The Daunting Terminal

You've been sitting in a doctor's office for over a half-hour. Each second seems like an eternity. Worry is starting to grip your gut. The test results are being discussed by two nurses in the hallway and the grim looks on their faces don't look promising. You wonder what they've found and hope it isn't life threatening. You have too much to lose: your family, your job, or nice car. You jump as a doctor steps into the room holding a clipboard and looking intently at the scattered data. He looks up and into your eyes. “I'm sorry sir, but it looks like this disease is a terminal illness.” Your heart sinks, knowing that this sickness only ends in death. Everything you've worked for gone.

I remember my first experience with the computer terminal being very similar. I was VERY timid about entering codes manually into the computer. With all the code readout scrolling by, I was worried that something might go wrong. What if I mis-spelled something and it destroys my computer? Over time, though, that worry was replaced by a confidence I could have had from the start.

This is what I think every time I hear the word “terminal.” It's never a happy word. So, it's no wonder that when I looked at some directions for installing something in Linux, I cringed in fear when they said to open the Terminal. But is the fear of entering a string of letters and technically powerful words a reason to be afraid? Is this a rational fear? Why is it that so many are in fear of switching to Linux because of “having to use the command line?” Let me try to smash some of these fears and correct any misinformed thinking by helping you, the user, to understand the terminal a little better.

What is the Terminal

The terminal is an application that enables you to talk to the computer using text based commands. This means that you're eliminating the need to use a graphical interface, or a bunch of friendly buttons, to initiate commands. It's called command line, meaning, instead of clicking buttons and icons, you enter commands with text. For example, the command to update your system, you would enter.

sudo apt-get update

There are many other such commands that you can use to launch applications. Back in the earlier days of Linux, most things were done using the command line. This is one reason many non-geeks didn't, or still don't, want to move to Linux.

The truth is, Linux is so far past that primitive stage of being all command line that it has reached the point of being a usable desktop by anyone, geek or non-geek. So if Linux, or more specifically, Ubuntu, has reached a point where the desktop is no longer command line driven, why use the terminal at all?

Why Use the Terminal?

As a more in-depth Linux operator, the terminal can be your greatest friend. It will talk to you when you have a problem. It will tell you what is wrong. Maybe not in the same way humans interact, but in a very similar way.

Let me elaborate a little. When you click on an icon on the desktop, or click a button, it sends various commands to the computer. All these commands you don't see, because they are going on in the background. If, for example, I was to click the update button on my menu, to update the system, the only thing I would see would be a status bar indicating how much time before my system was updated. Now if I were to type “sudo apt-get update” (the command line equivalent) I would get a very long and exhaustive list of web address that my computer was searching for updates.

You're probably thinking, “Why would I want to see all that?” The answer is simple: it tells me what's going on behind the scenes. Well, why would I need to know that? Because if there was a problem an installation, and a problem was preventing it from completing, then there will be error messages in the terminal read out that I would not see in the desktop scenario. If I was just to have the installation say “I'm sorry, your installation of Gobbledygook Plus couldn't be completed” then I wouldn't know what went wrong. But, by then installing it using the terminal, error messages would appear, informing me of the problem, and enabling me to fix it, or get help. But, the use of the terminal is not for everyone.

Should I use the Terminal?

Though the Terminal is very useful in many computing situations, I do not recommend it for everyone. For basic users, it might be too difficult to grasp, and, depending on the commands involved, may accidentally mess up your machine. But, if you are having a problem with your computer, like a program isn't running, or an installation crashes, you can post the output of the terminal on the web for people to help you out with.

Do I HAVE to use the terminal?

Thankfully for most users, It is not required to know how to use the terminal. It is not a mandatory task. It's an aid to help you when you have computer problems, but, contrary to usual belief, you don't need to use it to do everything on the desktop. There's nowhere in the Ubuntu requirements that says “In-Depth Understanding of the Terminal required.” Even as an advanced user, I only rarely use the terminal. Just because you have a spare tire under your car, doesn't mean you have to use it all the time. You only use it when you have a flat tire. It's that simple.

In Closing

Hopefully, now that you have read this article in its entirety, you will no longer fear the Terminal. Instead you will see it as a tool, that you don't HAVE to tinker with, and can get by quite easily without using. The terminal is a useful tool, but it doesn't have to dominate your computer usage. One should never fear things that are unknown, because if we did, we would never learn anything new.

The Little Tin Man

Getting Started

Here is a list of useful sites that will aid you in your journey with Ubuntu. I use all these sites frequently, and highly recommend them. Enjoy!

Information About Ubuntu;

Derivatives of Ubuntu

Where To Download Ubuntu;

How To Use The LiveCD;

How To Install Ubuntu;

How To Dual Boot;

How To Triple Boot;

Ubuntu For Older Computers;

Where To Get Help;

Sites For Customizing Your Desktop;

News About Ubuntu;

Happy Ubuntuing!

The Little Tin Man

Why Ubuntu?

There are literally hundreds of different Linux distros (Distributions) out there. No kidding. If you don't believe me, take a look at this website There are so many Linux distros that, at first glance, it would be impossible to choose one over another. What makes Ubuntu stand out from the rest? What made me never willingly look back to Windows? What made me change my mind completely about computers? Let's take a look.

How I Got Started

“$150?! What?” That was my response when I found out what it would cost to get Windows XP for my old laptop. The hard drive had died just weeks earlier, and it was time to move to a newer version of Windows than 2k. This was ridiculous. I didn't have that kind of money sitting around. My old laptop wasn't worth even that. Fortunately, I finally found an OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer) installer for $70 at a local computer shop. It was still pricey for what I was using my laptop for. But, I installed XP on the new hard drive, and surprisingly it ran faster then 2K. It must have been the faster HD rpm that made the OS (Operating System) perform at a faster speed.

Unfortunately, after a few weeks of updates and viruses, the laptop was getting slower. It would give me the nightmarishly scary BSOD (Blue Screen of Death) about once a week. And, it seemed like the anti-virus software wasn't working, and in fact, it seemed to be slowing the whole computer down; this was not a good thing.

Then, a couple months later in November, I decided it was time to move away from Windows. I had held off on this move for the last year because, quite frankly, I was peevish about learning a new OS. I'd been using Microsoft since the MS-DOS days. I grew up with it. I could use the computer before I could speak. I couldn't imagine what it would be like to move to a different OS. The thought scared me. But, it was the time to start OS shopping. With the release of Vista, Windows was out of the question. Far too demanding and unfriendly. What about Mac? Quite a few of my friends used Macs and were very happy. But, the OS cost more than Windows, and it only works on Apple machines, which are priced for the rich.

With Mac and Windows out of the question, what else was there? My dad, being a software engineer and programmer, often told me about the software world. I'd heard him mention Linux a couple times, and decided to get some more info. He uses Solaris at work, which is a Linux based OS. But he used it for work, and didn't seem to recommend Solaris for a home desktop system. Not what I was looking for, so I looked around some more, and soon found a list of distros. Um, there were hundreds, which was unhelpful. So I did the next best thing.

I posted “Looking for a Good Linux distro, anyone got any ideas?” on Facebook. Within a day, my friend David recommended a free distro called Ubuntu. He said that it was quite good, and once I started using it, I'd most likely never look back. He was right. I installed Ubuntu on an old machine we had lying around. And I was soon exploring the system.

Before I move on, I just want to mention that the old computer I had installed Ubuntu on had been dead the last couple of months. The computer literally took 15 minutes to boot up, and you could forget running any applications on it. That was with Windows XP installed. With Ubuntu installed, it was 90% faster. The hardware was sort of dead, so the computer wasn't able to get fully revived speed wise. But it boosted my laptop by a couple horsepower. I installed Ubuntu on my old laptop and it was back to its good old fast self.

The Price

Here is one aspect of a Linux based system that made me hesitant about the switch. It's free. Yeah, doesn't cost a cent. You just buy a blank CD, burn the ISO to the CD and install it on the computer. That's it. No licensing fees, no support fees, not a single fee. CRAZY AWESOME!!!

Not all Linux distros are free. I believe that you have to pay for RedHat Linux. But Ubuntu is completely free. Is that not incredible?! Now this is also the reason people don't switch to Linux. They may think this, “How can something free be better then something I pay $$$ for? It doesn't make sense!” I have to agree. You don't expect fine china to be sold at the Dollar Store. Or a brand new leather sofa with a free sign on it, when you drive through a neighborhood. So how does Ubuntu, a free product, raise the bar so high?

The Community

The answer to the last question is the Community. Yes, that's right. The reason it is so reliable and, simply put, amazing, is because of its community of users. “Wait,” you might say “so the reason this OS is so good is because of the people who use it? Just because Brad Paisley may drive a Masarati doesn't make the car reliable.” Well here's the deal.

Linux is open source. That means all the source code, or the code that makes the OS run, is freely available. Anyone can read, write, and edit it. There's no patents on the code. Well does this make it good? Because it enables the community, the users, to fix the problems. They don't have to wait for some high paid programmer to fix their problem. Instead, they can get help from others who use the software, and contribute themselves, even if they're no geek.

This also means that geeks, who love what they do, and know how to code, can fix and edit the code. This makes the OS better for the user, because the software gets edited with the user in mind. There's no competition or worrying over losing a job because of messing anything up. The community can fix and help in a relaxed environment. Pretty cool huh?

The other great thing about the community is that everyone wants to help everyone else. It's like a family. Can't get your graphics card to work correctly? Just head to and ask for help. Within and an hour, or sometimes instantly, someone will have responded with some tips. I've never seen that kind of community from Microsoft or Apple. Have you?

The Interface

One of the main hesitancies that kept me from switching was the fear of a new interface. I never even though about what it would be like not to have the start button. I was afraid that it would be like learning an entire new language. And for a slow language learner like me, it terrified me.

I was quite surprised after booting into the Live CD for Ubuntu. The desktop was clean and professional looking. There where two task/menu bars. The one on the top contained the drop down menus for Applications, Places, and System and, the system tray was on the far right of that bar. On the bottom was the window bar, more commonly known as the task bar. Everything was clearly labeled and VERY user friendly. In my humble opinion, the desktop environment is easier to use then the Windows environment. Besides the layout of the standard desktop, everything else was the same as any other OS.
Now it's time to look at some of the options with applications.

The Endless Options In Software

The software options for Ubuntu are seemingly endless. Need an Office Suite? Open Office is freely available. Need a music organizer and player? Check out Rhythm Box. All the software is completely free. From video editors to games, they have any type of software you need. You can find all the options by going to “Add and Remove” at the bottom of the Applications Drop down list. Another great thing about the endless choices is that if you don't like one of the applications, but need one that does the same tasks, there are a couple different applications that you can install in its place.

The Support

For a free OS like Ubuntu, you might expect that there would be little to no support. Not so. Everything is being improved and updated regularly. Bugs will be reported, and, before you know it, it'll be fixed. There's no waiting for hours on the phone trying to get your monitor to work. You just go to the forums and post your request. Everyone is glad to help.

The Compatibility

Compatibility is another major issue when it comes to multiple OS's interacting. You might create a document on your Mac, only to find out it won't work on Windows. Or you may buy a song on iTunes, only to find you can't play it in Windows Media Player. In Ubuntu, everything is compatible, whether it's saving a document or playing a song. All file formats are supported or can be easily converted. With compatibility layers that are freely available, you can even install your Windows applications and games on Linux.

The Security

No viruses, No spyware, not hackers can get your stuff. Ubuntu is VERY secure. You don't have to worry about your data being stolen. It's safe, as safe as an OS can be. Unbelievable I know, but it's true. No kidding.

The Customibility (chuckle, there's a new word for you)

My favorite part of Ubuntu is the fact that you can make it look like anything you want. Whatever you have in your mind, you can make you desktop look like that. It's easy to customize. You no longer stuck with three color options and no room for customizing. You have an endless supply of screenlets if you're into those, special effects, window borders, and even desktop environments.

In Closing

Well, I've now finished a complete review on why I like Ubuntu. I've never looked back. It's a complete, user friendly, customizable, secure, supported, and compatible operating system. And, you don't have to pay a cent for it. One more thing about the different Linux distros is you can try them out without installing them. Most Linux distros have what is called a Live CD. It's basically an OS on a CD. You just boot into the CD and, without any change to your computer, you can explore the OS. The CD won't be as fast as when it's installed as your main OS, but it gives you a chance to really explore the environment and interface. Oh and guess what, it's all free. Happy Ubuntuing.

The Little Tin Man

Under Construction

Hello Readers,

This is the location for my new Linux blog. It will be under construction for a few weeks as I experiment with Templates and widgets. This will be the newer version of this.

Thanks for your support,

The Little Tin Man