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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.

19 Comments

  1. Marvin says:

    Hell, now I want to try it; perhaps a dual-boot config guide sometime?
    Also, love the look of this page. *applause*

  2. Joeb454 says:

    Hi Nixie 🙂

    Glad to see the forums are helping, though I can fully appreciate your comment regarding posts slipping down. That said, you’d be surprised at how often that doesn’t matter.

    We also have an unanswered post team on the forums who search specifically for unanswered posts 😀 As well as a beginners team, specifically to help newcomers like yourself.

    I’m glad to hear of your positive experience of both Ubuntu and Linux in general, I’ll be adding a link here to my own blog, if only so I can read it easily 🙂

    Joeb454

  3. Espen says:

    Ah Linux the perfect OS, if only someone would make some AAA titles for it… or at the very least some kickass DnD or GURPS games.

  4. Richard Wind says:

    Games is one of my biggest gripes on Linux/Ubuntu. Wine helps with a lot of newer games, but not as it comes installed from Synaptic. A lot just don’t work correctly, anyway. You pretty much have to install Wine, Winedoors, possibly Winetricks, a ton of dll’s, and research the game/program on Wine AppDB.

    Emulators (mame, snes) work well from the terminal, but the frontends aren’t standardized, and there’s no standard place for the files to go to make it run appropriately, so it’s hard to move your knowledge of one to another.
    I put out a brainstorm on a standard gui, but I think I got 10 votes.

  5. Richard Wind says:

    BTW, you might want to install a program like remastersys to backup before you do any updates. I love the fact it burns you a live-cd version of your setup.
    Developers are always working on new ideas, and there’s still a lot of hardware/software regression. With Intrepid, at least you won’t have to worry so much about kernel updates crashing your system.

  6. samotage says:

    Awesome, one more of us and one less of them.

    Great to hear you’ve taken the Ubuntu challenge. I took it about 6 months ago now, and it’s been the most refreshing thing to ditch Microsoft based OS and get some usability, productivity and COOL back into my computing life.

    Have you pimped your gnome yet? I’ve been running an emerald based UI that people just drool over.

    http://ubuntuforums.org/showthread.php?t=796572

    Sam,
    open sourced.

  7. RedOscar says:

    Nixie, your exploration into GNU/Linux reminds me of what I went through nearly 7 years ago. I was having terrible problems getting Win98 and Quicken to play nice together. Also, Norton AV was crying that it wanted me to start paying for my updates or be left vulnerable. I decided there had to be a better way.

    Some research suggested Linux, and I found I even had an old Caldera package lying around, something I had bought at a computer show. Now I’m not a gamer, but I treated my Linux as a quest, and never gave up. Today, I feel quite like the Linux master. You will probably feel the same way soon. Don’t give up on YOUR quest.

    All the best,

    Red

  8. The Great Excelcior says:

    You have probably already seen this, but it is from an article in bit-tech on linux gaming. I’ve never tried Cedega, but it sounds like it might be of interest to someone who is more into gaming and wants to try linux.
    http://www.bit-tech.net/gaming/pc/2007/04/09/Linux_has_game/4

    Now where did I put that Duke Nukem 3d disc? What a mess!

    Transmission to the rescue…

  9. Mike says:

    The sense of community that you feel once you get into Linux is amazing! Finding the right support as a new user is the hardest part, and you’re doing great work toward that.

    It’s also great to be reminded that it’s not just us guy geeks here 😉

  10. MiCK.ca says:

    Hey Nixie, I switched to Linux 6 years ago and have NEVER looked back. I just took the leap and for no reason other than paying large amounts for recording software made no sense to me. I switched first using SUSE and then left to join the world of .deb files instead of RPM. I am a musician so currently I am using 64 Studio. (which is in beta for version 3).

    The guys over at 64 Studio are now based partly on Ubuntu. we have access to the ubuntu repos and certain updates. Debian multmedia is still available too. My wife uses ubuntu…I forced her to switch 3 years ago when Windoze got a virus and i said NO MORE!!

    cheers to your blog..you’ve been added to the bookmarks. good luck on your Linux journey and if you ever decide to build and give those converted videos to family try DEVEDE or dvd author. I use DeVeDe..it also converts on the fly. (no need for commandline, also look for the nautilus scripts that do that same thing by right clicking on the file and telling it what to convert to)

    Cheers

  11. You want the Cadillac of Linux distro’s?
    Try http://www.linuxmint.com/
    Linux Mint is based on Ubuntu.
    They really do a good job of making things work outta the box. No need to do much fiddling. The latest, 7.0 based on Ubuntu 9.04 has bluetooth working outta the box.
    Wireless too.
    About games, forget it. Most games are only made to work with Windows, period. So it is a waste of time trying to make them work with Linux. You wanna play games have the requisite hardware with Windows running for it.
    Sure there are games for Linux but making them work itself is a major job.

  12. Shane(TMAN) says:

    I got a warning on N4G,and I am still there…..
    I am tough!!LOL.
    Oh,ya,I am now using Ubuntu 9.04 and Mint 7.Awesome OS’s,imo.Don’t really like Vista anymore.

    How are you doing anyway Nixie?Long time no talk.

  13. Trail Gnome says:

    NP,
    Thanks for your take on Linux. The videos are simultaneously relaxing and stimulating. And of course informative to this Linux noob.
    Have you done a Wubi post? I have crucial programs that have yet to be ported to Linux, afaik.
    E.g., Garmin Connect. Proven workaround to upload my GPS tracks in Linux?
    Thx,
    TG

  14. Anonymous says:

    I run Debian on my laptop now and had the exact same problem with the Broadcom cards. Even fwcutter and ndiswrapper didn’t solve things. Luckily I found an old Cisco Aironet card and it was simple plug n play 🙂

  15. Anonymous says:

    I’m linking your blogs to HOSEF (Hawaii Open Source Education Foundation) Sure, it’s not the ‘normal’ thing you’d see regarding what most people think ‘education’ should look like but, wth, you’re doing it! You’re putting out the product! So…LEARN FROM THE BEST! I always say! and YOU ‘BRING IT’ girl! 🙂

  16. dom says:

    arent u too hot to be using linux? DAMN !

  17. Thunder says:

    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……

  18. inolle says:

    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

  19. Robert says:

    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…

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