Originally Published: Thursday, 27 September 2001 Author: Michael & Melinda Petruzziello
Published to: learn_articles_firststep/General Page: 1/3 - [Printable]

Beginner's Week: Notes from the Command-Line Commando: Fetchmail

In this, the first of a series of articles dedicated authors Michael and Melinda Petruzziello try a unique writing style to convey everything you need to know to start being a command line commando. It's fun writing and useful stuff on setting up fetchmail. Read on!

Introduction   Page 1 of 3  >>

The Linux command line: The true power of the Linux server! (But is it for the home user?)

The Linux command line is one of the most useful and versatile features of your computer. It is powerful in the freedom it provides the user or administrator. You can setup, run, revise, and tweak just about any program that you can get for Linux. Add a secure telnet session and presto! You have a simple, secure way to administer your network from a remote location in ways that most operating systems wouldn't allow without additional software or hardware. For example, as those of you familiar with Linux probably already know, you can setup, configure, and run Web, FTP, POP, and many other services right from the command prompt.

Since we know that Linux has all this functionality for servers, where does this leave the home user? Can the home user benefit from the Linux command line just as much without having to rely on "gooey" X-windows interfaces? I'm here to answer this question with a resounding: "Yes!"

In this series of articles, I want to focus on how the home user can benefit from Linux command line utilities for email, web browsing, FTP, telnet, and even word processing and multimedia!

Since this is the first article in the series, let me give you a brief overview of my computer experience, and my own personal Linux box.

Back In The Day

My humble computer experience began in Derry, New Hampshire, when my uncle ordered the first do-it-yourself home ENIAC system. We had to set it up in my uncle's barn. It wasn't much of a machine. Though quite impressive in size, it had no memory and no data storage space. My dreams of playing Wolfenstein 3D were less than what I'd hoped for. It took us nearly four hours just to install the pre-alpha version, and I was always running back and forth between switches Alpha-459 and Zeta-006, and that was just to fire. Movement was nearly impossible. I'd just have to hope that I'd materialize in a convenient-to-defend corner every time I got fragged.

All right, all right! I didn't actually start out on an ENIAC (but it sure did sound good, didn't it?) My first computer was the Atari 400. Although not as impressive looking as the ENIAC, it did come in a convenient size that would actually fit in your house. It had a whopping 4 KB of RAM and a tape device for storing data. Not too bad, since any old cassette would do in a pinch. Once you plugged in the BASIC cartridge, it looked like it had a command prompt, but it was actually just a BASIC interpreter. I was mildly disappointed by this, but the fact that I had a 27-inch monitor was some compensation. In addition to having no command line, the Atari 400 had other problems as well. The keyboard was as flat as a tabletop, which made typing more like drumming your fingers. This presented issues, since most programs available for the Atari had to be typed in by hand and then stored on tape, because the Atari 400 could only have one program loaded into memory at any given time (multi-tasking, where are you?).

The most memorable system meltdown I ever had with my Atari was when I was typing in the "Ghengis Khan" adventure game out of a magazine, and about half-way through, my parents decided they wanted to watch "Starsky and Hutch." Flipping the game switch on the back of the TV, they disabled my 27-inch monitor and accidentally knocked out the Atari's power cord, erasing all traces of the program from memory. Blisters notwithstanding, I re-typed the whole program in the next day, and it promptly did not work.

I went through several different Atari systems as time went on, some of which even had real keyboards (no more blisters!), gooey interfaces, and multi-tasking, but still no REAL command line (waaaah!). Then one day, I saw an IBM 386, and there it was: a command line! Multi-tasking was hopelessly beyond it, and it often said rude things like "Invalid command: <A>bort, <R>etry, <I>gnore", and then made funny little beeping sounds that I am convinced to this day sounded like laughter. In spite of all this, I was still pleased. I was finally experiencing a computing environment I enjoyed.

Finally, in 1996, I discovered a true multi-tasking, command-line environment: Linux. I nearly fainted. Not only could I log in, I could log in several times. I could FTP, Telnet, read email, and browse the Web from different screens, all on the same computer. I was in command-line heaven.

My Current Setup

In 1998, I started my own computer consulting firm, http://www.JMPTechnologies.com. I work on Linux, SCO, and all versions of Windows. While each OS has its place in the computing hierarchy, when I come home, I like to sit down in front of my very own Linux box. It's a Pentium 233 with 32 MB of RAM and a 4 GB hard drive running RedHat 6.2. (I know, the distribution argument goes on and on, but RedHat is the first one I ever used, and I've just stuck with it.) I have my Linux box attached to my network with an NE2000 compatible card, which is plugged into a Linksys Broadband/DSL router for Internet access. Everyone else in the house is running that Windows gooey thing (yuk!).

Introduction   Page 1 of 3  >>