Confessions of a Linux newbie

You don't just install a new OS, you join a community, most of whom take their computing very seriously.

This year my one-and-only New Year's resolution was to begin the transition to open-source software in general and Linux in particular. I thought I was just setting out to learn a new operating system. In fact, I was entering an entirely new world of computing.

My Linux education began with a lesson in community. I struggled to get Ubuntu, my distribution (or "distro") of choice, to recognize either of my two wireless adapters. One of many comments to the blog post in which I described my wireless woes pointed me to a program that got me connected in no time.

Not long after that, I spent the better part of an afternoon troubleshooting my inability to get Flash animations to play on my Linux laptop. I found the solution on one of the Web's many informative Linux user forums (there's more about these resources below). The site listed all the "extras" I had to download and install. The process taught me that Linux is an on-demand operating system that bundles only software that's truly free (which excludes Adobe's Flash Player and most other media players).

It's more than a product; it's a movement
I soon realized that many long-time Linux users have an emotional connection to the OS, and I don't mean the anger and frustration that Windows veterans feel whenever their PCs flake off. I once made the newbie mistake of referring to "Ubuntu" when I was really talking about the Gnome interface that's used with many different versions of Linux. The erroneous reference made many Linux veterans cringe, and I understand their pain. The prospect of Windows users bringing their preconceived notions of personal computing into the open-source community must be frightening for them.

The ability to apply different interfaces to the OS was a novel concept after years of the Windows monolith. KDE, Gnome, and Xfce are the most popular Linux graphical interfaces, most of which are based on the X Window System, but many hard-core Linux users stick with its command-line interface, which harkens back to DOS. Instead of taking whatever features Microsoft offers, Linux lets you mix and match components and functions to meet your needs and fit your style.

Looking to each other for support
There's something down-right neighborly about the effort so many Linux users make to help other people who rely on the OS. Yes, you'll find no shortage of help sites by and for Windows users on the Web, but in the end it's up to Microsoft to keep the operating system safe and steady. Even though much of the Linux advice is developer-to-developer, I have found answers to many of my Linux questions in various forums dedicated to the open-source OS.

One of the most complete and up-to-date Linux resources on the Web is Linux Forums, which covers all aspects of living in the open-source world and includes plenty of useful tutorials.

Linux Forums tutorial
The Linux Forums site provides many useful tutorials for new Linux users. Linux Forums

Another great site for Linux tutorials is LinuxQuestions.org, which cover hardware, software, networking, and security. The site's wiki includes a comprehensive "Getting Started" section.

More advanced Linux tutorials are found on HowtoForge, though most of the threads in the site's forums seem to lead nowhere. There are plenty of resources for Linux beginners at the YoLinux Information Portal, as well as security updates for various distros and links to other Linux-related sites.

Finally, to keep abreast of the latest happenings in the Linux world, check out the Linux Foundation, which recently published a white paper on development of the Linux kernel.

Tomorrow: get more power out of your notebook computer's battery.

About the author

    Dennis O'Reilly began writing about workplace technology as an editor for Ziff-Davis' Computer Select, back when CDs were new-fangled, and IBM's PC XT was wowing the crowds at Comdex. He spent more than seven years running PC World's award-winning Here's How section, beginning in 2000. O'Reilly has written about everything from web search to PC security to Microsoft Excel customizations. Along with designing, building, and managing several different web sites, Dennis created the Travel Reference Library, a database of travel guidebook reviews that was converted to the web in 1996 and operated through 2000.

     

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