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I Got Linux Installed, What Next?

by Jose Maria Laveda







This article introduces new users to some of the issues that he/she will confront upon installation of Linux. We do not intend to write a technical paper on them nor a "bible" on LINUX. Our aim is to provide a few basic concepts and terms you will hear from now on and that you might have to use to make yourself understood sometimes. 

I take a break to welcome you to Linux, consider yourself cheered  ;). 

The starting point is where you just managed to install LINUX by yourself or with some pal that came to your place with a CD on his pocket, seized your machine and when he ended by stepping by some colourful displays (principally blue ones) and without your intervention, has asked for a pair of system passwords. After all this he booted the box and you have seen a message something like this: 

Welcome to Linux xx.xx.xx
host login: _

And then he told you "you have it installed", and then taught you some commands and how to shutdown the system leaving you "Alone against danger". 

Maybe the first thing that got your attention about LINUX was hearing it was "free". Well the truth is that the sources are copyrighted but LINUX is sheltered under a license that allows copying, distributing and using it with no costs, though it has some deeper aspects that for the time being we don't need to mention. This license is called "GNU General Public License" and covers a lot of software that you'll encounter often in the Linux and UNIX world.  In fact, you may already have used GNU bash, GNU Emacs, GNU gcc etc... There are similar licenses like MIT (Massachussets Institute of Technology) and BSD (from Berkeley University) which generally allow you the same free access to source codes (although they have some serious limitations on the use you can make of the software). 

But hey!, here is also where misunderstandings begin. You will often hear the argument that "LINUX IS AN UNSUPPORTED OPERATING SYSTEM..." to which one replies that there are companies that give support to whatever technical problem you may have with LINUX. Furthermore there are zillions of ways to obtain help for any Linux problem. 

You'll also hear that it's OK for students, at universities, people with no resources, "gurus", fanatics of Computer Science; and other "tribes" but of no application to the  mainstream. To this I would suggest you consider some of our users: NASA, private corporations, some administrations, internet providers, labs, hundreds of  thousands if not millions of  individual users, plus publishers, hospitals, ... and on and on.  Clearly not all of these fit the stereotype of computer guru or fanatic. 

What Distribution Do You Have?

A distribution is no more than a way to make LINUX reach you so that you can install it easily. Everyone has their own way of 'packing' and distributing the software that cames with LINUX as well as utilities for installation and for system configuration. The vast majority of distributions are available on the Internet and on CD-ROM. It depends on you -or the person that advises you- to choose one. Some of the popular distributions are Slackware, Red Hat, Debian, Caldera... some of them belong to private companies (the distribution, not LINUX!!), and some others are maintained by groups of volunteers (Debian). 

I'm not going to recommend one to you nor will I say which one is worse or better, with time and as soon as you begin to move on this world you'll hear enough comments about this or that distribution on the basis of which to have arguments over which one you need.  Do not mistake the operating system version (Kernel version) you are using with that of the distribution, although you'd be understood if you say Debian 1.2.xx, Red Hat 4.x, Slackware 3.0, etc. (as this refers to the Distribution, not the Kernel). 


Well, if you are 'stuck' somewhere or don't know how to resolve a certain problem, then the critical time has come and you neeed solutions right now!! 
  • Documentation, Documentation and Documentation. With your distribution you have installed many kilobytes intended to help you out of trouble, some examples: 
    • Man pages. 

    • If you type man followed by a command name you'll obtain the manual page for that command. On the other hand if you are not certain of the command you need try using apropos or whatis followed by a keyword or topic, then you'll see a list of man pages where such keyword is refered to. 
    • Programs documentation. 

    • All of the programs that come with Linux have loads of README, INSTALL files and manuals in several text formats. Usually they are located on directories such as /usr/doc and such.  The find command will help you with this. Some distributions have already chosen HTML for this kind of tasks (though now that I think about it, if you do not have the graphical environment configured you won't be able to see it ;(
    • Distribution manuals.

    • Some distributions come with an installation and configuration manual oriented to its specific distribution but with some general topics as well. 
    • HOWTO and FAQ files.

    • The most common answer you will get in USENET to a question is "take a look at the index HOWTO". HOWTOs are files that deal in a very detailed way with some common topic. Examples are the Kernel-HOWTO, PPP-HOWTO, ISP-HOWTO... 
  • There are plenty of books that cover all you ever wanted to know about UNIX and that may help you with your problems. They exist for LINUX too. 
  • There are books available on the Net that you can get for the same price as LINUX and that are sheltered under the same license, GPL. The project is called the Linux Documentation Project and its main page is at: 
  • http://sunsite.unc.edu/mdw/linux.html
  • "Linux Gazzette" is an HTML formated magazine where you can find very interesting articles on LINUX, (they are the competitors, but we'll give you  their address just in case you want to take a look: 
  • http://www.ssc.com/lg 
  • "LinuxFocus" .... (Your're reading it!). 
  • "Linux Journal" has the pride on being the first ever publication exclusively dedicated to LINUX, it's monthly and you can know more at:
  • http://www.ssc.com
  • "Linux World"is just the same but in this case is a British publication: 
  • http://www.eurodream.co.uk 
  • Mailing lists dedicated to many facets of LINUX can be found just by sending a help message to majordomo@vger.rutgers,edu. You'll get a small list of Linux mailing lists for your trouble. 
  • There are many forums that deal with LINUX on the USENET whose names are self-explained.  I'll just recommend you to take a look at the comp.os.linux.* hierarchy. 
  • IRC is another of the places you can meet people, for example you can try irc.linpeople.org where for sure there are channels for Linux. In Spanish there is, for example, a very active channel at irc.arrakis.es
  • All Spanish: Here I show you some links and initiatives in Spanish about LINUX.  Here you'll be able to find people on Quevedo's language talking about whatever you may need, THE IDIOM MUST NO LONGER BE A PROBLEM FOR YOU. Also here are some places you can get information on some mailing lists to which you may subscribe if you ever want to meet people, learn, and help people more lost than you are: 
  • http://slug.ctv.es
  • If you are a FIDONET-like person, there is a LINUX devoted area, R34.LINUX which is very good. 


More good news: with LINUX you'll also be able to use your mouse in a windows, icons and buttons-populated environment. No more 'UNIX is ugly' nor 'user-friendly WYSIWYG editor are for other OS's'. I'm not going to say anything more about the license theme,  but if you're of a curious kind, you will find somewhere a COPYRIGHT file with all the details. 

The X Windowing System (XFree on the implementation you are going to use with LINUX or just X11) will allow you to run many important programs. Can you imagine running WordPerfect on your display? Well it's a reality, although in that case you'll have to spend some money. But there are tones of Kilobytes devoted to applications in this wonderful environment (both public domain and not) that you may enjoy. 

If you already have the system configured, no problem then.  But if you're not that lucky, don't be alarmed even when you see the message warning about the risks of misconfiguring the graphic environment .

With the help of the proper docs and some other helping hands, you'll configure the environment with ease. The most recent distributions include a list of hardware with which to simply select to configure your system. 

You have to take into account that what you actually are going to configure is the Server, so you'll begin to hear words as CLIENT/SERVER, window manager, etc.. I'll just say that X Window is developed with the Client/Server philosophy in mind, where you basically have a software that manages your hardware and recieves requests (messages) from the clients (that is, the programs you'll be using) to draw displays, buttons, scrolling bars, menus, etc..

Networks and the Internet

LINUX is conceived so that machines are inter-communicated.  All the possibilies of this operating system with regard to networks will not fit in this article. In fact, to fully treat this subject, it would take several issues of this magazine. 

Normally, you'll have access to the Internet by means of a provider (ISP from now on) that assigns you a dynamic IP when you connect to it. With a Hayes compatible modem and your LINUX you have everything you need. Using the chat program to send to it the AT commands needed and with the PPP you have open doors. (Remember that this protocol has two parts: one in the kernel and the other outside it, I say this so that you don't go paranoied configuring files related with the software while not correctly compiling the kernel, thought you would not, certainly, be the first one ;)  

Linux is becoming so common that most of the ISP themselves already have instructions on how to connect Linux users to their network (and if your ISP does not, require it!). 

Talking about internet in any Linux box you have at your disposal, you will also have mail programs (pine, elm, mailx,..), news readers, browsers (Netscape, Mosaic, Arena, Lynx...), and all the basic Un*x commands such as: ftp, telnet, ping... 

This brings me to the end of this mini-introduction to the operating system about which you have heard so much.  No doubt, you are  more than ready by now to work with your "Linux box" on your own.  My  intention has been to help you by-pass that initial fear we all have of everything new. LINUX IS EASY, it just requires some patience and lots of illusion. With a little effort we can have all our work sorted out with free software. 

Author's Note: The cunning reader will comprehend that it's very difficult to try to compress all resources about LINUX information in a mere article, so I offer my excuses beforehand.   THANKS FOR YOUR UNDERSTANDING! 

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© 1998 Jose Maria Laveda
This website is mantained by Miguel A Sepulveda.