Linux is a free UNIX clone that was developed by volunteers around the world. Although Linux is almost a decade old, it went largely unnoticed by the general public until a couple of years ago. Since then it has become very popular with individual users, universities and large corporations. For example, IBM has made it a major part of their business strategy for server hardware. Many software companies already offer Linux versions of their software, including products such as Oracle, Labview and MSC Nastran. Other companies have developed embedded applications using Linux. Currently Linux can be found in devices as small as a wristwatch  and as large as a Beowulf class supercomputer . The popularity of Linux is based on three factors:
Linux is an open source operating system. It is open because users and developers can use the source code any way they want. This allows anyone to customize it, improve it and add desired features. As a result Linux is dynamic, evolving to respond to the desires and needs of the users. In contrast, closed operating systems are developed by a single corporation using static snapshots of market models and profit driven constraints.
Linux is free. This allows companies to use it without adding cost to products. It also allows people to trade it freely. And, with the profit motive gone, developers have a heightened sense of community interest. The Linux community has developed a tremendous spirit because of these core development concepts.
Linux has existed since the early 1990s , but it grew out of previous developments in computing . It was originally developed to be a Unix clone that would run on low cost computer hardware. Unix was developed in the 1970s. Through the 1970s and early 1980s it was used on large computers in companies and universities. During this time many refinements and enhancements were made. By the mid 1980s Unix was being used on many lower priced computers. By the end of the 1980s most universities were making use of Unix computers in computer science and engineering programs. This created a wealth of graduates who understood what they could expect from a mature operating system. But, it also created a demand to be able to do high level work at home on low priced machines.
Early in the 1990s Linux started as a project to create a Unix clone that would run on a personal computer. This project gained momentum quickly and by the mid 1990s it was ready for users. The first groups to adopt it were hobbyists, academics and internet services. At this time the general public was generally unaware of Linux but by the end of the 1990s it was beginning to enter the public sphere. By 2000 it had entered the popular press, and it was cited as a major threat to at least one existing operating system vendor. Now, it is available off-the-shelf in software and book stores.
Modern computers have ample power for most computer applications. This is more true for Linux. At present there are versions of linux that will run on any platform from an IBM mainframe computer to a Palm Pilot. The smallest Linux installations can fit on a single floppy disk, and run on a diskless computer with a few MB of memory. On the other end of the spectrum, Linux will run on most high end computer systems. An average user would expect reasonable performance on a computer with an old Pentium 100 processor, 64MB of memory, and 2 GB of disk space. On newer computers the performance of the operating system is extremely fast. The list below gives some idea of the capabilities, but complete lists of supported hardware are available .
By itself an operating system is somewhat useless, software applications are added to give desired functionality. Some of the common applications that a computer might be used for are listed below. Linux will support all of these applications, and more, with the right software .
A partial list of advantages and disadvantages is given below. The cost, stability and open nature of the system have been winning over a large number of corporate adopters. But, adoption has been slowed by people who don’t understand the nature of free software or have a perception that it is difficult to use. In some cases there are also some software packages that are not available for Linux, and won’t run under simulators  - the most notable of these applications are first person shooting games.
There are multiple distributions of Linux. While these all contain the Linux Kernel, they often include different pieces of software, and installation processes vary somewhat. The basic licensing agreement that Linux is distributed under requires that even if it is sold for a fee, it must be made available at no cost and it may also be copied freely by the user. As a result you can often download these distributions over the network at no cost . The total download size can be up to 600MB. An alternative is to buy a distribution (the typical cost is $30) which includes a floppy disk, a CD-ROM and a brief manual. These can be found at any store that sells software. Sometimes the distribution will have a higher cost for ‘deluxe’ versions - this more costly package often includes telephone support.
In total there are hundreds of Linux distributions. Many of these are specialized for features such as embedded systems, foreign languages, internet servers and security. The list below is for user-friendly installation and usage. The most successful of these distributions is Redhat. Some distributions, such as Mandrake, are based on the Redhat distribution, but with enhancements.
Each distribution of Linux will have a slightly different installation procedure, but they all follow the basic steps below. The total time to install Linux will between one to two hours. Users with a high level of knowledge can opt to do advanced setup, and new users will have the option of letting the system suggest installation options.
3.1 Using Linux
This section is a brief overview of the Linux operating system. The intention is to overview the basic components in the operating system. An administrator can manage the operating system using the graphical user interface (GUI), or using typed commands. New users often prefer to use the system using the GUI. Advanced users often prefer to use commands to administer the system, they are often faster and more reliable.
Commands can be typed in a command window. Typed commands are case sensitive, and most commands are lower case. Spaces are used to delimit (separate) commands and arguments, so they should also be used when typing. Linux allows users to perform some very sophisticated operations with a single command. But, while learning this should not pose a problem, unless logged in as root. While learning the user is encouraged to use a normal user account so that accidental damage to the system can be minimized.
The directory and file structure of Linux is hierarchical, much like other popular operating systems. The main directory for the system is call root and is indicated with a single slash ‘/’. There are a number of subdirectories listed below that are used for storing system files, user files, temporary files and configuration files. A sample of the standard directories are shown below, and can be viewed with a file manager, or with keyboard commands. If other disks are used, such as a CDROM, or floppy disk, they are mounted under the root directory. (i.e., there are no ‘C’, ‘A’ or other drives, they are all under ‘/’.) (Note: the UNIX slash is ‘/’, not the ‘\’ used on DOS.)
A list of some of the more important directories follows with a brief description of each. Most users have their home directories under the ’/home’ directory. Most of the other directories are of interest to the system administrator.
Every file and directory has a unique name which can be used to refer to it. Sometimes it is useful to be able to refer to groups of files without typing the name of each one. Wildcard allow file and directory names to be matched to patterns. The list below shows some of the wildcards commonly used.
Filenames can contain numbers, letters and a few other symbols, but care should be used to avoid symbols that also have meaning to Linux, such as the asterisk ’*’. File names that begin with a period ’.’ are system files that are normally hidden. For example, most users will have a file in their home directories called ’.profile’ or ’.login’. These are used when a user logs.
Linux follows very strict conventions for file and directory permissions. These require that each file and directory be given specific permissions for public reading, writing and execution. Each user is given their own account with a password, so that access to the system is controlled. Only the root user can access all files and directories on the system. Other users are limited to files they own, or files that have been marked public. Typically the root user is only used for administration, and normal users use non-root accounts. This generally keeps the system safe from careless damage, and security breaches. Each user has their own home directory, normally in the ‘/home’ directory. The permissions for files and directories are set so that the user has complete control over that directory.
The permissions for files can be seen by doing a directory listing with ’ls -la’. This will show flags something like ’-rwxrwxrwx jackh user’ for a file that everybody can read ’r’, write ’w’ or execute ’x’. The leftmost ’rxw’ is for the user ’jackh’, the second ’rwx’ is for the group ’user’ and the rightmost ’rwx’ is for everybody on the system. So if the permissions were ’-rwxr--r--’ everybody on the system can read the file, but only the owner can write and execute it.
For security reasons, write permissions for files are normally only allowed for the owner, but read permissions are normally given to all. Execute permissions are normally set for all users when the file can be executed, such as a program. Sometimes more than one user wants to have access to a file, but there are reasons to not permit permission to everybody. In this case a group can be created and given permission to use a file.
Most of the user information is stored in the ’/etc’ directory. For example, user account information is stored in the ’passwd’ file. User passwords are stored in the ’shadow’ file. Group information is stored in the ’groups’ file. It is possible to add users to the system by editing these files, but there are commands that make it easier to update and maintain these files.
The ’passwd’ command is used to change user passwords. In general passwords are the main line of defense against unwanted intruders. Most systems will do simple password checks when passwords are entered. In general, if a password can’t be found in a dictionary or index of a book it will generally be safer.
At any one time there are multiple programs (processes) running on a Linux computer. When you run a program it becomes another process also running on the computer. Each process is given it’s own unique process ID number (PID). Each process is given it’s own private memory space, and allowed to run for a fraction of a second every second.
Simple commands can be combined together with pipes to make more complicated functions. An example is ’ls | more’. By itself ’ls’ will list all the files in a directory. ’more’ is normally used to print out text files. But in this case the output of ’ls’ is passed (piped) through ’more’ so that it only prints one screen at a time. Multiple commands can be combined on a single command line by separating them with a colon ’:’. For example the command ’ls ; ls ..’ would list the contents of the current directory, then the parent directory.
Output from functions can be redirected to files instead of the screen. For example ’ls > temp’ will take the normal output from the ’ls’ function, and write it into a textfile called ’temp’. Input to functions can be directed into a program. For example ’sort < temp’ will make the file ’temp’ the input to the sort command.
Simple batch files can be created by putting a list of commands in a normal text file. The file can then be made executable using the command ’chmod 755 filename’. The program can then be run using ’./filename’.
Networks are a key component of Linux operating systems. Each computer on a network may have a name, such as ’claymore.engineer.gvsu.edu’, but each computer must have a number, such as ’184.108.40.206’. You can log into other Linux and Unix machines with commands such as ‘telnet claymore.engineer.gvsu.edu’, ’telnet 220.127.116.11’ or ‘rlogin claymore.engineer.gvsu.edu’. This allows you to sit at one machine, and use many others, even around the world.
You can also access other computers with public access directories using the ‘ftp’ command. For example try ‘ftp ftp4.netscape.com’. This will connect you to a computer some place in the U.S. When it asks you for your ‘login name’ type ‘anonymous’. When it asks for a ‘password’, enter your name. You may now move around using ls, pwd, cd, etc. If you want to get a file from some directory, type ‘binary’, then type ‘get filename’, or ’get filenames’. ‘quit’ ends everything. If you log into a machine with FTP and you have write permissions you can also write files to the machine using ’put filename’ or ’mput filenames’. If you use FTP to log into a computer that you have account on you will be able to move outside of the limited ftp directories.
Security is not a significant problem for a computer that is not connected to a network, and passwords will protect it from ‘honest thieves’. When connected to a network there is potential for security problems. These problems become more serious when the computer is connected to the network 24 hours a day. General rules to keep a computer safe (this applies to non-Linux computers also) are:
3.3 Intermediate Concepts
When one logs into a Linux system, you are actually running a program (shell) this is in some ways similar to DOS. In the standard shell you are given a prompt, where you type your command. If it is not a built-in command, it searches on the disk according to a user-specified search path, for an executable program of that name. Almost all commands are programs that are run in this manner. There are also executable shell scripts, similar to command files on DOS. Linux is limited to running a program of a size equal to the sum of its memory, and swap space. As the system is multi-tasking, any program (or part thereof) that is not currently being run when extra memory is required, is swapped (moved) out to the disk, until it is ready to run again.
The GUI in Linux is actually two programs working together. The basic program is called X windows, and it provides basic connection to the screen, mouse, keyboard and sound card. The look-and-feel of the GUI is provided by the window manager. One simple window manager is called ‘fvwm’ and it can behave like Windows 95/98. Newer window managers include Gnome and KDE. While these both provide similar capabilities and features, most users develop personal preferences for a single window manager.
Devices and settings can be configured under X-windows using graphical tools. Settings can also be configured with text files, but this is not necessary. Examples of settings that the user or root might want to change are:
Most users focus less on the Operating System, and more on the programs that it will run. The task list below includes many of the applications that would be desired by the average user. Most of the listed applications are free, with the exception of the games. Many of these packages are a standard part of Linux distributions.
3.4 Laboratory - A Linux Server
At the core of every integrated manufacturing system is a server. A server is a computer, running a networked operating system that can connect to many other computers. The function of a server is to communicate information between different devices on the factory floor.
The most important part of a server is the operating system. Mature operating systems such as Unix and Linux are well established, while newcomers, such as Windows NT are trying to establish themselves.
3.5 Tutorial - Installing Linux
2. Insert the distribution floppy disk and CD and turn on the computer. The computer will start to boot automatically. When "Boot" appears, press enter to continue. After some time a graphical interface should appear and you will be asked questions.
3.6 Tutorial - using Linux
1. (If you haven’t already logout of the root account) Login with your username and password. Later you can logout with ’logout’ or ’exit’. (Note: you can also use ’shutdown -h now’ to stop the machine.)
3. First we want to open a command window. Point to the bottom of the screen and locate the icon that looks like a computer screen. Click on it once with the left mouse button. A command window will pop up on the screen. Click on the border of the window, the keyboard will then be focused on the window, and commands will work there.
7. Change to the directory ’/etc’, and look at the contents of the file ’fstab’ with the command ’more fstab’. This file contains a list of the disk drives in the computer. You can find more information about it with ’man fstab’.
8. Return to your own directory and create a subdirectory called public_html with the command ’mkdir public_html’. Change to that directory and create a new file using the vi editor with ’vi index.html’. Enter the following text into that file. The editor has two modes. In command mode each key will cause an action. In edit mode each key is added to the text. Hitting ’ESC’ at any time puts the editor back into command mode. To move into edit mode hit ’i’ then start typing text. To erase a single character hit ’x’. When you are done editing the program use ’:wq:’ to save the file and quit. Refer to the previous section in the text more details on the commands.
10. Use netscape to look at you web page and see if it is there. You can do this using ’netscape &’. You can see the file by opening it. You should also be able to see the file by typing ’http://localhost/~jackh/index.html’, where ’YOURNAME’ is you user ID.
11. Look at the list of processes running on the computer with ’ps -aux’. Notice that the columns indicate what is running, the status of the process, etc. You can get more information about this using ’man ps’
12. Log into claymore using ’telnet claymore.engineer.gvsu.edu’ or ’telnet 18.104.22.168’. use ’ls’ to look at the files in your directory. When done looking around your account use ’exit’ to logout.