A Linux Survey For Beginners

Linux For Beginners

So you have decided to give the Linux operating system a try. You have heard it is a good stable operating system with lots of free software and you are ready to give it a shot. It is downloadable for free, so you get on the net and search for a copy, and you are in for a shock. Because there isn’t one “Linux”, there are many. Now you feel like a deer in the headlights. You want to make a wise choice, but have no idea where to start. Unfortunately, this is where a lot new Linux users give up. It is just too confusing.

The many versions of Linux are often referred to as “flavors” or distributions. Imagine yourself in an ice cream shop displaying 30+ flavors. They all look delicious, but it’s hard to pick one and try it. You may find yourself confused by the many choices but you can be sure you will leave with something delicious. Picking a Linux flavor should be viewed in the same way.

As with ice cream lovers, Linux users have their favorites, so you will hear people profess which is the “best”. Of course, the best is the one that you conclude, will fit your needs. That might not be the first one you try. According to linuxquestions.org there are currently 481 distributions, but you don’t need to consider every one. The same source lists these distributions as “popular”: Ubuntu, Fedora, Linux Mint, OpenSUSE, PCLinuxOS, Debian, Mageia, Slackware, CentOS, Puppy, Arch. Personally I have only tried about five of these and I have been a Linux user for more than 20 years. Today, I mostly use Fedora.

Many of these also have derivatives that are made for special purpose uses. For example, Fedora lists special releases for Astronomy, Comp Neuro, Design Suite, Games, Jam, Python Classroom, Security Lab, Robotics Suite. All of these are still Fedora, but the installation includes a large quantity of programs for the specific purpose. Often a particular set of uses can spawn a whole new distribution with a new name. If you have a special interest, you can still install the general one (Workstation) and update later.

Very likely one of these systems will suit you. Even within these there are subtypes and “windows treatments” to customize your operating system. Gnome, Xfce, LXDE, and so on are different windows treatments available in all of the Linux flavors. Some try to look like MS windows, some try to look like a Mac. Some try to be original, light weight, graphically awesome. But that is best left for another article. You are running Linux no matter which of those you choose. If you don’t like the one you choose, you can try another without losing anything. You also need to know that some of these distributions are related, so that can help simplify your choice.

 

Terminal Vitality

Terminal Vitality - Difference Engine

Ever since Douglas Engelbart flipped over a trackball and discovered a mouse, our interactions with computers have shifted from linguistics to hieroglyphics. That is, instead of typing commands at a prompt in what we now call a Command Line Interface (CLI), we click little icons and drag them to other little icons to guide our machines to perform the tasks we desire. 

Apple led the way to commercialization of this concept we now call the Graphical User Interface (GUI), replacing its pioneering and mostly keyboard-driven Apple // microcomputer with the original GUI-only Macintosh. After quickly responding with an almost unusable Windows 1.0 release, Microsoft piled on in later versions with the Start menu and push button toolbars that together solidified mouse-driven operating systems as the default interface for the rest of us. Linux, along with its inspiration Unix, had long championed many users running many programs simultaneously through an insanely powerful CLI. It thus joined the GUI party late with its likewise insanely powerful yet famously insecure X-Windows framework and the many GUIs such as KDE and Gnome that it eventually supported.

GUI Linux

But for many years the primary role for X-Windows on Linux was gratifyingly appropriate given its name - to manage a swarm of xterm windows, each running a CLI. It's not that Linux is in any way incompatible with the Windows / Icon / Mouse / Pointer style of program interaction - the acronym this time being left as an exercise for the discerning reader. It's that we like to get things done. And in many fields where the progeny of Charles Babbage's original Analytic Engine are useful, directing the tasks we desire is often much faster through linguistics than by clicking and dragging icons.

 

GUI Linux Terminal
A tiling window manager makes xterm overload more manageable

 

A GUI certainly made organizing many terminal sessions more visual on Linux, although not necessarily more practical. During one stint of my lengthy engineering career, I was building much software using dozens of computers across a network, and discovered the charms and challenges of managing them all through Gnu's screen tool. Not only could a single terminal or xterm contain many command line sessions from many computers across the network, but I could also disconnect from them all as they went about their work, drive home, and reconnect to see how the work was progressing. This was quite remarkable in the early 1990s, when Windows 2 and Mac OS 6 ruled the world. It's rather remarkable even today.

Bashing GUIs

Terminal Vitality

Terminal Vitality - Difference Engine

Ever since Douglas Engelbart flipped over a trackball and discovered a mouse, our interactions with computers have shifted from linguistics to hieroglyphics. That is, instead of typing commands at a prompt in what we now call a Command Line Interface (CLI), we click little icons and drag them to other little icons to guide our machines to perform the tasks we desire. 

Apple led the way to commercialization of this concept we now call the Graphical User Interface (GUI), replacing its pioneering and mostly keyboard-driven Apple // microcomputer with the original GUI-only Macintosh. After quickly responding with an almost unusable Windows 1.0 release, Microsoft piled on in later versions with the Start menu and push button toolbars that together solidified mouse-driven operating systems as the default interface for the rest of us. Linux, along with its inspiration Unix, had long championed many users running many programs simultaneously through an insanely powerful CLI. It thus joined the GUI party late with its likewise insanely powerful yet famously insecure X-Windows framework and the many GUIs such as KDE and Gnome that it eventually supported.

GUI Linux

But for many years the primary role for X-Windows on Linux was gratifyingly appropriate given its name - to manage a swarm of xterm windows, each running a CLI. It's not that Linux is in any way incompatible with the Windows / Icon / Mouse / Pointer style of program interaction - the acronym this time being left as an exercise for the discerning reader. It's that we like to get things done. And in many fields where the progeny of Charles Babbage's original Analytic Engine are useful, directing the tasks we desire is often much faster through linguistics than by clicking and dragging icons.

 

GUI Linux Terminal
A tiling window manager makes xterm overload more manageable

 

A GUI certainly made organizing many terminal sessions more visual on Linux, although not necessarily more practical. During one stint of my lengthy engineering career, I was building much software using dozens of computers across a network, and discovered the charms and challenges of managing them all through Gnu's screen tool. Not only could a single terminal or xterm contain many command line sessions from many computers across the network, but I could also disconnect from them all as they went about their work, drive home, and reconnect to see how the work was progressing. This was quite remarkable in the early 1990s, when Windows 2 and Mac OS 6 ruled the world. It's rather remarkable even today.

Bashing GUIs

Building A Dashcam With The Raspberry Pi Zero W

raspberry-pi-zero-w

I've been playing around with the Raspberry Pi Zero W lately and having so much fun on the command line. For those uninitiated it's a tiny Arm computer running Raspbian, a derivative of Debian. It has a 1 GHz processor that had the ability to be overclocked and 512 MB of RAM, in addition to wireless g and bluetooth.

raspberry pi zero w with wireless g and bluetooth

A few weeks ago I built a garage door opener with video and accessible via the net. I wanted to do something a bit different and settled on a dashcam for my brother-in-law's SUV.

I wanted the camera and Pi Zero W mounted on the dashboard and to be removed with ease. On boot it should autostart the RamDashCam (RDC) and there should also be 4 desktop scripts dashcam.sh, startdashcam.sh, stopdashcam.sh, shutdownshutdown.sh. Also create and a folder named video on the Desktop for the older video files. I also needed a way to power the RDC when there is no power to the vehicle's usb ports. Lastly I wanted it's data accessible on the local LAN when the vehicle is at home.

Here is the parts list:

  1. Raspberry Pi Zero W kit (I got mine from Vilros.com)
  2. Raspberry Pi official camera
  3. Micro SD card, at least 32 gigs
  4. A 3d printed case from thingverse.com
  5. Portable charger, usually used to charge cell phones and tablets on the go
  6. Command strips, it's like double sided tape that's easy to remove or velcro strips

 

First I flashed the SD card with Raspbian, powered it up and followed the setup menu. I also set a static IP address.

Now to the fun stuff. Lets create a service so we can start and stop RDC via systemd. Using your favorite editor, navigate to "/etc/systemd/system/" and create "dashcam.service"  and add the following:

[Unit]
Description=dashcam service
After=network.target
StartLimitIntervalSec=0

[Service]
Type=forking
Restart=on-failure
RestartSec=1
User=pi
WorkingDirectory=/home/pi/Desktop
ExecStart=/bin/bash /home/pi/Desktop/startdashcam.sh

[Install]
WantedBy=multi-user.target

 

Now that's complete lets enable the service, run the following: sudo systemctl enable dashcam

I added these scripts to start and stop RDC on the Desktop so my brother-in-law doesn't have to mess around in the menus or command line. Remember to "chmod +x" these 4 scripts.

 

startdashcam.sh

#!/bin/bash

# remove files older than 3 days
find /home/pi/Desktopvideo -type f -iname '*.flv' -mtime +3 -exec rm {} \;

# start dashcam service
sudo systemctl start dashcam

 

stopdashcam.sh

SeaGL – Seattle GNU/Linux Conference Happening This Weekend!

SeaGL - Seattle GNU/Linux Conference

This Friday, November 13th and Saturday, November 14th, from 9am to 4pm PST the 8th annual SeaGL will be held virtually. This year features four keynotes, and a mix of talks on FOSS tech, community and history. SeaGL is absolutely free to attend and is being run with free software!

Additionally, we are hosting a pre-event career expo on Thursday, November 12th from 1pm to 5pm. Counselors will be available for 30 minute video sessions to provide resume reviews and career guidance.

Mission

The Seattle GNU/Linux conference (SeaGL) is a free, as in freedom and tea, grassroots technical summit dedicated to spreading awareness and knowledge about free/libre/open source software, hardware, and culture.

SeaGL strives to be welcoming, enjoyable, and informative for professional technologists, newcomers, enthusiasts, and all other users of free software, regardless of their background knowledge; providing a space to bridge these experiences and strengthen the free software movement through mentorship, collaboration, and community.

Dates/Times

  • November 13th and 14th
  • Friday and Saturday
  • Main Event: 9am-4:30pm
  • TeaGL: 1-2:45pm, both days
  • Friday Social: 4:30-6pm
  • Saturday Party: 6-10pm
  • Pre-event Career Expo: 1-5pm, Thursday November 12th
  • All times in Pacific Timezone

Hashtags

- `#SeaGL2020`

- `#TeaGLtoasts`

Social Media

Reference Links

Best contact: press@seagl.org

Hot Swappable Filesystems, as Smooth as Btrfs

Hot Swappable Filesystems, as Smooth as Btrfs

Filesystems, like file cabinets or drawers, control how your operating system stores data. They also hold metadata like filetypes, what is attached to data, and who has access to that data. For windows or macOS users

Quite honestly, not enough people consider which file system to use for their computers.

Windows and macOS users have no valid reason to look into filesystems because they have one that’s been widely used since its inception. For Windows that’s NTFS and macOS that’s HFS+. For Linux users, there are plenty of different file system options to choose from. The current default in the Linux field is known as the Fourth Extended Filesystem or ext4.

Currently there is discussion for changes in the filesystem space of Linux. Much like the changes to the default init systems and the switch to systemd a few years ago, there has been a push for changing the default Linux filesystem to the Btrfs. No, I'm not using slang or trying to insult you. Btrfs stands for the B-Tree file system. Many Linux users and sysadmins were not too happy with its initial changes. That could be because people are generally hesitant to change, or because they change may have been too abrupt. A friend once said, "I've learned that fear limits you and your vision. It serves as blinders to what may be just a few steps down the road for you." In this article I want to help ease the understanding of Btrfs and make the transition as smooth as butter. Let’s go over a few things first.

What do Filesystems do?

Just to be clear, we can summarize what filesystems do and what they are used for. Like mentioned before filesystems are used for controlling how data is store after a program is no longer using it, how to access that data, where that data is located, and what is attached to the data itself. As a sysadmin, one of the many tasks and responsibilities is to maintain backups and manage filesystems. Partitioning filesystems help with separating different areas in business environments and is common practice for data retention. An example would be taking a 3TB hard disk and partitioning 1TB for your production environment, 1TB for your development environment, 1TB for company related documents and files. When accidents happen to a specific partition, only the data stored in that partition is affected, instead of the entire 3TB drive in this example. A fun example would be a user testing a script in a development application that begins filling up disk space in the dev partition. Filling up a filesystem accidentally, whether it be from an application or a user’s script or anything on the system, could cause an entire system to stop functioning. If data is partitioned to separate partitions, only the data in that partition will be full or affected, so the production and company data partitions are safe.

How to Try Linux Without a Classical Installation

How to Try Linux Without a Classical Installation

For many different reasons, you may not be able to install Linux on your computer.

Maybe you are not familiar with words like partitioning and bootloader, maybe you share the PC with your family, maybe you don’t feel comfortable to wipe out your hard drive and start over, or maybe you just want to see how it looks before proceeding with a full installation.

I know, it feels frustrating, but no worries, we have got you covered!

In this article, we will explore several ways to try Linux out without the hassle of a classical installation.

Choosing a distribution

In the Linux world, there are several distributions which are quite different between them.

Some are general purpose operating systems, some others are created with a specific use case in mind. That being said, I know how confusing this can be for a beginner.

If you are moving your first steps with Linux and you are still not sure how and why to pick a distribution instead of another one, there are several resources online available to help you.

A perfect example of these resources is the website https://distrochooser.de/ which will walk you through a questionnaire to understand your needs and advice on what distribution could be a good fit for your use case.

Once you have chosen your distribution, there are high chances it will have a live CD image available for testing before the installation. If this is the case, here below you can find many ways to “boot” your live CD ISO image.

MobaLiveCD

MobaLiveCD is an amazing open source application which lets run a live Linux on windows with nearly zero efforts.

Download the application from the official site download page available here and run it.

It will present a screen where you can choose either a Linux Live CD ISO file or a bootable USB drive.

MobaLiveCD

Click on Run the LiveCD, select your ISO file, select no when asked if you want to create a hard disk.

MobaLiveCD prompt

Your Linux virtual machine will boot up “automagically”.

Slackware