Product Reviews

VTC Introduction to Linux course

VTC is an online learning platform specifically geared to help trainees improve their software skills. The Introduction to Linux course is designed to welcome newcomers to Linux and provide them with some basic knowledge of the operating system. 

The only prerequisite for the course is a basic knowledge of IT, such as knowing how to use a keyboard. Introduction to Linux is delivered as a series of 75 self-paced video lectures, which the VTC site claims will take around 6.5 hours to go through in total.

Introduction to Linux is delivered by Arthur Griffith, who has created a number of tech-related courses on VTC, in addition to co-writing a book on Linux. 

Unlike many other courses reviewed on TechRadar, this one offers the first three chapters free of charge. That gives you an excellent sneak preview of the material, and allows you to become accustomed to navigating the course outline, on the left-hand side of the page.

After chapter three, you can choose to pay a one-time fee of $40 (£31) to access the rest of the course online, or for an additional $40 (£31) you can download the entire course for offline viewing. 

The instructor takes some time in the first chapter to introduce you to Linux as well as discussing various methods to install it on your machine. He avoids giving specific instructions on choosing a distribution or installing it, ostensibly because the information you’ll learn in Introduction to Linux is independent of any particular flavour of distro.

Griffith does, however, provide a list of popular websites such as Distrowatch to allow you to make this decision for yourself. He also recommends buying Linux on CD from an online vendor rather than going to the trouble of creating an install DVD or USB stick yourself.

This attitude is rather surprising as not all Linux versions are created equal in this regard – Ubuntu Linux, for instance, is not only recommended for beginners but also has its own online store where you can order USB sticks with the OS preinstalled. 

The initial course videos themselves are consistent with this policy of neutrality as the instructor uses Cygwin – a collection of Linux tools for Windows rather than any particular version of Linux.

After introducing Linux and speaking a little about its philosophy in the first chapter, the course goes on to give a basic overview of the file system. This includes information on how to explore and analyse files from the command line.

Chapter three focuses on hardware – specifically on how Linux registers physical devices such as disk drives, as well as an exploration of device nodes located in ‘/dev’. The instructor also mentions how to format partitions using ‘fdisk’ in addition to exploring the concept of mounting drives. 

The following chapter expands on chapter two by discussing directories and symbolic links, along with mentioning some useful commands to find specific files. This chapter also introduces the ‘vi’ and ‘Emacs’ text editors, a must for any would-be system administrator, as they allow for the editing of configuration files.

Chapter four delves into further detail on running shell commands as well as looking at how to create startup shell scripts. This is expanded in the following chapter which discusses creating a shell script with arguments, as well as running level scripts. The next section also explores how to examine running processes as well as teaching you the basics of scheduling tasks in Linux via the crontab. 

Chapter eight is devoted to networking and true to the central theme of Introduction to Linux, it assumes no prior knowledge, giving you a respectable rundown of TCP/IP concepts, DNS and servers.

The following chapter focuses on the X Window Manager, as it relates specifically to Cygwin, and to the Gnome desktop environment in Red Hat Linux.

Chapter 10 returns to the command line, devoting itself to techniques for archiving and decompressing files in both ZIP and TAR formats. The course concludes with a few miscellaneous utilities which don’t fit into the preceding chapters such as the ‘xwd’ screenshot tool, plus it also looks at how to shut down a Linux system.

Final verdict

Aside from being reasonably priced, this course offers an excellent way to decide if it’s right for you by giving away the first three chapters for free. The free videos also include a course overview to allow you to decide for yourself if the remaining chapters will be helpful.

The instructor, Arthur Griffith, clearly knows his stuff and has a very lucid teaching style. Also, he doesn’t assume you have any previous knowledge of Linux.

The course overview itself is easy to navigate and you can go back and replay videos as you wish. There’s no section on the web page for taking notes, however, so you’ll need your own text editor for this.  

However, the course could make things easier for beginners by ensuring that the knowledge imparted in each chapter builds on the previous one. For instance, it would make far more sense for chapters two and four, which both examine the file system, to appear one after the other. It’s also a shame that the final miscellaneous section couldn’t have been integrated into earlier chapters. 

It’s not very clear why the instructor decided to use Cygwin in the training videos rather than an actual Linux OS. This may have been to avoid biasing trainees towards a particular version of Linux, but we’d argue that bias in this case is healthy: some distributions such as Ubuntu are easier to set up than others, and this would also make it more likely that the instructor’s screen will resemble the trainee’s.

That said, much of the work in this course is done with the command line, so there wouldn’t be a huge difference visually. Failing to recommend a particular type of Linux also means there’s little guidance on how to set up your system in the first place.

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