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Taking my Linux Virginity

There are plenty of places to read about the nuts and bolts of Linux and its various distributions, but few places devoted to the absolute beginner. With the recent focus of some popular distributions (especially Ubuntu) on making the user experience better for people who live in a GUI world and easier to try in conjunction with other operating systems, many people are getting their first look at Linux.

I am one of those people. I first worked with Linux when I installed Ubuntu Hardy Heron 8.04 on an aging HP Pavilion ze2000 series notebook computer. I was desperate for a solution when the laptop kept overheating in Windows XP in just a few minutes, not long enough for me to copy all of my critical data. Eventually the constant crashes made it so that I could not boot into XP, and it crashed/overheated while running the repair utility. I thought I was screwed.

I found information regarding a “Live CD” (a bootable disk that contains a stripped-down O/S enabling you to perform certain tasks) of Clonezilla, an open source program similar to Norton Ghost – I thought I could use this to make a disk image and at least salvage my data. Searching for further information about it, I came across the Live CD of Ubuntu. What the hell, I thought, I might as well see if it would let me copy the files while having full access to the system.

After creating the Hardy Heron Live CD and booting to it, I was amazed. Not only was I able to access and manipulate all of the files on the dying (or so I thought) PC, it was substantially faster than XP while running off of a CD, and no less attractive (to my eyes)! I backed up all of my important data first, then decided to scrap Windows altogether. The pre-packaged applications that were available immediately on the Live CD did everything I needed the laptop to do, so a quick re-format and relatively painless installation later, and XP was gone for good.

It wasn’t all gravy going forward, though. I had to fight with the computer for a week to get wireless working, as the Broadcom card did not have an open source driver available for Linux. I had to use ndiswrapper, an inelegant solution, and eventually happened upon something called fwcutter. To make a long story short, the initial setup was more painful than an equivalent installation of Windows, simply because of the driver support for Microsoft operating systems.

Once that was done the beauty of this OS surprised me. One of its greatest strengths and greatest curses to the new user is the number and variety of options available to you. You, as the user, can make Linux whatever you want it to be. Don’t like the look of your desktop? Install a new desktop manager, or one of a myriad of appearance managers available to you. Need to edit text? Choose one of dozens, both graphical user interfaces and command line interfaces. Need to install software? Do it manually through the CLI/terminal or through the graphical file browser, or add a software repository and receive notices of available updates. You can install software that has already been packaged for your distribution of Linux, or compile the software directly from source code.

As an end-user, the Linux experience can sometimes feel much like being dropped into the middle of a toy workshop. Where with Windows you stand inside of a toy shop where you must purchase toys from a limited number with limited features, with Linux you get to choose from many free, pre-made toys, or create your own from a large number of options available to you, at no cost. With Windows toys if your toy breaks there are people paid to assist you, who have varying degrees of skill and knowledge, but with Linux if your toys break you have a huge community of amateur toy-makers who run from people in the same position as you to toy engineers who develop entire toys from scratch donating their time to help each other in open discussion areas.

A person who is used to playing with other people’s toys can get lost in this sea of choices. I know that I did, when first running on Linux. There is a lot of support available, but sometimes the casual user can have a very difficult time finding specific things that are needed, especially when he or she just doesn’t know what to look for, yet. The forum at www.ubuntuforums.org is superb, with a huge community, but posts scroll off the first page in under 30 minutes, so lots of questions get lost to the ether. So my goal here is to share some of my experiences, and one way I will do that is to keep blog posts updated with short guides based on what I have learned.

My first post will be about what I do after installing Linux (specifically my distribution of choice, Ubuntu), and what these commands mean. With your feedback, I can keep this post, and the others I make, up to date with help for new users. I will also be writing about gaming under Linux, finding and reviewing games that are native to Linux as well as running games that were developed for other operating systems in WINE or in emulators such as DOSBox.

My goal will be reached if just a few new users find help here that eases their frustration enough to give Linux an extended try, even though it is wildly different from what they are used to. Because, while it may not be clear from my story above, the bottom line is that my investment in Linux has paid off ten-fold. My patience led me to be a true convert in that for just about anything other than gaming, I choose Linux, and I can do things now that I could not do in Windows. There are plenty of places that can explain to you the benefits of Linux – here I hope you find a little help, a little patience, because to read those rewards you have to put in some work, and perhaps you will benefit from the work I put in before you.

Have fun, and welcome to a shiny, new, open source world.

I have written about how I feel Ubuntu / Linux can gain market acceptance and take market share away from Windows in this blog post. I would like to keep the Linux Corner a place to assist users, which is why I did not post it here.

  • Thunder

    Hi Nixie, I was always a windows user and thanks to you have been converted from the dark side of the microsoft empire onto the freedom of the rebel alliance of Ubuntu..and love it……i’ve found your vid tuts fantastic to guide me through a few things and have always been well versed in the windows enviroment but for this sexy OS have gotten rid of my latest copy of windows 7 (Yes windows 7) and am excited to be using Ubuntu…Bring it on and looking forward to more tutorials from you……

  • inolle

    who doesnt linux and how i got into was pretty much the same way cept i had a slight taste before hand in college (redhat) presently running opensuse 11.2 with kde 4.0

  • Robert

    And how sexy is the Ubuntu 10.04?!!! I use a lot of icon themes, 3D graphic effects, dock, i customized fully and still interresting! I love the endless options of freedom…