will work on that graphical interface; servers primary function is to be available on network and serve the data and services.

  • Workstation utilizes services provided on network by servers, they have console, but (some) people prefer to work in graphical environment and distributions that are aiming to be desktop/workstation distros will offer environment with polished GUI and package groups to support various workstation/desktop activities.

| improve this answer | |

Workstations usually are more powerful desktops to run more powerful computer processing, such as: programming, 3D Design, CAD, etc.

| improve this answer | |

A work station and a server is pretty much the same in terms of hardware. You can turn you regular desktop computer to a dedicated server if you buy a server's program and all the other components needed for it. Example is window server 2008, the other version of windows server 2008 is Windows 7. If your home computer runs on Windows 7 than you have a workstation but if you prefer to run it as a server than you would have to buy Windows Server 2008 and configure it as a server.

| improve this answer | |

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.