Learn Linux Tutorial for Mac & PC Users

by Mike Levin SEO & Datamaster, 08/02/2010

Note: Since I wrote this article, I released my own derivative distribution of Linux, called Levinux, which is a perfect platform for beginning to learn Linux Server on the Mac.

Want to learn Linux? Or maybe you just want to become more technical, and have no idea where to start. This is a good place to start. Make your very own USB thumb drive that boots Linux with a double-click from either Windows or a Mac. Impress your friends. Alter the course of your life.

This project doesn’t require any foreknowledge of Linux, and results in you building a bare-bones installation of a very popular Linux distribution that serves as the ideal jumping-off point to other projects. It’s designed to “be cool” and lay the foundation for the next project and the next, building up on your way to becoming a full-fledged Linux guru.

I’m writing this website in the reverse chronological format that blogging software makes so easy. Eventually, I’ll add more structure, better illustrations, and maybe even format it into a book. But if you discovered this site through search, I encourage you to go to the WordPress category page for this area, scroll to the bottom, which is the first page in the learning linux tutorial, and then proceed forward.

Each topic will be given its own blog category to organize it into a contained sequences that make sense to the site user. When I move onto the next major topic of discussion, I will create the next category. This category is “Learning Linux” because as diverse of the topics actually covered, I believe that learning Linux is the true central theme, as I have laid out a formulaic way for the average newbie to construct an open source lifeboat on the very deck of a sinking proprietary ship–an experience I intuit that many people hunger for, but can’t quite articulate. I know I felt it.

I’m sort of jumping into this head-first, being only a Linux newbie myself. But only by me writing and writing, forcing myself to cover the next topic can I convince myself to get through everything I have planned–from your first “Hello World” program under Linux, to bursting your app to a thousand coordinated instances for on-demand Enterprise-performance in the cloud. In fact, it’s only half-tutorial for your sake, because it’s also half-self-discipline, forcing myself along in my own career. The best way to learn is to teach, and I happened to get down this wonderful Linux pendrive tutorial that serves as the ideal indoctrination to Linux, to make it feel “real”, tearing down a lot of traditional obstacles. What you learn here will be directly transferrable to real hardware, which is the real purpose of this site.

Why should you care about Linux or becoming technical in general? I believe that command over information technology is increasingly becoming the primary differentiator between those who “can” and “cannot”. I believe that more and more developers are feeling stung by how proprietary vendor-driven technology works in trendy career-nuking cycles. I also feel that many non-technical people, particularly marketers and children, are always looking for ways to become a little more technical, and are often wondering exactly how to do so, but can hardly even formulate the question.

Is the question “what language should I learn?” or “what platform should I be on?” This is all aggravated by the fact that what you latch first has a tendency of what you stick with for many years, and that home computer “desktops” muddy the question. For past 25 years that the Windows has ruled the roost, it hasn’t been that much of a problem, because it was clear where to invest your career to be part of a good job market and remain relevant.

Unfortunately, it’s not so clear today, and those who have grown up and never looked beyond Windows are in a pickle. Fortunately, the answer is in front of us, however it is very difficult to see because it is buried deep inside all our equipment, from our cable TV boxes to our WiFi routers to our smartphones, to the very Macintosh itself. And that answer is the inaccessible world of Unix-like operating systems, and the type-in interface of the Unix Shell.

I lump Linux and Unix together as Unix-like operating systems. Purists will tell you that they’re very different, but learning one gets you a very long way towards learning the other. Unix is the original, and goes back to around 1969 at AT&T and a guy named Ken Thompson who today works for Google, and created Unix as a way of getting the best out of a prior much more difficult system called Multics. Linux is much newer, only going back to 1991 when it was written by Linus Torvalds as an open source alternative to Unix. They work very similarly, and are together referred to as Unix-like operating systems. I focus on Linux here, but I could have almost as easily chosen FreeBSD.

They are the technology winner in terms of where to invest your career today. It’s a hodgepodge conglomeration of things required to get your computer booted, and a bunch of diverse utilities that let you do the equivalent of technology plumbing. It’s the winner, because it has become the modern equivalent of plumbing, inside everything–maybe even your kitchen sink. No matter what else you take on, Unix-like operating systems should be the default thing you learn.

But Unix/Linux can be intimidating, and sometimes I think intentionally so. People who are talented enough to become the plumbers of this technology have jumped onto this platform long ago, embracing it’s intimidating geekiness, feeling superior to others who have not made this leap.

But Unix is actually no more or less difficult than anything else you learn. It may seem seem difficult at first due to the type-in interface and brevity of the commands and their parameters, but the more you learn, the more sense it makes. You learn the general patterns and ways of thinking that pervade every aspect of the system.

And because at the end of this project, you’re actually carrying Linux around like a genie in a lamp that you can rub on any system you sit down at, it looses its big intimidation factor–all the more so because you have great security and the ultimate undo. All you need is someone and something to get you over the “indoctrination” hump to get to that point, and that’s what this project is intended to do.