The Linux Foundation offers a number of online courses via the edX platform including an Introduction to Linux. One very attractive feature of these courses is that they are free to take, although you can pay an additional fee of $99 (around £75) for a formal 'certificate of completion' if you wish.
The Introduction to Linux course has been prepared by Jerry Cooperstein, the Training Program Director for the Linux Foundation, and there's even a short welcome message from the creator of the Linux kernel, Linus Torvalds himself. So it's safe to say you're in good hands.
The course is designed to help people who have basic IT skills to become familiar with Linux, both using a graphical interface and from the command line.
As the course is offered via the edX platform, you'll need to register a free account and confirm your email address before proceeding. Learning is self-paced as you progress through various chapters.
One of the benefits of registering an account is that your progress is recorded, meaning you can shut down your machine and resume exactly where you left off the following day.
The Linux Foundation cautions that the chapters are designed to build on one another, so you should read them fully and in order, although you can go back to refresh your memory if necessary.
The course itself is divided into 18 chapters of different lengths. The layout is very clear in that program names are written in bold and monospace formatting is used for text you need to enter on the command line.
As you'll see from the warm welcome given by Linus Torvalds, you have the option to play videos directly in your browser or to download them to your machine, which is handy for users with slow connections.
To complete the course with a pass grade, you need to score at least 70%. While this might sound daunting, you have two attempts to answer questions and the exam is open book, so you can reference past material. If you do pass, you can request and download a completion certificate in PDF format, provided you're willing to pay the fee.
You can reinforce what you've learned as you progress through each section by answering 'knowledge check' questions. These exist purely for your benefit and have no effect on your overall grade. Each chapter also has a brief summary at the end concerning what you've learned so far.
Introduction to Linux is more than just a series of text chapters and videos. There are a number of ‘try it yourself’ activities too, which allow you to perform activities such as working with files. This reflects the fact that the Linux Foundation usually do 'lab' exercises when training students in person, giving you a chance to practice. There's often more than one way to do things in Linux, so the Foundation cautions that you shouldn't worry if the course tells you a solution is incorrect, even though it would work in the real world.
The course begins by giving you an overview of the Linux Foundation itself, explaining about the organisation and what it does. This leads nicely into a discussion of the software requirements for the course, focusing on three main distributions – Debian family systems such as Ubuntu, SUSE family systems such as openSUSE and Fedora family systems such as CentOS.
The Foundation is keen to stress that it isn’t recommending one distro over another and also that it wishes to avoid any 'holy wars' by recommending specific applications, given how divided the Linux community can be over such things. The course does, however, give a brief summary of each of the three systems above, as well as providing some key facts.
Another huge feather in the cap of this course is that it talks at some length about the underlying philosophy of Linux, some common terminology, as well as giving a brief nod to the Linux community itself.
Introduction to Linux then gets down to the bare bones, giving an overview of the boot process, the Linux kernel, as well as a simplified explanation of the file system.
The course devotes several chapters to the graphical desktop and various Linux applications. Initially you receive a grounding in adjusting the system time, connecting to networks and installing software. The course then lists a number of common applications for various purposes such as internet and productivity.
True to its earlier promise to avoid 'holy wars', the Foundation takes a neutral stance on these, simply mentioning some of the most common programs for each purpose such as web browsing.
There's also a chapter dedicated to using the command line for working with and searching for files as well as installing software. The following chapter also talks about how to find documentation for help with various programs as well as the invaluable 'man' command. Later chapters cover more advanced uses of the command line such as Bash shell scripting.
While Linux purists may disagree with talking about the graphical desktop environment and applications before letting readers wrestle with the Terminal, the outline of the course follows a suitable learning curve for people who are new to Linux. Such people will most likely be familiar with the point-and-click interface of Windows and macOS, so will come to the Terminal only after they're comfortable with using a Linux desktop environment.
The final chapter is devoted to security, discussing super users, how to secure the boot process and working with passwords, which again makes sense as these concepts will arguably be least familiar to newcomers.
One of the main points in favour of this course is that unless you need a fancy printed certificate, it's free to access and undertake, not to mention the fact you can do it in your own time. You can use the course outline section to revisit completed chapters, as well as to skip over sections you already know about.
Introduction to Linux contains some excellent basic information on the OS and the text is well laid out and easy to follow. You can also refresh your knowledge using the ‘knowledge check’ and chapter summaries.
The only real criticism of the course is that it's not incredibly pleasing in terms of aesthetics. The pages of each chapter have the look and feel of a college lecture – this is particularly noticeable in the sections concerning various Linux families, where screenshots of distros such as Debian, openSUSE and CentOS would have been very welcome.
The course nevertheless remains extremely popular on edX (rated at 4/5 stars) and is an excellent way to familiarise yourself with the essentials of Linux.