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Beginner's annoying questions... - Linux / Unix Administration

I would like to learn unix. I know a little, but I'd like to know more. In the past, the best way for me to learn has always been to just jump in - attempting something complicated and learning along the way. So I'm thinking I'll attempt to set up a box. My first question: are there any web pages you can point me to that outline the differences in all the unix-style system? For example, I've heard of freebds, linux, redhat... but really have no idea what all these mean. Are they all free systems? etc. I would appreciate ...

  1. #1

    Default Beginner's annoying questions...

    I would like to learn unix. I know a little, but I'd like to know
    more. In the past, the best way for me to learn has always been to
    just jump in - attempting something complicated and learning along the
    way. So I'm thinking I'll attempt to set up a box. My first question:
    are there any web pages you can point me to that outline the
    differences in all the unix-style system? For example, I've heard of
    freebds, linux, redhat... but really have no idea what all these mean.
    Are they all free systems? etc. I would appreciate any help. Guest

  2. #2

    Default Re: Beginner's annoying questions...

    In article <>,
    com wrote:

    This sort of site isn't really going to help you much, IMO. It's like
    asking about the differences between the various models of car. You'll
    get a list of specs on engine displacement, horsepower, etc. but if you
    don't understand the basics of how a car works, so what?

    Your best bet is to pick up a couple books on UNIX for beginners and
    read them through. If you have access to a UNIX system and can play
    with the shell as you read, great. Or buy a Linux distro with a
    beginners book and install it on a PC, then read through the book.

    You have to be able to sit up and look around before you start crawling.
    Don't even think about walking yet.

    DeeDee, don't press that button! DeeDee! NO! Dee...

    Michael Guest

  3. #3

    Default Re: Beginner's annoying questions...

    Begin <>
    On 2005-12-11, com <com> wrote: 

    Prepare to be disappointed. While it certainly isn't impossible[1],
    it is much easier getting a good book on unix first, then plunging
    in. Knowing a little bit of its history and philosophy will help
    understanding it and will save you time.

    So get a book on unix in general, for exaple [lunix5], amended with
    information on the specific unix or unix-like os you're playing with.

    I use FreeBSD a lot, and its site at [fbsd] also carries its complete
    doentation in various forms, including on-line html, plus it has
    pointers to books ranging from entry level to technical and in-depth.


    Not all unices are free, but some are. I'll point out a couple of things
    but be prepared to go to the respective sites and correclate. They all
    have pages that explain what they're good at. See below for references.

    Unix began at AT&T. The university of berkeley did work on it as well,
    back when academic licences with source could easily be had. Their
    changes were distributed as the Berkeley Software Distribution. On the
    other hand, the work at AT&T did not stop.

    This led to two main ``schools'' of unix, the original AT&T, and the BSD
    one. Knowing which one your unix is from is useful as many utilities are
    mostly the same within but differ across schools. Between individual unices
    there are also numerous differences, but they tend to be limited to the
    deeper levels and thus more important for administrators than for users.

    Note that it is easier to use it than to set it up, and that while its
    enormous flexibility means you can do most anything with it, you do need
    to know what you are doing. Fortunately most things tend to be fairly
    well doented, often both as tutorials and in reference form. I don't
    mean to be patronizing here, even if it sounds like it, but you are not
    likely to get away with not reading the doentation.

    As you can probably guess, NetBSD, FreeBSD, and OpenBSD[3] are all based
    on the BSD code and thus are of the Berkeley school. Old sunos also, but
    solaris 2 and up is AT&T based again. Some commercial others are one or
    the other or a mix-and-match of both, or they even are of the one but
    provide the other side's view of things as an extra set of utilities.
    Interesting history about this can be found in [os:vosr].

    Linux is a project started from scratch, and is a hodge podge of both
    as well as random other inventions and contributions. As such it is not
    very clearly defined as the one or the other. To me its community feels
    a bit like the hobbyism that thrived on DOS all over again. This brings
    in another point which is usually called ``flavour'': Liking this or
    that unix[tm]-like-os is sometimes very personal and you'll simply have
    to try a few to make up your mind. With the free ones that should pose
    not too many problems other than downloading them and installing them.

    While it is possible to install a or even a few free unices next to an
    existing windows installation, I do recomment getting an extra machine
    for playing with it as you can easily lose lots of data if you are not
    careful. It leaves you much freer in installing and re-installing the
    system(s) you are playing with.

    In the linux world there is another thing to consider,
    ``distributions''. Linux, large as it is, in itself is only the kernel
    and all the rest are utilities and components, mostly taken from the gnu
    project. Building yourself a linux system ``from scratch'' is possible
    but a lot of work, so others have done the organizing involved for you
    and have packaged all the bits using some packaging system or other,
    with different sets of features and interfaces, like text-mode only
    installers, or complete GUIs and more. This is why there are so many
    different linux distributions, as everybody has his own preferences
    on how to do this.

    Redhat is a linux distribution that has ceased to be free, in its place
    is ``fedora''. Other free linux distributions are ubuntu, debian, and
    gentoo, to name a few ``large'' ones.

    Anyway, to contrast ``the linux approach'' with ``the BSD approach'',
    see [bvl] (recommended read). In the contrasting vein, if you ever get
    stuck on a unix system you don't know, [ros] has a useful cheatsheet.
    For an overview of how all those unices interrelate, see [utime].

    This is not an exhaustive explanation; I've left out a few that you
    might download and experiment with, for example solaris and qnx.

    In finishing, I want to mention minix. This is an academic system by
    Prof. Andrew S. Tanenbaum and was primarily a teaching tool suited for
    extremely low-end hardware. Now, with version 3, it still is useful as a
    teaching tool, but it also aims at becoming more generally useful.
    See [m3].

    [lunix5] _Learning the unix environment, fifth ed._, O'Reilly[2]
    ISBN 0-596-00261-0
    [os:vosr] _Open Sources: Voices from the Open Source Revolution_
    Marshall Kirk McKusick, O'Reilly, ISBN 1-56592-582-3 and online:



    [1] I remember doing a lot of ls /bin and ls /usr/bin followed by
    man <command> where <command> was something interesting I'd spotted.
    [2] This pointer is, unfortunately, not from personal experience, but
    I'd heard good things about it so I'm passing it on.
    [3] As well as a relatively new DragonflyBSD, which is a bit experimental
    at this stage. Darwin, the open sourced underpinnings of macosx, also
    falls in this category.

    j p d (at) d s b (dot) t u d e l f t (dot) n l .
    This message was originally posted on Usenet in plain text.
    Any other representation, additions, or changes do not have my
    consent and may be a violation of international copyright law.
    jpd Guest

  4. #4

    Default Re: Beginner's annoying questions...

    In article <>,
    Michael Vilain <net> writes: [/ref]

    I agree with the idea of starting with a book or books - O'Reilly has (or had,
    haven't looked leately) a couple of pretty fair intro to unix books for System
    V Release 4 type systems and BSD type systems. Worth looking into. As well,
    Barnes and Noble in the US have a fair assortment of books on - mostly - the
    major linux distributions, many with an included cdrom of a back-level version
    of the flavor du jour. The books vary in quality and thoroughess, but you
    should be able to find one or more to suit your needs.

    As far as a free distro to fetch/install, I'd recommend either Net- or FreeBSD,
    both come with outstanding doentation; the install proces, while it can be
    intimidating, is pretty straightforward IF you've read the doentation, and
    both are rock-solid operating systems. I'd say they're _true_ unix, save that
    neither has been registered as such with the copyright holder on the unix name.
    Linux is unix-like, but is an independent development path. If I were to
    recommend one of the multitude, it'd probably be SUSE or Debian, although you
    will get differing opinions and recommendations. My object is not to start a
    flame war over which is best - opinions are like noses (or other portions of the
    anatomy) - everybody has one. All the major BSD and Linux distributions have
    a webpage, each will give you some idea of why it's different and better, all
    are worth exploring before you make your decision.

    Hope this helps.

    Bob Melson

    Robert G. Melson | Rio Grande MicroSolutions | El Paso, Texas
    "One of the greatest delusions in the world is the hope that the evils in this world are to be cured by legislation." Thomas Reed

    Robert Guest

  5. #5

    Default Re: Beginner's annoying questions...

    On 2005-12-11, com <com> wrote: 

    Congratulations and thank you so much for being adventurous and wanting to
    learn a new technology - this spirit is lacking in the information technology
    world, and I wish there more of it in recent times...

    I could write a long letter like other folks have responding to your query,
    there have been some excellently written responses in this thread!

    I've taken about a 15-year trip through Unix so fading find the
    experience rewarding, and very educational about computing technology - in a
    way, I feel "liberated" from the commercial choices constantly being
    advertised to the public via mass media, because armed with knowledge
    about information technology in general from UNIX experience, I can dig
    "beneath the hype" and see a truer, clearer picture of the technology, its'
    risks, benefits, rewards, true cost, etc. You will likely experience this in
    time too. :)

    I started out with System-V type systems like Interactive UNIX, Unixware,
    before finding the older BSD-flavored systems like SunOS. I then discovered a
    then very young Slackware Linux distribution using the 0.99 kernel series. In
    the last 3-4 years I came back to BSD, just enjoying the ease of
    administration. Who know what you might like - the excellent thing is that
    there are so many choices. :)

    Here are some things I've found across the journey:

    - There is much more doentation and ease-of-setup with Linux distributions.
    Many modern Linux distributions make a point of insulating the end-user from
    the burden of system administration. If you want to "get under the hood", I've
    found the doentation for that lacking in most Linux distributions.

    - I've found that Linux-based Unix distributions generally have more support
    for "exotic" PC hardware, especially in the graphics card category, although
    this is more of a function of the included XFree86 package, the graphic
    windowing system included with most free UNIX distributions. This isn't a
    negative comment about BSD-based UNIX distributions, actually, BSD
    distributions tend to weed out bad hardware and not support it, a good thing!

    - BSD UNIX can be a bit challenging for the newcomer to set-up and install,
    but IMHO, I think it's the best instructor of core UNIX principles. I find the
    administration encourages direct interaction with the command line and
    hardware, and this teaches a lot.

    - The BSD family tends to focus on different things, IMHO, here's what I think:

    NetBSD - runs on anything reliably, including 20-year old exotic hardware.
    FreeBSD - brings BSD and the XWindows environment to the masses.
    OpenBSD - hardcore security focus and runs on a lot of hardware.

    - I personally prefer OpenBSD for security and I'm mostly a CLI junkie, I dig
    XWindows, but most of my UNIX time is spent on the command line interface
    (CLI). As a matter of fact, this Usenet posting is being written on a Sun
    SPARC machine that's over a decade old. :)

    - I think FreeBSD on Intel/PC would do you good for starters - combination of
    the BSD experience and a stable, well-supported XWindows graphic environment.

    Some random tips:

    - If you're going to try to do the dual-boot configuration where you try to
    keep two operating systems on the same box, assume you are going to make a
    mistake and have to re-install everything on the box. The mistake you think
    you can avoid the first time, you will make. This means back up all your data
    you care about first. :)

    - You don't need a lot of computer to drive FreeBSD and start. Read the
    specifications on the homepage [ ] as a guideline and
    you may find a spare or cheap machine that would allow you to freely
    experiment if you need to keep the machine you have now running.

    - Do more things as a user, not as root. Not being root prevents you from
    making fatal mistakes in deleting or changing files. Don't shy away from
    administering your system, but try to do programming, scripting, etc. as a
    user. UNIX's security scheme will prevent you from making bad mistakes. :)

    - Everything in UNIX generally is a file - some files are text files, others
    are compiled code that run, yet others are special files that can directly
    interface you with the hardware on your system. Avoid in the beginning writing
    to or deleting things in the /dev directory on any Unix system. :) Most of
    these files are interfaces to hardware on your system or virtual devices the
    Unix OS creates.

    - A wise UNIX SysAdmin once imparted to me the wisdom s/he heard from another -
    "the beauty of UNIX is its' simplicity.".

    Enjoy. :)

    DMFH Guest

  6. #6

    Default Re: Beginner's annoying questions...

    Robert Melson <> wrote:


    I fully agree with you. I would recommend the OP to try either
    FreeBSD, or NetBSD, or Debian GNU/Linux.

    Regarding the doentation, a good (and cheap) way to go would be
    reading the first chapters of the FreeBSD handbook and the User's guide
    of the Debian doentation project. Of course, a printed book on Unix
    is also interesting to read.

    Ángel Guest

  7. #7

    Default Re: Beginner's annoying questions...

    If you want an 'easy' install experience, try SuSe 9 or above. I've been
    doing Unix for several years now, and it is one of the best install (short
    of AIX) that I've seen. Yast is a great tool. As for learning, nothing
    better than trial and error. Just be patient, back backup copies of your
    files, and remember, man is your friend!

    Good luck and congrats on learning a new skill!


    <com> wrote in message 

    Gary Guest

  8. #8

    Default Re: Beginner's annoying questions...

    Here's what I think you should do:
    1. Go to and sign up for an account; May I
    suggest Linux/SuSE(my server)?
    2. Ask quesions in the forums
    3. Read through the docs here:
    If this isn't what you want to do, it might be a good idea to just jump
    in. Thats what I did, but everyone learns in different ways. UNIX for
    Dummies might also be a good idea. If you have any questions ask them
    in the forum or contact me personally at dillona (at) suse (dot)
    polarhome (dot) com
    Thank you,
    Dillon Amburgey

    dillona Guest

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