For those who have grown accustomed to a Windows environment over the years, Linux can seem like another world. In essence, Linux is a free open-source operating system that has gained increasing popularity since its release in 1991. Linux is based on the whole Unix ecosystem of operating systems that grew out of Bell Laboratories in the early 1970s. The command line environment is very different than just clicking on icons in Windows. Consider something like this:
# My first script
echo “Hello World!”
Or consider commands like “mkdir” for creating a directory, or “ls” for listing out the contents of one. Again, for traditional Windows-users, Linux will seem like a foreign language at first. But it’s not impossible to learn and, like anything, the more time you spend with it the more intuitive it becomes.
Setting up a Linux environment can be tricky. We won’t spend time here going through the various flavors of Linux; what’s important to know is that the most popular version is Ubuntu. Now when it comes to getting Linux/Ubuntu up and running on your device there are several major options.
Of these options, the one that I believe is most useful and pragmatic is to setup Linux on a virtual machine. There are a couple major reasons. For one, by going this path you’re getting a “two for one” deal because you are introduced to a virtual machine environment in the process of setting up Linux/Ubuntu. A virtual machine is a very useful technology to become acquainted with. A virtual machine, or VM for short, is just a software-based emulation of a computer that sets up another operating system within your environment; it’s similar to an OS running within an OS. The advantages here are that VMs can be used to test guest OSs in a sandbox-like environment, but which don’t have to be compliant or come in contact with the host machine or hardware.
The second main advantage to setting up Linux on a virtual machine is that, like mentioned before, you can experiment with Linux without ever changing anything on your host device. All you need to do is to click on the virtual machine icon (whether VirtualBox or VMware), select your virtual machine instance, and you’re off to the races with Linux.
I recently found a very useful tutorial that takes the user through the process of setting up Ubuntu on VirtualBox from soup to nuts. The instructions are clear and straightforward for any newbie to follow, and the tutorial is broken up into six logical parts as follows: Getting Ubuntu, Installing VirtualBox, Creating a New Virtual Machine, Setting the CD to start, Installing Ubuntu, and Installing Guest Additions.
There are also numerous screenshots that help guide the user through the setup so that they can have Ubuntu up and running on their VM in less than 30 minutes (not including download times for the VM software and Ubuntu image).
For those who are accustomed to Windows, there are clear advantages to converting over to Linux or at least familiarizing yourself with the platform. Many, many applications in the world of programming and web development work on the premise of a command line environment. Most tutorials are, in fact, based on the command line, or assume some knowledge of a Linux-like environment. And, not to mention, the command line is much more intuitively related to the world of programming than Graphical User Interfaces (GUIs). Now, granted GUIs are nice, especially if you’ve been raised on Windows. But they are not good at all tasks. As one writer boldly put it, the command line is as basic as entering first grade: “You use a computer by looking at the pictures. When you grow up, you learn to read and write. Welcome to Computer Literacy 101.”
Go ahead then and give Linux/Ubuntu a test drive and see what you think. My guess is that as a result you’ll find yourself introduced to a high standard, well-respected, very robust performance environment that is comprehensively and carefully supported and documented. Happy travels on your journey into the world of Linux!