Installing Helix GNOME 1.2

If you've been reading this column for the last few months, you've probably noticed that we've been putting a lot of emphasis on Linux's GUI environments, in particular the KDesktop Environment (KDE) and the GNU Object Model Environment (GNOME).

If you’ve been reading this column for the last few months, you’ve probably noticed that we’ve been putting a lot of emphasis on Linux’s GUI environments, in particular the KDesktop Environment (KDE) and the GNU Object Model Environment (GNOME).

At about the time this issue goes to print, there will be two major upgrades to both KDE and GNOME — KDE version 2.0 and GNOME 1.2. Both of these versions should be considered essential upgrades for any desktop Linux user, and we’ll be covering them in depth as they get released — but in order for you to take advantage of them now, we are going to cover how to install these upgrades in the next two On The Desktop columns.

Helix GNOME 1.2

Helix GNOME 1.2 is the latest and greatest version of GNOME available, bar none. What’s so special about it? It’s got everything the standard GNU version of GNOME has, but it also has just about every updated version of the leading and bleeding edge utilities, applications and enhancements for GNOME that have been put out by third parties.

The goodies include programs like the GNU Napster “Gnapster” client, the Grip CD-ripper and MP3 encoding package, the XMMS MP3 player, the Gnumeric spreadsheet, the AbiWord word processor, the Dia Visio-like diagramming package, and the latest development version of The GIMP graphics editing package.

Not convinced you want to throw this thing on your system yet? Fear not, as Helix GNOME is put out by Miguel de Icaza’s (the leader of the GNOME project) own company, Helixcode — so you know this things been tested by the experts themselves.

Helix GNOME also includes the helix-update program, which checks the Helixcode FTP site for updated versions of the Helix GNOME packages, so you always know you have the latest and greatest GNOME environment installed. All in all it’s the ultimate GNOME desktop.

Obtaining Helix GNOME 1.2

There are two ways of obtaining and installing Helix GNOME. The first method is to run the go-gnome script, which will automagically connect to the Helixcode web site using the textmode lynx browser and install everything you want from that site onto your system. The other way of getting Helix GNOME is the good old-fashioned manual installation method.

The automatic go-gnome method is documented at For the purposes of this article, we’re going to focus on the manual installation method, simply because I feel that downloading the entire Helixcode GNOME distribution all at once allows me to burn my own Helix GNOME CD-ROM, or save everything to a network share so I can install Helix GNOME onto multiple Linux systems. Many Linux desktop users also do not have fast Internet connectivity, so the go-gnome automatic process via lynx probably isn’t a good idea for most people.

The first thing you want to do is make a directory on your hard disk called helix. You’ll probably want to make this a sub-directory of your /home mountpoint, since most Linux distros allocate the majority of your free hard disk space to the /home partition during the installation process.

Underneath the helix directory, you will want to create a directory called distributions. You will want to create a subdirectory in distributions corresponding to the actual distribution that you are using. For example, if you’re using Red Hat Linux 6.x, the directory should be called RedHat-6.

In other words, the tree of your /home mountpoint should look like this:


If you’re using a distro other than RedHat 6.x, you should use one of the following subdirectory names instead:


Next, you’ll want to connect to the Internet and download the Helix GNOME package files from the Helixcode FTP site.

Once your machine is connected to the Internet (either via dial-up PPP or via DSL or cable modem) enter the following string of commands from a terminal window within your existing GNOME or KDE environment:

cd /home/helix/distributions/yourdistrohere

You should now be logged on to the Helix Code FTP site. Next, change to the remote directory containing the install files for your distribution.

cd helix
cd distributions

Then, type ls -l. This will give you a directory listing of the distributions directory of the Helixcode FTP site. In my case, since I use Red Hat 6.2, I’d type cdRedHat-6, but if you are using another distro, you’d want to change to the appropriate directory. (The Helix code FTP site is laid out exactly like the /home/helix directory on your hard drive.)

Next, you’ll want to issue the mget* command to download the files, and respond y to the prompts. All in all, Helix GNOME encompasses about 141 MB — so if your connection drops out, you will have to connect again using ncftp and resume your transfer. If you have a 56K modem, you’ll probably want to do something else for a while.

After you’ve finished downloading the Helix GNOME packages, you’ll also want to download the Helix GNOME installer program, located in the /helix directory of the Helix Code FTP site.

If you’ve timed out on your FTP transfer, simply connect to the site again using ncftp, and type:

cd helix
get installer-latest-intel.gz

Or if you’re running Linux PPC, type:

get installer-latest-ppc.gz

Once you’ve downloaded the installer, exit out of the ncftp program by typing:


(Like you couldn’t have guessed that.)

Now, unzip the installation program by typing:

gzip -d installer-latest-intel.gz

which should unpack a single executable of approximately 14 MB in size.

Installing Helix GNOME

The first thing you should do is from a terminal window type su root to gain root privileges (if you aren’t running as root already) and then type:

chmod 777 *

which will set the all the files in the directory as world readable and executable. You should then be able to run the installer program by typing:


On the Desktop Figure1
Figure One: Helix GNOME’s installer starts with a typical welcome page.
On the Desktop Figure2
Figure Two: Specify from where you are installing Helix GNOME.
On the Desktop Figure3
Figure Three: Now it’s time to select your packages.
On the Desktop Figure4
Figure Four: Helix GNOME’s desktop is looking better and better.

You will now be presented with the first screen of the Helix GNOME Installer program, as shown in Figure One. Click on “Next” to proceed to the next screen.

As per Figure Two, select “Local Media” for the package source, and enter /home/helix/distributions/your-distro-here for the source directory.

If you didn’t properly complete the steps for re-creating the directory tree structure from the Helixcode FTP site, you won’t be allowed to click on the “Next” button to proceed to the package selection screen (which is where your favorite On The Desktop columnist got stuck the first time he attempted to install Helix GNOME). This screen, shown in Figure Three, is where you can elect to install all of the GNOME packages or just a subset of them. After selecting which packages you want to install, clicking on the “Next” button at the package selection screen will start the package installation on your system.

When the package installation is complete, the Helix GNOME installer will ask you if it should use GDM (GNOME Desktop Manager) as the default login program, or if you want to preserve your existing one. Generally speaking you should use GNOME’s GDM, as you can start KDE and FVWM sessions from within it as well as just GNOME.

If all has gone well, you can simply hit ctrl-alt-backspace to restart your X server, and you should be presented with the updated GDM login screen. Alternatively, you can shut down and restart your system, and if your distro starts up with a command prompt, you should just be able to run gdm from the command prompt to invoke GDM and then login to GNOME. Check out Figure Four to see how slick the GNOME desktop is starting to look.

To Be Continued…

Meanwhile, if you think this is cool, wait until next month. In that column, we will show you how to install KDE 2.0 on your system — assuming that KDE 2.0 is ready by then. In either case, have fun messing around with all of the cool stuff that is included with Helix GNOME.

Jason Perlow is a freelance writer and systems integrator. He can be reached at

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