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The decision to cover Linux was not automatic There were actually two other contenders or maybe a contender and a half The half-of-a-contender was DOS protected mode, using a 32-bit DOS extender and the DOS Protected Mode Interface, or DPMI This would have been reasonably simple, and I almost went that way I turned back because DOS and DPMI just aren't used anymore by anything that isn't legacy Why make brand-new antiques No, strike that the metaphor is inapt; antiques are by definition valuable Why make brand-new kitsch Besides, DPMI, for all that it works, is really a crutch under a small and very unpowerful OS For all the effort you will eventually put into learning assembly technology, you deserve to work with more horsepower than that The true alternate contender was something called a Windows console application These are special programs written to be run under Windows NT, in a console basically, a true 32-bit text-mode window rather than a 16-bit text-mode DOS emulation window NT console applications are genuine 32-bit programs and are relatively simple to write They can even do cool Windows-ish things such as display graphical message boxes without a prohibitive amount of fuss One problem: You must run them under Windows NT, which isn't cheap and currently isn't all that common On DOS and Windows 9x systems, Windows console applications won't run at all Ultimately, I chose Linux because it was every bit as powerful as Windows NT (especially in the realm we're discussing in this book) as well as free Furthermore, there is an immense amount of free code out there on the Internet written for use with Linux You can install a Linux partition on the same hard disk as a Windows partition, so you don't have to give up your "real work" in Windows to play around with Linux coding Finally, Linux (as the reigning x86 king of the Unix world) is one of the last places where x86 text-mode programming is still done in a big way Windows console applications are little-used exceptions to the GUI rule in the Microsoft world In Linux, text mode is still mainstream That's where we're going Let's see what it'll take to get there
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Yes, I know, patience isn't one of your virtues It's not one of mine either But before you write your first line of assembly code under Linux, there are a number of things that you had better do, or you'll end of up thrashing a lot and wasting a lot of time That's the only way some people learn, but it's hard on the hair and sucks up valuable hours out of your life that you will never have again (This seems not to matter much when you're 18-but when you're 47, as I am at this writing, it matters a lot) The list is short, but plan to spend some time on it: 1 Learn Linux 2 Learn EMACS 3 Learn C programming These three things-surprise!-are way too much for me to attempt to explain in this book I recommend you buy or borrow a full book (or more) on each of them, work through tutorials, and do your best to become a journeyman practitioner in all three areas Allow me to explain why
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The single most important thing to remember if you're coming to Linux for the first time is that although Linux bears some functional resemblance to a grown-up DOS, it's radically different in a great many ways Some of these ways are so fundamental that people who use Linux (and other versions of Unix) on a total lifestyle basis no longer think of them as notable-and, thus, even beginner books will not fully prepare you for the sense of alienness that you'll encounter in your first few days in front of the beast The best example I can give you is this: In the first few days that I began working with Linux, I wrote a short C program that generated a date display The program was trivial, and it compiled without difficulty But when I named the compiled binary program in order to run it, bash (a user shell and roughly equivalent to DOS's COMMANDCOM) told me the file wasn't there! This drove me nuts for some time The executable file I had generated was right there in the current directory, as I could verify with the ls command However, when I typed the name of the file followed by Enter, bash pleaded ignorance of its existence What I hadn't learned yet is that to run a Unix (and hence a Linux) executable, you have to enter the full path name, put the directory in which the executable file exists on the path, or prepend the explicit current directory specifier "/" Absent one of those location specifiers, bash doesn't search the current directory for a named executable file! Yes, to me this is stupid-but I came up through DOS People who started out with Linux or some other flavor of Unix don't think of this as remarkable at all, and there are some technical reasons why it may be better to do things this way But the lesson here is that you need to be very attentive as you learn Linux, and try very hard not to make assumptions based on your DOS or Windows experience If you've never touched a Unix system before, trust me, it's a lot to swallow in a hurry See if there's a local community college course you can take on it, or corral a couple of your Unix friends, buy them beer and pizza, and encourage them to talk while you take furious notes At minimum, buy several books on Linux and read them through, following along at your keyboard and typing the commands as they're presented At the simple user level, Linux is Unix, so any good beginner book on Unix will be useful, and there are currently a multitude of new Linux-specific beginner books on the stands (Books that are specific to a particular distribution of Linux-Red Hat, Debian, or Caldera, for example- are now beginning to appear and these may be even more helpful Haunt the local Borders regularly and keep your eyes open If you install Red Hat Linux, I recommend Learning Red Hat Linux by Bill McCarty, from O'Reilly) In going forward, I am going to assume that you know how to log in and out, navigate around within Unix directories, and all that elementary user-level stuff If I use a term or cite a Unix command that you're not familiar with, look it up in one of those other books that you ought to have close at hand The distribution I used in preparing this book in the late summer and fall of 1999 was Red Hat 6 It's by far the Linux distribution in widest use, and if you adopt it, you will have plenty of company, which in the computer business is always a plus
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