3 Unix

Unix is an operating system: a program which makes your computer seem to be smarter than a doorstop, although really it isn't. The operating system establishes conventions on how files are stored and accessed, and oversees the execution of other programs. Unix is a multitasking operating system, which means that it can make your computer do several things at once.

Typically, you'll be using X Windows to get things done, but X Windows ultimately relies on Unix to accomplish anything: it "sits on top" of Unix. A basic understanding of Unix is essential to using X Windows effectively.

For example, you may need to provide an input file in some format (e.g. a programming language), and there will be no direct way of "writing" it. This means you need a text editor: a kind of word processor for "raw text".

Are you finding that after a couple of months you have 300 files sitting in your home directory? That can make things confusing. Learn about how you can organize your files in separate directories.

It's a fact of life in X Windows that not everything can be done by clicking the mouse on an icon. Sooner or later, everybody has to learn the basics of how to enter Unix commands by typing, using a command line interface. There is quite a lot to know if you want to become really proficient in Unix, but don't let that scare you! Learning enough of the basics to start your favourite applications is easy.

Keith Orpen, who is still writing this, would like to hear your comments and suggestions.