Matthias K. Gobbert

Introduction to Unix/Linux at UMBC

Spring 2013

This page can be reached via my homepage at

Purpose of this Document

This document provides information that tells you how to learn about the Unix/Linux operating system at UMBC.

Information like this is bound to change over the course of time, and that is the rationale behind making the information available on a webpage. Hence, note the information at the top of the page indicating the semester, which this document was last updated for. In fact, I will try to keep this page up to date; look at the bottom for a more precise date.

What is Unix? What is Linux?

Unix has been the dominant operating system for workstations since the early 1970's, sold in various flavors as IRIX (SGI), HP-UX (HP), Solarix (Sun), etc. by the manufacturers. It was originally developed at AT&T, and the Capitalization `UNIX' is a registered trademark of that company.

Unix is the operating system designed for networked multi-user multi-tasking systems. While known as `hostile to beginners,' its power and versatility are unsurpassed. It is a marketable skill to know Unix well.

Linux is a complete re-implementation of the Unix user interface, originally for the Intel personal computer chip series 80X86. The effort was initiated and organized by Linus Torvalds of Finland (hence the name). It is one of the most amazing examples of the power of the internet: Literally thousands of people from all across the world have contributed code to it, free of charge, and with no other incentive than the reward of having their work used by others.

Compared to the typical workstation Unix, Linux has the feel of a luxurious and well-implemented version of Unix with a comfortable and forgiving user-interface. Linux is distributed by various companies, UMBC uses the RedHat distribution. It comes with several graphical user interfaces, like fvwm2, Gnome, KDE, etc.

Basic Introduction: Unix at UMBC

The Unix/Linux operating system at UMBC behaves in reasonably standard ways. However, if you are not familiar with it and want to read an introduction, consider the documentation available in the tutorial Unix at UMBC from the Division of Information Technology (DoIT). This guide is posted in the Blackboard site of our course; see the navigation on the left.

Besides the fundamental commands described in the sections ``Getting Started,'' ``Commands,'' and ``Files,'' I would like to point out the very compact and readable introductions to the Unix/Linux editors vi and emacs farther down. There are good reasons for preferring one over the other (as demonstrated by the continuing so-called Unix/Linux Editor Wars), but they are both professional-grade editors and acceptable for programming applications. It will pay in the long run to become thoroughly familiar with one of them. If you just want to survive for a short period of using Unix/Linux, consider pico; it is not professional-grade and its short-comings will hurt you in the long run.

More Advanced Information: Think Unix

For an advanced introduction to the reality of Unix/Linux, I would recommend the book Think Unix by Jon Lasser, formerly with UMBC, published by the Que Corporation in 2000. It is short and to the point, albeit its realistic outlook may not be the right thing for a beginner. See the literature list on my homepage for my brief review of this book as well as references to various other books.

Copyright © 1997-2013 by Matthias K. Gobbert. All Rights Reserved.
This page version 4.0, January 2013.