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 Internet Professionals New to Linux

Being a webmaster and Linux enthusiast I come across other internet professionals who have questions about using Linux on the desktop or as a server. They are often Windows users who know a little about Linux and want to learn more about how one can use Linux to accomplish tasks they typically use Windows for. Further, when I first started investigating Linux to see if it would be a viable desktop OS, I had to look closely at what software was available. I ran into a lot of problems and learned a lot the hard way.

In this article I'll offer some tips to help webmasters, online application developers, search engine optimizers, online graphic designers, and other internet professionals (and dabblers) perform their online tasks. You might also be interested in the Software Suggestions section.

Open source software is a fast-changing landscape. This was written on 2 April 2005, you can see the last time it was updated at the bottom of the page. New software will be released, old software will be updated, some software will die. Google is your friend here, a little searching will turn up more reviews and suggestions.

The most basic need for webmasters will be a browser. There are several (actually countless) options, I'll cover a few of the current popular ones. Also keep in mind that it is always good to have several different browsers to test sites with.

  • Firefox and its slightly overweight big sister Mozilla. Firefox is my browser of choice for both Linux and on the rare occassion I find myself in front of a Windows box. It's pretty popular in the Windows world too, so I'll just say that it is an excellent choice for Linux. Mozilla is a suite of software that includes a browser similar to Firefox, an email client similar to Thunderbird, an HTML editor, fingernail clippers, and a potato peeler. In the Unix tradition, I like to use small programs that do one thing and do it well, Firefox is a light, fast browser, the Mozilla Suite is a bunch of stuff that doesn't work as well as alternative software; to each their own.
  • Opera is not open source, but as of early 2006, it is offered free of charge. It has a small but loyal following among Linux and Windows users, I truly admire this company for their Linux support. They offer native packages for multiple versions of several popular Linux distros. Opera's claims to fame include its speed, support for web standards, great features, and enormous configuration possibilities. Sloppy HTML is often laid bare when viewed in Opera; if you can make a project look good in Opera, chances are it will look good in most other browsers.
  • Konqueror is the KDE web (and file) browser. It is configurable has common modern features like tabbed browsing. It does what it is supposed to; It's a great file browser, but I'll only occassionally use it to browse the web.
  • Epiphany is the web browser provided with GNOME. It is powered by Gecko (the same engine as Firefox), and having used this one the least of all the browsers I mentioned, I can only say it works and suggest you give it a try to see if you like it.
  • Unfortunately, there is still a large percentage of the population that uses Microsoft's Internet Explorer. Webmasters still have to consider this browser when developing sites. There are several ways you can use IE with Linux to test your sites. You can try it with Wine, Remote Desktop, or any of the many virtulization options available (just do some googling for "windows linux virtualization").
 FTP Client
Rather than get too deep into this section, I'll say check out my suggestions for FTP clients. I really like having two Konqueror windows open to simply drag and drop files. I also find it saves time to be able to open remote and local files with the same application.

 HTML Editor
Again, to avoid too much duplication here, you can check out my suggestions for web authoring software. I'll summarize by saying:

  • If you like Macromedia's Dreamweaver, you'll want to look at Quanta + and Bluefish.
  • If you like WYSIWYG editors like Microsoft's Front Page, try Nvu.
  • If you're like me and like "hand coding", try Kate, KWrite, jEdit, or gedit. I have yet to find my perfect text editor, but Kate and Kwrite come the closest. They both allow FTP access from their built-in file browser, allow bookmarking in the file browser, offer great syntax highlighting for PHP, HTML, CSS, etc., and mostly stay out of my way with their minimal interfaces.
  • Linux also has great non-GUI text editors. These are terminal-based editors where there are no buttons and you typically can't use the mouse. Some popular packages include Vi and Emacs. To use these (for typical web development work), you'll SSH into the server and launch the programs on the remote box then use them to open the file you want to edit. Their big advantage is that you can use them from any computer that has an SSH client, are usually light (some would say this excludes Emacs), and since you're not using the mouse you can work more efficiently. I have tried these and have simply never got the hang of them, but people who use them frequently swear it's the only way to do it. I'll add that Midnight Commander can also be used to edit files, but it is much more intuitive for new users (and thus might be considered less-powerful).
Because this page is focused on Internet Professionals, I'm focusing on web servers here. There are numerous web servers that run on the Linux platform, the most popular of which is Apache. If you are looking for a great Linux web host, I suggest DreamHost; that's who I use and the only host I recommend to my clients. You can also set up your own web server to host your sites or even just for use as a local test machine or intranet. To set up a local web server, do some Googling for tutorials and tips. I'll just say that it is not too hard for simple configurations.

Once you have your server, you'll want to take advantage of the numerous technologies that can be used on Linux to serve web pages or other online data. PHP, Python, and Perl are just three of the many open source scripting languages that can be used to serve information on the internet. Open source databases such as MySQL and PostgreSQL are well-documented and fairly easy to install.

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