Here are some of the ECF's staff's recommendations for learning to use a UNIX-style operating system. The task can be a bit daunting at first, but the process can be eased significantly by knowing where to look for answers to your questions.
For the absolute beginner, the third chapter of Linux Installation and Getting Started is a great introduction to just about any unix operating system. It's also free. Almost all of this chapter will be applicable to the various flavors of unix such as linux, Solaris (runs on the Sun workstations), AIX (runs on the IBM SP), or UNICOS (runs on the Cray). We have a preformatted version of this document on the suns that's ready for printing. It's in:
You can also download and print it from here.
It's almost always handy to have a deskside reference for the various unix commands and their usage. We recommend UNIX in a Nutshell (and most other books from O'Reilly Publishing). There are other "Nutshell" books in the series that are specific to a particular flavor of UNIX. This one is as generic as possible.
A large part of working on a unix machine is editing text files, since just about everything on the system is governed by them. Therefore, learning to use a good text editor is a large part of becoming proficient at unix. There are many text editors for unix, and you'll have to choose at least one of them. You can usually find good documentation for the editors by going to google and searching on "vi reference", or "emacs tutorial", for example.
vi is the ubiquitous editor on all unix machines. It's extremely powerful, although it has a steep learning curve. If you're going to be spending a significant amount of time on unix machines, it is definitely worth your while to develop functional working skills with vi.
emacs is the other classic editor found on virtually all unix machines. It's incredibly powerful as well, but also has a somewhat steep learning curve. Again, if you're going to be spending a significant amount of time on unix machines, it truly pays to learn at least basic emacs editing.
For people who don't want to go to the trouble of learning the more ubiquitous, but admittedly difficult-to-learn unix editors, nedit may be the right choice. It offers a good set of common editing features and a very intuitive interface; you'll be able to get started immediately. It can also do syntax highlighting and automatic indentation for most common programming languages, which is an incredibly useful feature. The downsides are that nedit may not be found on all unix machines that you encounter, and since it's a graphical program, you won't be able to use it effectively on a remote machine that's not on the same local network. In that case, if you're still holding out against learning vi or emacs, pico is a very simple console-based text editor that would work over slow connections.
As always, you can contact us if you have any questions.
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