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What is the X-Terminal everyone talks about and what can I do with it?

If you don't yet know what X-Terminal is then you most probably don't need it :-) On the other hand, it is never too late to learn new things, so let us introduce this mysterious thing to you...

You've probably heard that many advanced users praise the N900 and the Maemo platform for their "openness", meaning that they provide the user with unrestricted access to the entire operating system, as opposed to e.g. Symbian OS' Symbian Signed security system preventing access to any system folders or the iPhone not only blocking access to the system but also to a whole range of advanced functions (like e.g. multitasking, profiles) which are supported but... blocked by Apple for mysterious reasons (most probably to have something "new" to add in new models). Yes, you can always "jailbreak" the iPhone (and break the EULA as well as risk losing warranty) or hack a Symbian phone (and open it for viruses and other malicious content) but... THAT's the difference! On the N900 you get unrestricted access to the entire OS *by default*, meaning that you don't have to violate any agreements, risk losing warranty or make the device less secure.

And this is where we get to the X Terminal. While other applications and the UI in general hide the actual operating system from the user, it is just the X Terminal that works as a "window" to the heart of the OS.

Basically speaking, it is something similar to the "DOS command prompt" in Windows. It is text based, so you do most of things by typing corresponding commands (and arguments). Just like the aforementioned "DOS prompt", it also allows running programs, for instance text editors like vim or advanced file managers like Midnight Commander.

There are thousands (or maybe tens of thousands) of console based commands and applications written for desktop Linux distributions. While they cannot be used directly (as they're compiled for other processors, like e.g. Intel x86, and not ARM) they're mostly open source and making most of them work in N900's X Terminal doesn't take more than just... recompiling them using Maemo SDK for the ARM processor. So this is a good way have lots of useful programs on your Maemo device.

Back to the X Terminal itself, as already mentioned, it lets you see and access the whole operating system, each single system folder and file, including e.g. system configuration files. You can do this using its built-in commands (similar to DOS ones, e.g. ls to show folder contents, cd to change a folder, etc.) or - much easier and faster - using the aforementioned Midnight Commander.

While providing such an advanced access to the whole operating system, the X Terminal is at the same time well protected against users unintentionally modifying important system files or the file system structure, which might result in damaging the operating system or even bricking the device, and against malicious software meant to damage or infect the system. On the default "user level" which the X Terminal starts with, access to the most important files and folders is protected, which means that the user does not have permission to modify (or sometimes even view) them.

But there is an easy (and fully "legal") way to get FULL access to EVERYTHING. All you need to do is to install the rootsh package. It provides the root (i.e. super-user / administrator) access and gives you permission to access, modify, delete, etc. every file and folder. After installing the package, just type:

sudo gainroot

in the X Terminal and now you fully OWN the system.

To learn more about the X Terminal, some of the supported commands, Linux file system structure, etc., please visit

And now that you've learned what X-Terminal is and how to enable root access in it, please read the following warning and treat it VERY SERIOUSLY:

Please use the X Terminal VERY CAREFULLY. Do not enable root access unless you REALLY NEED IT. If you just want to browse the file system, copy some files, look for interesting entries in config files, please do it WITHOUT enabling the root access. Damaging important system files and folders may affect the functionality of the device or even BRICK it.

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