The eLearning Fundi

Random reflections about eLearning in Africa

Linux: User Interfaces and the swap space

Recently, somebody posed the following questions to me regarding Linux. I have placed the responses here. For question one, the response is on user interfaces and not file management interfaces.

1. In Linux, what are the two main types of user interfaces that can be used for file management? Describe the main benefits and drawbacks of using each of these interfaces for file management.
There are only two user interfaces (in most operating systems). The command line interface (CLI) and the Graphical User Interface (GUI). Their benefits and drawbacks depend mainly on the user and the task at hand. For file management using the command prompt, you need to learn so many commands. As an example, for editing files using Vi, you will need to learn Vi-based commands. In addition to the Linux native commands that also depend on the shell you are using. For a GUI-based like Gedit, a few clicks would do. This is in addition to the usual copy-paste-move of files with mouse clicks and keyboard shortcuts. Command line interfaces are better suited for batch and automated tasks. This is because of CLI’s scripting capabilities. To achieve batch processing in GUI-based interfaces is not an easy feat. 

2. In Linux, what is virtual memory? Include in your answer a brief description of what virtual memory is and the main benefits and drawback of using virtual memory.

Virtual memory in Linux is a combination of RAM and SWAP space. Swap space is a designated space on the physical disk. When RAM was very expensive, using the disk as cache to free up some RAM made sense. Freeing up RAM improves performance and responsiveness of a system. Nowadays, RAM being cheap and discs operations becoming faster. Consequently, the importance of swap space is diminishing. However, because the caching was built in the Kernel, it would take some time to remove the mechanism – but it will surely happen.

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