Linux optimize

10 old-school Linux tools I refuse to let go of

No matter which platform you prefer, there are probably a few old tools you just can't part with. Jack Wallen shares his Linux favorites.

There are many days when I show my age with Linux. In some instances, I just refuse to embrace some of the more modern applications. In many ways, I fully accept the modern computing desktop. (I use a full-blown Compiz desktop with all the bells and whistles now.) But there are still some holdovers that will have to be pried from my cold, dead hands. I thought it would be fun to list 10 of these old-school Linux tools and then see what other people refuse to let go of (regardless of platform). Not only will it be a trip down memory lane for some users, it might show others a tool they hadn't thought of that could solve a perplexing problem.

Note: This article is also available as a PDF download.

1: Command line

This one is a no brainer. Even though there is a GUI front end for nearly every command-line tool available, I often feel the command line is simply the best tool. And what better way to remotely administer a system than with good old secure shell? I won't go into the specifics of what commands I can't let go of (there are so many of them). Suffice it to say, the command line is one of my most-used tools.

2: Audacious (aka XMMS)

I get a lot of guff about this one. Oh sure, there are many new, modern music players for Linux (Songbird, Amarok, Banshee, Rhythmbox, etc.). But none of those players has the small footprint and the out-of-your-way interface of Audacious. I've tried them all, and I always wind up coming back to Audacious2. The only feature I wish would be implemented (and I seriously doubt this will ever happen) is DAAP support. But even without DAAP support, I will continue to use my Audacious music player to listen to Rush until I can no longer install it on a Linux distribution.

3: Nano

Nano is a fork (and an improvement) over the old PICO text editor. I've used PICO and Nano for as long as I can remember using Linux. I was never a fan of vi or emacs (not being a programmer lends itself to enjoying Nano). What I like about Nano is its simplicity, which is taken to a level most text editors never see -- without sacrificing features. But for those who do programming, Nano does offer syntax highlighting (only not on the level of, say, vi). And Nano is closely tied to the Alpine email client, so if you know one, you will know the other.

4: Alpine

Speak of the devil! Many of you will remember text-based email clients. They didn't show attachments inline, and there was no point-and-click interface. But you couldn't beat them for speed, security, flexibility, and reliability. And well before there was Web-based email, tools like Alpine were the best (and often the only) way to check your email remotely. It's still possible today (and still done by yours truly) with a simple secure shell into the remote machine and issuing the command alpine. WHAM! There's your email. Brilliant.

5: Enlightenment

Enlightenment is my desktop of choice, and it has been for some years. Of late, I've been using the Elive distribution, which pairs E17 with Compiz. But it is still Enlightenment in all its speedy beauty. If you've never experienced Enlightenment, you should do yourself a favor and give it a go.

6: gFTP

gFTP is pretty much dead. But that doesn't mean it isn't a valuable tool. In fact, it's the only tool I use for FTP file transfers. Does it offer features no other FTP tool offers? Not really. So why do I remain loyal? gFTP offers a simple interface and multi-threaded transfers, it has both GUI and command-line tools, it supports FTP/SFTP/FTPS/HTTP/HTTPS/FSP protocols and proxies, and it just feels like home.

7: Man pages

RTFM... That M doesn't stand for Manual, it stands for Man page - or at least it should. Although I realize that man pages have become sort of a sign of older times, they are still a valuable tool for the education of new Linux users (and for those of us whose memory isn't what is used to be). This is also a point of contention among news group and mailing list readers, when an old-hat user tells the new user to RTFM. That's not someone being lazy, that's someone pointing a new user in the right, first direction. After all, give a man a fish/teach a man to fish...

8: Nethack

Nethack is a game. GASP! Linux doesn't have games. Actually Nethack is a game to some people. To others, it's nothing more than a laughable attempt to waste space on a hard drive. For me, it's the former. I've played versions of this game for years -- and never once beaten it. For my money, there is no better dungeon crawler out there.

9: LaTeX

LaTeX is the Mac Daddy of Linux typesetting. But why would one want to bother with such a cumbersome, complex system when there are plenty of easy-to-use word processors available? Simple. A word processor encourages users to be concerned about the look of their document as much as the content. LaTeX is quite the opposite. LaTeX leaves document design to designers and document writing to the writers. But really the main reason why LaTeX is still around is that feature for feature, it just can't be replaced. What LaTeX lacks in simplicity, it makes up for in incredible versatility.

10: Cron

You want the single best way to automate tasks? Cron is ready for the job. Cron is one of the many pieces of the Linux puzzle that make it such a flexible operating system. Cron handles administrative automation as well as user-based automation. And cron is one of the easiest time-based schedulers available. You want to add a cronjob, enter the crontab -e command and create a single line that will run the command (or script) you want at the precise time. The only drawback to cron is knowing how to format the time correctly. "* * * * *" Choose wisely.

What about you?

Is there an old-school Linux, Mac, or Windows tool that you absolutely refuse to give up? If so, tell your fellow TechRepublic readers why that tool is so important to you.


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About

Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and Linux.com. He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website getjackd.net.

30 comments
oldbaritone
oldbaritone

"updatedb" as a CRONjob overnight, then LOCATE to find where some idiot user put his lost file. ;-)

drasikas
drasikas

editor: vim email client: mutt window manager: ion for ftp or rsh I use: mc

aspir8or
aspir8or

or apt-get (sorry rpm & yum users) but there is no better way to search, install update and uninstall software.

d.esposito
d.esposito

Minicom My company has an old Fujitsu PBX and it's the easiest way I know of to talk to it when I have to change something in the config.

e0d
e0d

I don't consider most of these tools "linux tools" per se, but as long as we're being inprecise, GNU Screen, the terminal multplexer, gets my vote. I'm also a big fan of mutt for reading and manging mail, awesome searching via expressions and bulk mangement via tagging. e0d

cm1967
cm1967

Great article! I, too, still use many of the tools that you mention. Of course, I'm very much a minimalist and really don't care about my distribution being "pretty". I've always wanted to use Mutt but a few years back, when I had trouble getting it working correctly, I found Pine and then Alpine. I've been hooked ever since.

blacksheep32
blacksheep32

I am interested in Linux, however, I don't know enough about it to be comfortable with a switch. What I mean is; will my printer work? will my wifi work? Sorry, I am willing to learn, but I haven't learned enough as yet. If (please excuse the gramatical error) you can direct me to a place that can help me alleviate my insecurities about this change. Please let me know where to go to learn more. Thanks, Brian

username99
username99

1. VI is one of my favorites. It can do so much. 2. The Command Line=Super Powerful 3. tcpdump 4. regex 5. nmap 6. top

masonwheeler
masonwheeler

It only took me two years to win my first victory without any cheats enabled... :P

Neon Samurai
Neon Samurai

Until recently, Joe was my editor of choice even over nano/pico. Having learned the vim basics, I've spent part of my morning changing the default editor on my *nix machines. Joe deserves recognition for the amount of time it's been my editor of choice though. ssh keeps delivering new tricks, Netcat is proving to me why it's the swiss army knife of networking. Fortune for a quote at login or new bash shell. I've been including Fortune -s into my login scripts since the first machine back in the day. aircrack, kismet.. a machine feels naked without the usual secruity/networking tools. I could go on and on..

martianman68
martianman68

Even though it's a bit more Unix, I absolutely love the vi editor. When I went to a job being a DBA for Oracle and had to use the Windows text editor to edit my scripts, I went and downloaded a vi editor for Windows and used it instead. The guys that worked with me said I had a sickness. Even though I haven't used it in about 6 years, I guarantee I could jump right back into it like I was using it yesterday.

papoanaya
papoanaya

I have my share of old school tools that I keep using over the years. Many of them since my old days in College with 3B2's and 3B15's. 1. troff - In our school we never got into LaTex, it was troff -mm for us. At the end is was the same difference, we did the typesetting using command lines. I was also good at SCRIPT in the big blues. I still use troff -mm, never got the knack of LaTeX, but I guess each one to its own. 2. awk - Even though there are plenty scripting language (I've been using Python since 1.41) I still do a lot of awk for scripting. 3. Needless to say, vi and emacs. But I've always been a vi user. Many of them I've phased out because I have no interest any more or because they've been superseeded with better things. For instance. nn for netnews, pine for mail (or old mail was enough), old talk to annoy my school mates during projects at midnight ;).

jsimonelli
jsimonelli

There is a fine line of linux core tools and distro tools. Some tools are more important in system that lack a window manager as opposed to one that has gnome/kde/enlightment or whatever floats your boat. Although man pages are key, they are not my favorite, so they get an honorable mention because they get me out of a bind with quick reference. In the blame game of sysadmin vs network admins or if you are both you cant be without tcpdump or iptraf. If I had to come up with a list, here they are... not that anyone cares. 1. bash (more appropriate than command line, or ksh if thats what you like) 2. ssh (should be #1 but without bash ssh would be pretty worthless) 3. vi as of recently 3. iptables 4. tcpdump or iptraf 5. top 6. gnome 7. rpm or yum (except when in dependency hell, then it becomes 10 least liked) 8. tail (-ing logs) 9. cat/sed/awk (have to combined them or I would go over the 10) 10. kill command (when all else fails, you don't have to CTRL-ALT-DEL any longer, you are using linux so you can just kill it very easily)

oldbaritone
oldbaritone

I think you'll be amazed at how easy it is. Linux LiveCD (I started to misspell it "LoveCD" - but that's right too) has drivers for most hardware, and it just figures out and configures itself on the fly! I remember my first try at linux many years ago - I downloaded two floppies on my Windows machine (I needed the second one because I was installing with ftp) and I booted an old system with the floppy, told it to wipe the old data, gave it the ftp site of a local university, and let the install go. I went to bed. In the morning, the system was up and running; everything worked properly, and I was amazed how hassle-free the install process had been. To your questions - "will my printer work?" - probably yes. "Will my wifi work?" - probably yes. Of course, you'll need to enter the security information for your wifi. And the ones you didn't ask - also all "probably yes" - graphics, mouse, audio, USB, FireWire, wired networks, scanners, HIDs, IDE, SATA, and even older technology like SCSI. But the point is, with a LiveCD, you don't need to change ANYTHING - just boot it up on the CD and see if you like it! Differences? There are a few. Single-click on an icon to open it, rather than double-click. If you just want to highlight the icon, right-click instead. It takes a little "getting used to it." Drive letters are gone, and backslash (\) becomes a forward slash (/). And many LiveCDs will mount your windows data automatically, so you'll find your C drive in "/WINDOWS/" (or something like that) instead of "C:" When you're ready, many LiveCDs will perform an install too. But above all, JUST TRY IT! Yes, it's a little different than XP. (So was Vista, so is W-7) Once you learn a little, I'll bet you get hooked. And upgrades to the next release are free. So is (almost) all of the software. Love that Open Source and GNU GPL. :-)

Neon Samurai
Neon Samurai

I'd suggest downloading ISO for a few liveCD distributions; Ubuntu, Kubuntu, Mandriva, Elive, PCLinuxOS.. They'll boot an OS without installing on your hard drive and you can see what hardware support is like by default.

sreid08
sreid08

In the early 90s I started working for a company that ONLY used vi to program in. I'd used it some in my previous position - but I was FORCED to learn it in that one. I learned to love it - and I still do. I wish I was in a position that allowed me to use my vi AND *NIX skills more.

brian
brian

Being able to exec a command after you've logged out and gone home has been a vital feature for every sysadmin. at now+5min tar ...... :) Another supertool is "comm" which allows you to compare what is in common between two files, and weed out differences in either direction. Got two gigantic directories to compare and find out which files didn't copy over correctly? Sound like a nightmare to you? Just cd /path1; find . -print | sort -n > /tmp/foo1; cd /path2; find . -print | sort -n > /tmp/foo2; comm -23 /tmp/foo1 /tmp/foo2; The only down side to comm is remembering what you are subtracting from the set, in this case what items are in file2, but not file 1 (-2), and also what is common to both files (-3). And for anyone who can use an editor without a mouse or arrow keys, I can almost guarantee they know how to say "vi" properly. For the rest of you, it's the same way people say IBM, by saying each letter.

Starman35
Starman35

Here's a few more I use as a Unix user, not administrator. 1) nedit is my editor of choice - much superior to emacs and vi 2) ls is another fine utility I use to list contents of a directory 3) grep is another powerful tool I use a lot, & it can be combined with ls for greater flexibility.

Sergey Klimashevich
Sergey Klimashevich

- du - dmesg - netstat - ifconfig Keyboard is much faster than mouse.

aspir8or
aspir8or

Getting way off subject now, but wth If you like using the livecd and want to install it but keep XP, but don't like the idea of dual-booting, install it with WUBI (only with Ubuntu though) or as a virtual installation. That way it installs inside XP and you can then run Ubuntu as if it is just another XP program. You can then try doing the same thing in XP and Linux at the same time, which is a good way of learning how to use Linux. If you like, you can also setup Linux to look very much like XP (easier with KDE desktop than Gnome or any of the other desktops). Also, if you try a livecd but don't like it, don't be put off straight away. There are many different versions of Linux, as well as many different desktops (think WFW3 vs Win95 vs XP vs Vista, but all XP underneath) It may take a while to find a Linux that you like, but there will be one out there. And whether you dual-boot or install with Wubi or as a virtual installation in Windows Virtual PC or Vmware (to name just 2) , you don't have to delete your Windows installation. They can live side by side quite well.

oldbaritone
oldbaritone

ls ... | grep xxx ps -A | grep xxx ... | grep xxx the list is endless! good call, Starman35!

808blogger
808blogger

grep, more, less, cat and of course the King | (that would be a pipe)

markku.niskanen
markku.niskanen

Every time I need to dig into a directory structure I type "mc"

aspir8or
aspir8or

Each just gets better and better. At times I've used all three in a one line script to produce a detailed report. Using any of them there can be a dozen different ways of doing the same job, though grep is the weakest. Shell scripting will live forever.

jsimonelli
jsimonelli

I used to use grep at first but have found that awk can be much more powerful using regular expressions, this is one of the many ways many people can do the same tasks in linux using a multitude of different commands to reach the same result.

pjamer
pjamer

yea ... it's the tools that i'm using for more that 20 years ... simple and great ;)

rsteiner
rsteiner

I use Midnight commander for most of the file and directory operations I do on Linux (and that also includes my Nokia 770 web tablet), on Solaris, and even on Windows, and when I go back to an older system and play on OS/2 or BeOS, Midnight Commander is there. I even like it better that FileJet or ZTreeBold under OS/2, and that says something. :-) I love the way it lets me explore and manipulate tarballs, I've customized the menu to do various custom operations for me (like colorized diffs of files or directories), I use it as an ftp client a LOT, and mcedit (the built-in editor) is the main text editor I use for bash scripts, C, and perl. Pretty colors, powerful change tools, etc. I don't mind vi or vim, but I can relate to mcedit a little bit better.