Sunday, March 20, 2011

Getting Started with Linux


This article presents a zero cost way to become familiar with Linux.  In this article, you will learn about freely available virtualization tools and Linux versions that enable you to host and run a Linux system on your existing Windows system without spending a dime; and you'll be provided references to helpful user guides and documentation.  Good Luck!

Virtualization Tools

In order to run Linux, you will need a virtualization tool.  This enables you to run Linux as a guest operating system within your Windows operating system.  The best product for creating a virtual Linux machine isVMware's VMware Player.  This tool is freely available and has features that greatly simplify and even automate installation of common Linux operating systems, including such common Linux distributions as: CentOS, Debian, Fedora, Red Hat, and Ubuntu.  VMware also offers VMware Workstation which is available for a 30-day trial. Other virtualization tools are also available (see References). Here are the steps you need to take in order to get started with VMware Player:
  1. Download VMware Player from the VMware site.
  2. Install onto your Windows system.
Linux Versions

There are a large number of freely available Linux distributions.  A few of the more common ones are listed below (References).  A very large listing is available at Wikipedia. The best of these, for those justing getting started with Linux and wanting to learn from a widely distributed version, is CentOS.  This version is 99.9% compatable with the most widely commercially distributed version of Linux, Red Hat, and is in fact a version of Red Hat Linux with the vendor branding removed.  Additionally the CentOS organization continually makes available the latest updates and feature software for CentOS that you can easily download and install using standard Linux commands.  This alone makes CentOS an outstanding Linux distribution for learning Linux, as learning the complexities of adding software tools and features and dependencies to Linux can be a daunting task for the uninitiated.  Here are the steps you need to take in order to get started with CentOS on VMware Player:
  1. Download the latest ISO version of CentOS.  This downloads as a single file that you can then burn to DVD.  The file that you download will look something like CentOS-5.5-i386-bin-DVD.iso and will be around 4 GB in size.  
    • If the file is too large for your system to download without timing out, a freely available download manager, Free Download Manager, can do this for you.
    • If you do not have an ISO writer, you can download a freely available one - just search on the Internet for ISO Writer.
  2. Once you get the CentOS installalable downloaded and burned to disk, place the disk in your drive and then launch VMware Player.
  3. Start the process of creating a new virtual machine.  VMware Player will automatically detect that there is an installation disk in your drive.  It will also automatically detect the operating system on the disk as well as the operating system version (Red Hat, CentOS, Ubuntu, etc) and configure the virtual machine automatically for you.
  4. Once the installation process is completed, and CentOS has been successfully installed, open a terminal and then enter the following: yum update.  This command causes CentOS to automatically update itself over your Internet connection against all of the updates available with the CentOS Organiation website.  Once this update process is completed, you will have a fully updated Linux version that you can begin to work with.
    • Use one of the documentation references below to learn up on the yum command.  This will be helpful later when you use this command to install various tools and other software packages onto your CentOS Linux virtual machine.
  5. You're done!  Congratulations!  I bet you thought you couldn't do it.

The last thing you'll need in order to get started with Linux is ready access to sources of information on Linux.  Excellent user guides and reference information are available directly from the Linux distributors themselves such as Red Hat Documentation and CentOS DocumentationComputerHope and Linuxtopia are also good sources of information.  Many others can be found by performing searches of the Internet.  You'll find that there are numerous blogs, bulletin boards, forums, and the like containing Linux resources.  If you ever encounter a problem the best thing is to perform a search on the exact wording of the error that you encountered.  If you want to perform a search on a particular Linux command, the best search is simply to enter: Linux [command].


This article has presented a few resources that enable you to become familiar with Linux using freely available resources.  It assumes that you have a Windows Machine.  The process of setting up a Linux starter machine and getting up to speed on Linux involve three main steps:
  1. Obtaining and installing the freely availableVMware Player
  2. Obtaining and installing the free CentOS Linux distribution
  3. Reviewing freely available Linux documentation
Best of luck and happy computing!

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