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Distributions: GNU/Linux distros - Small Install - Other UNIX-like O/S
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What is Linux® ?
GNU/Linux* is a computer operating system (OS) written by programmers, for programmers. It is an advanced workbench and learning environment. "Linux" looks similar to 'Windows', but its complete code level access - 'open source' - gives administration fuller security. You can independently manage your PC resources better by using "Linux". Internet ills like virii and crackers are thus more consciously avoided than on typically vulnerable Microsoft systems. "Linux" knowledge prepares you for a career in network security, and in other specialist fields such as coding embedded devices, drivers, databases, servers, web interfaces, and the like.
GNU/Linux OS distributions are a subset of Free and Open Source Software (FOSS), compatible with UNIX®. Developed on minicomputers from 1969, UNIX® and its C programming language spawned a diverse Unix/*nix technical culture, starting with its Berkeley Standard Distribution (BSD) from 1975. Apple Mac OSX is a BSD variant. From 1983, Richard M Stallman's GNU Project* and Free Software Foundation (FSF) developed a guaranteed Free *nix OS tool range. The last main FreeOS gap was filled in 1991: Finnish student Linus Torvalds rejected a light-weight Unix called Minix and created an OS kernel, shared via File Transfer Protocol (FTP) as Freeax but renamed "LINUX" (LINUs-miniX: a history). After Mac OS, "Linux" quickly became the best known 'free OS', as programmers worldwide threw application support behind it. This development community network remains the greatest "Linux" strength today, expressed locally through GNU/Linux User Groups (G/LUGs).
*Nix has dominated the server side of computer Internetworking from the beginning to the present. FOSS is complex to learn, but unquestionably worth the effort. Try "Linux" today.

* GNU's Not UNIX! (GNU) is the FSF project title, under which their General Public License (GPL) keeps the Linux kernel distributions freely available.
..knowledgebase

New Zealand: Canterbury - Wider NZ - Training & Cert - FTP source
Support: Tools - Kernel - UNIX - Manuals & Drivers - Laptop
World: related sites in English - not "Libre" + International
Context: Independence - Micro$oft says - Win-support -
What is Linux® ? - Articles & works

Why learn Free open-source Software?
- productivity: reclaim bulk time from anti/virus/update watch-work
- education: to exercise your mind; to obtain truth
- user empowerment: to exercise consumer choice, for secure computing
- employability: programming skill route
- health: surplus Coke/Pepsi-McDonalds-Nike-Hollywood.. is bad for us too

Newbie clues
Support - There is none. Well, next to none. It's up to each FOSS operator to read habitually (Read The Manual = 'RTM', a step before you get told to 'RTF***ingM'), to learn to 'fix it yourself' - therein lies the skill. As a last resort, query your local G/LUG peers: join relevant mailing lists, read How To Ask Questions The Smart Way, & beware the "catering to the clueless merely attracts them" attitude of 'Linux SuperVillains'. Unix hegemony protects itself with Godwin's Law, being anti-Free. Google first.
Tuition - Again, problematic. Given desktop market reticence, any institute that manages to sustain a "Linux" course is doing very well. Mostly you'd only meet it as part of a computing degree - amidst three years' fulltime study. After that you could choose a FOSS specialty, but most people have to teach themselves at home. This page heads study lists of researched source indexing.
Persistence - Unless made fulltime work, it's likely to take a year before you'll feel comfortable using solely FOSS, and two years before you're any good at it. UNIX-like programming is an elite field, strictly meritocratic - entry is difficult. Hang in there, and best of luck!

LINUX® is the registered trademark of Linus Torvalds in several countries. The Linux penguin mascot "Tux" logo is by Larry Ewing. GNU Head by Etienne Suvasa.
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Edit version 9:30PM GMT+12 05/08/08