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Well, you've done it—you've slogged through your third distribution. This chapter covered Debian GNU/Linux, introducing you to the various aspects of the system. However, you have already seen two before this one, so much of it is likely starting to look familiar. In fact, you probably couldn't help but notice the same thing I did while writing this chapter: I found myself saying "… just like Red Hat Linux and Slackware Linux" quite a lot!
However, Debian GNU/Linux is clearly its own distribution, so you also read a good deal of material about Debian's unique features, tools, and ways of doing things. You should now feel fairly comfortable with a Debian system; you should know how to do the most common tasks, and you should have a good feel for where to start looking when you need to figure out how to do something not covered in this book.
In fact, you know all this for three distributions now. By extension, you should have quite a leg up on figuring out any distribution you come across. A lot of this material probably even applies to non-Linux systems! That, of course, was the goal of Part Two.
A useful exercise at this point is to stop and think about what you've learned. Suppose you were handed a computer with a Linux distribution you had never seen before, and you had to use and manage it. How would you go about doing that? The list that follows is a short checklist that you might use, but before you read it, take a moment and think about how you would do it.
Here's a little recipe for learning a new Linux distribution, in ten easy steps:
Figure out what package manager it uses, if any. (Debian? RPM? Something similar to Slackware's?)
Check out the /etc/inittab file, and see what functionality is configured when the system boots. (Are there virtual consoles? Is X running?)
See whether the system uses the BSD or SysV model of init scripts.
Browse the filesystem, and look for directories whose purpose you don't recognize. (How closely does it follow the Filesystem Hierarchy Standard? Watch out for unique things like Red Hat's /etc/profile.d and Slackware's /var/log/packages.)
If it's a SysV system, look around for tools that might help you manage the scripts.
While you're at it, look around for other useful tools, such as Red Hat's Xconfigurator and Debian's update-alternatives.
If the system lets you view the list of installed packages, check out what versions of the software are installed, and look at the contents of any packages that look interesting or unfamiliar. (rpm -qa on Red Hat; dpkg -1 on Debian; cat /var/log/packages on Slackware.)
Make sure the system isn't running unnecessary services, and disable any that are running.
If you have to install software of your own, figure out the best place for it, so that it fits well with the system. (Does the system use /opt for something else, or can you use it yourself?)
As you use the system, be on the lookout for patterns and generalities that define the "character" of the distribution; in the long run, you're much better off working with the distribution than fighting with it.
How closely does this match your own list? What would you do differently? As you think about these questions, take a moment to enjoy that feeling of accomplishment; you've learned a lot! Enjoy it. When you're ready, move on to Part Three, and start learning how to install software to customize your system.
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