Tails above the Rest, Part II
The Tails Desktop
Before you get to the Tails desktop itself, you are greeted with a login prompt (Figure 1) that asks if you'd like more options. These additional options allow you to use persistent volumes, set administrator passwords and go into incognito Windows mode. But, I'll cover more advanced features in a follow-up column, so in the meantime, just click Login.
Figure 1. The Tails Pre-Desktop Prompt
Tails uses the all-too-familiar GNOME 2 desktop (Figure 2) with a panel along the top containing Applications, Places and System menus; a few icons for application shortcuts; and a notification area to the far right that lists the time along with icons, so you can see the status of the network, Tor, your battery (if you are on a laptop), a PGP applet and even an on-screen keyboard you can use to enter passwords if you suspect your computer might have a keylogger installed.
Figure 2. Default Tails Desktop
Tor and the Iceweasel Web Browser
Like with the Tor Browser Bundle, all the sites you browse in the default browser go over the Tor network. The browser also uses search engines like Start Page in the default search bar. Start Page returns Google results but acts as a proxy to help anonymize your search queries. Don't be surprised if you sometimes get Web pages localized in a foreign language—Tor may route you over an exit node in a different country, and often sites try to be helpful and set the default language based on where they think you are from. If for some reason you need to use a Web browser outside Tor (for instance, so you can authenticate to an active portal on hotel Wi-Fi), there also is an unsafe browser option you can launch that bypasses Tor. Just be sure to close the browser once you are done so you don't mistakenly use it when you intend to browse over Tor.
Kyle Rankin is a director of engineering operations in the San Francisco Bay Area, the author of a number of books including DevOps Troubleshooting and The Official Ubuntu Server Book, and is a columnist for Linux Journal.