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1.5. Linux Flavors

1.5.1. Linux and GNU

Although there are a large number of Linux implementations, you will find a lot of similarities in the different distributions, if only because every Linux machine is a box with building blocks that you may put together following your own needs and views. Installing the system is only the beginning of a longterm relationship. Just when you think you have a nice running system, Linux will stimulate your imagination and creativeness, and the more you realize what power the system can give you, the more you will try to redefine its limits.

Linux may appear different depending on the distribution, your hardware and personal taste, but the fundamentals on which all graphical and other interfaces are built, remain the same. The Linux system is based on GNU tools (Gnu's Not UNIX), which provide a set of standard ways to handle and use the system. All GNU tools are open source, so they can be installed on any system. Most distributions offer pre-compiled packages of most common tools, such as RPM packages on RedHat and Debian packages (also called deb or dpkg) on Debian, so you needn't be a programmer to install a package on your system. However, if you are and like doing things yourself, you will enjoy Linux all the better, since most distributions come with a complete set of development tools, allowing installation of new software purely from source code. This setup also allows you to install software even if it does not exist in a pre-packaged form suitable for your system.

A list of common GNU software:

  • Bash: The GNU shell

  • GCC: The GNU C Compiler

  • GDB: The GNU Debugger

  • Coreutils: a set of basic UNIX-style utilities, such as ls, cat and chmod

  • Findutils: to search and find files

  • Fontutils: to convert fonts from one format to another or make new fonts

  • The Gimp: GNU Image Manipulation Program

  • Gnome: the GNU desktop environment

  • Emacs: a very powerful editor

  • Ghostscript and Ghostview: interpreter and graphical frontend for PostScript files.

  • GNU Photo: software for interaction with digital cameras

  • Octave: a programming language, primarily intended to perform numerical computations and image processing.

  • GNU SQL: relational database system

  • Radius: a remote authentication and accounting server

  • ...

Many commercial applications are available for Linux, and for more information about these packages we refer to their specific documentation. Throughout this guide we will only discuss freely available software, which comes (in most cases) with a GNU license.

To install missing or new packages, you will need some form of software management. The most common implementations include RPM and dpkg. RPM is the RedHat Package Manager, which is used on a variety of Linux systems, eventhough the name does not suggest this. Dpkg is the Debian package management system, which uses an interface called apt-get, that can manage RPM packages as well. Novell Ximian Red Carpet is a third party implementation of RPM with a graphical front-end. Other third party software vendors may have their own installation procedures, sometimes resembling the InstallShield and such, as known on MS Windows and other platforms. As you advance into Linux, you will likely get in touch with one or more of these programs.

Introducing Linux
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