[dvlug] Starting Out With Linux

Grant Bowman grantbow at ubuntu.com
Sat Mar 12 00:10:07 PST 2011

A question I hear sometimes is how do I get started with GNU/Linux?

The question is difficult to answer as everyone has heard of and
understands different pieces of the "computing puzzle" and start from
different places. To me this boils down to a lack of knowing beginning
keywords. I often start searches at wikipedia to get an overview of a
topic and recommend others do too.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ubuntu_(operating_system)  Adding
additional keywords help. For newcomers to Open Source / Free Software
there are many new terms to understand and to relate to the ideas they
already know.

Ubuntu is where newcomers often want to start and it's a great place
to start. "Humanity towards others" is an attractive philosophy from
Africa and as the most end-user focused distribution it is a great
place to start. Version numbers and code names can be confusing, but
once people understand the version number is associated with the date
I often see a light bulb go off. Understanding LTS versions can help.
I often describe what the Linux Kernel is and what a Linux
distribution is, mentioning Ubuntu, Red Hat, CentOS, Fedora and
Debian. Distrowatch.org can be a bit overwhelming to newcomers but
it's a useful site to see the variety and flexibility of how Linux is
used in many different ways. I often mention Mark Shuttleworth,
Thawte, Canonical and the structures of the Ubuntu communities.
Understanding that all the parts of a distribution are legally
distributable is a big hurdle for some.

Describing how a "live CD" works is important as this is where one
starts. Understanding partitioning can be a scary thing for those who
haven't backed up their machines or those that have never installed an
OS themselves. Installers take care of installing and partitioning but
it's always wise to be careful and not rush through installation
screens without taking the time to understand what they are really
asking you.

With the help of BerkeleyLUG.com folks Jack has shepherded the
creation of two tri-fold pamphlets as an attempt to summarize what
people need to know about Linux before deciding to try it and where to
go after they have installed it.
http://www.berkeleylug.com/Contributions/  I think this effort is
outstanding. Additional resources of this nature can be found at
http://spreadubuntu.org/  Among other very innovative designs, this is
a great quick reference for windows users to find software similar to
what they use now.  http://spreadubuntu.org/files/Screenshot_0.png

Windows and Mac power users come to Linux with widely differing needs
to get started. A few Windows users may know that the Windows NT
systems and following Windows versions trace many features to Unix but
most do not. Some Mac users may know they are running a form of BSD
(Darwin) but some do not.

For those wanting a book or narrative form the best places I know for
Ubuntu are http://ubuntu-manual.org/ online. For a dead tree (or
kindle) option covering 10.04 I recommend
aka http://www.pearsonhighered.com/educator/product/Official-Ubuntu-Book-The/9780137081301.page
of the many that are now available as Ubuntu becomes every more
popular. Again the plethora of choices can be a barrier to newcomers.

User groups in our local area are often a big key to encouraging
people to try a Linux disc.  dvlug.org sf-lug.org and berkeleylug.com
are great ones among a raft of others in areas further afield to me.

Online resources abound, some good, some less useful to beginners.

Our golden state has a group that promotes Ubuntu:
http://www.ubuntu-california.org and
http://wiki.ubuntu.com/CaliforniaTeam are our "external" and
"internal" websites.  We hold IRC meeting every other Sunday night at
7 PM though people talk in the channel whenevery they want. As this is
a real time form of communication, it is often useful to wait many
hours for a response to questions you might raise to give people a
chance to respond when they see what you asked. Giving up and leaving
too quickly is a common mistake to understanding how to use IRC

Understanding basics like what an Operating System does and what
applications are available is where the boxes at the bottom of
wikipedia pages really help me, understanding the context of how ideas
fit together.

Too much freedom can cause paralysis and leave people less satisfied.
( video: http://on.ted.com/8wIZ ) Opinionated decisions help things
move forward for the most common cases at the risk of alienating some.
One of the problems is the constant stream of new versions. This has
been a problem for linux distributions for a long time, balancing the
newest software with stability and reliability.

Is there a "best" way to introduce people to knowing more about
computing without limits?  Let me know what you think.



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