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CS 101: Linux Has All You Need
Back to school? Chick magnets work only on the clueless. They've never worked on the educated.
If you're starting out in computer science this autumn you really really really don't want a Windows computer. You really don't. You want a Unix computer. But there's Unix and then there's 'sort of' Unix.
Linux is a real Unix. It's not going to get the expensive Unix certifications Microsoft and Apple have because they're both too expensive and they require static code bases. And neither Microsoft nor Apple are particularly 'Unix' anyway. But Linux is.
If you can get a laptop with Linux pre-installed you're all ready. You're at the head of the class.
But what if you told mummy and daddy you wanted an Apple laptop - and they went ahead and bought it?
If You Have a GUI Then Use It
Unix started as a console (character) mode OS back in the early 1970s. Today it normally wears a graphical user interface. That Unix known as Linux understands this but that other pretender known as 'Mac OS X' doesn't.
The Unix file system is extensive. And complex. It's not exactly Windows. The graphical interfaces for Linux GNOME and KDE both offer you full access to this important underbody of your system. Apple's Mac OS X doesn't.
You're left out in the cold. Whilst your colleagues with their Linux laptops will be spelunking - and learning - you'll be stuck at your less than precious Finder. And getting nowhere. And not able to get anywhere either.
If you want to get a preview of what your colleagues on Linux laptops will see click here and here.
Cover Flow™ Doesn't Do It
Oh Apple's dazzling Cover Flow (they bought it they didn't write it) will dazzle. That's what it's supposed to do. But you won't get a job in the industry by bringing your MacBook to your interview and flipping around in your iTunes song catalogue.
Apple are a curious lot: after offering you this somewhat fantastic system with tens of thousands of directories with hundreds of thousands of cool files they do their utmost to see you never learn of their existence and can't get to them even if you do.
They have a file called '.hidden' which can reside in any directory. Their 'Finder' reads this file when entering any directory - and then pretends the files listed there don't exist.
Apple always have this file in their root directory. Its contents on your system will be comparable to the following.
You won't see any of these in your file dialogs either. You won't know they exist. And yet it's here you find the core - and the beauty - of the 'rock solid foundation' of Unix that's under you.
Apple aren't finished playing tricks either: because their file system HFS is incompatible with Unix they can put other things in there you wouldn't get away with on a real Unix. They can put in a flag to make files 'invisible'. Then as long as you're still using their notorious 'Finder' you won't see them. Ever.
It's the same trick they use to placate the 'Big Five' (the RIAA) so people don't use their iPods to share their song collections. And the surprise is it seems to work. People are that clueless.
You can't hide anything on a Unix system. You can only move it out of the way. Hiding things attacks the very philosophy of Unix. It's not possible and it's not done. Period. Only Apple do it. And if you're a computer science student you need better.
But the good news is there are ways around this for you. So your 'Unix' computer is functional - and Unix - again. You can choose either this programme or this programme. And if your daddy and mummy could afford to send you away they can certainly afford a few dollars more so you can learn properly and make them proud.
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