Training review: Linux Essentials

The Linux Essentials course held at New Horizons Learning Centres catered to students new to Linux. And the first thing one learns is that working with a nice-looking GUI -- as is the case in the Windows environment, where pretty much all the students come from -- is not high on the agenda in the Linux operating system. Rather, students are taught to befriend the console from the outset. Windows may unfortunately be associated with the blue screen of death, but it seems Linux, with the console, has the black screen of joy.

In this course one gets very familiar with command lines. Once you get over the realisation that this is very unlike Windows, it’s pretty much learning the many Linux commands and shortcuts. And there are many. By the end of the two-day course you will not have remembered them, but you will certainly be tuned to the basics such as ls (list), clear (clear screen), and shutdown, to name a few.

There is probably nothing in this course that you could not pick up if you worked closely with one or more Linux gurus among your acquaintance. Spend a few days working closely with them, asking basic questions, and you should be fine. But if you don’t have that opportunity because everyone around you is a Windows specialist, then Linux Essentials will be a handy starter course.

During the course, students are taught to create disks required for installing Linux -- in this case, Red Hat 8.0. You’ll learn how to create and configure users and groups; how to manage the file system; and how to manage rights to files and directories. Students configure the X Window System, and learn to navigate the Linux command-line shell. You also learn about the boot process and run levels, shell scripting, and editing text files by using text editors such as Pico. There is a brief lesson on GNOME and KDE.

Because the course runs over two days, there is not time to dwell on anything. The lecturer runs through the 170-odd page handbook at a fast pace, only stopping if required or if students did not catch on. I found any questions put forward to the lecturer were properly answered. However, the lecturer's tendency to spend considerable time out of the room was of some concern, seeing that the course -- depending on which deal the student is on (more later) -- can cost $1100. Having a lecturer on hand is a pretty important criterion in my books.

On the plus side, those who like intimate classes will be pleased that sizes are small. The class I sat had three students. This is quite normal, with sizes usually ranging between three and six students each sitting. The course, which New Horizons has been running for almost one and a half years, is normally held every two months.

As mentioned earlier, students can do the course as a one-off subject and pay $1100 or, as was the case with the students in my class, you can undertake it as part of New Horizons' Developers Club. In the Developers Club, students are charged $7995 for a whole host of courses in an 18-month period. Most are Microsoft ones, such as Mastering Visual Basic 6.0 and Querying MS SQL server 2000, but there are also XML courses and the two Linux courses: Linux Essentials and the follow-up Linux Fundamentals. All the students in the club have to pay is $85 per day for each course they undertake.

For Anthony Urritia, an apprentice network administrator at his father’s business City Network Computer Services, the Linux Essential course proved worthwhile. He said he did not have many expectations, as long as he got the absolute basics of Linux. "I feel I have that," he said at the end of the course.

Fellow classmate Tim Jones, who provides tech support for printers at Minolta, found the course too basic. "Most of the course material I knew… but some of the basic Linux commands were helpful." For him, the more important course for his job is the Linux Fundamentals course, which follows on from Linux Essentials.

For companies wishing to send a junior IT staff member along, the course is adequate and is a good introduction to Linux. By and large, Linux Essentials is run well by New Horizons. In my case, it was encouraging that the teacher's first comments to the class were, "I am passionate about Linux."

However, the overall organisation of the training provider could be a bit tighter. On day one, only two handbooks were produced for we three students. It took two hours to photocopy the relevant chapters for the third student before the class could begin. If you are paying top dollar for such a course, delays like this should simply not happen.

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