LJ Archive


The Cake Is Not a Lie!

Shawn Powers

Issue #194, June 2010

Linux is a kernel. Before I go any further, it's important to know that “Linux” is really just the kernel that powers our awesome computer systems. Before we get into heated debates about .deb and .rpm, or holy wars over GNOME and KDE, we never can forget that Linux really is just the kernel.

Likewise, cake is just the sweet bread stuff that hides under the frosting. Sure, icing, candles, plastic superheros and burning flames are what make a cake into a party, but at the base of things, cake is just that bread stuff. This issue, we talk about frosted cake and discuss the wonderful world of decorating. (If you prefer, feel free to use a mashed-potato-and-gravy metaphor instead. I realize we're not all cake fans.)

My first suggestion for this issue is that you turn to our centerfold. Granted, it's not really in the center (it's on pages 62 and 63), but it is a two-page spread that presents a ton of popular distributions. Our own Justin Ryan filled in the abundant blanks for us, and it's worth more than a cursory glance. If you like what you see, perhaps the next logical step would be to read Jes Fraser's article discussing the history of Linux distributions. Jes shows the whole gamut, starting from the Usenet post on the MINIX newsgroup.

What is MINIX, you ask? That's a good question. Bruce Byfield happily answers by discussing the present-day operating system that was the basis for Linus' early kernel. Although certainly not as popular as our coveted Linux, MINIX is a good way to learn about our roots without the complications of different colored frosting—er, distributions. Working with MINIX, while still being a Linux user, might start to make you think about the philosophy of your operating system. It certainly did for Dan Sawyer, and this month, he discusses some of the fundamental issues that Linux users face. What does it mean to be free? Is commercialism a good or bad thing? Is butter cream or Dream Whip the best icing for cake? However you slice it, Linux is many different things for many different people.

I know some of you are getting worried that this issue is starting to sound more like a college lecture than your normal monthly dose of tech goodies. Fear not; we have the perfect snack for your geeky sweet tooth as well. Mick Bauer wraps up his series on OpenVPN; Dave Taylor gets intense with some sophisticated HTML forms, and Reuven M. Lerner adds more about MongoDB.

Kyle Rankin proves that good workers are workers that can make computers do their work for them. He demonstrates making config files using nmap. It may sound strange, but it certainly will save you some grunt work and leave you time for other, more enjoyable things. If one of the things you enjoy doing is reading books, you'll want to read Dirk Elmendorf's article on library software. My wife is a librarian, and I can assure you that the days of the card catalog are over. Thankfully, Linux can step in and manage your books, whether you have only one shelf or enough books to overwhelm Mr Dewey himself.

No matter what your favorite cake is or what kind of frosting you prefer, everyone needs a pan to bake it in—that means hardware. With Linux, it's hard to find a limit to what we can use as an installation base. Kira Scarlett talks about a few of the less-common architectures and some reasons you might want to try them out. Mike Diehl reviews the Pogoplug device. It's tiny, cute, and it runs Linux. There are so many devices that run Linux, sometimes it's hard to choose a platform. Bill Childers and Kyle Rankin don't seem to have that problem, however, and this month they set out to prove why their cell-phone choice is best. As usual, I'm going to try to stay out of it.

So this month, whether you favor apt-get over emerge, or like fedoras instead of lizards, we all can agree to like cake—and the Linux kernel. Hopefully, you'll learn a few things, but more important, we hope you're inspired to try different distributions. Because really, it's hard to pick bad cake.

Shawn Powers is the Associate Editor for Linux Journal. He's also the Gadget Guy for LinuxJournal.com, and he has an interesting collection of vintage Garfield coffee mugs. Don't let his silly hairdo fool you, he's a pretty ordinary guy and can be reached via e-mail at info@linuxjournal.com. Or, swing by the #linuxjournal IRC channel on Freenode.net.

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