Become technical - Learning Linux / Unix

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:

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