What Linux n00bs Need to Know

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

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.


  • My kids ( 7 and 9 year old ) knows how to install packages in Linux. No need for command line just the open the software center or software manager. Select whatever package you want and click install. All is already there from education to programming. What are we waiting for try it….

      • And a Linux disc and let them loose I DARE you. you know what will happen? drivers will be borkied things will be broken, it’ll be a mess. Sure your kids can do it because YOU ARE RIGHT THERE to be a free admin!!!

        If I gave away lifetime free admin service ya know what? it would work for Suzy too, and i’d be in the street living in a box. NUMBERS DON’T LIE. Do you think its a conspiracy? did you know Asus, which started the whole netbook thing with a Linux OS, won’t even sell netbooks with your product anymore? Know why? because they were going broke thanks to drivers getting busted and support costs shooting through the roof!

        Again its either or folks, you can talk about your genius programmer kids or a world where an asteroid hits Redmond and Cupertino simultaneously or any other scenario that will never happen but the end there is just TWO doors, okay? Door A, you let go of CLI, you tell Linus to take a hike or give you an ABI so drivers NEVER break, your choice, and you make everything GUItasic. Then suddenly like magic all these OEMs start carrying your product, guys like me have Linux boxes right next to the Windows ones, suddenly you are like Chrome and just shooting up the charts!

        And then there is Door B, where you hang onto your 70s, terminal and your "Copypasta makes me leet" attitude and you all pat each other on the back and wonder why nobody touches your OS. its stagnant, its going nowhere, its Dead as Disco.

        The ONLY thing that can be claimed as a "hit" in TWENTY YEARS is a version that Google TOOK AWAY FROM YOU and told Linus to take a hike over. its all GUI, NO CLI, and easy peasy. Wow, kinda like what I’ve been saying FOR FRICKING YEARS PEOPLE!

        I swear to every deity in the universe its like mass insanity, its the only explanation how otherwise rational people can ignore the facts and figures and be so deluded.

  • "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."

    I’m sorry, but that’s just nonsense in my opinion.

    I’ve been using Linux for over 10 years as a "USER" – without having to learn command line. On top of that I’ve spent 10 years trying to dispel this very myth – one that stops people from trying Linux.

    Modern distros like Mint are no harder to use than Windows and don’t require you to know any more "commands" than Windows does.

    • Even with copy + paste, you should be familiar with navigation, file management (rm, cp, and mv), and with the package manager of the distro. as well as the manual system. That way you have enough of a clue to actually apply the copy and past in the right spot.

      There are also some very powerful tools that are command line only like rsync that is worth knowing for the home user if they do any sort of backup, especially over a network.

      • You are talking about ONE machine which you most likely DESIGNED around Linux, making it more like a Mac than an average windows box which is what the community constantly says you can use.

        Well i hate to break the news to ya but I run more boxes and laptop through my shop than you’ll most likely EVER touch and you know what i’ve found? Its ALWAYS something, its the GPU, its the sound (^&%&%*% Pulse Audio *&^*&^!) or the network, or the wireless, or the printer, its ALWAYS something.

        Tell you what, take a box or better yet a laptop and try my "Is it safe? test for yourself. this test simulates getting HALF the amount of updates your average Windows PC gets, ready? download ANY distro from THREE YEARS AGO and then after making sure ALL the drivers are working, i’ll give you CLI here as YOU are the builder NOT the customer, then update it to current. no cheating by trying to use some half baked "LTS" which is code for "really old software" and which no retailer can plan his sales around and take ANY bog standard distro, ubuntu, mint, whatever, and YOU try it.

        I can already tell you since ALL the major DEs got gutted in the past 3 years that will be a mess, most likely if you use anything other than intel (and even then ONLY certain intel chips) then you are gonna have problems there, i also saw network AND wireless failures and I can’t remember a single one having 100% functional sound, you got static or silence.

        Meanwhile i have Windows XP boxes that have been in the field since 2001, that is going on TWELVE years with NO need for me other than to add hardware. That is three service packs, probably 4000 patches plus, and ALL the drivers are working!

        2014 is coming up community and its up to you. Give me a product I can actually sell, where everything "just works" and STAYS working after even years worth of updates? i’ll be happy to push Linux on every XP box that comes through the door, there are tens of millions of XP boxes and laptops, many frankly obscenely overpowered. dual cores, plenty of memory, decent GPUs, should be a cakewalk right? otherwise me and every retailer will be scrambling for Win 7 Starter and Home keys.

        because in this business rep is everything, you lose your rep you might as well close the doors and hit the lights. And right now with Linus twiddling and fiddling and the DEs starting over and the constant driver borkage to this retailer frankly it looks more like amateur hour instead of a solid OS that is easy enough to use for Suzy the checkout girl. heck look at the post before me actually trying to explain away CLI by saying "its only copypasta" while ignoring you have to 1.-Know EXACTLY the make/model/rev of hardware for copypasta to even bea shot. 2.- you have to know WHERE to find the correct copypasta which depending on the hardware and your level of knowledge could be like a needle in the haystack and most importantly 3.- you often have to TWEAK said copypasta because it was written quite specifically for Make Q/ Model R/ Rev S and you have make Q/ Model S/ rev T. Do you HONESTLY think suzy the checkout girl is gonna have the "skillz" to do that? Because i don’t give away free lifetime support friend and on Windows frankly with a decent Av I don’t have to, it all "just works".

        • You’re right – to a degree.

          If you have a standalone workstation that just connects to the internet and you run your apps, and save the data to your standalone station, then I agree. But this is about as far as you can go.. yes it WILL work in this fashion, but most of us can’t stop there.

          If I bring my laptop to work it needs to connect to windows shares because most everyone uses windows. If I bring the same laptop home and connect it to my own network it needs to connect to shares in my own LAN.

          It’s all in what you plan to do. In this scenario I need to know how to edit /etc/fstab as root to do this – without the CLI I’m screwed.. I can’t ‘kate’ fstab (I’m a KDE user) because I’m not root and I cant save the changes. I need to know how to become root and edit the fstab file. Not an easy task under a GUI but a few simple steps with a CLI.

          Does it scare ‘normal’ users? probably so, but we all had to learn it to use Linux properly.

          This is only one example – there are hundreds more. If you want a superior computer you know Linux is your choice. If you want to control your superior computer then learning a few CLI commands is in your best interest.

          GUI interfaces for the most part call CLI commands to get the work done, and do NOT include most of the options available to you like the CLI offers. Yes, you need to learn where the keys are on the keyboard, and learn a handful of commands – but what new gadget on the market doesn’t make you learn something?

          Everything new has a degree of a learning curve to it. It’s only a matter of dedication and discipline to learn it – may it be a new iPhone app or a CLI.


          • Dear Hairy Feet,

            The article is Linux N00bs!

            By definition we just want an escape from Win/Mac, (and are maybe a bit more enquiring).

            Suzy the checkout girl IS gonna have the "skillz" to do that!

            It’s DIY for the vast majority of us, and we do do it ourselves.

            Elitist tosh isn’t helpful in an article about N00bs.



            (Ageing but still Geeky)

          • These days, (in the UK there are three) Linux Magazines are very helpful.

            How To articles etc.

            Online articles, wikis, even Linux Insider.

            And (as I said before), the Linux forums are very, very helpful.

            We were all n00bs once, (unless you learned it in college), and we picked it up as we went along.

            Please don’t be so dismissive and condescending.



            (Old Dog still learning new tricks!)

          • Its a simple basic question: Do you want to "Win" and by that I mean have REAL share, and with it the drivers, software and hardware support and all that comes with it, or do you want to be a hobbyist OS with less numbers than the margin for error in most polls?

            Its just THAT simple folks, it really is. because Suzy will NOT play your little bash reindeer games. Know what the definition of insanity is? its doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. Its been TWENTY YEARS and the public has made it loud and clear that CLI is a big DO NOT WANT. Its as dead as Disco Stu’s wardrobe. Frankly they don’t even have start>run in Windows home anymore, its hidden way in the back of the start menu where you would never find it if you didn’t know where to look, why? because it IS NOT NEEDED. The same for OSX, in fact I bet both apple and MSFT could remove CLI access with their next patches and more than 98% would NEVER NOTICE.

            This is reality folks, its not a game, and your competitors are bringing their A games. Thanks to windows 7 MSFT recently had one of their biggest quarters EVER and Apple is now one of the top 3 corps in the ENTIRE USA.

            Its really up to you guys, we retailers simply don’t have the manpower nor the time to just take Linux away from you and build our own like Google has done with Android or TiVo did with their device. So YOU have to decide folks, and the clock is ticking, apr 2014 will be upon us VERY soon: are you in it to win it, or do you want to stay a hobbyist and programmer’s toy passed around on IRC? Because as it is EVERY retailer that has tried your OS has ran away from precisely the problems i’ve outlined. heck Asus started Linux on netbooks and they won’t even sell it anymore, why? high returns and too much support costs that’s why. Best Buy, Walmart, Staples, all have run away. Doesn’t that tell you anything?

            Any other group would be saying "What are my competitors doing right that I’m doing wrong?" but instead just as we saw here today we get 20 apologists talking about how leet and powerful CLI is and how Suzy should just "embrace the power of CLI" like its the fricking force. Reminds me of a song "he’s a real nowhere man, sitting in his nowhereland.." If an OS falls in the forest and nobody uses it, does it make a sound? that is up to you community, me i’m gonna be scrambling for Win 7 starter CALs because frankly i believe you will continue down this dead end street. Now be sure to call me nasty names and tell me how I should be teaching grandma how to script, insane, that’s what it is, mass insanity.

          • I really think you (Hairyfeet) and I are on the same side of the fence but standing in different buckets. You prefer the windows bucket and I prefer the linux bucket – but the reality is that we’re both on the same side.

            I’ve been searching for a Linux for Suzy for years and haven’t found it yet. Most Linux problems seem to stem from proprietary hardware and their drivers. Others from insufficient GUI support. Some poor hacker has to spend countless hours trying to build something to either support something that’s already there GUI style that calls a CLI routine, or worse yet has to try and reverse engineer a new piece of hardware because the manufacture won’t release it’s code to make the damn thing work.

            My perfect Nirvana would be Windows going Open Source – there’s plenty of money to be made without charging for an OS. Then we all win, and soon thereafter Windows apps don’t need to run under a VirtualBox (or worse yet Wine).

            Personally I’m working on an electronic circuit that hasn’t been thought of – and I’m rather proud of it. Manuf’s of such devices just LOVE to keep their schematics a secret. Personally when my project is done it will be Open and I will welcome those that know more than me to add/modify my design so it does nothing but get better.

            Windows doesn’t do that – that’s my turn off, and why I’m still searching for poor Susy and probably always will be.

            Will I build my own Linux? Yes – it’s in the plan, but it’s a lot of work, and I won’t get paid for it (except for the support if they opt to pay for it). Why? Because I don’t believe people should pay for something that can be made to work for free. For crissakes they already paid enough for their hardware. If I get a call, I want it to be one that requires service – not a call about something I built.

            The Windows OS has come a long ways, and I’m starting to gain a degree of respect for it. But it has a long ways to go, and opening their source would be a BIG first step.

          • Is that REALLY what you are advocating? because THAT is why Apple doesn’t care about darwin being open, they aren’t selling iOS and OSX they are selling iShiny hardware that just happens to run OSX and iOS. do you REALLY want an Apple style MSFT where you WILL take what you are given and like it?

            And frankly i’m not "pro MSFT" I’m pro home user, you know, the people that are constantly insulted by the Linux community and would not take your OS on a bet? yeah those people. I use Suzy the checkout girl as an example because THAT is who I advocate for and sell to, the checkout girls, the guy that built your house, the person behind you at the bank.

            And honestly the delusional mindset of the Linux community makes sure that THOSE people, the people you need to get all those hardware specs and driver support and software programs ported for simply will never touch it, and it isn’t because of anyone but YOU Linux community, because you are a bunch of elitist stubborn ubernerds that think a 70s era terminal somehow makes you special.

            But it don’t make you special it makes you 40 years behind and counting. why do you think nobody uses it but you? i’ll tell you why, because as a 15 year Linux admin told me "If you give a Windows and Linux admin a job that the Linux guy has done repeatedly? Then the Linux guy WILL win. if you give them a task that neither has ever done? The Windows guy will be home making a sandwich before the Linux guy is even done reading man pages and Googling"

            GUIs promote exploration and learning new things, CLI promotes rote memorization and copypasta. If the CLI was "better" in ANY way then there wouldn’t even BE desktops, there would just be blinking cursors like the VIC20 days. CLI is dead, its disco, its 8 tracks. its good for a SERVER OS, where you have guys paid to deal with it and who do the same jobs over and over but I am NOT an advocate for server guys and if you just want to be a server OS fine, just admit that and stop pretending already!

            But for HOME USERS the CLI is a giant FAIL and a DO NOT WANT and there is NOTHING, not a single thing you can ever do or say, that will make them embrace a 1970s throwback terminal without even spellcheck and autocomplete. give it up already! Either get with the times or stop pretending you have even the slightest chance in the world to become anything more than what you are, a server OS with a hobbyist community that tries to force it into a desktop role it isn’t designed for. your numbers were 1% 4 years ago, they are 1% now, they’ll be 1% 5 years from now if you continue on this path. your choice guys I can only show you the door but YOU have to decide to walk through it. the clock is ticking, apr 2014 will be your LAST chance as Win 8 will get Ballmer fired and then you’re sunk. Vista was a disaster yet an OS with a $1000 barrier to entry STOMPED YOU while you gained NOTHING. Doesn’t that ring any bells here at all? Any lightbulbs going off?

          • I want my computer not to treat me like I’m dumb, and I want it to do as I tell it. This means small programs piped together, and configuration data in text files.

            Would I like to see a DE that was less transparent and had more integrated control GUI’s and better auto-configuration? Yes, but only so long as the first requirement is not compromised.

            Mac in fact has bash installed by default and all the go-to *nix utilities.

            "GUIs promote exploration and learning new things, CLI promotes rote memorization and copypasta. If the CLI was "better" in ANY way then there wouldn’t even BE desktops,"

            So what’s the gesture for an if loop? How do you get one GUI program to communicate with another if they weren’t explicitly programmed to do so? And once you do learn it takes longer. I can flip four or five options in a shell command in less time than it takes to read this sentence.

            Sure GUI’s have advantages, not the least of which is providing effective metaphors for common tasks, (trash, folders, icons differentiating file types) however they also have glaring weaknesses. (They aren’t scriptable and they aren’t pipeable)

            They both deserve a place in a modern desktop system, even in only one in every ten or twenty might appreciate the CLI.

            Weather Shuttleworth can make it work for Suzy, I don’t know, but he is in the best position to do so. There’s money in it for him if he does.

          • Seriously I want to know, you are asking about a GUI for a "for’ loop…are you nuts? THIS, this right here, is why Linux will never go anywhere. We have spent nearly a dozen posts talking about CONSUMERS and you bring up for loops? Do you HONEST TO GOD believe Suzy the checkout girl is writing for loops? Delusional much?

            You have a choice, its an either or, ready? you can be a niche programmers hobbyist OS, or you can appeal to the masses and gain share okay? you will NEVER do both because you have proven beyond a doubt that it takes a mindset that can delude itself into thinking the checkout girl is writing for loops.

            I’m sorry but you people are just nuts, you really are. you claim you want to be popular, you claim you want the drivers, and the software, and the support, yet when we retailers practically draw you a map and hand you a GPS unit you throw it in a fire, shoot yourselves in the foot, and then sit in the middle of the racetrack to write a bash script.

            I don’t know ANY other way to put this so here goes…THE WORLD IS NOT MADE OF PROGRAMMERS okay? Its not turtles all the way down either. The world is full of people that is obviously as alien to you as a Martian or we wouldn’t even be discussing for loops. have you looked at your competition? notice there is no CMD on windows anymore? or even Start>Run? Its buried waaaaaay down in the back of the accessories category where Suzy will NEVER SEE IT and NEVER USE IT because it is NOT NEEDED.

            but that is the problem in a nutshell, you LIKE CLI, you WANT CLI and instead of accepting this makes you a teeny tiny niche and ensures you will never gain share because of it you make up all these scenarios where Suzy will take your OS or grandma will start taking C programming classes. Well it ain’t gonna happen folks, i got better odds of winning the Powerball than you do of reaching even 5% as long as you stick with CLI.

            Let it go or give up, that’s your choices. there is NO door number 3 here, as twenty years of non linux adoption should have proven right now. Heck users will give up computers completely and just buy iPads before they will use CLI again, its a 70s throwback to them and useful ONLY to geeks like you. but you are 0.0003% of the population friend, sorry but that’s the facts. change or lose, there is no third option.

  • Oh Dear!!

    Kind of negative!

    Forums, forums, forums. So helpful and the Linux ones are the best.

    Bash, CLI? Cut and paste is your best bet, (for us ordinarily human geeks).

    I think you risk putting lots of people off by sounding too techy. It’s not so difficult being a n00b.



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