Learn Linux: The What, The Why and The How for the Linux Beginner

learlinuxTired of using operating systems like OS X or Windows? I got you. I’m going to try to make your life as easy as possible while setting up and using Linux on your computer.

What is Linux, exactly?

Glad you asked. Linux is an operating system (OS) that allows the user (you) greater flexibility and control. It’s also a heck of a lot safer with tighter security measures but we’ll get into that in a minute. Linux is an alternative to your standard Windows or Mac OS. It’s software that allows you to run applications and perform desired functions on your computer. If you didn’t have Windows on your computer, how would you do anything? You can’t. You need an operating system.

What makes Linux different than the aforementioned OS’s is its collaborative development. One company does not own Linux, or update Linux or receive economic benefits from Linux. Because of this, the Linux OS is an incredibly efficient and unsung software innovation. Additionally, Linux can be found on a number of different electronic devices such as phones, televisions, keyboards, GPS’s, laptops and electronic books. This introduction to Linux and the Linux Desktop can help you.

Why Should I Use Linux?

I’ll tell you a couple of reasons not to run away from Linux. It’s not hard to install, it’s not complicated to use, and the benefits are tantamount to winning the lottery. Now, why should I use it? Well, let’s break this down.

1. Updates

Remember how we talked about the unheralded team of Linux developers? These guys are professional developers who donate, yes, donate, their time to work on keeping Linux current and running smoothly. The majority of the system and applications are open source, so really, if you know what you’re doing, you can customize Linux to be anything you want it to be. And regardless of how dated your computer may be, Linux doesn’t need a lot of system resources to run effectively, so you need not worry.

2. Security

This, is big. This is like the number one reason I hear why people switch to Linux. Linux offers you the opportunity to be invisible on the web (if you know how to configure this, of course). This can be pretty handy if you’re dealing with things like the Silk Road 2.0. Okay, that was a poorly executed joke, but really, in the days where the NSA is micro-monitoring and George Orwell’s 1984 looks more like 2013, some of us would like to ensure a little more privacy. Linux will do this. Perhaps more importantly, viruses are less of a threat on Linux. Not many of these buggers are designed to attack the Linux OS, which means less hassle for you. And then there are network security testers, Linux is a great tool to find the loopholes that the maliciously intended could use to hack your system.

3. Knowledge

Some of us just ache to learn! We cry more, more, more and Linux will give us a bottomless pit of skills to obtain. If you’ve ever wondered what exactly goes on behind the effortless looking app screen of Windows 8, get Linux. It’ll be reminiscent of the MS DOS days, where that ominous black screen appears and begs you to type in a string of code that then brings you to the landing page of Doom, circa 1996. Maybe not, but for me, this is what comes to mind.

4. Cost

My computer is a tender two weeks old to me, I love it, I love that it has Windows 8 because I’m jazzed about compartmentalized functioning things, glossy images, unnecessary gadgets and its ease of use. However, I had to pay $200 to get this piece of work. That’s a lot of money for those of us that don’t have it. (It’s also a lot to me, but I have poor money management skills. That’s another story..) Choose Linux and you’re looking at, :::drum roll::::, nothing. Zip. Zero. Null. Linux is free and could be exactly what converts you into a user.

Okay, I get it, now how do I get Linux?

There are a number of way’s Linux can be obtained.

1. Run a CD-ROM with Linux on it. This will either, wipe your entire system to run only on the Linux OS, or, allow you to dual-boot, which means partitioning your hard drive to run on your existing OS, or Linux. Don’t worry, the CD-ROM will ask you which you want to do when you put it in your disc reader.

2. Download it from the internet. You can do this and then burn it onto a CD-ROM so you can do the above. Or, you can run Linux using a Virtual PC. This will give you the opportunity to play around with Linux without destroying your current OS. It’s contained, so no worries.

3. You can run it from a USB boot.

Visit one of the following sites to get Linux (these are called distributions, or Linux distros):

Red Hat Linux

SuSE Linux

Mandrake Linux

Ubuntu

Slackware Linux

This list is not exhaustive by any means. Learn Ubuntu Linux Server in this online course.

Got it, how do I install it?

Simple. Find a Linux distro you would like to download the software from. Click download. Either upload it to a CD-ROM to boot it, or download a virtual PC agent. You can also use Wubi and Ubuntu to make this process easier. Restart your computer with the CD in the drive. Your computer will now activate and allow you to “install” Linux. Follow the prompt on the screen to install the selected distribution of Linux onto your computer.

It’s installed, now what do I do?

You’re going to want to log in as “root”. Well, really, this is your only option as “root” is the only account that exists after the initial installation. You also probably want to run the GUI version unless you know what you’re doing in which case go for the text version. Here’s an example of the text you’ll use:

my_machine_name login: root

password: my_password

The password will not appear on the screen when you type it. Now that you’re logged in you will be at the text-mode terminal, or the GUI login screen depending on if you chose text-mode or graphical mode.

You’ll notice that there is no longer “C:\” you are used to in Windows. Everything starts at the root of the file system (aka “/”) and different hard drives are accessed through the /dev directory. Your home directory, which you typically find in C:\Documents and Settings in Windows XP and 2000, is now located in /home.

This “home” directory is for all user files: settings, program configuration files, documents, data, netscape cache, mail, etc. As a user, you can create subdirectories under your home directory to keep yourself organized. Other users cannot read your files or write to your home directory unless you give them permission to do so.

Linux In-Depth

You’re staring at your desktop and probably wondering what you are supposed to do from here. It’s time to play! Depending on what distro version you downloaded, you’ll have some icons on your desktop that look familiar like, Mozilla. There are four ways to open installed applications. 1. Run commands through the text terminal, 2: from the desktop, 3: from the toolbar and, 4: from the Main Menu.

There are, of course, a lot of reasons why you would need to use your text terminal, however, unless you are rather advanced or have a specific task (hacking) that you are trying to accomplish – let’s start with the simple stuff.

Let’s learn how to open Mozilla via the icon on the desktop, from the main menu and from the panel.

From the Desktop: Just like you would in any other OS, double click the icon.

From the Toolbar: This is the bar that is typically at the bottom of your screen, it can also be on the side, or the top. Click the icon once to open the program.

From the Main Menu: Click the main menu and find your application. Click it.

From the Text-terminal: launch your command line terminal and type,

cd Firefox installation directory
./Firefox –ProfileManager

Syntax

How did we get that command? Let’s review some basic syntax rules that apply for all commands.

First, command parameters containing spaces must be enclosed in quotes. So, “New User”. Command actions and parameters are not case sensitive but profile names, are. Using ( ) will separate commands and parameters. The most important part, all message options follow the syntax field=value. So, to=user@linux.net or subject=new page. Separate message options by a comma.

Command line options are entered after the command to start an application. Some options will have arguments or abbreviations. Arguments can be entered after the line option. For abbreviations, “-editor” can be abbreviated as “-edit”. To find more abbreviations just search the web.

Let’s go over some command lines to help you get on your way. For an in-depth tutorial, Mastering the Linux Command Line can help.

Create a User Profile

If you want to create a user profile, create a new profile named profile_name. (Don’t name it this, pick a unique name.) Do this by typing:

Firefox –CreateProfile NewUser

Don’t run the application. This will create a new profile in the profile_directory. Now you want to create a new profile named profile_name in the profile_dir directory. Write:

firefox -CreateProfile "NewUser c:\internet\moz-profile"

To open the profile manager just type –P without any profile name. If you want to launch the application with the profile named New_User, type:

firefox -P "NewUser"

Open a Browser

We briefly touched on what the command is to open Mozilla, but let’s discuss it further here.

Start with the –browser component. (This only works with Firefox or SeaMonkey.)

Open URL in a new tab or window. –url can be omitted. If you want to open several websites, separate the url’s by space. Like this,

firefox www.mozilla.com developer.mozilla.org

Here’s a few more pointers for working in browsers,

–private, Firefox will open in a permanent private browsing mode.

–new-tab URL, opens a URL in a new tab

-new-window URL, opens a URL in a new window

-search term, search with your default search engine

-preferences, opens options/preferences window

-setDefaultBrowser, set the application as the default browser (only in Firefox).

Mail/News

Start with the mail client (Thunderbird or SeaMonkey only).

thunderbird –mail

If you are looking to compose an email use the command,

thunderbird –compose to=user@linux.net

Set default

To open the news client:

thunderbird – news

You can add an optional URL to that, so,

thunderbird –news news://server/group

Want to open your calendar? Sunbird only.

sunbird –calendar

Show your schedule for a certain date?

sunbird –showdate 11/21/2013

XULRunner

XULRunner is a Mozilla runtime package that can be used to bootstrap XUL+XPCOM applications.

Start a new process running the XULRunner application at path/to.

-app /path/to/application.ini

This will register XULRunner for all users. (You’ll have to run this in admin/root)

--register-global

Register a single user:

--register-user

Unregister XULRunner for all users:

--unregister-global

Add-ons

This will install an extension into the application directory.  The parameter is the path to the extension. (You must be the administrator.)

-install-global-extension /path/to/extension

This is basically the same as above, but for themes. You also much have admin privileges to do this.

-install-global-theme /path/to/theme

Safe mode will launch the application with all the extensions disabled, for that launch only.

-safe-mode

In Short

I’ll stop here and let you absorb what you’ve just read. I do hope that these examples will give you insight into how commands are set up generally. I also hope that the former part of this article inspired you to try Linux out, or at least research more about it. Maybe you feel like this information was a breeze, if so, want to learn how to run linux server from scratch?