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Inside of your computer is all sorts of mysterious hardware. Most people have no idea how it works. This is a good thing (for most people). We are able to use our computers without understanding how they physically work because we use an "operating system," which handles all of our interaction with computer hardware. An operating system is a piece of software which is run every time the computer is started. This piece of software performs many vital tasks, including deciding when and for how long other programs are run, how resources are divided between programs, and mediating interaction between you (the user) and hardware. Some examples of operating systems are "Windows XP," "Mac OS X," and "Linux," although there are many others as well.
At home, you may use an operating system called "Windows," or if you are a Mac user, you might be using one called "OS X." These operating systems are both centered around providing a pretty graphical user interface (GUI). UNIX, on the other hand, is a text-based operating system, known for its stability (no 'BSOD'), speed, and ability to serve multiple users simultaneously.
Specifically, you will be using Linux (if you are in the lab or are logged onto eniac-l.seas.upenn.edu), which is what we call a UNIX-flavored operating system. The same commands (more or less) work on UNIX-flavored operating systems as in UNIX. This primer is designed to get you started using UNIX systems.
The computers in the lab are set up with many programs which operate in an environment called X-Windows, which is a GUI designed for UNIX-flavored systems. This primer will not discuss this GUI in detail.
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Designed by D. Kaminsky
Edited by Diana Palsetia
© University of Pennsylvania, 2008