10+ mistakes Linux newbies make

10+ mistakes Linux newbies make

Summary: Here's a look at the most common Linux desktop mistakes by new users. Avoiding these pitfalls can prevent a lot of frustration.


This is a guest post by TechRepublic's Jack Wallen. For more posts like this see TechRepublic's 10 Things blog.

New desktop users can make plenty of mistakes (as can anyone). But knowing which mistakes to avoid, from the start, helps prevent a LOT of frustration. I’ve handled the topic of mistakes new Linux admins make, but never those of desktop users. Here are some of the most common Linux desktop mistakes I see new users make.

Note: This article is also available as a PDF download.

1: Assuming they are using Windows

Although this might seem way too obvious, it’s not. The average user has no idea there are even different operating systems to be had. In fact, most average users couldn’t discern Windows XP from Vista from 7 (unless they are certain Windows 7 was “their idea”). Because of this, new users might believe that everything works (or doesn’t work, as the case may be) as it does in Windows. Make your end users aware that they are using a different operating system — and that it works differently.

2: Trying to make exe files work

Unless you have done your homework and installed WINE, double-clicking those .exe files simply won’t do anything. And when that happens, your end users are going to be upset. I have seen many an end user download an app made for Windows assuming that it will work for Linux. Make it clear to users that Linux, like Windows, will only run applications made for that operating system. This, of course, is tossed out the window when WINE is involved. But new users won’t be using WINE anyway.

3: Choosing the wrong distribution

One of the biggest problems for users is choosing the wrong distribution. Imagine being a new user and selecting Gentoo or Slackware or Fedora! Yes those are all good distributions, but any of them would send a new user running away in fear. If you are in the initial stages of helping a new user out, do yourselves both a favor and choose the distribution carefully. Consider the user’s ability, needs, and hardware before you make that selection. Don’t just jump on board Ubuntu because everyone says you should. A lot of distributions out there are made specifically for new users. Give them all a close examination before making the choice.

4: Not finding software

Because so many new Linux users are migrating from Windows, they think software can be had from the same channels. Most of the time, this is not the case. The new user needs to become familiar with their package management tools right away - especially tools like Synaptic, Packagekit, and Ubuntu Software Center. Each of those tools is a mecca of software where users can most likely find all the applications they need.

5: Sending OpenOffice documents to Microsoft Office users in the default format

I see this so often. New Linux users are proud of the strides they have made but dumbfounded (and sometimes turned back to Windows) because the people they share files with can’t read their formats. Remember, Microsoft products are not good at getting along with other operating systems and other applications. Make sure your new users are saving in file formats that are readable by the Microsoft equivalents.

6: Avoiding the command line

I can’t, for the life of me, figure out why people completely avoid the command line as if it is the most complex tool there is. I know people who can work absolute magic with Photoshop but can’t seem to type a simple rm command at the command line. Why this is I will never know. New users shouldn’t shy away from the command line. Knowing the command line isn’t essential anymore, but it will make them more capable users.

7: Giving up too quickly

Here’s another issue I see all too often. After a few hours (or a couple of days) working with Linux, new users will give up for one reason or another. I understand giving up when they realize something simply doesn’t work (such as when they MUST use a proprietary application or file format). But seeing Linux not work under average demands is rare these days. If you see new Linux users getting frustrated, try to give them a little extra guidance. Sometimes getting over that initial hump is the biggest challenge they will face.

8: Thinking the Windows directory hierarchy translates to Linux

There is no C:\ in Linux. Nor do you use the “\” character. Nor should you use spaces in filenames. These are common mistakes new users make. Trying to map out Windows to Linux, directory for directory, is impossible. You can get as far as C:\ = / and maybe Default User = ~/, but beyond that you’re out of luck. Make sure new users understand that everything starts at / and their most important directory is their home directory (aka ~/ aka /home/USERNAME/).

9: Skipping updates

I have been burned with Windows updates many times. Need I bother mentioning the update from Explorer 7 to Explorer 8? Very rarely has a Linux update fubar’d a system of mine. In fact, I can’t remember the last time it has. So I am always up to date on my systems… and with good reason. Those updates bring new security patches and features to software and should be applied. Having an installation with a security hole is not what your users need, especially on a machine that houses important information.

10: Logging in as root

I really shouldn’t have to say this. But just in case, be sure to tell your users DON’T LOG IN AS ROOT! But… just in case they must… DON’T LOG IN AS ROOT! Instead, have them open up a terminal window and either “su” to root or use “sudo”. And just in case you didn’t hear me the first time, DON’T LOG IN AS ROOT!

11: Losing windows to the pager

The pager is one of the handiest features of the Linux desktops. But over and over, I’ve seen that new users don’t quite understand what the pager is for and what it does. Because of this, they will “lose” their windows from the desktop. Where did it go? It was there a moment ago! I guess it crashed. No. More than likely, they moved it to another desktop. Another desktop? You see where this is going? Help the new user understand what the pager is and how useful it can be.

12: Ignoring security because it’s Linux

A big part of me still wants to boast and say, “In the 12 years I have used Linux, I have never once had a virus or worm or been hacked.” Although that is true, it doesn’t mean I should ignore security. I have witnessed the effects of a rootkit on a Linux machine. They aren’t pretty and data will be lost. Tell your users that they can’t ignore security just because they’re using Linux. Security is crucial, regardless of the OS.

Source: 10+ mistakes Linux newbies make

Topics: Hardware, Linux, Open Source, Operating Systems, Software, Windows

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  • @Larry Dignan: Hire this Man!

    Nice work Jack.
    Dietrich T. Schmitz,Your Linux Advocate
    • Agreed, hire him!

      @Dietrich T. Schmitz,Your Linux Advocate is right, we could do with more positive factual Linux articles like this!
      • Re: "Hire this Man"

        Too late, he already works at Tech Republic, the sister site.
        Been there for some 10 years or more...you guys need to
        get out more often.
        Plus, this "article" was printed at TR on May 5...
        Articles from Jack are informative, but what do you say
        about articles from Ed Bott in regards to Windows?
        "We could do with more positive factual Windows articles
        like this!" You wouldn't?
      • To be honest I only read Ed Bott's articles when it affects...


        ...what I do for a living, which is currently admin a Windows Infrastructure. I don't go over there and trash on Windows, because I know it has it's uses. Right now it's keeping me employed!

        Actually I'm not totally sure what your point is?
      • RE: 10 mistakes Linux newbies make

        @DevJonny I don't think that was targeted at you...considering the history of Schmitz. And he's correct actually.
      • RE: 10 mistakes Linux newbies make

        @wizard57m: I wouldn't, because there's no dearth of positive articles about Windows.
        But I might applaud an article that was high-fact/low-hype about Windows.
      • I'd prefer if they weren't based on old information like this one, though.

        Modern user-friendly Linux distros have Windows executables set to open with WINE by default, have no root account by default, check for new updates automatically, and let you do everything within the GUI.
      • "everything" from GUI

        Not *everything*. For example, KDE3 had a tool for configuring /etc/fstab, but it hasn't been ported to KDE4 yet. As far as I know, GNOME never had that (at least not since 2006).
      • RE: 10 mistakes Linux newbies make

        I am an avid Kubuntu user, and when my now Fiance moved in with me, I helped her get to install Ubuntu.
        Linux Love
      • RE: 10 mistakes Linux newbies make

        And she hasn't looked back since. For me the pivotal moment of glowing pride was when she wanted to get an oldish Windows game to play on Ubuntu, and in my laziness
        Linux Love
      • RE: 10 mistakes Linux newbies make

        when she wanted to get an oldish Windows game to play on Ubuntu, and in my laziness I told her to just boot up her dual boot Windows and play there because I wasn't in the mood to fiddle with Wine to make it work.
        Linux Love
      • RE: 10 mistakes Linux newbies make

        She ACTUALLY harrumphed and pouted at me and said "But I don't like Windows". I got right off my chair to help her then and there, proud as anything.
        Linux Love
      • RE: 10 mistakes Linux newbies make

        One thing that should be pointed out about the Open Office item is, that even if you send your Open Office documents in MS format you Office user targets are still not garaunteed to be able to open them.
        Linux Love
      • RE: 10 mistakes Linux newbies make

        @DevJonny Hello, Apple markets its Time Capusle backup devices has having a 'server-grade' hard drive. A teardown reveals a standard drive.
      • RE: 10 mistakes Linux newbies make

        @DevJonny There shouldn't be a significant cross-browser gap in 2D rendering performance by the time IE9 is released. Chrome 7 has already been released with GPU-driven 2D acceleration, and Firefox 4's latest betas support it as well.
      • RE: 10 mistakes Linux newbies make

        @DevJonny Sadly you're right about several things... The UI doesn't need the stupid Mac induced menu bar (that thing makes my brain hemorrhage it is so often inconvenient)... Also, the UI doesn't have a polished look like Windows and OS X have... Going even further the color scheme was just incredibly crappy!
    • 10 Mistakes Linux Old Hands (might) Make

      @Dietrich T. Schmitz,Your Linux Advocate

      Ok I still class myself as a newbie as far as Linux goes even though I have been installing it and occassionally playing with it since '99. Like Windows, it gets worse as it gets better.

      One thing that should be pointed out about the Open Office item is, that even if you send your Open Office documents in MS format you Office user targets are still not garaunteed to be able to open them.

      I have been hit several times by the fact that Open Office can create bigger word compatible documents than word can handle.
    • RE: 10 mistakes Linux newbies make

      @Dietrich T. Schmitz,Your Linux Advocate

      Any software suite, be it Enterprise 2.0, or another is supposed to deliver some desired results. These results are all that matter, and these in turn ascertain the path to their attainment.
    • RE: 10 mistakes Linux newbies make

      @Dietrich T. Schmitz,Your Linux Advocate Would you want Facebook to implement a News Feed that scrolls separately from the rest of the homepage?
    • RE: 10 mistakes Linux newbies make

      @Dietrich T. Schmitz,Your Linux Advocate Just saw this new community system a few days ago and it seems promising as it provides many features that play an important role in larger community installations and has several modules that suit enterprise needs...