Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Eight Linux Tech Tips for Beginners

If you are someone who is diving into Linux for the first time it can be a somewhat daunting task learning all the ins and outs of the operating system. We are all beginners at one point or another. The following is a list of tidbits and tips I have learned over my years working with Linux that will help you learn/maintain your Linux based operating system.

1.) If you can't find what you are looking for - ask. Odds are the Linux distribution you are trying has a community forum where you can ask a question, if you are looking for something distro-neutral is one of my personal favorites, or if you are looking for something a bit more "real time" #Linux over on is typically very helpful. Regardless of where you ask, please remember to ask smart questions.

2.) If something breaks, do not simply reinstall your operating system. It is worth the time to debug the issue and actually fix it. If something became messed up once, odds are it might mess up again and fixing something is typically much quicker than having to reinstall each and every time (once you know what you are doing).

3.) The following mantra describes what I think is the best way to learn the guts of your operating system "If it isn't broken, fix it until it is, find out what went wrong, and fix it" By this I mean tinker with what you can, change settings, add programs, remove programs, compile things from source, whatever it is you want to learn.

4.) If you are unsure what you want, then try as many different distributions as possible (they are free after all). Different distros use different default application sets, package managers, display managers, and many other things. Odds are you will find pieces of each distro you like and pieces you don't like. Once you have this figured out you can make an educated decision on which one is right for you.

5.) Now even though all those Linux distros are free downloads, burning hundreds of CDs/DVDs can become a costly endeavor. If your system is able to boot from a USB drive, I highly recommend picking up a 4+gig flash drive so you can use Unetbootin instead of discs.

6.) Linux is not Windows. If you are trying it with the expectation that it is a "Free version of Windows" you are going to be in for a world of frustration and disappointment. You should want to use Linux because it is a better operating system than Windows, not because it is cheaper.

7.) If you discover you love Linux and all this free software, that is great! Just do us all a favor and don't be a "Linux Zealot" As much as some of us would like it to be Linux is not the be all end all for all computer operating systems. It is not going to work for everyone. Forcing someone who does not want Linux to use it is only going to cause both of you a world of headaches. There is a right way and a wrong way to promote your operating system of choice.

8.) Finally, if you haven't already, it is time your become acquainted with the Linux Answer Machine. The reason for this is that rarely are you the first one to attempt whatever it is you are trying to do, finding someone's success (or failure) story can often save you hours of headache and hacking.

Hopefully you learned a thing or two! If you have your own tips you like to share with Linux noobies that I did not list here let me know by dropping a comment below.

~Jeff Hoogland


  1. I like the tip about playing with the system until you break something, then fix it. Playing with the settings and what-not teaches you what you can do, and un-doing the damage makes you more able to fix something unexpected later on.

    But before someone tries this, I would recommend having a live CD or bootable USB on hand. One time I was editting my graphics device settings and messed it up and ended up booting into the console. Now what? I didn't even know enough shell commands to open a relay chat, and the GUI was gone so forget the "linux answer machine". A live CD or bootable USB can be a lifesaver in situations like that.

  2. This is the least useful list of "beginner linux tips" I've ever read.

  3. In response to the first commenter - you can access Google from the command line via Lynx or Links CLI browsers. Hey maybe that can go in the list of "tips" since the list has nothing useful in it to begin with.

  4. If you know of a better one, please share. Constructive criticism is welcome. Just plain criticism might as well be a troll.

  5. Linux Answer Machine, I thought? I haven't seen that ... I fell completely for your gag!
    I think Anonymous was looking more for this ( rather than your list which actually fits more my experience with Linux over the past 5 years!
    Thanks for the passion!

  6. It is not essential (and is probably a corollary to your first point): do not be afraid of the command line.

    Learning to work in the terminal is both rewarding and the best way to learn about your operating system...

  7. I would probably have saved the answer machine until the end, because it cooled me off on the article - related to GIYF and RT(F)M. Having said that: LQ is a must-know link. It will save you a lot of the time.
    Bashing on the thing until it works is a necessary realization, though I am not sure it is one you can reach by yourself. It is like being told at 13 that girls aren't scary.
    Recommending Unetbootin is good, although it sometimes can not be used. Still, it is a great thing to keep in your toolbox.
    And yes, there is nothing wrong with including the otherwise somewhat condescending advise above: Consider installing Lynx just to have something in case you break X... and you might.

  8. I moved my answer machine point to the end, you are right it does fit a bit better there.

  9. The Linux Answer Machine is actually here.

  10. Haha, right. I'd forgotten about that one :)

  11. Nice article, thanks. #6 though, "You should want to use Linux because it is a better operating system than Windows, not because it is cheaper."; I don't think you should want to use Linux because it is generally "better" because it isn't in all cases, you should want to use Linux because it does the job that you need it to do better than Windows. I assumed that's what you meant though. :D

  12. A couple years ago I found a site that went a long way toward alleviating new user frustration and crumbling the idea that 'computers (let along GNU/Linux) are hard!'.

    The points you make are fine and worthy but the site I speak of allows the first deep-breath, which is critical. He's not the best writer, but nobody I ever sent there came away disappointed.

    DISCLAIMER: Yeah, I know the guy ;)

  13. Thanks, this was really helpful. What I liked about it is that it provides a look at how the paradigm for linux is different from something like windows. Its not a bunch of mindless tips that these sort of things so often are. Contrary to one of the first posters, I thought this was one of the best beginner tips pages I have ever read.

  14. "Playing with the settings and what-not teaches you what you can do,"

    this is the truth ^, sometimes using linux and oss (the past 9 years) i've installed software for a reason, only to find out, in the options, it's actually more powerful than i've initially thought, and it's served as a dual purpose, or simply just cooler than i first realized.

  15. This was a great post, it reminded me of my college days when I did a project in Linux Fedora Core.. I also love to write many tech post on
    Latest Tech Tips It would be great if you stop by and check.

  16. You are right, Linux is not Windows...and should never even glance in their direction. Being a noob to Linux, escaped from hanging on to XP. I spend many hours tweaking eight separate Linux OS's, Bodhi is 2 of those, while 4 others are Openbox, like the miminalistic approach but also the creative touch of those who spend so much time and effort, with intellectual spirit to offer some very eye and mind appealing software. Stable, tweakable, and easy transform it into a custom OS for the user, this is why I like Bodhi, and e-17 (e-19). I salute Mr. Hoogland, his team and all supporters, and users. When Bodhi is ready, I will anxiously press on for the ride. Thanks folks. (Zephyr)