Saturday, March 21, 2009

Linuxville handbook - how to be a native.

My wife affectionately describes me as a computer "hacker". I cringe because common folk misguided by the media think a hacker is a malicious deviant. But behind the keyboard, a hacker has ALWAYS been a connoisseur of code, a computer programming enthusiast, a computer science whiz. The term "cracker" has ALWAYS denoted the bad guys (breaking and entering). Even today the means to use commercial software illegally are called "cracks" while tweaking software code to improve it is called "hacks". I challenge all writers of media to get it right. Hacking is good, cracking is bad. Who ever heard of a safe hacker?

I neither hack or crack, I am a humble desktop user who occasionally tweaks.

The real name for my favorite operating system is GNU/LINUX. GNU is the operating system part and Linux is the "kernel" part. GNU/Linux is the complete body of work, the kernel, utilities, tools, programs, applications, etc, etc, etc. So from the top, there is only one GNU/Linux.

Distributions are combinations of the above GNU/Linux parts, packaged together to make up a working system (so you don't have to do it your self, but you can!). Sort of like cars and tennis shoes, the different distributions denote different configurations of the same thing. Linux for a server might be different from Linux for a desktop workstation, but still made of GNU/Linux parts. Distributions can emphasize a culture or language, a GUI (graphical user interface), a set of tools, a range of uses, a type of computer architecture, a kind of computer (server, desktop, DPA, wristwatch). Popular desktop Linux has names like Fedora, Ubuntu, Suse, Mandriva, and .........!

Applications are what enables you to do stuff. If business requires you to use the Microsoft stuff, then you are stuck, otherwise you are free to use anything you wish, if............

IF you can do the same work/play with Linux applications. And if the final file formats are compatible for sharing files with the programs on MS and Mac systems (if you have to share with them!). This usually means .txt, .doc, .pdf and various multimedia and graphic file formats. Other than these, most users do not share files. While Linux can read and write most formats, the emphasis is on open formats not controlled by one software vendor. Then most Linux applications are Open Source, which has to do with being able to freely use and alter the code to your needs. Thus a lot of this software has been compiled to run also on MS and Mac computers. I have Open Office, GIMP, Inkscape and TuxPaint on my Xubuntu and my XP machines. They work the same, though I strongly prefer the Xubuntu machine.

Command line stigma hampers would be Linux users at the mere mention of the word. In Linux the command line is not completely covered by the user interface, the fact that it is so available is a threat. It is there if you need it and is no worst to use than using a word processor, but it does require some knowing what it does for you. YOU MIGHT NOT EVER, NEVER NEED TO USE IT! There were times when I had to use the command line even in MS XP because the XP desktop gave me no way to deal with a problem. This is why I prefer to use the term "TERMINAL" instead of command line. The terminal is the text only interface, the GUI is the graphical user interface, the same but different. "Oh, how dare they put stuff in there, I can't figure out". I am willing to bet you haven't figured out your TV remote yet either!

What would Linuxville native life be without a mascot? Tux the penguin has been the most recognized symbol to date. There have been reports of mysterious appearances in user group photos and faint images burnt into disgarded CRT monitors. I don't think there are many Tux costume fanciers but the Stiffe toy company probably had a run on penguins at times. Crop circles and the Tux shaped deep sea out cropping, and will I ever cover that little chrome XP/Vista sticker with a Tux badge? It is funny though, as little as Linux spends on a marketing strategy, that Tux is so strong an image.

I hope the above helps, better than a grass skirt. Sorry I can't offer official Linuxville passports, Tux lapel pins or a secret decoder ring, scratch-n-sniff trading cards. But as was told to me years ago, Linux kind of grows on ya!

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