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CIT 174: Lesson 1
Introductions, various distros, system planning & installation

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Hello, I'm Ed Nickel, your instructor, and I welcome you to CIT 174 Linux System Administration. This is the first lesson module composed as an RSS feed and podcast that I plan to create for your use this semester. You can copy this link: http://cot.gbcnv.edu/~ed/class/cit174/cit174.xml to your RSS reader and/or your mp3 player software, or you can read these files directly as you are reading this one.

You are required to create two discussion posts each week in WebCampus for this class. One should be an original one of yours covering concepts or questions related to each week's lesson material. The other should be a response one of your fellow classmates discussion posts. As I suggest in the syllabus, you can get excellent ideas for posts about Linux from the text, a number of websites, as well as many other sources. I have added links to some of these resources on the online syllabus and I will provide more via these RSS feeds as the semester progresses.

Linux is an open source variant of the UNIX operating system. Both Linux and UNIX have been released in numerous variations by many organizations & people including companies, universities, hobbyists, and others. Linux variants are usually know as distributions and come in hundreds of flavors; LinuxQuestions.org lists over 200 different distributions. Some distros were created to meet specific needs such as firewalls and routing, multimedia, or gaming. Other distros have been general purpose operating systems either for servers or desktops and occasionally both wrapped into one. You may have heard of the Red Hat or Suse (from Novell) Linux distros which are among the most popular in the US or of Solaris, a commercial UNIX variant. All of these are derived from the original UNIX created in the late 1960s by AT&T's Bell Laboratories when they worked in a consortium with several universities and other companies under contract with the US Department of Defense, Advanced Research Projects Agency, to create the Internet.

Yes, the Internet is that old; it was first operated on a trial basis in 1969. It was created as a robust computer communications network capable of surviving a nuclear first strike from the USSR so that the US could still launch its missiles thus ensuring the destruction of the world. So, now you know, as Paul Harvey would say, "the rest of the story," the Internet was created to blow up the world but instead, we got Amazon, Yahoo, Google, Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, online gambling, viruses, worms, and porn. This is probably the most massive example of unintended consequences or what economists call a "disruptive technology" ever. UNIX and later Linux were and still are at the heart of the Internet. More websites worldwide run on Linux servers the any other computer operating system.

I have chosen the Ubuntu distribution of Linux for this class because it is by far the easiest to use, especially for people primarily familiar with Windows as I suspect most of you are. Ubuntu is also fast becoming one of the most popular Linux distros in the world. By way of background, Ubuntu comes out with a new release every six months but only comes out with their LTS (long term support)version once every two years. The LTS version is the one most likely to be found in businesses because it is supported and maintained for a longer term without the need to perform major and potentially costly upgrades. Since you find Linux on many web servers and since this class is aimed at students wishing to find employment in the computer industry, I plan to conduct this class along the lines of building, operating, and maintaining websites and web hosting services. Although, we will cover Linux desktops and some other applications along the way.

Unfortunately we are up against a classic case of "which came first the chicken or the egg" in this class. You need your remote virtual computer installed with Linux to start learning Linux which starts by installing Linux. (The logic of that last sentence is a linguistic moebius strip.) Therefore, I have had to compromise this week, by pre-installing Linux for you and making a video of that installation procedure for you to view. However, you will be expected to log on to your Linux server and/or desktop computers each week after this first one to try out various operations covered in the text and these lessons.

I have already mentioned that there are many different Linux distros but not covered some of the key differences between them. Most, if not all desktop distributions are GUI (graphical user interface) based using either X-Windows or one of the other Linux windowing framework. Some, like Ubuntu, default to the Gnome GUI while others default to KDE but most allow you to choose which you wish to use and some even let you install more than one GUI and switch between them. Gnome operates in an underlying manner very similar to Windows in that it hides all the background operations from the user and determines how the windows and systems will be presented to you. KDE, on the other hand, has a similar "look and feel" but allows the user to open and reconfigure the windowing options for a high degree of customization but that is beyond the scope of this class.

A very significant difference among Linux distros is whether their software management system is Debian or RPM based. Ubuntu uses Debian software management which is similar to MS Windows in that there are software repositories on the Internet and a database on your computer. From time to time your computer checks the Internet repositories and compares the versions currently available with those installed on the local computer and then automatically installs the security upgrades and advises the user about non-security related upgrades. RPM (Redhat Package Management), on the other hand, tends to be more manual with users making many more decisions during the upgrade and installation process. I have used both types of software management systems and like the ease of use provided by Debian but can see the advantages of the user control offered by RPM.

Another key difference shows up not so much between distributions but between versions of many distros based on their purpose. Server versions, as you will see when you watch the installation and logon videos with this first lesson, usually have a command line user interface while desktop versions usually have a graphical user interface. I noticed with some amusement that even Microsoft re-introduced the command line interface similar to DOS with Windows 2008 Server and many Microsoft IT shops are now removing the GUI from their servers. Efficiency and security are the main reasons IT administrators do not want GUIs on their servers. A GUI requires much more overhead in terms of CPU, memory, and hard drive use when compared to a command line interface. In addition, any software running on a system represents potential security holes that could allow hackers to exploit a vulnerability to break into that system. Therefore, removing all software that is not mission critical, such as a GUI, means that much less computer code that might be vulnerable and need to be kept current with security updates. You will be using both the Ubuntu server from the command line and the desktop GUI in this class.

Assignment: Week 1

Please review the Class Expectations which covers general information about this class, as well as all items in the list below.

  • Download both putty.exe and puttygen.exe from the PuTTY Download Page, please note the PuTTY software will run from whatever folder you save it in with no additional installation required. You also need to download and install the TightVNC self-installing package for Windows from the TightVNC download page. TightVNC installs like most Windows software complete with start menu shortcuts.
  • Watch the installation videos for both the server OS and the desktop OS of Ubuntu.
  • Watch the videos on how to logon to both the server VM and the desktop VM from home. Please note: these videos also show you how to set up an SSH (secure shell) VPN (virtual private network) connection with strong encryption which is a rather advanced concept but one we will cover in greater depth later in this class.
  • Read Lesson Module 1 and chapters 1 & 2 then post your original comments and at least one response to a fellow students comments in this week's discussion on WebCampus.