Ten lessons Linux rookies need to learn

Ten lessons Linux rookies need to learn

Summary: A few basic facts could be all that stands between a novice user enjoying the Linux operating system and a very bumpy ride, says Jack Wallen


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  • Take one... it's free!

    7. It's free
    I'm always shocked at how much trouble users have understanding the concept of open-source software and the fact that most of it is free. Their response is often to think the software can't be any good. Of course, in a consumerist society the idea that something free can be good may be difficult to grasp. In fact in many cases, open-source software is not only better for society, it's better for your computer.

    Image credit: Tonx/Flickr

  • KDE desktop

    8. If you don't like it, you can change it
    This point is another strange concept for new users, but one it's important for them to understand. Unlike Windows and Mac, if you don't like a Linux desktop, you can change it. Of course, swapping desktops is probably something a new user will not do lightly. But knowing that changing is an option can help new users understand how much flexibility they have. Besides, working with a desktop you don't like can be frustrating.

    I prefer to demonstrate the types of desktops available and let them choose. Usually, they will go with what they're somewhat familiar with — KDE (pictured) is a good choice for most people — but on occasion a new user will go with something completely different just for the experience.

    Image credit: kde.org

  • Feet up on desk

    9. Not all hardware is created equal
    New users need to understand that not every piece of shiny new hardware will actually function properly with the Linux operating system. This is far less of the issue it once was, but for some pieces of hardware — such as multi-function printers, some wireless cards, and laptop displays — the problems still persist.

    For those pieces of hardware, solving the problem often merely requires downloading proprietary drivers. But on other occasions it may involve switching to a different distribution altogether. Nevertheless, Linux has come a long way in this area and continues to expand and improve.

    Image credit: Bill Ruhsam/Flickr

Topic: Operating Systems

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  • I support a bunch of Windows users at work, and a mix of Linux and Windows users outside of work, mostly as favours. My observations are :

    "Most of the computer tasks people perform today are done through a web browser"
    In my experience, this is not true. Most of the "tasks" with problems that I am ask to sort out are games, next comes office suite and finally web browser.

    "There is no C"
    Most Windows users I speak to have no idea what "C" means. They know "My Documents" at home, or the "N drive" (or other random letter) at work.

    "you do need to prepare them for any unfamiliar machine behaviour that you think they are likely to encounter"
    You mean like a machine that doesn't randomly crash? :) I am work on my XP box which constantly forgets the mouse has buttons that click. It's an o/s fault which cropped up after some update. I'll have to re-install one day.

    "Installing software is a different process"
    Not really, they still get me to do it for them.

    "It's free - it can't be any good".
    Most home users think that all software is free; they just download whatever they want from Pirate Bay and ask me to sort it out when it doesn't work. I quick re-install from the OEM disk is my answer to this.
  • Excellent article and I agree with you on these points that you bring up. What I've found is that those that have been using Windows for many years, expect GNU/Linux to be Windows. GNU/Linux is not Windows, just as you mention. Most users that are migrated from Windows to GNU/Linux can click on menus and open applications just the same, without any problems. I especially prefer the Gnome 2.x desktop for new users and have found they can easily find what they need. But finally one of the largest bonuses for me, is the support after they start using GNU/Linux. First, I don't get those calls anymore about malware, system corruption, and all of the failures I did when they had Windows. And that's good for both of us. Also, when there is a feature or program that is not installed, they are able to install it without calling me just as you mention. In the case that they want me to install it for them, I can ssh in and do it while they work, or I remote in with VNC and do it that way, and give them a quick demo. I use Fedora which all of the software is usually included within the distribution which makes adding software super easy. This also prevents the users from installing malware which used to happen on Windows quite frequently.

    Overall, if the user can move to GNU/Linux, it is well worth the effort to get there.