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Linux & Unix: Getting Started

Learn about Linux and Unix type operating systems.

Dive In

As a new user of a Linux/Unix type operating system, the task of getting started may seem overwhelming.  Luckily it has never been easier to get started.

First choose a user-friendly Linux distribution with a large community (we provide some suggestions on our Linux Distros page) and set out on previewing or installing the system.  

  • Raspberry Pi- Available at the Manhattan Library, the Raspberry Pi boards run the Debian Linux based Raspbian Linux operating system.  Borrow the board for a 2 week loan and have full root access to a fully featured Linux computer.
  • LiveCD- Many Linux distributions provide a Live CD option.  A Live CD allows you to run the operating system from a recordable CD or USB flash drive without modifying your primary operating system.  This option is most appropriate for short-term testing, no changes will be saved.
  • Virtual Machine- Creating a virutal machine to run linux from within your current system allows you to test and switch amongst one or many linux distributions without modifying your system.  Virtual machines run within a virtualization program that is available for Windows and MacOS.  This option allows for a persistent installation without modifying your primary operating system.
  • Full Installation/Dual Boot- if you have a computer available that can be formatted, you can download an install file from your chosen distro and copy it to a cd or usb drive to install.  Dual booting is also an option, this allows Linux and Windows or MacOS to be installed on a single computer simultaneously.  Consult documentation for your chosen Linux Distribution for more information.  Note: a full installation or dual boot options will modify your currently installed system- consult further documentation and BACKUP your data before proceeding.
  • Cloud / VPS / Hosted Server- As the preeminent server platform, many cloud services, VPS (virtual private servers), or hosted web servers provide full linux root shell access.  These options, available in a wide range of low-cost (free trial) to high performance offer a common place to use linux and host applications/web sites. 

Things to Consider

When choosing a distro, important questions to ask are

  • Is this distribution going to be around in five years?
  • Is this distribution going to stay on top of the latest security patches?
  • Is this distribution going to release updated software promptly?
  • If I have problems, will the vendor talk to me?  Is there an active online community for free help?

For more information:

Unix and Linux System Administration Handbook, available from NYIT online 

Virtual Box

The Virtual Box program will allow you to create a new virtual computer from your desktop without altering your existing system.  This is a great way to experiment with Linux & Unix operating systems without making any permanent changes to your machine.  Virtual Box is a free program available for the Windows, Mac, and Linux platforms.


Virtual Box


After downloading and installing Virtual Box on your computer, choose a Linux or Unix distro to download and try.

Creating a Virtual Machine 

  1. Open Virtual Box
  2. Click the New button 
  3. Provide name and select operating system
  4. Proceed through prompts (select ram size, create virtual drive, format, dynamically allocated, max size), create
  5. Find new Virtual Machine on the list, click start
  6. On first run select ISO disk image of the Linux or Unix distro you downloaded
  7. Follow installation as if installing on new computer.

Consult official Virtual Box documentation for more information.  

Linux Basics

  • The command line interface provides a powerful and rich way to access programs and files.  
  • Access the command line via a program called a Terminal.
  • File names and directory names are case-sensitive ("File1" and "file1" refer to different files).
  • Avoid using spaces in file names, instead use underscore character ("file_1" not "file 1")
  • File system is organized in hierarchical structure starting with the root directory "/", user files are found in the directory /home/username/ 



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