Compared with the ease of use of Microsoft Windows, Unix can seem quite daunting to the beginner. No graphics or icons, just a black screen with a command line, waiting for your instructions. What would you like to type today?
Unix comes in a large number of flavours and the various Linux distributions comprise a significant proportion of these. Different distributions are often optimised for different purposes. One of the most popular of the many Linux distributions available is Red Hat Linux. Red Hat have taken Linux and bundled it with various packages, making for a comprehensive suite of products.
A major feature of many of the Linux distributions is that the operating systems themselves (and a huge amount of additional software) are usually free for certain types of use. Unix is hugely popular in the server market and the majority of web servers in the world are running some version of this immensely solid operating system.
Although graphical environments called X-Windows are available for Linux, the system is generally used and configured at the command prompt, through the multitude of text files which make up the system. It is this text-based nature of Linux which contributes to both its power and its challenging interface.
Root has two related meanings in Unix. Whereas Dos and Windows use the backslash \ to signify the root directory [ c:\ ] and to separate directories, i.e. c:\windows\system
Unix uses the forward slash / to represent the directory root ( /) and to separate directories, in a similar way to URL domain names, i.e. /usr/etc and http://www.domainname.com/files
Secondly, the equivalent to the Administrator account is called root (because this all-powerful user always has access to the root directory). During install you must provide a password for the root account as well as a username and password for a user with root privileges. Remember the root password or you could end up locked out of your system (it
Unlike DOS, Unix is case sensitive, so the filenames Stuff.txt and stuff.txt
will be treated as two distinctly different files. It is essential to remember this when typing file and directory names and also commands and parameters. If it's not working, check your spelling and case.
Sometimes the keypad on the right of a keyboard, including numbers and the ENTER button, do not work properly under Linux. There seems to be no pattern as to when they'll work and when not. Best stick to the main ENTER (or return) button and the numbers at the top of the keyboard, above the letters.
The thousands of different developers who contributed to the Linux systems had to amuse themselves somehow and hence Linux is full of odd sounding names and utilities like Gnome, Druid, Samba, Tarballs, etc. Get used to them, often they're quite descriptive and they are very much a part of the culture which has grown up around this operating system. I think
they're quite fun really.
Read the section on Directory Navigation, it will make your life much easier from the start. Also get to know DOS before embarking on the Unix command prompt. You can compare DOS commands to the drag and drop of Windows Explorer and get to know how directory trees work. I find Linux is easier to learn when I compare its features to something familiar.
Watch out for the
MS-DOS icons for direct comparisons with Linux.