How to Get Started

Learning to work with a school server is a lot like learning a foreign language. Depending on one’s background, it can easily take six months to a year to learn to interact with a computer productively.  During this period, it is really useful to make lots of mistakes.  Like learning a language, speaking, and getting feedback, is an essential part of the process.

I strongly recommend that the student build up a school server on an XO, and make all of the necessary learning mistakes on a test machine. If you make a bad mistake, you can just reload the OS, start over, and not impact any students, or class programs.

There are some materials on the internet, not open source, but freely available, which can help the student learn the 10-20 commands that you must know to use the command line interface of the school server effectively.

The school server is configured via text files in the /etc subdirectory. So  learning to use a text editor is an early required task. The easiest to learn is probably “nano”. The most powerful text editor, that you can find on all unix machines, is “vi”.

The “man” program, (short for manual), will be your most useful resource as you start to learn the school server language. You would use the command “man nano”, or “man vi” to get started learning a text editor. (Vi has a short 30 minute interactive tutorial which you can start by typing “vimtutor” on the command line). Here is an online version.


Another focus of attention, for students who want to work with school servers, is the communication between machines over ethernet networks.

Computers on a network, listen to communications on the wire, (or air waves), looking for their own ip address in the destination address field of the information packets, that are traveling “in the ether”.

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