Archive for October, 2010

Learning Linux the hardcore way: Linux From Scratch

October 26th, 2010 3 comments

I was excited to see that the Linux From Scratch (hereafter, LFS) project just released a new and stable documentation “build” for version 6.7 this past September. I have known about the LFS project for many years but I didn’t start experimenting with it until not too long ago.

For those not familiar with the project, it is a type of installation published in a book (freely available in PDF form) for someone to be able to read through and build their own Linux distribution straight from source. If you want to learn more about a Linux-based operating system and if you have some time to kill, this is a great start. My earliest of experiments were all successfully built in a virtual guest under VirtualBox. I was able to customize it the way I desired by installing only the packages that mattered to me and ran with it. Immediately after my first build, I went to the Beyond Linux From Scratch (BLFS) project page, to install additional applications not documented in the LFS book. As dorky as this sounds, it was all part of an exciting experience.

The only reason why I started to build my own custom Linux distribution from source was that its advantages outweighed the other options (i.e. take an existing distro and stripping it down to the bare packages/tools required while being dependent on that distro’s package versions and let us not forget about the tedious process to remove the existence of all of that distro’s logos, names, etc.). To give you a better idea, I was building a customized Linux distribution for my startup company’s special purpose product. A complete build of the operating system takes up less than 500 MBytes of storage space which made it absolutely ideal for what we are currently using it for. Next on my list is to start using a package manager to track all binaries and libraries and simplify the update process.

I have been using Linux for a decade now and I will admit that I was still able to learn new things from the LFS project.

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The Battle Rages On: CLI vs. GUI

October 14th, 2010 7 comments

Every now and then, when surfing the blogosphere, I come across waves after waves of postings stating how “Linux needs to rely less on the CLI” or “Windows is perfect for basic users because everything can be done with the GUI”…blah, blah, blah. In fact it was this article that prompted this posting. It gets tiring reading the same things over and over again, but it hasn’t stopped me from adding my 2 cents.

First and foremost, I live by the command line and rarely do things from a graphical interface. Whether it be on a Linux-based operating system, UNIX or Windows, I always have one or two command line terminals open to make my life easier; so be warned that this posting may be a bit biased.

Second, I do not care what a Microsoft Windows user has to say. Even in a Windows operating system, there are those cases when things are accomplished a lot more efficiently on the command line. That is, dealing with network connections via ipconfig, managing storage devices via diskpart to even reconfiguring your power settings via powercfg and more. There are just some things that is much more easily accomplished from the command line in Windows than it is with their graphical interface.

This also includes automation via the traditional DOS-style batching or even with a higher level interpreter such as Python or Perl. When forced to use nothing but Windows in the corporate world, I would always have an installation of Cygwin on the system and prefer working out of that instead.

But a normal user will never have to deal with this in Windows and again that same user would never have to deal with it in Linux; but most of the people I have been hearing complain is the Windows IT administrator. They routinely ask: “Why should I have to open up the command line to do XYZ?” My first response to them has always been, “and you never opened up the command line to release/renew your IP settings with ipconfig?”

Let us stop playing games here and realize that the CLI is not what is hurting Linux’ advancement. The countless amount of graphical interfaces provide all of the general functionality that most basic users rely on. Do these same users use a CLI when configuring their routers, settings television programs to record on their DVRs, manage their applications on their Android products, etc.? Nope. Linux has already proven itself to be very useful without the CLI.

Now the question is, how do we move past these age-old stereotypes and move ahead? Is Google pioneering the way with the Android and what is the, soon to be available, Chrome OS? Is Canonical pioneering the way with Ubuntu? What can we do to defeat these stereotypes and bring Linux to the mainstream? Marketing (since none really exists outside of magazine and Internet advertisements)? I am just tired of reading the same complaints. The CLI is never going to disappear (even on Windows). The GUI is just going to get better but will always lack in the productivity and efficiency brought forth by the CLI. It is what it is, so let us now move on.