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What Linux n00bs Need to Know

By Katherine Noyes
Dec 1, 2011 5:00 AM PT

It's a sad fact of life that none of us are born experts in much of anything, and certainly not in Linux.

What Linux n00bs Need to Know

Noobs are how we must all begin our adventures in the world of FOSS, in other words, much as we may try hard to pretend otherwise.

Remember those days? Well the folks over at TuxRadar certainly do, and not long ago they launched an interesting little discussion about it for the "ultimate newbie guide" they're planning to put together.

'Anything You Wish You Knew Then?'

"The plan is to explain what Linux is, what free and open source software is, how to get started with it, all the cool things it lets you do, and so much more," the TuxRadar team explained.

Toward that end, they solicited readers' own experiences and insights.

Specifically, "when you first started using Linux, is there anything you know now that you wish you knew then?" they asked.

More than 50 enthusiastic contributions later, it was clear they'd have no shortage of material for a valuable resource. Down at the Linux blogosphere's Punchy Penguin Saloon, meanwhile, the conversation quickly took on a life of its own.

'Just Google It, n00b!'

"Every n00b, to be deemed worthy, must possess the Two Virtues of the Linux Acolyte: Patience and Curiosity," began Barbara Hudson, a blogger on Slashdot who goes by "Tom" on the site.

"Patience, because sometimes things are just different enough to throw you off, and curiosity to keep you motivated when your patience wears thin like a cheap rug from everyone saying, 'Just google it, n00b!' or 'RTFM!'" she explained.

Also, "please don't handicap yourself by making your first experience be on some old oddball hardware that will be so slow that it turns you off the whole experience," Hudson added.

'Go for the Quick Default Install'

To make things easier, newbies should "just go for the quick default install the first few times -- you're just getting your feet wet, and you're going to wipe it down and install a few different distros until you find the one that's right for you, so don't sweat things like getting partitioning picture-perfect the first time," Hudson advised.

"It's your new toy -- play with it, note what you like/hate about it, and move on to the next," she added.

Meanwhile, when obstacles arise, "remember: if the man page for a particular command is too cryptic (or wasn't installed), 'apropos' + the command name should give you lots of related material," Hudson pointed out. "'Apropos' might even help keep you from looking like a n00b online, which makes it quite apropos for n00bs."

'Go Ahead and Try Something Hard'

"Try something hard," suggested consultant and Slashdot blogger Gerhard Mack.

"You can install and maintain your average Linux distro without ever touching the command line, but you don't learn as much that way," he explained. " Once you have mastered an easy version of Linux, go ahead and try something hard such as Linux From Scratch."

Slashdot blogger hairyfeet was more cautious.

'There Is No Escaping the CLI'

"Ask yourself this question: 'Am I willing to learn the command line, and to invest the time to learn bash and how to edit bash scripts and commands?'" hairyfeet advised. "If the answer is 'no,' then you shouldn't be on Linux -- it's that simple."

Hairyfeet has tried "every 'user friendly' distro under the sun," he said, "and there simply is no escaping the CLI -- either something goes wrong or an update borks a driver and you'll end up in the CLI."

Ultimately, then, "Linux is like that classic muscle car, in that if you are willing to put in the hours and don't mind spending your weekends under the hood, you'll have yourself a sweet ride at the end of the day and the knowledge you built and tweaked it with your own two hands," hairyfeet concluded. "But if you aren't willing to put in the work, all it is gonna do is make you frustrated."

'Pass the Help Forward!'

Chris Travers, a Slashdot blogger who works on the LedgerSMB project, had three suggestions for newcomers to Linux.

"The first one is have someone sit down with you and answer your questions, in a hands-on way," he explained.

"The second one is to get someone who is friendly and listens, who can help you ramp up your skills," he added.

"The third one is, please pass the above help forward!" Travers concluded.

'There Is Nothing You Cannot Do'

Last but not least, blogger Robert Pogson had numerous specific suggestions on the tip of his tongue:

  • "In Debian GNU/Linux, 'apt-cache search keyword' is your friend;
  • 'apt-cache search keyword | grep keyword' is your lover -- with these two commands you can search for and find any package of 30K packages in the repositories and install them in seconds with 'apt-get install package';
  • Using the APT package manager, you update all your packages, applications, utilities, and Linux itself with a single command: 'apt-get update;apt-get upgrade';
  • In GNU/Linux, any PC can be a client, a server, or both simultaneously because no one is trying to charge extra money for such functionality;
  • If you have more than one GNU/Linux PC (or virtual PC), learn to use the X window system and openSSH to manage one PC from another and to interact with one PC from another";
  • and finally, Linux Girl's favorite: "There's nothing you cannot do with GNU/Linux."

Katherine Noyes has been writing from behind Linux Girl's cape since late 2007, but she knows how to be a reporter in real life, too. She's particularly interested in space, science, open source software and geeky things in general. You can also find her on Twitter.

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