Sexy clones of classic Unix tools

March 9, 2008

Most system administrators grew up with the classic Unix tools. If you’re under 30, chances are you grew up with the GNU versions of them. Everyone’s seen the lists of Unix tools you should be using if you aren’t already (ie if you aren’t using screen, you’re not paying attention. This list is different, it’s of clones of the classic Unix tools that improve them in some way.


Grep results are often slowed by searching version control files. Ack increases search speed by eliminating those files from search. It also has preliminarily support for searching for only certain types of files, making your file search still faster. ack is written in Perl so it’s largely cross platform and has a more complete (ala Perl) regular expression engine. In short time I’ve trained my hands to type ack instead of grep. As the author says, it’ll save you 25% of your time right there.


htop is an improved eye candy version of top. Its biggest features are its LED-like bar for CPU/Memory usage and its color coded process table output. htop looks noisy after some time you quickly see htops benefits in being able to separate out information visually. htop is currently only available on GNU/Linux but the authors have discussed possibly porting it to other platforms.


This replacement for the classic pagers (more and less), has several advantages over its cousins, including showing the file process in percentage and being able to scroll horizontally as well as vertically without line wrapping the input.


Nano is a clone of the popular text editor pico, but unlike its predecessor, nano has many configuration options and even supports syntax highlighting and other features usually only found in more complex editors like vim and emacs. nano retains pico’s small size and will fit on many small computers including embedded systems. If you don’t like vi and need a small editor, nano can more than do the job.


Many of us learned email on the classic unix mailer “pine”. Sadly pine has had a soiled reputation both for its poor security and its licensing issues. alpine is an effort by University of Washington (the makers of the original pine) to solve both these problems and retain pine’s ease of use. If you haven’t already moved on to another mailer like mutt, alpine should be your next logical move.


Fish shell is an attempt to move away from the problems we typically have in shells into something more. Not only does fish support coloring, automatic indentation, increased help and automatic escaping of control characters, integrated help, but it’s just plain easier to use. Unfortunately if you’re in an environment with scripts that assume you’re using a standard posix shell, fish won’t work for you as it breaks posix compatibility in order to make the shell environment easier to use. Fish is still a very sexy project.

Honorable Mentions

Honorable mentions not included in the list above include anacron, sing, gnupg, aspell, and sdd.


3rd Party review of Security Power Tools

March 7, 2008

A short review of Security Power Tools. Sadly the sys-admin is often asked to be both customer representative and police officer for an organization, so it’s best to come prepared.