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I just purchased a laptop and the pre-installed OS is Linpus Linux. It only shows:

[root@localhost /]#

What do I do? How can I tell if X is running? Do I need to install it?

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I once (many years ago) bought a laptop which came with Linpus. I never got it working; save yourself some time and install another distro. – Renan Nov 29 '12 at 19:48

You can try to press Alt + F7 to check if there is graphical interface running (you can also try other combinations: Alt + F1 to F12). You can also try command startx. If it doesn't cause that you will get graphical interface it is most likely not installed.

In most cases when you find laptop with Linux in stores, installed system is useless. It is installed only to show that computer is offered with system, but it is not configured properly.

In this case the best option for you it would be reinstall system - you can try for example Ubuntu. Installation is really simple and it will be much easier that fixing your installed Linpus.

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The pre-installed OS is merely a "boot OS", it suffices to boot the computer, and little more. X11 was removed during the setup: they installed Fedora, then removed lots of stuff, the info directory, many of the man pages, X11. Then they installed (some of) the specific drivers and libraries needed for that machine to boot up and read the install DVD. If you look at the shell command history, you can see much of this.

You have to use the Linpus Linux DVD to install a full-fledged OS which, however, many people have been disappointed with. Many people have gotten better results getting rid of Linpus and installing Ubuntu, although this may make the procedure of installing the correct drivers more difficult than using the manufacturer's CD for Linpus.

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