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Basic Linux Training

Lesson 9: Linux Tools and Applications

Table of Contents


One of the most important software choices you'll make is that of which editor to use. It's not a matter of which one is better - that question always degenerates into a religious war. The point is that you learn as much as you can about using the one you decide to use, and as quickly as possible.

What seems to work best in learning these programs is to keep a notebook while you're learning, and transfer the most useful commands to index cards.

The most popular editors are emacs and vi, at least one of which you're likely to find on just about every Unix/Linux machine.

If you haven't already discovered it, ispell is a nice spell checker which you can use it alone, or as one of the option in emacs.

Keep in mind that all these programs are using buffers (read RAM), so all your work is not written to disk until you give the command to save the new file or changes to disk. This may take some adjustment in how you've been doing things in DOS/Windows.

Text processing

Moving up to the sophisticated professional typesetting and commercial printing and publishing, understanding text processing may be a little complicated to grasp at first. For most of us, this is overkill, but it's useful to know something about it. Despite all the hype about a 'paperless office, the world still runs on printed and photocopied documents.

Since the early days, Unix was considered as the perfect front-end to robust printing systems. You can see some good examples of this in groff - which is the GNU version of the troff. These processors take output from text editors and format them for a wise range of devices including PostScript (long a favorite in Unix and Linux) to include columns, fonts, boxes, and other typographic and layout elements. The man pages are formatted this way, but perhaps a better example would be something a little more tangible - like the pages in your textbook.

TeX works like groff - only on steroids. If you want to typeset pages for science, mathematics, or foreign languages, TeX or LaTeX is what you should use.

A newer text-formatting program, texinfo, is aimed at setting up information files that can be accessed from the help systems within applications or from the command line, and that can also be printed into a traditional manual. The key idea here was to have once source file that can be reformatted for these other purposes, rather than a separate file in each format that have to be maintained.


For most purposes, setting up the printer is not very difficult. Keep in mind that the lpd daemon uses the /etc/printcaps file for the printer information, and that ldp actually handles the print job - you need to kill the daemon to change anything in the printing process; see the man pages for lpc and lprm.

The most common problem seems to be 'stair-case' printing, so you may have to check your 'Owner's Manual' to see how to set your dip switches for Unix (carriage return and line feed are different between Unix and DOS, which causes the effect).

Of course, the more sophisticated and professional your needs, the more time and effort you need to put into it. More likely than not, since printing is so important in so many situations, the documentation has already covered what you want to do, or you can check the archives at before posting on the newsgroups.

Other Progams and Utilities

Chapter 9 gives you an overview of text editors, text processing, and printing. Chapter 11 gives you an overview of using Linux with other operating systems - particularly DOS - and emulatorsconcluding with a brief introduction to multimedia on Linux.

I highly recommend that you spend some extra time on Chris Browne's pages and Bill Latura's page. They've both done an outstanding job of reviewing and categorizing the available software. There is no need to repeat that here.

Check your installation - /bin, /sbin, /usr/bin, /usr/local/bin, etc. for the binaries currently on your machine. (You might want to redirect eah of these to a text file or to your printer.) You should know some of these programs and utilties already. When you run across one you are not familiar with, check the man or info page.

As you talk with other Linux people, you'll hear about nifty programs and utilities you simple must have on your machine. You'll also hear about 'hacks' to your configuration that will make life easier and better. For example, the basic ls can be modified (if it isn't already!) so that instead of ls -a you can type la, instead of ls -l use ll. Of course, you can modify your window manager to your heart's content; or you might be insterested using KDE which is a whole new way of doing things - but it does require a lot of RAM; or maybe TKDesk is more to your liking. You won't know until you try them.

  • Ghostscript
  • gs
  • ghostview
  • dosemu
  • xdos
  • wine
  • samba
  • mc - Midnight Commander
  • xedit
  • textedit
  • xlsfonts
  • xfd

If you are interested in graphics:

  • atobm
  • bitmap
  • bmtoa
  • calculator
  • xdpyinfo
  • xclock
  • xev
  • xfig
  • xfileman
  • xfm
  • xfractint
  • xlock
  • xmag
  • xman
  • xpaint
  • xspread
  • xv

Game? I'm not into games so I can't give you any hot tips ;-(


Textbook: Running Linux
  • Chapter 9: Editors, Texts Tools, and Printing, p.251-297
  • Chapter 11: Miscellaneous Applications, p.347-364
  • Bibliography, Applications and Technologies, p.599-601

Terms and Concepts:

Define and add these to your glossary:

  • text editor
  • text formatter
  • text processing
  • word processing
  • spell checker
  • vi - command mode
  • vi - edit (insert) mode
  • vi - ex mode
  • vi - yank
  • register
  • macros
  • regular expression - regexp
  • grep
  • emacs - yank
  • TeX
  • LaTeX
  • groff
  • Texinfo
  • ldp
  • nemscript
  • AFS
  • ISO 9660
  • FAT-16
  • FAT-32
  • file formats
  • iBCS2
  • mtools
  • emulator
  • dosemu
  • wine
  • samba


Check on your CD-ROM or the LDP site online: - HOWTO Index

The GNU manuals, texinfo, and reference cards are all online. This is just a brief listing to get you started. Chris Browne has several long, annotated (read 'opinionated') pages on most everything related to Linux, Linux advocacy and Linux software. Bill Latura has a terrific collection of links, arranged by categories at: And for a little lighter reading from the Tokyo Linux Users Group:

Go to Basic Linux Index

Date last revised: 25 May 1998

Copyright © 1997, 1998 Henry White. All Rights Reserved.
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