What Happened To Sears?

When I was a child, my parents would drive to the suburbs once a month and we would arrive after what seemed like the longest drive at Kmart. At the time, Kmart was a strange and wonderful place. It was a giant store that had toys, music, clothes, pretty much everything! My parents would usually buy my brother and I, a couple of Hot Wheels cars and that is pretty much all we cared about. I can’t even remember why we would even go there, cause all I remember was the Hot Wheels cars. The only stores that my parents would take us to were grocery stores, so to us Kmart was pretty incredible. As I got older, I grew less and less interested in Kmart. The store lost its appeal to me completely when I became a teenager.

Primarily Kmart seemed to be a store that did not want you to shop there. They had a little bit of everything, but they never really had what you wanted. They sold automotive parts, but somehow never had the bulb or oil filter you were looking for. At the time they sold music and movies, but always at a higher price than stores like BestBuy. They were not known for carrying the best brands. Their registers were notorious for ringing up the wrong price and making people wait in line for price checks. Lastly, it seemed like Kmart employees hated their customers. The only good time to shop at Kmart was when they had an end of the season sale on items. Otherwise I learned to avoid Kmart if at all possible.

Sears Holding NASDAQ

On the other end of the spectrum was Sears. For many years, I would shop at Sears for hand tools, lawn equipment, electronics, and most of all clothes. Unlike Kmart, Sears had better quality clothes for men. In my teen years they also had the famous Sears Catalog and I did order from it a few times. My first stereo system came from the Sears Catalog and I had to pick it up at the local Sears location. For both my parents generation and part of mine, the Sears name was associated with quality and the middle class. Overtime Sears began to gradually decline. Some journalists today are writing about how the decline of the middle class itself is causing a death spiral for businesses like Kmart and Sears, other people are instead pointing to the rise of online shopping from Amazon as the cause of why retail business is suffering. However, I think the reality is a bit more complicated than Amazon Prime members no longer shopping retail.

Today Kmart and Sears are one company. A company that is closing stores, having trouble keeping shelves stocked, and bordering on the edge of bankruptcy. So what did happen? More than anything else, Sears Holding Corporation, the parent company of Kmart and Sears, does not understand who their customers are. This is the problem.

ShopYourWay Is Not Helping

The focus on online shopping is not going to save Sears. If anything it is going to cause it to close more stores. Last year I ordered a sweater on clearance from one of the three websites the company has. The website allowed me to ship to my local Kmart and save on shipping costs. After receiving an email notification stating that my item had arrived, I drove to the store and went to the customer service desk. I was amazed to find out that the Kmart employee had to search for my item on a paper log that was completely handwritten! After a few minutes, the employee gave up and brought it up on the register and then went to go retrieve the item. Comparing this to JCPenny, BestBuy, or even Walmart, the experience was not impressive.

I receive multiple retailer emails a day. When I look at emails from Amazon and BestBuy, I can immediately see that their emails are targeted to my interests. They spotlight specific electronics or books that I am already interested in. The ShopyYourWay emails look like old style newspaper circulars with literally 50 or more items listed, almost none of which I am interested in. The emails are not helpful, they are instead a time waster, as they never highlight anything specific. Sears Holding really does not understand my interests, nor do they value my time.

The Store Shelves

A year ago I was at social event, and I sat next to a retired gentleman. He mentioned that he use to work in supply management. I could not help but vent my frustration and relate what a terrible inventory system Kmart and Sears have. He agreed with me and then related that he was a former employee. In the multiple years that have passed, where Walmart figured out how to do electronic inventory and Target created mom friendly stores with plenty of room for baby strollers, Sears and Kmart stores have not changed physically at all. The competition understands that change is good, that changing layouts and having different types of displays is what keeps people coming back. Target offers Wifi access to its customers. Imagine if next time you went to Sears there was a cafe area where customers could drink Starbucks coffee at the same time they waited for their tires to be installed? Instead the last time I was at Sears, I saw a shoe department that looked like a tornado had just gone through it and boxes were scattered throughout. The employees in appliances were trying hard to stay awake as they stood there looking at each other. The store was almost empty of customers. Walking to another end of the mall, you could find a vibrant, brightly lit, JCPenny. The differences were remarkable.

What To Do

Sears Holding needs to focus on the customer experience in the store. First empower your employees to take care of the customer. Retail employees want to help their customers, so let them do that. Forget about giving customers endless amounts of paper coupons and instead let employees walk around the store and survey customers via iPads. Find out why they are there and thank them with a discount or other type of immediate reward for their time. Provide spaces in the store for customers to sit and talk. A coffee shop or other type of area where customers can make a small purchase and feel comfortable would help keep customers in the store and visiting more.

Focus on products that customers actually want to buy, this is why you had employees survey customers, so use the data. Highlight specific products in the store, show people how to use their lawn mower. Host makeover sessions on the weekend to attract customers to clothing lines and other personal items. Be relentless, about creating spaces for customers to interact with employees and products. The store space should be about customers engaging with products.

Lastly, invest in the stores. Close the store for a week and remodel. The stores need to be bright, clean, and layouts open and inviting to families.

The 4K Home Theater Upgrade

4K LogoWhen technologies go through major upgrades, they are most often evaluated not on the technical merits of the upgrade but on how the market reacts overall to the technology. For me personally, the iPhone had a major impact and it was my first personal cell phone. Most everyone I know today was impacted by the iPhone. Even if you don’t have an iPhone today, you most likely have an Android, and even though Google was working on Android prior to the iPhone’s release, they ended up having to change their designs, once they saw iOS. In the world of home entertainment, the DVD player and HD television have had monumental impacts as well. In 2017, I looked at my home theater and decided it was time to move into the next big upgrade, namely 4K.

The three big components of home theater system is the television, the surround receiver, and a blu-ray player. Once you talk about speakers and sub-woofers, then you get into things that cannot be accurately described in reviews. Audio is something that is best experienced. Lets just say that I have 7 speakers and a sub-woofer, so it is a surround system.

My first component upgrade was the television. Our television was the first flat screen we ever bought. It is nice television for its time, but it certainly paled in comparison to today’s modern TVs. For some reason, in 2017, televisions are more than just screens. Once you decide on a screen size, you still have to decide what type of screen technology you can afford, if it comes with apps (similar to your phone), and even if you can talk to it. Showing my age, I chose a 55-inch Sony. My father’s generation had Zenith, my generation has Sony, and if you are younger than me, you probably have a Samsung or LG for your brand of choice. Sony makes nice televisions, but their price is higher than you would expect. The new Sony television annoyingly comes with Google Android. I say annoying because, I don’t want to talk to my TV, and I don’t want it to tell me what to watch. All I really want to to is turn it on, and then watch a movie or play a video game. Sony needlessly complicated their television and forces me to deal with an Android OS, its apps, and networking. Aside from this the screen is flat, appears bright, and is just awesome for watching movies.

Content Problems

4K is a technology upgrade that is in search of content. The problem is that DVD resolutions do not look very good on a 4K screen. I am a cable cord-cutter, so online content comes from Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime video. The Sony TV includes these apps, and these apps are also on my Apple TV, Playstation, and Blu-ray Player. Regardless, my connection to the internet at home is not capable of delivering 4K resolution streams, so streaming content is not really going to look all that great on the 4K screen. Slow and unreliable internet connections are a barrier to 4K. I will also mention that ISPs with data-caps are also a barrier to 4K adoption. If you do have the internet capacity to have 4k streaming, then Amazon Prime video is a good source for content. Netflix charges extra for 4K content, so you might need to spend a bit more on subscriptions. Content is also in a mix of formats at this time. This means that higher resolutions than 1080HD are available, but they will vary in resolution and HDR color and of course audio formats will vary. It is best to stick with the native apps on the television if your 4K television has HDR as well.

The Cord Problems

HDMI has both been a blessing and a curse for me. While having one cable for both audio and video makes connections easier and cleaner, the DRM protections included with the standard has meant having to upgrade cables, and unplug them multiple times! In the case of my previous Onkyo Receiver, it even meant having to ship the component for repair due to a malfunctioning HDMI board. Yes, HDMI is awesome when it works, but when it doesn’t it is the most frustrating part of any setup. For 4K, it means another round of replacing all your HDMI cables so they will support the 4K speeds and DRM standards. Don’t even think about using your current cables, just go to monoprice.com and buy new ones. Once you have them, set your HDMI connection to Enhanced (at least that is what Sony calls it if you want to view 4K content), and be prepared to spend 20 minutes trying to make sure the blu-ray player syncs up right. In the case of the Apple TV and my Denon receiver, well, just unplug everything, power it off and start plugging one device at a time! HDMI is suppose to be automatic, but it seems that this was more of a goal than an actual reality for some manufacturers. Yes, I am talking about you Apple! Getting any Apple TV to work with your receiver is the opposite of plug-and-play. Note that a lot of devices do not support 4K at this time.

Receiver 4K Support – Pass Through – Upscaling?

Similar to computer companies who put Intel Inside stickers on their laptops, it has also become fashionable for electronics to be adorned with stickers advertising features and technologies. In the case of my Denon receiver, there was some sticker on it that mentioned 4K. But what does that even mean? Unless your receiver was made in 2017 or is newer, it means almost nothing. The surround receiver, much like the Sony television has become more complicated as well. Modern receivers are slaves to the technologies that televisions and blu-ray players implement. This has meant HDMI boards to allow for multiple inputs and network capabilities. For HDMI specifically, this has meant that the receiver has to support the newer and faster speeds of the HDMI Specification, and at the same time come up with a way to not interfere with the DRM protections (HDCP) that are grounded between the television and the media device (Apple TV, Playstation, XBox, Blu-ray Player, etc). It is the DRM protection that is a problem for older receivers. Although my Denon receiver can pass through 4K resolutions and speeds, it does not know what to do with the newer DRM protection that 4K UHD requires. You will need to upgrade to a new receiver in order to get 4K to be passed through your receiver to your 4K television. Before you buy HDMI cables, a receiver or other component to add to your 4K setup, look for these specifications to be at least: HDCP 2.2 and HDMI 2.0.

UBP-X800 UHD Blu-ray

Given today’s economics, the magic price point for consumers is $300. This is the price range that you will see most companies try to hit when it comes to devices. It is a price that customers view as affordable for entry level tablets, to fancy thermostats and wireless routers. It is the same price range that Sony aimed for the UBP-X800 UHD Blu-ray player. At this price range, the UBP-X800 provides an overall good quality player with an assortment of streaming apps. Sony made some trade-offs in regards to physical outputs and front panel display in order to get to this price range. There are two HDMI outputs, however the second HDMI output is for audio only. This allowed me to keep my Denon receiver and have it process audio only, while connecting the UBP-X800 directly to my television via the first HDMI output. Overall the UBP-X800 is the most responsive disc player that I have ever bought. It beats the previous five Sony Blu-ray players that I have. Is it a perfect high-end player? No. There are $500+ players out there that have more features, but again those players are in a different price range.

Is Blu-ray Dead?

In 2017, there are multiple market realities that are going to hold back 4K adoption. You have the obvious factors such as price and for people who already have invested in 1080 flat televisions, the upgrade to 4K is not as compelling due to the limited internet connections. A more detrimental factor might rest not with consumers but with the media companies themselves. As services like Netflix and iTunes became more popular, physical media sales have been declining for multiple years now. The VHS and DVD formats were very profitable, but as the internet became a content delivery platform of choice, it has resulted in a declining Blu-ray format. A trip to your local BestBuy or Walmart shows that the space dedicated to Blu-ray media is shrinking with every store remodeling. Much like music CDs, the availability of Blu-ray movies is becoming more limited. The upsale to 3D Blu-ray was never more than a passing fad and today you won’t find a 3D Blu-ray section in most stores. The movie studios have begun to adjust to the market; the end result being that some films are no longer even being considered for a blu-ray release!

The market at this time has three different physical formats: DVD, Blu-ray, and 4K UHD Blu-ray. The DVD format is not going away. Internationally DVD is still a high end format. You will find in some international markets, people still renting VHS movies. Those markets will be adopting DVD for multiple years and the inexpensiveness of DVD discs will allow DVDs to remain popular. In the USA, step into any gas station and you will find cheap DVDs for sale.

This leaves us with Blu-ray and 4K UHD. At this time, 4K is not an option by itself. Instead you have to purchase a combo-package that contains usually at least a Blu-ray disc and a 4K UHD Blu-ray. These combo-packages are anywhere from $5-15 above the normal price of single Blu-ray or DVD disc. At this price range, the 4K format is being priced as the most expensive of all formats, including digital online delivery. This does not bode well for the future of 4K or Blu-ray in general. The movie studios should consider lowering the price of entry, because the movie industry has multiple problems.

There are younger generations of consumers who do not go to the movie theater and who do not consider spending two hours watching films to be a worthwhile experience. There is then the glaring issue with films not featuring female and minorities as leads. In my opinion these are bigger threats to the movie industry than pricing Blu-ray discs for profitability. These problems and others with the movie industry can only be ignored for so long.

With Blu-ray in decline and 4K discs being limited and expensive, 4K adoption will be slow and might have to be saved by consumers themselves. The mobile phone is for many consumers already a 4K camera with HDR capabilities. If Disney won’t release Empire on 4K, it may be that you can reach for your phone and make your own 4K content.

Final Thoughts

At the end of the day, I come home and sit down in front of my setup, throw in John Wick on the UBP-X800…

People keep asking if I’m back and I haven’t really had an answer. But now, yeah, I’m thinkin’ I’m back.

And yes, it sounds and looks amazing!

Spammers Lack Quality Control

Warning SignThis morning, I was going through emails, and looked at my spam folder and found something that made me laugh. I have been studying up on some development classes online and integer & string values came to mind.

This is what happens when a developer makes a mistake in their spamming scripts and does not have any quality control. I bolded the amount below for emphasis.

Note this e-mail is been directed to you because during our investigations, your email address was found in one of the scam Artists file and computer hard disk in our custody. In reference to this regards, you will be compensated with the sum of US$17, .500,000.00 (Seventeen Million five Hundred Thousand Dollars). Meanwhile, the Africa Union has requested for evidence to prove you are a victim of West Africa scam. In plight to this regards the USIS have appointed a United State base Attorney (Barrister Allen Adams) here in the State to advocate on your behalf and provide the requested evidence to process the payment approval for your fund to be release to you.

IMPORTANT NOTICE: The only fee you’re to pay to the Attorney is the processing fee $350 for procurment of legal evidence to prove to the West Africa Union that you are a victim of scam. Also kindly request him to direct you on how to submit the processing fee $350

It appears to me that for the amount of $350, I stand the chance of getting back $17.50. This does not appear to be much of bargain. Where you place a period matters.

CentOS 7 Linux Commands

CentOS LogoMy preferred Linux distro at the moment is CentOS 7. It is a community-supported distribution that follows the work that Red Hat does with Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL). It is stable operating system for web servers and something I use every day. Unlike MacOS or Windows, which have lots of internet resources for support, Linux is a bit different. It inherits most of the UNIX terminology and documentation, and perhaps because of this, you will find it harder to research things. After a while, I started to make notes for myself and this post is the end result of some of that note taking. Many things in Linux are step oriented. For example, you should not install PHP, before you have Apache or some other web server installed. Below I have documented some of the steps I take after installing a bare minimum install of CentOS 7 without any GUI. I plan on revising this post in the future as I add or revise my post installation steps.

Note: It is assumed that you are aware that all administrative commands in Linux require root privileges, so I have left out the sudo part. Learn more about how to become root on the CentOS Wiki.

Post Installation Tasks:

1. Update System (Update YUM and Install Updates)

This will automatically update the system. The -y option will suppress any prompting to accept the changes.

yum -y update && yum -y upgrade
2. Enable Repositories

Before installing some packages in the next section, you will need to enable some repositories. The most common are EPEL, IUS, and Remi. Unlike Ubuntu, CentOS is a linux distro that caters to users interested in an enterprise platform. This means that CentOS chooses stability over newer updated software. The EPEL, IUS, and Remi repositories aim to bring newer versions of software to CentOS, without compromising the overall goal of stability. I leave it up to you to read about what repositories to enable and why. In this tutorial, we will enable EPEL and Remi.

Enable EPEL Repo:

To enable EPEL, just use the YUM command. If this command does not work, reference the EPEL Wiki for more information.

yum install epel-release

Enable Remi Repo:

The primary reason for enabling Remi is for testing out newer versions of PHP. You can reference the Remi site for more information, however if you primarily interested in PHP, it is better to use the Remi Configuration Wizard to learn about the various way you want to setup PHP. Note that PHP is also available through the IUS repository. For this tutorial we will install only PHP version 7.1 from Remi.

In order to install PHP from Remi, we must enable EPEL. We have already done this so we will skip the first step.

# EPEL already enabled #yum install https://dl.fedoraproject.org/pub/epel/epel-release-latest-7.noarch.rpm
yum install http://rpms.remirepo.net/enterprise/remi-release-7.rpm
yum install yum-utils
yum-config-manager --enable remi-php71
yum update

To install additional packages:

yum install php-xxx

We then can verify the PHP Version and PHP Extensions installed:

php --version
php --modules
3. Programs and Applications to Install

The following commands, applications, packages are useful to install on a new system. You can use yum to install each of them. Skip down to the YUM Commands section to learn more about yum commands. In Linux most anything installed by yum is called an package, however most Windows users are familiar with the terms application or program. I use the term application interchangeably with package.

To install a specific application/package…

yum install package-name
YUM Utils

These are required in order to remove old kernels and use YUM Plugins

yum install -y yum-utils 
nano

Nano is an easy to use text editor for those of us who are not Vim or eMacs masters. I highly recommend using Nano if you are new to Linux.

net-tools

If you installed a minimal install of CentOS 7, the ifconfig command will be missing. Installing net-tools will install ifconfig. This is the equivalent of the ipconfig command in Windows.

nmap

Nmap is a utility for network exploration or security auditing. Once installed, use it to list all open ports and services.

nmap 127.0.0.1
rkhunter

Rootkit Hunter is an easy-to-use tool which checks computers running UNIX (clones) for the presence of rootkits and other unwanted tools.

rkhunter --check
telnet

Telnet is a popular protocol for logging into remote systems over the Internet. The package provides a command line Telnet client.

tree

The tree utility recursively displays the contents of directories in a tree-like format. Tree is basically a UNIX port of the DOS tree utility.

wget

GNU Wget is a file retrieval utility which can use either the HTTP or FTP protocols.

unzip

The unzip utility is used to list, test, or extract files from a zip archive.

zip

The zip program is a compression and file packaging utility.

4. CentOS VirtualBox Guest

If you are setting up CentOS as a guest operating system on VirtualBox, there are some additional steps outlined on the CentOS Wiki.

Directory Structure:

With the Tree command installed, you can get a good view of the system.

tree -C -L 1 /
  • /bin – command binaries (this is actually a symbolic link to usr/bin)
  • /boot – boot system
  • /dev – is for system devices
  • /etc – system configuration files
  • /home – user home directories
  • /lib – library for system binaries(this is actually a symbolic link to usr/lib)
  • /lib64 – (this is actually a symbolic link to usr/lib64)
  • /media – mount point for removable media
  • /opt – third-party software packages
  • /proc – system and process information
  • /root – root user home folder
  • /run – information about running processes
  • /sbin – system binaries (this is actually a symbolic link to usr/sbin)
  • /srv – files for various services
  • /sys – similar to /proc
  • /tmp – temporary files
  • /usr – another place for applications
  • /var – variables files, such as logs

For a more detailed explanation of the directory structure see LinuxInsider’s The Filesystem Hierarchy Standard.

YUM Commands:

Search for an application and description

yum search zip

Display information for an application

yum info zip

Install an application

yum install zip

Check if an application is installed

yum list zip

See all applications installed

yum list installed | less

Remove or Uninstall an Application

yum remove zip

Check What Needs Updating

yum check-update
yum list updates
yum list available

Update All

yum update

Yum Commands for Groups

yum grouplist
yum groupinfo "group name"
yum groupinstall "group name"
yum groupremove "group name"
yum groupupdate "group name"

Repositories are setup under:

/etc/yum.repos.d/

List Enabled Repositories

yum repolist

Display All Repositories (Both Enabled and Disabled)

yum repolist all

YUM Clean Commands

yum clean expire-cache
yum clean packages
yum clean headers
yum clean metadata
yum clean dbcache
yum clean rpmdb
yum clean plugins
yum clean all

Yum Plugins

yum info yum

Yum Delta RPMS

To save bandwidth Linux has a feature that allows you to download only partial changes instead of entire packages. Not all repositories utilize this and the minimal install of CentOS does not enable delta rpms. Enabling this feature is a trade off between CPU utilization versus bandwidth. Learn more about delta rpms.

yum install -y deltarpm

Disk Space:

Use the Tree command to list out directories. To see disk space use the df and du commands.

df -h
du -hd1 / | sort -h

Find Large Files

Use the find command to list out the largest 10 files.

find -type f -exec du -Sh {} + | sort -rh | head -n 10
find / -type f -exec du -Sh {} + | sort -rh | head -n 10
find /home/username -type f -exec du -Sh {} + | sort -rh | head -n 10
find /var/log -type f -exec du -Sh {} + | sort -rh | head -n 10

Find files larger than 100 Megabytes (ignore the false positives for /proc)

find / -size +100M

Find files created in the last day

afind -ctime -1 -ls

Run the YUM Clean command

yum clean all

Remove Old Kernels

This will remove all kernels, except the previous one. Note that if you recently installed a new kernel, you need to reboot the system first and then run this command. You can also increase the count to equal higher than 1 to keep more than the previous kernel file.

package-cleanup --oldkernels --count=1

Delete Old and Rotated Log Files

List out the log files first and then delete.

find /var/log -type f -regex ".*\.gz$"
find /var/log -type f -regex ".*\.gz$" -delete
find /var/log -type f -regex ".*\.[0-9]$"
find /var/log -type f -regex ".*\.[0-9]$" -delete

Additional Resources:

The Linux Web Server

worldIt has been over ten years since I started this website. WebKeyDesign was the outcome of my rebellious nature and my love of technology. In 2005, a few of my coworkers liked having discussions to pass the day and so we setup an online forum on one of our Windows 2000 computers. This lasted for a few months only. As you can imagine our network admin did not share our fondness for discussing the merits of Star Wars versus The Matrix Trilogy. The online forum was shut down and hence I took it upon myself to setup a simple PERL forum script with my ISP. The forum worked well enough and was accessible over the Internet, but my ISP home space was limited and we would quickly outgrow the space allotted. The obvious solution was to open my wallet and purchase a domain and hosting space. In a matter of months our little forum grew into a proper forum solution using Invision PowerBoard and a cPanel Linux host. Interest in the forum ended up waning after a couple of years, and in the end all that was left was my curiosity with all things web server related. WebKeyDesign was the next logical step. The idea was to help people setup some simple websites and keep learning more about web hosting and web servers.

Today, you can find multiple solutions to web hosting and application services. There’s AWS, Google, Microsoft, and other cloud providers who all can provide robust internet services. There are also multiple shared web hosting solutions and virtual machine providers like DigitalOcean. The choices available today are significantly more varied than they were back in 2005. However this post is about where to start and some lessons learned.

The Poor Man’s Sandbox:

Much like in business, your budget is most likely fixed. You can only spend so much. Although you can setup a web server on your iMac at home, or even a Raspberry Pi nowadays, you don’t really want to do this. There are multiple reasons to advise against a home web server setup. Primarily, you want a web server to be stable and reliable. Your home internet connection can go down due to power failure, ISP issues, or even your dog pulling out your ethernet cable. There are just too many points of failure with a home web server. You will want to have a hosted solution.

Any hosted solution is going to cost you. You can save some percentage of funds by paying up front for a year’s worth of hosting, but when you are starting out, it is best to just pay monthly. You want to have the option to try multiple hosting companies. Some people find that a typical shared hosting option is what they are comfortable with and some other people will want to have cloud services like AWS. Give yourself the time and options to try different hosting solutions.

Server Operating Systems:

There are equally a wide range of operating systems on which your web server can run on top of. Given that the title of this post, you already probably know what I am going to recommend, but let’s summarize some of the other options.

Microsoft Windows Server is an operating system that most technical people may already be familiar with. Microsoft has a long history in the server space and today’s Windows 2012 and 2016 servers are available as virtual instances from Microsoft and other cloud providers. However Microsoft systems are not free and have licensing costs. You will find Microsoft to be more expensive than your typical Linux based solution. The other reason to not start with a Microsoft solution is that Windows Server is usually associated with Microsoft’s own IIS web server software. The Microsoft stack is a closed commercial solution with some exceptions.

Pretty much web servers tend to be UNIX based. There are multiple versions of UNIX or UNIX-like operating systems. There is BSD, Oracle Solaris, and then there is of course Linux. You can find hosting solutions based on BSD, but most like you are going to find lots and lots of Linux based solutions. Even though everyone calls it Linux, the Linux system is really the Linux kernel and GNU put together. There are many distributions of the Linux system, but most of them fall into three categories: business oriented Redhat, Debian based, and what I call bare bones like Arch Linux. If you are not comfortable with UNIX, most often you want something like Redhat or the Debian based Ubuntu distribution. For most of us, it comes down to choosing between Redhat and Ubuntu.

Redhat is in the business of supporting business customers and so the Redhat OS is not technically free. You have to pay for support. Redhat creates a free open-source distro named Fedora, from which they make the RedHat OS. Fedora has frequent changes and kind of like a developer’s OS. However from Fedora we also get a community driven stable distro known as CentOS. Most Linux based hosts will run CentOS because it is stable and free. Ubuntu on the hand is a very popular Linux distro that is based off of Debian. Many developers like Ubuntu because it is updated more frequently and is also free. While CentOS concentrates on stability, Ubuntu is updated more frequently. Either OS is a good choice for web services, but my personal leanings are on CentOS. If you will be developing software in the future or as your day job, CentOS is going to be closer to what businesses use for their systems. If you plan on just developing software for your own personal use or just want to learn some things, than Ubuntu is good choice.

Control Panels:

Even though server operating systems like CentOS and Ubuntu exist, an additional cost that does get passed on to you is control panels. In the world of Linux there is cPanel and there is everyone else. cPanel costs are significant and they pretty much control the control panel market. Large hosting providers get cPanel licenses cheaper than everyone else, so they are cheaper when it comes to providing cPanel as part of their solution. cPanel can control a shared web hosting solution, to a reseller account, to a virtual machine, to the entire fleet of physical web servers. It makes supporting and managing web servers easier for hosting providers. There are other hosting providers who have other control panels or roll their own much like Amazon AWS.

There are virtual machine providers like Linode and DigitalOcean who provide basic controls for the virtual machine and nothing else. You are free to control your virtual machine through SSH Secure Shell, or purchase an individual license for cPanel or any control panel on your own. One option is install the free GPL version of Virtualmin, while not as user friendly as cPanel, it can provide most of the functionality of cPanel. However note, that the farther you go away from a typical shared hosting solution, the more you are on your own as far as technical issues and support.

Apache or Nginx:

With a shared hosting solution or reseller account, the web server will most likely be Apache or Nginx. With a virtual machine or cloud solution you may be able to install the web server itself. You can’t really go wrong with learning either of these popular http web servers. Most of the knowledge that you learn from Apache can apply to other web servers, so if you have to pick one to start with, I’d recommend Apache.

Webmaster:

Once you have your sandbox up, it is time to setup a WordPress blog, a simple website, or perhaps write your first web app.

The Linux Web Server is an incredible piece of software engineering. It has allowed me to pursue my interests in computing and communicate to people all over the world. It has quite literally changed my life and I have no doubt that it can change yours.