6 signs you might be a Linux user

If you're a heavy Linux user, you'll probably recognize these common tendencies.
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Linux users are a diverse bunch, but many of us share a few habits. You might not have any of the telltale signs listed in this article, and if you're a new Linux user, you may not recognize many of them... yet.

Here are six signs you might be a Linux user.

1. As far as you know, the world began on January 1, 1970.

There are many rumors about why a Unix computer clock always sets itself back to 1970-01-01 when it resets. But the mundane truth is that the Unix "epoch" serves as a common and simple reference point for synchronization. For example, Halloween is the 304th day of this year in the Julian calendar, but we commonly refer to the holiday as being "on the 31st". We know which 31st we mean because we have common reference points: We know that Halloween is celebrated in October and that October is the 10th month of the year, and we know how many days each preceding month contains. Without these values, we could use traditional methods of timekeeping, such as phases of the moon, to keep track of special seasonal events, but of course, a computer doesn't have that ability.

A computer requires firm and clearly defined values, so the value 1970-01-01T00:00:00Z was chosen as the beginning of the Unix epoch. Any time a POSIX computer loses track of time, a service like the Network Time Protocol (NTP) can provide it the number of seconds since 1970-01-01T00:00:00Z, which the computer can convert to a human-friendly date.

Date and time are a famously complex thing to track in computing, largely because there are exceptions to nearly standard. A month doesn't always have 30 days, a year doesn't always have 365 days, and even seconds tend to drift a little each year. If you're looking for a fun and frustrating programming exercise, try to program a reliable calendaring application!

2. You think it's a chore to type anything over two letters to get something done.

The most common Unix commands are famously short. In addition to commands like cd and ls and mv, there's one command that literally can't get any shorter: w (which shows who is currently logged in according to the /var/run/utmp file).

On the one hand, extremely short commands seem unintuitive. A new user probably isn't going to guess that typing ls would list directories. Once you learn the commands, though, the shorter they are, the better. If you spend all day in a terminal, the fewer keystrokes you have to type means you can spend more time getting your work done.

Luckily, single-letter commands are far and few between, which means you can use most letters for aliases. For example, I use Emacs often enough that I consider emacs too long to type, so I alias it to e by adding this line to my .bashrc file:

alias e='emacs'

You can also alias commands temporarily. For instance, if you find yourself running firewall-cmd repeatedly while you troubleshoot a network issue, then you can create an alias just for your current session:

$ alias f='firewall-cmd'
$ f
usage: see firewall-cmd man page
No option specified.

As long as the terminal is open, your alias persists. Once the terminal is closed, it's forgotten.

3. You think it's a chore to click more than two times to get something done.

Linux users are fond of efficiency. While not every Linux user is always in a hurry to get things done, there are conventions in Linux desktops that seek to reduce the number of actions required to accomplish any given task. Here are some examples.

  • In the KDE file manager Dolphin, a single click opens a file or directory. It's assumed that if you want to select a file, you can either click and drag or else Ctrl+Click instead. This may confuse users who are used to double-clicking everything, but once you've tried single-click actions, you usually can't go back to laborious double-clicks.
  • On most Linux desktops, a middle-click pastes the most recent contents of the clipboard.
  • On many Linux desktops, drag actions can be modified by pressing the Alt, Ctrl, or Shift keys. For instance, Alt+Drag moves a window in KDE, and Ctrl+Drag in GNOME causes a file to be copied instead of moved.

4. You've never performed any action on a computer more than three times because you've already automated it by the third time.

Pardon the hyperbole, but many Linux users expect their computer to work harder than they do. While it takes time to learn how to automate common tasks, it tends to be easier on Linux than on other platforms because the Linux terminal and the Linux operating system are so tightly integrated. The easy things to automate are the actions you already do in a terminal because commands are just strings that you type into an interpreter, and that interpreter (the shell running in the terminal) doesn't care whether you typed the strings out manually or whether you're just pointing it to a script.

For instance, if you find yourself frequently moving a set of files from one place to another, then you can probably use the same sequence of instructions as a script, which you can trigger with a single command. Imagine you are doing this manually each morning:

$ cd Documents
$ trash reports-latest.txt
$ wget myserver.local/reports/daily/report-latest.txt
$ cp report-latest.txt reports_daily/2019-31-10.log

It's a simple sequence, but repeating it daily isn't the most efficient way of spending your time. With a little bit of abstraction, you could automate it with a simple script:

#!/bin/sh

trash $HOME/Documents/reports-latest.txt

wget myserver.local/reports/daily/report-latest.txt \
-P $HOME/Documents/udpates_daily/`date --iso-8601`.log

cp $HOME/Documents/udpates_daily/`date --iso-8601`.log \
$HOME/Documents/reports-latest.txt

You could call your script get-reports.sh and launch it manually each morning, or you could even enter it into your crontab so that your computer performs the task without requiring any intervention from you.

This can be confusing for a new user because it's not always obvious what's integrated with what. For instance, if you regularly find yourself opening images and scaling them down by 50%, then you're probably used to doing something like this:

  1. Opening up your photo viewer or editor
  2. Scaling the image
  3. Exporting the image as a modified file
  4. Closing the application

If you did this several times a day, you would probably get tired of the repetition. However, because you perform those actions in the graphical user interface (GUI), you would need to know how to script the GUI to automate it. Some applications, like GIMP, have a rich scripting interface, but the process is obviously different than just adapting a bunch of commands and dumping those into a file.

Then again, sometimes there are command-line equivalents to things you do in a GUI. Converting documents from one text format to another can be done with Pandoc, images can be manipulated with Image Magick, music and video can be edited and converted, and so on. It's a matter of knowing what to look for, and usually learning a new (and sometimes complex) command. Scaling images down, however, is notably simpler in the terminal than in a GUI:

#!/bin/sh

convert "${1}" -scale 50% `basename "${1}" .jpg`_50.jpg

It's worth investigating those bothersome, repetitious tasks. You never know how simple and fast your work is for a computer to do!

5. You distro hop

I'm an ardent Slackware user at home and a RHEL user at work. Actually, that's not true; I'm a Fedora user at work now. Except when I use CentOS. And there was that time I ran Mageia for a while.

Debian on a PowerPC64 box, image CC BY SA Claudio Miranda

Debian on a PowerPC64 box

It doesn't matter how great a distribution is; part of the guilty pleasure of being a Linux user is the freedom to be indecisive about which distro you run. At a glance, they're all basically the same, and that's refreshing. But depending on your mood, you might prefer the stability of CentOS to the constant updates of Fedora, or you might truly enjoy the centralized control center of Mageia one day and then frolic in the modularity of raw Debian configuration files another. And sometimes you turn to an alternate OS altogether.

OpenBSD, image CC BY SA Claudio Miranda

OpenBSD, not a Linux distro

The point is, Linux distributions are passion projects, and it's fun to be a part of other people's open source passions.

6. You have a passion for open source.

Regardless of your experience, if you're a Linux user, you undoubtedly have a passion for open source. Whether you express that on a daily basis through Creative Commons artwork or code or you sublimate it and just get your work done in a liberating (and liberated) environment, you're living in and building upon open source. It's because of you that there's an open source community, and the community is richer for having you as a member.

There are lots of things I haven't mentioned. What else betrays you as a Linux user? Let us know in the comments!

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Seth Kenlon
Seth Kenlon is a UNIX geek, free culture advocate, independent multimedia artist, and D&D nerd. He has worked in the film and computing industry, often at the same time.

22 Comments

Great article. I'm a distro hopper. I'm always trying out the latest Fedora or Ubuntu releases. I haven't tried them all but I've given lots of Linux distros a spin. I'm definitely passionate about open source in general.

Your passion for open source precedes you, Don. And I agree: we're all distro hoppers at heart, and I think it's because we're genuinely excited to see what cool things our colleagues have come up with from release to release!

In reply to by Don Watkins

What gives me away as a Linux user is how excited I got the first time I installed a distro that had the Ctl-alt-T shortcut to open a terminal, saving me the time of having to click a shortcut. I even find myself doing that key combination on Windows computers I am working on before I catch myself! Even when something can be done GUI, many things are just faster and easier from a terminal.

Absolutely! those pre-configured shortcuts are so telling. I have to admit, I usually end up customizing most of my shortcuts (I prefer my "global" key bindings to be centered around the Super key rather than Ctrl, which I prefer for application-local shortcuts) but it's always refreshing to see that the distro maintainer accounts for sensible and predictable keyboard shortcuts.

One of the biggest deals for me was when Konsole and Gnome Terminal aligned on what keyboard shortcut was used to open a new tab. That was a momentous occasion, and heralded a bright new future for desktop Linux, IMHO.

In reply to by ShortCircuit (not verified)

Great article! I distro-hop a lot when I'm trying to find the optimal distro for some old antiquated machine that I considered throwing away 10 years ago. :) But, that's one of the beauties of Linux - you can rejuvenate old computers with it!

I sometimes forget why all those distros exist. While *many* of them are "vanity" distros, a lot of them are super useful for very specific needs, rejuvenating "dead" computers being a significant one. It surprises and puzzles me to this day that Linux doesn't get more recognition for its emphasis on being "green" (friendly to the ecology). For that alone, you'd expect people interested in supporting ethical industry to support Linux wholesale.

In reply to by Alan Formy-Duval

You had me nodding along with all of these except distro hopping.

Unless of course you include switching between Linux and Windows, which I do quite often. As soon as I start getting comfortable with either one I decide it's time to switch back. Usually the main reason for my switch back to windows is for gaming or music production.

When using Linux I always go for Ubuntu for some reason, maybe because it's so familiar after using it for so long. Maybe it's time I try something different.

Funnily enough, only #6 applies to me. So I guess I just slipped in under the wire as a Linux user ... :-)

Imma just pick out one misconception; "and that interpreter (the terminal)".
The terminal doesn't interpret commands. A terminal emulator just runs a program, accepts input and shows you the output. Most terminals will run your default shell on startup. For most users this shell is bash (other [better] shells are available) and the shell is what interprets your commands.

I'm sorry but 99% of this article apply to UNIX users, not only Linux.
And if you change the last capter title from distribution to OS/Distribution you are 100% compliant.

You're 100% right. I did try to acknowledge this by including the OpenBSD screenshot. The terminology of Linux and UNIX is tough to write around in a satisfactory way. I'd like to use "Unix" as a generic term meaning "Linux and UNIX" but people don't always understand that I mean both.

As you probably know, "UNIX" itself is a trademark and refers to a specific thing, and specifically excludes Linux, which leads to obligatory phrases such as "UNIX and Unix-like". I sometimes use "POSIX" to imply that I'm speaking of both, but that refers to a pretty low level of operation and wouldn't make sense in the context of user space. The term "Linux" obviously strictly refers to a kernel.

I'd be keen to hear ideas on good, recognizable, generic terms encompassing Linux, BSD, and Illumos.

In reply to by Rodrigo OSORIO (not verified)

I have using Linux since 2002/'03 and I have to admit I'm a "reformed" distro-hopper, but after being through a large selection of distros?...I've settled on just a few: My main driver? is Fedora. It was the distro I first used way back when and I have used it ever since, but I've also "tested" a slew of distros, my secondary is Debian, not Ubuntu or Mint, but Debian....might as well go to the "source" when it comes to the ".deb" camp. I've stopped distro hopping but still have about 7 old laptop hard drives that I use as testers of various distros, right now?...I'm looking at Pop_OS, and MX Linux, both very nice distros! Gotta love this tinkering mindset we Linux users have eh?

If there's one thing that Linux enables, it's tinkering. I've been curious to try Pop_OS, myself, but haven't gotten around to it [yet]. MX Linux seems like it'd be something I'd enjoy, but then again, what's it got that Slackware hasn't got? I guess maybe I'm more reformed from distro-hoppage than I realised.

In reply to by Eddie O'Connor Jr. (not verified)

And that's fine! We can't expect everyone to do as we do. If you've found "The Perfect Distro"...then congratulations!...And as for Pop_OS?...I would recommend you give it a try o nsome hardware you might have lying around. What does it have that Slackware doesn't? NOTHING!...its just another take on the ".deb" camp of distros. I will make note of this though, I run it on a Dell XPS 15" with a very high resolution display, and it also has NVidia graphics in there. With Pop_OS?...they have TWO version of their 64-bit iso...one for standard Intel graphics and one for NVidia!...so if you know what kind of graphics card your device has, or if you install the Intel oriented one and it gives you problems?...you can install the NVidia one and it will work fine. How do I know?..because I installed the Intel one first and the display wouldn't work, and then when I tried again with the NVidia one?...it installed and displays perfectly!

In reply to by Seth Kenlon

I love using Linux for everything I do! This list is very familiar to me sometimes!

Those are some gorgeous screenshots, BTW. Wish I could make my desktop look like that.

I remember the days of distro-hopping, but I've since settled on Fedora and Slackware when it comes to Linux. Within the last 5 years, I've been spending more time in BSD land and I've settled on FreeBSD and OpenBSD, the latter running on my older Toshiba laptop and the newly-revived EeePC 901 that I hadn't touched since 2014 because of btrfs issues that apparently were resolved when I reseated the SSD. I've got FreeBSD serving up files at work using Samba to replace Windows Server 2003 at both my work sites; no one is the wiser.

I can say without a doubt that I have no intention of looking back towards the restrictions of Windows and macOS. The future looks bright with FOSS.

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