Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Introduction to Linux Course

A lot of people who know me have had to endure my various soapbox discussions about one thing or another. One of those topics deals with modern operating systems (OS) for personal computers and whether I think any particular OS is better than another. This post is an invitation to learn more about a relative newcomer to the OS field; Linux.

To backtrack just a bit, an operating system is that piece of software that sits between the computer hardware and its end-user. The OS is the one main item that makes a particular computer easier to use or more appropriately paired with a certain use than another.

Prior to the mid '70s, personal computers were quite the adventure. Not only did the buyer need to solder the machine together, but then would have to spend countless hours programming the resulting computer to be able to perform some task. Worse yet, if the user wanted to change from one task to another, a complete rewrite of that software was necessary. Thanks to Bill Gates and his Microsoft company, an operating system called MS-DOS was made available to install on personal computers and, suddenly, the machine became useful to more end users than ever before.

MS-DOS was pretty good at separating the hardware and user, but there were many drawbacks to it. For instance, the interface was strictly text-based and the OS could only do one thing at a time. Take the example that if you were writing a thesis in a word processing package, but needed numbers from Lotus 1-2-3, you would have to exit the word processing software, load 1-2-3, get your data - usually in printed format - and then load the word processing software again to continue with your work. Obviously, this was not ideal. This was where another big company in the industry was able to take a big leap forward and give us more flexibility in using computers.

In 1984, Apple introduced the world to the Macintosh. It brought a graphical interface - based on Xerox PARCs work - and the ability to multitask. Now it was possible to get those number from Lotus 1-2-3 and never have to leave the word processing package. By the mid '90s Microsoft started offering their version of the graphical user interfaced OS in the form of Windows 95. Finally everyone had access to an operating system that was easy to use.

Both the Mac and Windows operating systems are quite good, but they are what we refer to as closed-source. This means that their respective companies are totally responsible for updates and they charge money for that service. In 1991, Linus Torvalds developed the key component to what was to become know as the Linux operating system. With Linux, the entire OS is open-source; we can freely download, use, and make changes to the software with very few constraints. This is an OS that has really started to gain more supporters as it is extremely powerful and easy to use, but it requires a bit of work to become proficient.

Now comes the main reason for my post. I want to invite everyone to take advantage of a free online course that is starting in just a few days on August 1st. This course will deal with everything a beginner needs to know about Linux and lead into an appreciation of some of the more advanced topics. I will be following along in this course and I hope you will join me. Please create your free edX account at the following link and signup for the LFS101x "Introduction to Linux" course. Thank you!

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