N0NB's Linux Introduction for Hams

Power that's fun to use!


What is Linux?

Linux is an Operating System for computers. Quite simply, the operating system (OS) provides users with the means to manipulate files and execute programs by providing access to the computer's hardware. The OS manages the computer's various programs and the memory they use so they don't interfere with each other (assuming the programs are properly written) and governs each program's access to the CPU so that one application doesn't hog the machine. The OS also manages individual users running programs on the same machine and keeps them from interfering with each other while governing each user's access to various system files and other user's directories through a series of permissions set by the system administrator.

Secondly, the OS provides the means for programmers to access the hardware of the computer and the networks it is connected to. By providing an abstraction of the hardware, programs can take advantage of hardware features through a standard Applications Programming Interface, API. With Linux's aim of POSIX compliance (an IEEE standard for operating systems) and the use of the GNU C library, it provides programmers with an excellent platform to write programs that are portable to other flavors of UNIX. Using ANSI C and one of several portability GUI toolkits, programs can also be written for both UNIX and Windows platforms.

Linux is a clone of UNIX, the oft-maligned as difficult to use OS. While most Linux distributions include the popular command line system administration utilities from from the GNU Project, many developers around the world are working to enhance these tools to make them easy to use by desktop users. The goal is a desktop solution easily administered from a workstation's GUI for Intel x86, Motorola PPC, Sun Sparc, Compaq Alpha, Intel Strong Arm, and a host of other micro-processor based computers.

Linux is Free Software. What does this have to do with ham radio? Well, the same pioneering spirit and desire to develop a technology and make it better and then offer it to the community at large, that has historically characterized amateur radio, now also characterizes the Linux community. Hams used to tinkering with hardware will find Linux a pleasant place to tinker with software as all the major Linux distributions include the tools to create and build a complete software package.


Why use Linux for Amateur Radio?

Given the popularity of MS-DOS and Windows, this is a valid question. For the radio amateur contemplating building an AX.25 based TCP/IP switch or user station, Linux offers a very robust and stable environment. The typical Linux distribution includes all manner of networking tools including AX.25 specific networking utilities. Linux is a true pre-emptive multitasking OS with multiple user capabilities which allows you to do other things while your Linux box performs its AX.25 duties with others using the system over the air or via a Local Area Network. In fact, with sufficient bandwidth a user can execute programs on your box and have the program display its output on their terminal.

Linux helps to put the fun back into using a computer. The full system is available for you to study and tweak, if you care to. Nothing is hidden from view as a result of End User License Agreements (ELUAs) or Non-disclosure Agreements (NDAs). The Linux kernel (the core management routines), the system utilities supplied by the GNU Project, and a multitude of other programs found on most distributions are licensed under the GNU Public License or similar licenses. My Free Software page has additional information.

The latest distributions have made it easier than ever before to install Linux on your computer. If you can free up 500 MB or so you can install enough software to get a very good idea if Linux is for your. I encourage you to read the following pages and the links to other resources and then give Linux a try.

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Original content Copyright © 1997-2017 Nate Bargmann NØNB n0nb@n0nb.us
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This page last modified
February 10, 2005
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