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I am a having a little trouble understanding the difference between running the terminal emulator from the GUI (gnome) and booting straight into the terminal. I have been a system/network administrator for a little over 10 years and I am very familiar with terminal emulation and how it works on a Windows platform, however I was told by a Linux "engineer" that running the terminal emulator from the GUI (as root) would not grant the proper permissions to edit the kernel source code. He said you need to boot to the console and login as root.

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Booting straight into the terminal means running in the text console. Technically, this console (/dev/console, /dev/tty1, /dev/tty2 and the likes) is just provided by another terminal emulator.

Real terminals like the famous VT100 used to be connected to computer through serial lines but are now essentially history.

About the kernel editing restriction, I guess you misunderstood what was told by the Linux engineer. Obviously, nothing prevents you to edit a file whatever the terminal emulator used. However, if you want to see console messages while experimenting with a custom kernel, that makes more sense.

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    As a little addendum, terminal emulators in the GUI are in most cases not virtual terminals, but pseudo terminal slaves (PTS). The number of virtual terminals you can use concurrently on a machine is fixed. You very rarely need for example 64 virtual terminals at the same time, but there is a limit ;) A PTS behaves for almost any purposes like a virtual terminal, but it doesn't occupy a virtual terminal. – Henning Kockerbeck Aug 12 '13 at 9:55
  • @HenningKockerbeck don't confuse the terminal emulators, which are userland pieces of software and the drivers which are behind the devices they are connected to, here the pseudo terminal slaves. The former are emulating a display and a keyboard while the latter are used to interconnect command line programs and the emulators. – jlliagre Feb 12 '15 at 1:13
  • @jlliagre - Are the definitions of a terminal and console the same or do they mean different things? If consoles are provided by another terminal emulator, shouldn't these be /dev/pts1 for example? I have seen VT100 referenced a number of times and if it refers to (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/VT100), it appears to be a strongly coupled video screen, keyboard and computer. If yes, what do you mean by it "used to be connected to [a] computer? – Motivated Jan 6 '19 at 4:32
  • @Motivated A console used to be the main physical device from where operators were interacting with a computer while a terminal was a topological term naming one of the multiple devices connected to a central computer through RS232 serial lines. Terminals, even VT100's were "dumb" and useless when standalone. There was no computer inside, i.e. no operating system, just enough electronics to drive the CRT, the keyboard, the serial line and store the setup. – jlliagre Jan 6 '19 at 14:51
  • @jlliagre - When you say the main physical device, was it part of the computer/server/mainframe? For example, did it feature its own display, mouse and keyboard that were connected to the computer? – Motivated Jan 6 '19 at 15:01

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