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Not sure how much of this needs saying, but I'll say it:
If you boot into console mode, you initialize 1+ ttys without X being started. Text mode, console, runlevel 3, blah blah. Lots of ways to refer to it.
If you boot into console mode and start X or boot into X directly, you're in graphical mode. There, you use terminal emulators to access bash and the command line. Those are ptys.
To run mc (which is a console app) on the console, you type 'mc' and it fills the screen. To run it in X, you type 'mc' and it fills the xterm window.
To take full advantage of mc and X together, start mc with 'mc -x', which will give you mouse action. If you want to copy and paste as normal, hold shift while you do.
As far as what it is, it's a file manager. It has a command line at the bottom where you can type normal commands but also provides a text based visual interface so that you always see your files, can 'cd' by hitting 'enter' over a directory (or with arrow keys if you enable 'lynx-like navigation' and can copy or move files from one pane to the other, etc.
In one sense, it's utterly useless, in that you can do anything from the command line. On the other hand, it's extremely valuable if you get sick of typing 'cd' and if you want to 'see' what you're doing.
That said, in X, there are a great many file managers, some of which even have drag-n-drop which is more familiar to most GUI users. So if you're going to be a pure command line junkie, you don't need it - or if you're going to be a pure GUI user. But if you use the console and X and don't *always* use the command line, you only have to learn one interface, since GUI file managers don't work without X.
I don't know that I'd call it useless in any sense...I use mc in X all the time. The only thing it doesn't have is drag-n-drop, which I'm beginning to lose interest in anyway considering it takes just as long or longer to take your hands off the keyboard and drag as it would to hit a few keys. Plus you can accomplish just as much with shortcut keys as you can with a multitude of ugly buttons.
sofasurfer: If you want to launch mc from a menu rather than first launching a terminal, add something like this as a menu item:
xterm -e mc
aterm -name mc -tr +sb -shading 50 -fade 80 -tn xterm -g 169x30+0+0 -e mc -b
If you are using KDE, try opening Konqueror and load the profile "Midnight Commander." I run KDE 3.2 in Fedora Core 1, and this works for me when I use the "File Manager in Super User Mode." Midnight Commander also opens a small terminal screen at the bottom of the GUI for entering commands such as "ls" etc.