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  Linux Letter 05

The Linux Letter for June 28, 1999

My grandfather always told me that it was a lot easier to be "like" an expert than to be an expert. I always wondered what he meant by that until I joined the Navy. As a Sonar operator, I had file cabinets stuffed full of information about submarines and ships, more than a person could hope to know. But I still had to know all about them. Or did I? That's when I knew what my grandfather was talking about.

Sometimes it's just as good to know where to go to find out what you need to know as it is to have thatinformation in your head. It worked for me in the Navy, and it works for me with computers. It especially works well with Linux.

Linux is very Internet-centric. It's that way because it's a clone of UNIX, which itself has networking at its heart. Unlike just about any other operating system, Linux is a product of the Internet. Most of the development of the operating system and the accessories that go with it was done across the world, aided by world-wide networking. Since there is no single source of information about Linux, it stands to reason that the best way to find out about Linux would be to open a browser and surf the web.

That's what makes me "like" an expert. I usually can't pull an answer to a Linux question right off the top of my head, but I know where to go to get one. And after this, you will too!

The grandaddy of all Linux sites is Linux.org. This site was created over five years ago to help people who were making the big switch from other operating systems to Linux. You'll find indexes linked to all of the Linux HOWTO articles, different distributions of Linux and applications that run under Linux. This page also lists vendors who sell preloaded Linux computers and it also provides some good, basic information on what Linux is. Linux.org is definitely the best place to start on your journey.

A newcomer to the ranks of web sites devoted to Linux is Linux.com. This site is operated by VA Linux Systems, a computer company that manufactures Linux-based computers. Although the domain has been registered for a long time, VA recently purchased it in a bidding war that actually saw Microsoft attempting to buy the domain. Linux.com is a portal site, with links to news from several web sites that carry predominantly Linux features. It is very much devoted to advocacy, promoting Linux as an alternative to Microsoft operating systems. It also features weekly columns and tips on getting the last little bit of performance from your Linux installation.

LinuxToday.com is a news site that contains summaries and links to news stories on other web pages. Typically, a short summary of the article is available from them, with a link to the original article on the publisher's web page. The web site is particularly valuable because it saves you the time that you might otherwise spend attempting to find the news that you want to read about your favorite operating system.

Another source for news and information is 32BitsOnline.com. This site features news in a similar vein as LinuxToday, but also has original content and covers most 32 operating systems, including Windows and BeOS. This site carries a very balanced view of operating systems as tools to help us accomplish goals, so you generally won't find one operating system trumpeted over another.

Of course, if you're looking for programs, two web sites immediately spring out. Freshmeat.net has been around for a couple of years. It's not fancy . . . primarily, the web site is just a list of new applications with brief descriptions and links to download or to home pages. It does have a good search engine and well-maintained archives. The site is managed from Huenstetten, Germany, but is hosted by RedHat Software in the United States.

Linuxberg.com is part of the Tucows armada of themed web sites. It features categorized lists of applications. It also mirrors just about every Linux distribution available. The site itself is also mirrored to different hosts around the world, so there should be a Linuxberg mirror near you.

But if surfing the web isn't your idea of having Linux knowledge at your fingertips, then maybe you need a book. The best Linux reference that I've seen is Que's "Special Edition: Using Linux". Now in its fourth edition, it includes RedHat and Caldera Linux CD-ROMs, as well as a copy of StarOffice. The book takes you through the steps of installing the operating system, all the way to tweaking it for maximum performance.

So that, in a nutshell, is how to become "like" an expert. And for the Internet, being "like" an expert is usually good enough. After all, knowing where the information is at is almost as good as having it in your head!

Linux.org: http://www.linux.org
Linux.com: http://www.linux.com
LinuxToday: http://www.linuxtoday.com
32BitsOnline: http://www.32bitsonline.com
Freshmeat: http://www.freshmeat.net
Linuxberg: http://www.linuxberg.com

Hot Tip of the Week

Have you ever wondered just how large a directory was? With DOS, all you have to do is type DIR and you'll get a list of file sizes, all nicely totalled for you. Linux's DIR command, however, won't do that for you. But there is a command that will. Just type "du" at a command line and it will return the size of the directory that you are in, along with all of the subdirectories. Or, you can type "du /<directory_name> and see just how big a particular directory and its subdirectories are. If you use the "-s" switch, du will show you the size of just the directory that you specified, without the subdirectories.

And as a bonus tip, if you want to know how much free space is available on your hard drives, just type "df" at a command prompt.

Happy computing!

Drew Dunn

 



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