You can use virtual consoles to perform two activities in parallel. For example, I used one virtual console to write this section and another to test the commands as they were introduced. You can even use your mouse to cut and paste text from one virtual console to another. When you start your Linux system and get the log-in prompt, you&qt;&qt;re looking at console number 1. Go ahead and log in as root here; then press alt-F2. You should then see another log-in prompt. You can log in as user hermie on this console and then press alt-F3 to access a third console or press alt-F1 to return to the first console.

Virtual consoles come in particularly handy if you have a long-running task to perform, like installing a big software package from a CD-ROM–you can pop over to another console and log in again to stay productive while your CD-ROM churns away.

Note: You don&qt;&qt;t have to use a different user account for each console. Linux lets you log in to an account multiple times simultaneously.

By default, your Linux system already has a bunch of virtual consoles waiting in the wings when you start your system, and pressing alt-Fn at any time will bring the nth one up on your screen. You can also cycle through the consoles with alt-left arrow or alt-right arrow.

Multitasking under Linux isn&qt;&qt;t really much different from having multiple windows active on a Windows or Macintosh system. The major difference is that if you&qt;&qt;ve started multiple consoles, you can see only one at a time on the screen, though the others are still working away behind the scenes.