The GNU/Linux Adventurer’s BackpackPosted: 26 April 2011
If you are setting off on your new GNU/Linux adventure, there are some must have things that you’ll be needing to take along with you.
When you’re at the kitchen table packing that backpack for your big adventure, don’t forget to stuff these items in there with your lantern, matches, water purification pills, and lip balm. You’ll find this stuff will come in very handy along the trail.
A little history —
Linux, which specifically means the kernel portion of the operating system, was born in 1991 when Finnish student Linus Torvalds decided he wanted something to run on his 80386 processor based PC. Linus turned the code for his new kernel loose on USENET.
Within a short while Softlanding Linux System (SLS) was born of a mating of Linus’ new kernel and Richard Stallman‘s GNU Operating System. The SLS project was taken over by Patrick Volkerding, who morphed it into Slackware Linux, the oldest still living GNU/Linux distribution. You can view the Linux family tree to see how things progressed from there.
Some handy documentation —
C’mon. Quit whining. Sometimes, it’s a good thing to read the fine manual. The “man” pages, short for manual, are available to you from within any GNU/Linux distribution. They’re already in your backpack even if you didn’t know it. To access a manual page for a certain command within Linux, just use this from the command line:
$ man <command or application name>
For example, let’s say you want to know how to use the ls command. You would type this into the command line:
$ man ls
LS(1) User Commands LS(1)
ls – list directory contents
ls [OPTION]… [FILE]…
List information about the FILEs (the current directory by default).
Sort entries alphabetically if none of -cftuvSUX nor –sort.
Mandatory arguments to long options are mandatory for short options
do not ignore entries starting with .<snip>
…and the manual page for the ls command will magically appear. Cool, huh? You can also refer to that same manual page by using online websites that make that same information available to you. You can use Linux Man Pages, Linux Man Pages Online, or other similar sites.
For some more in depth GNU/Linux documentation, you can check out The Linux Documentation Project (TLDP), LinuxDocs.org, or DistroWatch.com. The last provides brief synopses and reviews of most of the GNU/Linux distributions available today.
Which distribution to start the adventure? —
If you clicked on that DistroWatch link above, you’d see that there are many, many GNU/Linux distributions out there in the world. While choice is a good thing, numerous choices can sometimes be overwhelming for new adventurers; what trail should I take? Every GNU/Linux advocate will have their own favorite list of distributions that they recommend to all the new adventurers they run across. Following is my list of the five easiest transition distributions. What’s a transition distribution? I define that as a GNU/Linux distribution that is easy to install and use right out of the box for new adventurers who are mostly used to using Microsoft Windows products.
Ubuntu – this is the distro that took GNU/Linux from the desktops of geeks like me and put it on Gramps and Granny’s system. It did more to popularize the GNU/Linux operating system than any other distribution prior.
Mepis – while not the most popular GNU/Linux out there, this Debian-based distribution is a fine product, and most suitable for new adventurers.
Ultimate Edition – this distribution gets its foundation from its Debian and Ubuntu roots. It is also easy to install and has loads and loads of useful software included the moment you boot up.
Vector Linux – this excellent distribution is based on Slackware Linux. It is easy to install and use.
OK, then. We have some history, some documentation, and a choice of distributions in our backpack now. We’re almost ready to begin the adventure. But wait! There are a few more very important items that we’ll be needing.
Tips and Tutorials —
Tutorials are documents that teach in a step-by-step fashion. They can cover a lot of information in a small space. They’re usually simplified so that amateurs and novices can follow along without the need to know the really complicated stuff underneath it all. Tips are just that; little tid-bits of information to make things go easier on your adventure.
There was once a man called Bruno, he was my friend. He was also a serious GNU/Linux advocate and teacher. He selflessly spent many hours of his daily life teaching others about GNU/Linux. Many of us who knew him learned from him and were inspired by him to carry on his tradition of teaching. While Bruno may no longer be with us, part of the legacy he left us is his Tips for Linux Explorers site. Yes, some of the info there is a bit dated, but most of it is still very relevant and helpful.
As far as tutorials go, there are many sites with wonderful GNU/Linux tutorials. Here are a few that I use regularly: The Linux Tutorial, YoLinux Tutorials, Linux Survival, HowtoForge, Tutorialized, and Linux Planet Tutorials. Believe me, if there’s something you want to accomplish within GNU/Linux, there is a tutorial somewhere that will show you how. Remember, when searching for answers to your GNU/Linux questions, Google is your friend.
More good reading —
5 Things Every Aspiring Linux User Should Know – another article that may be useful to new Linux Adventurers.
Some Advanced Reading —
The books listed below are somewhat advanced. I wouldn’t recommend that new Adventurers dive into them right off. Give yourself some time to climb a bit higher on that learning curve, then give these books below a peak or two. The more you experience GNU/Linux, the more the information in these books below will make sense to you. I put them here because they are excellent learning tools… when you reach that level.
Linux – Rute User’s Tutorial and Exposition by Paul Sheer
LINUX: Rute Users Tutorial and Exposition is the only Linux sysadmin’s guide proven by 50,000+ Web users. It presents in-depth coverage of all aspects of system administration: user management, security, networking, Internet services, packages, config files, shell scripting, and more. It also contains detailed cross-references to LPI and RHCE certification topics, making it invaluable for exam preparation. (description from Amazon.com) *This book is also available online in .pdf format.
Linux Pocket Guide by Danial J. Barrett
Linux Pocket Guide is organized the way you use Linux: by function, not just alphabetically. It’s not the ‘bible of Linux; it’s a practical and concise guide to the options and commands you need most. It starts with general concepts like files and directories, the shell, and X windows, and then presents detailed overviews of the most essential commands, with clear examples. You’ll learn each command’s purpose, usage, options, location on disk, and even the RPM package that installed it. (description from Amazon.com)
A Practical Guide to Linux – Commands, Editors, and Shell Programming by Mark G. Sobell
Packed with hundreds of high-quality, realistic examples, this book gives you Linux from the ground up: the clearest explanations and most useful knowledge about everything from filesystems to shells, editors to utilities, and programming tools to regular expressions. Sobell has also added an outstanding new primer on Perl, the most important programming tool for Linux admins seeking to automate complex, time-consuming tasks. (description from Amazon.com)
Understanding the Linux Kernel by Bovet & Cesati
Understanding the Linux Kernel will acquaint you with all the inner workings of Linux, but it’s more than just an academic exercise. You’ll learn what conditions bring out Linux’s best performance, and you’ll see how it meets the challenge of providing good system response during process scheduling, file access, and memory management in a wide variety of environments. This book will help you make the most of your Linux system. (description from Amazon.com)
The Debian System by Krafft
The Debian GNU/Linux operating system approaches Linux system administration differently than other popular Linux distributions, favoring text-based configuration mechanisms over graphical user interfaces (GUIs). Debian may appear simplistic and even slightly outdated, but it is actually very robust, scalable, and secure. Debian’s open development cycle and strict quality control by the developers help Debian to constantly gain popularity, despite its reputation as an operating system just for professionals and hardcore computer hobbyists. (description from Amazon.com)
And lastly, but never last, this most necessary thing to have in your GNU/Linux adventurer’s backpack:
We come into this world alone and we leave it alone, but fortunately, while in this world, we have each other. Were it not for the GNU/Linux – Open Source community, there wouldn’t be any GNU/Linux; or if there were, it would be some ghastly thing used by a few uber-geeks in the darkness of night on their own desktop systems. Joyfully, that isn’t so because we have community; arguably the most important ingredient in the brewing pot.
There is a large and very active GNU/Linux – Open Source community every where in the world. You can access and interact with that community in many ways; boards and forums, USENET Groups, mailing lists, websites and portals, blogs like this one, etc. Community means a lot to me. Below you’ll find my list of favorite places where I go to learn what I need to continue on my own adventure:
Boards and Forums
Scot’s Newsletter Forums – Bruno’s All Things Linux – a Linux support forum and much more. This site is run by Scot Finnie, Editor-in-chief of ComputerWorld.com.
Jeremy’s LinuxQuestions.org – a Linux support forum and community dedicated to assisting adventurers of all skill levels and abilities.
TechSupportGuy Forums – Linux and Unix – another excellent Linux community forum.
The Linux Foundation’s Linux.com Community – a relatively new and growing community with many helpful members.
Just Linux Forums – a great community resource.
Linux Forums – search this place for great tips and assistance as you travel along in your adventure.
Also, don’t forget… nearly every distribution of GNU/Linux has its own very helpful support community. Check out the main websites for links to their forums and such. All the distros mentioned above have their own forums. Check ’em out.
Linux News Sites
Tux Machines – Susan Linton’s wonderful Linux community site.
Linux Today – news you can use.
Linux Insider – more informative Linux news.
LXer Linux News – the world is talking about GNU/Linux and Free/Open Source Software.
The above are just a sampling. There are literally hundreds of top level, informative Linux news sites on the Net. Search!
Linux Learning Blogs
Linux Operating System – Guillermo Garron’s very helpful and informative blog.
Linuxaria – Ricardo Capecchi’s bi-lingual Everything About Linux blog.
All About Linux – a self-professed “very” popular blog about Linux, Open Source, and Free Software.
Linux Notes from Dark Duck – helpful information on choosing and running Linux on your systems.
Dedoimedo – a place to learn a lot about a lot. A unique experience, I might add.
There are many more sites out there, too. Each distribution usually has a handful of dedicated bloggers and teachers running from their own websites. Don’t forget to search online. You’ll find some wonderful stuff.
One other thing you can do when starting out on your adventure is to register with The Linux Counter and be counted as part of the community. Proudly display your Linux Registered User number for all to see. Sorry, they’re out of stock on the super-dooper decoder rings, though. You may find one in that Cap’n Crunch serial box on your kitchen table. ;)
I’ve tried to make this as all-inclusive as I could, but of course, I’ve failed miserably. GNU/Linux is a topic that volumes have been written about. How could I possibly give you all that information in one short article? Oh well. I hope that what you do find here will help you along in your adventure. I leave you with three bits of wisdom that I learned early on when I first started out on my adventure:
- First and foremost, GNU/Linux is NOT MS Windows. Please don’t expect it to be.
- Secondly, KEEP notes! You will find this an immeasurably important practice to discipline yourself into doing regularly. I don’t care if your notes are on your iPad or your main system or on a dead tree note book (my choice medium). Just keep notes. You won’t regret it.
- Lastly, but again NEVER last, the community is there for you. Take from it all that is offered, so that you can learn and expand your horizons on your great GNU/Linux adventure. We ask only one thing from you in return; when the time comes that you have reached a level of knowledge where you can comfortably (and accurately) do so, please give back to the community that supported you. This way there will always be those willing to help the new GNU/Linux Adventurers coming along the trail.
P.S. I intend this document to be a living device. I will probably be amending it from time to time.
I – 08 May 2011
a. added Vector Linux to suggested starting distributions
b. added an advanced book list for those who would like to go a bit deeper in their studies
II – 28 February 2012
a. added link to 5 Things Every Aspiring Linux User Should Know
III – 22 August 2012
a. added Megatotoro’s New to Linux? Here’s Your Hitchhiker’s Guide to Linux Forum Galaxy!