Become technical – Learning Linux / Unix

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Tux The Linux Penguin

In a broad sense, Linux (along with Unix) has become the underlying generic plumbing of almsot all information technology today. It is a good place to begin learning infotech—an important skill for life. But technically, Linux is just a “boot kernel”, which is a way to get a wide variety of hardware starting to boot up as a computer. It is a small but important part of a much larger picture.

The word Linux is used much more broadly to apply to a whole computer platform based on free and open source software, but much of that is actually something called the GNU command set (which stands for GNU is not Unix). So when you hear Linux, most people are talking about GNU/Linux. And the GNU command set is a clone of the Unix command set, and is part of the old-school text-only computer interface that you rarely see today—but which is worth learning to be powerful.

So what are these fancy OSes like Ubuntu, Mint, Fedora, openSUSE and the other pretty graphical OSes that people refer to as flavors of Linux? Well, they are Linux plus a windows managers (usually X Window) and a desktop environments running on top of it to make it look and behave much like a Mac or Windows windowing operating system. X Window provides basic windowing services, and the desktop (usually GNOME and KDE) provide all the fancy decoration that makes it a comfy alternative to Mac and Windows. But Ubuntu is not Linux. Ubuntu is Ubuntu, and Linux is down there somewhere.

Because of Linux is free and open source, it is easy to tear it down and build it back up customized into radically different things that you would never recognize as Linux, such as the Android mobile OS. Android based on Linux, but its a customized Linux with both the common desktop GNU and windows manager layers swapped out with more mobile-friendly software. iPhone iOS is the same, but with Unix underneath rather than Linux.

Unix is a computer operating system that dates back to the late 1960s, created at AT&T, but which has since become an industry standard for a generic operating system called POSIX. Before it became a standard, it was hotly contested as being a proprietary (not free and open source) product, and during the early 1990s, Linus Torvalds created the Linux clone of Unix to run on 386 hardware, which combined with the GNU project to create the first totally free and open source computer platform.

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Becoming technical increasingly means learning #Linux, which is becoming the modern equivalent of literacy. The technical wars have been fought and Unix/Linux won. Proprietary systems are a dead-end, reserved for disposable consumer products—they’re not something to base you career on, unless you plan on becoming a pigeon-holed specialist. Become a tech generalist first, embracing the right portions of #FOSS… and only then, specialize.

You’ll know the foundation better, because—with all due respect to Jeff Atwood—Unix/Linux is the plumbing of the knowledge era. If you’re a student or a child, you will understand the power of the “old-school” ways. If you’re an adult, it’s never too late, and you won’t need no stinkin’ technical co-founder. Get into the technical state of mind.

Here are some articles about Linux and Unix:

  • The History and Future of Unix in 4 Paragraphs I’m currently using OS X and Linux for my development work, and was curious about the origins. I found this long post on and thought I’d sum up Unix’s history in a few paragraphs. Unix was invented at Bell Laboratories between 1969 and 1971 by Ken Thompson on an already obsolete DEC PDP-7, before ...
  • Welcome to (was Welcome to It used to be until I decided to unify all my sites. If the name invokes images of a concealed server being slipped from under a shirt to shank someone, then you’ve got the right idea. With cloud computing and micro-servers upon us, the days of the old school sysadmin are ...
  • How To Format and Mount Hard Drive in Linux Everything so far has been rudimentary file copying, unzipping, and command lines. This is where it starts to get interesting. We’re going to build a minimal booting, networking install of Debian into the virtual drive. From the Windows DOS shell, make sure you’re in the directory that has the recently fdisk formatted virtual disk. It ...
  • Debootstrap, HowTo in Debian and QEMU Now that we have used the LiveCD to prepare the hard drive, we can use a piece of software called debootstrap. The “de” in debootstrap stands for Debian. Debian is ideal for making bare-bones Linux systems, in-part because this utility exists, also in-part due to the wide array of hardware Debian supports, and also in ...