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Back in 1991, a Finnish computer science student named Linus Torvalds needed a Unix-like operating system for his studies. As an interesting intellectual exercise (and because he was a bit strapped for cash!) he decided to write his own Unix system, rather than buy one of the commercial versions. Linus began working with other developers, and in short order, they had the core of an operating system and the beginnings of the Linux phenomenon.
Since then, and especially in the past couple of years, Linux's fame (and indeed, its notoriety) has grown tremendously. Some might even say that Linux's ascent has reached the level of "buzzword." It's become a common topic in many technology companies' boardrooms: "Do we have a Java strategy?" "Forget that—do we have a Linux strategy?!" Ultimately, though, Linux's success began—and in a real sense, ends—with its users. With no "market strategy" or corporate backing, the advent of Linux was fueled solely by its millions of satisfied users.
Whether or not you're a current user of a Linux system, chances are you've still heard a lot about what such systems can do for you. From the server to the desktop, and from corporate applications to home uses, the diversity of software that Linux supports is exciting, but it can also be bewildering, especially for new and intermediate users.
So, when it comes to Linux systems, the most common question I hear is, "I just installed Linux on my computer! What do I do now?" Makers of Linux distributions have streamlined the installation and management chores enough so that pretty much anyone can install a Linux system. These days, the real trick is learning how to bend the system to your will. Linux systems offer a huge amount of flexibility and power, but they also offer a huge amount of complexity that can be tricky to master.
If you're an expert Linux user, you can make the system do pretty much whatever you want to, if you're persistent enough. This mastery comes through understanding how Linux (and in general, Unix) systems are laid out, and the most common patterns and techniques for accomplishing things. This book has two goals: to convey an understanding of these techniques and patterns, and to provide enough working knowledge so that you'll be able to tackle any task you want to complete, even if it's not covered directly in this book. In essence, this book aims to teach you how Linux systems are built, and how they "think" and operate.
Now, this book isn't a reference. There's just so much you can do with a Linux system that any comprehensive reference would be encyclopedic in length, which this book most certainly is not. This book is also not a tutorial. Many excellent books have been written that can guide you through the process of installing a Linux system, configuring it, and getting around in it. This book will teach you the next step beyond that: how to live and work in a Linux system.
This book will generally not explain every step of a task; it assumes you already know how to complete the most basic tasks. For example, this book doesn't describe how to extract tarballs (.tar.gz archive files); it assumes that you already know how to do this. If you're a power user with some experience with a Unix-like system, or even with another system such as Microsoft's Windows, this shouldn't be a problem for you at all. If you're a beginner or are completely new to Unix-like systems, though, you might need a second reference to augment this book that, dealing with how to install your system and perform basic tasks.
It's also worth stressing that this book focuses on providing you with general skills and tools that can be applied to any distribution. That is, while this book absolutely strives to cover the most current versions of all the software it discusses, the object isn't really to discuss any particular version of software. You'll hopefully find the knowledge you gain from this book to be applicable to any version of any distribution—even versions that come out after this book was published. For example, this book covers Slackware Linux 8.0; however, Slackware Linux 8.1 was released just before the publication process was completed. Despite this, you'll find the material on Slackware 8.0 very relevant anyway, and applicable to later versions of Slackware Linux, including version 8.1 and beyond.
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