How To Use Linux ~ 01 Introduction

This is the first of a series of posts written for non-geeks just starting out with Linux. The idea is to provide the gist, a few important facts, and some fun suggestions. Slowly and easily. Some of the posts in this series may end up being useful references, so consider bookmarking those.

At some level all operating systems are the same, but in some ways that will matter to you, Linux is very different from the others. The most important difference, which causes both the really good things and the annoying things to be true, is that Linux and most of the software that you will run on Linux is OpenSource, as opposed to proprietary AND it is produced by a diverse group of entities that share a single, continuous, common, and sometimes harmonious community. If there are two “competing” applications that do more or less the same thing, it is not at all unlikely that the people who make the software could meet up and decide to merge them into one project, rather than try to kill each other in the usual corporate way. If there is a single project within which differences occur as to what the project should be like, the project can be split (“forked”) and there are no law suits over the ownership of the computer code … they simply evolve in different directions thereafter.

The most important outcomes of the community-based and non-Proprietary models, for you, that you will notice and that will make a difference in how you use the computer, are:

  • *There is one way to install software that works the same for all software, and all the software you might ever want to install is all accessible, searchable, findable, and installable from one single fairly easy to use application.
  • *There is no trial ware or advertising or wanton popups telling you to buy something.
  • *There are no end user agreements to click on, although the software is all licensed (you need to know nothing about this).
  • *You will not have a situation arise where yo have to agree to a new end user license for software you’ve already installed.
  • *It is trivially easy to install software.
  • *It is trivially easy to remove software.
  • *When you remove software, it is really really gone.
  • *You can install or remove software without having to close down other software.
  • *You will never have to reboot for new software to work, unless it is part of the operating system itself (and then you may or may not have to log out and back in or reboot).
  • *A bug is a bug, and people generally admit that it is a bug. And they tend to get fixed fast in the mainstream applications. (Compared to proprietary software, anyway.)

Linux itself is fundamentally different from Windows in several ways that will also matter to you.

  • *Linux is case sensitive. So, a file called mystuff is different from a file called MyStuff.
  • *Linux uses “extensions” (like the ‘.doc’ in mydoc.doc) but does not require them. Actually, it doesn’t use them at all, but a lot of software that runs on Linux assumes you are accustomed to extensions.
  • *You will see very few confirmations in Linux. When you select a file and delete it, it is gone. You do not have to have a conversation with the computer via arcane dialog boxes (note: in Gnome, a “deleted” file is put into the “trash”).
  • *Different “applications” (called “Processes” in Linux) run very independently from each other. Your browser can’t crash your spreadsheet, and your spreadsheet can’t crash your word processor, or at least, it is very unlikely for that to happen.
  • *The operating system itself is lean and mean. It uses few computer resources (memory and stuff) and is crispy, not sluggish.
  • *Over time, the operating system does not grow more sluggish. Adding software does not break the system or slow it down.
  • *You don’t have to (and in fact can’t) “defrag” the hard drive, because the file systems that Linux use are designed to not break themselves over time.
  • *”Wipe the drive and reinstall the system” is possible, sometimes it is done, but it is never necessary. It is only done by people who screw up their computer and are former Windows users and don’t know any better. (Having said that, it may be better to wipe and install rather than upgrade major version upgrades of Linux.)

There are a lot of Linux Haters(TM) out there. I think many of them are paid by Microsoft. I know for a FACT that some of them are. There are a lot of people who tried Linux in the past and had bad experiences and do not realize that the system has changed and improved. There are people who hold Linux to the Ginger Rogers standard but give Windows (Fred Astair) all the breaks. So, for instance, Windows can crash on them again and again and again and they will keep going back, like zombies to the brain bucket, but if Linux does anything they don’t like they will leave Linux and never look back and complain incessantly about it forever. This asymmetry in treatment is the subject of another post and need not worry you now.

All you need to know now is that Linux does have its problems, it is not for everybody, and it is a hundred times less annoying than Windows, and at the moment, it is the operating system on your computer so you need to kinda live with it for a while anyway. So a positive attitude is in order.

Next installment: Distros!

For a list of all the posts in this series, CLICK HERE.

~~~

Comments

  1. #1 Comrade PhysioProf
    December 20, 2009

    If there are two “competing” applications that do more or less the same thing, it is not at all unlikely that the people who make the software could meet up and decide to merge them into one project, rather than try to kill each other in the usual corporate way. If there is a single project within which differences occur as to what the project should be like, the project can be split (“forked”) and there are no law suits over the ownership of the computer code … they simply evolve in different directions thereafter.

    Fuck that kumbaya motherfucking commie all-for-one-and-one-for three musketeers bullshit!!! What kind of world would this be without massive corporations spending millions of dollars on lawyers to FIGHT TO THE DEATH!!!!11!11!1!111????? Huh?

  2. #2 NewEnglandBob
    December 20, 2009

    Needs fixing:

    “a file called mstuff is different from a file called MyStuff

    accustomed to extensions

  3. #3 John Swindle
    December 20, 2009

    It’s been so long since I’ve used Windows, that it’s easy to forget about many of the annoyances you mention here. I installed Windows in someone else’s computer recently, and it was downright eerie. Through the entire process, I felt the presence of evil. It’s not just the annoying stuff; knowing a bit about Microsoft’s business practices causes a feeling of dread, as if laboring under the gaze of Sauron.

    As for the double standard employed when judging operating systems, isn’t that a bit similar to the way people defend their superstitions? Mind made up – don’t intrude with facts.

  4. #4 Savage
    December 20, 2009

    John Swindle’s case against all those superstitious Windows users would have been more convincing if he had left out the part about the gaze of Sauron. An irrational “feeling of dread” is a thin argument against superstition.

  5. #5 6EQUJ5
    December 20, 2009

    Processes cannot crash each other, yes, but a process may go renegade and hog the CPU, in which case, if you have a terminal window open, you can identify the rogue process and kill it, restoring operation to well-mannered processes.

    Windows users fear the blue screen of death. *nix users, when something goes renegade, snarl, saying “You’re gonna die!”, and then they follow through on the promise, then snicker at the demise of the offender.

  6. #6 Rorschach
    December 20, 2009

    I would have added,

    “There is no need to buy expensive licenses for sluggish and memory-hungry antivirus software”.

    As to defrag, the filesystem cleans up any mess behind the curtains, the closest one ever comes to something like “defrag” is to use “fsck” when some inode got scrambled.

    *There is one way to install software that works the same for all software

    True for Ubuntu and the other debian flavors, but plenty other software management thingies out there that are far less comfortable or easy to use, in Suse, Fedora etc.

    note: in Gnome, a “deleted” file is put into the “trash”).

    Unless you bypass trash and just delete it…:-)

    Nice article.

  7. #7 John Swindle
    December 20, 2009

    Savage – sorry, it never occurred to me that I should be convincing you of anything. But I will point out that there are few commercial entities that inspire the same feelings as does Microsoft. According to their reputation, they have been perfectly comfortable,throughout their history, with ruining the lives of people running smaller businesses. It is not merely the ordinary competition of the marketplace. It’s throat-cutting for sport. So I suppose my invocation of Tolkein’s Sauron may have been inappropriate, as he was a fictional character, ruining fictional lives.

    I’m not saying you are a superstitious Windows user. I said a similar process goes on. Like Greg, I have seen people go running back to Windows after something confusing happens on their new Linux system. Even after they have ranted justifiably about the many faults designed into Windows. They prefer the uncomfortable-but-familiar, and deprive themselves of a chance to experience something better.

  8. #8 Tony P
    December 20, 2009

    Whatever you do add the mv command to /etc/alias. Otherwise you can potentially move the whole say, /dev directory up to the root and cause all sorts of fun!

  9. #9 Elfie
    December 21, 2009

    I use Linux at work, successfully – but it can definitely be a pain IMHO.

    - To get NVIDIA graphic drivers working requires recompiling on every kernel upgrade.

    - I’m still trying to figure out all the places where initialization scripts are pulled from – varies based on what shell you run, whether they are system/user variables, etc.

    - I used some customization tool to setup a different screensaver, and now the “Lock” command in Gnome won’t work.. my fault, it’s just really easy to break things

    - Flash support. XKCD covered this.

    - Have had problems with external hard drives/NTFS support, the hard drive will power down, and until I umount and mount again, it won’t just “work” by trying to access it. This never happens for me on Windows.

    - My USB flash drive wouldn’t work… found out there was a weird glitch where the drive was essentially timing out. Had to set some weird timeout variable, reinitialize some USB process, and then it worked. No problems on Windows.

    - Setting up a VPN tunnel wasted about half a day, and I still couldn’t get the thing to work. I’m fairly network savvy, but despite following tutorials exactly, and setting up all the routes, something was still missing – who knows what.

    - I HATE grabbing some project that doesn’t have a RPM, needing to compile it from scratch – and then taking an entire day to track down every fsking dependency, find out the newer version breaks support, go in and fix the various glitches…. all to get some tiny little tool working!! There’s something to be said for having an operating system with a semi-stable environment where old to new programs *just work* without dicking around with weird dependencies.

    - Took me forever to get a simple FTP server up and running (!!!). Windows took about 3 minutes.

    Those are just off the top of my head. I realize Linux is way more powerful and has all sorts of slick capabilities (it’s fantastic for scientific research, obviously a requirement there), but I’d never advise anybody to use it unless you *have* to. Windows 7 is slick, stable, and super easy to use.

    Linux is an awesomely powerful, super pain-in-the-ass tool. If you need the power, fine, but otherwise – why torture yourself needlessly with its complexity?

  10. #10 Elfie
    December 21, 2009

    And just curious – have you used Windows lately? Only asking because I can’t remember the last time my setup crashed. That used to be a common problem, but hasn’t really been an issue since Windows XP got stable (SP2 or SP3? not sure).

    Most Windows crashes I’ve seen over the last few years are all hardware failures (RAM, power supply, or hard drive).

    Well, I take some of that back – I run a Windows media center box, and that thing needs to be rebooted regularly. But it is recording HD all the time, auto strips commercials, so I give it a bit more leeway. I tried to get MythTV running, but my hardware was incompatible (setup wouldn’t complete).

  11. #11 Ellie
    December 21, 2009

    Elfie

    Did you go straight from XP to 7 and skip Vista?! I have had to do a factory restore on my Vista machine about once every 6 months. In the latest one I disabled all Windows updates and I haven’t needed to do it for maybe 8 months. Of course I’m running SP1, original version, so it has all the unfixed problems and security holes you might expect, but at least it runs!

    I would hop over to Linux in an instant, except I’m a big coward and all that talk of “root dir” and things scares me. I’d probably break it within a day.

  12. #12 llewelly
    December 21, 2009

    Most non-geeks have little or no idea what an operating system is. You need to explain that first.

  13. #13 llewelly
    December 21, 2009

    I would hop over to Linux in an instant, except I’m a big coward and all that talk of “root dir” and things scares me. I’d probably break it within a day.

    In that respect, MacOS is just as scary as linux, as it also has a root directory.
    And Windows is scarier than either, because it has one root directory per disk.

  14. #14 llewelly
    December 21, 2009

    And just curious – have you used Windows lately?

    Windows XP was the required desktop environment for my last software development job. It crashed about every 3-4 days. (This is about a factor of 5 improvement over my prior experience with windows used for software development.)

  15. #15 Siddiqui
    December 21, 2009

    Does anyone remember Windows 98? Six months of bitter memories (May-Nov 1998) with that OS and then we all six moved to WinNT WorkStations.

  16. #16 taliesin
    December 21, 2009

    Hi. Long time lurker here, and Debian user for over 7 years.

    When/if you throw off the shackles of Redmond, visit the Debian User Forums

    Even if you choose to install Debian-based Ubuntu, you’ll find a wealth of information and friendly help there, especially in the ‘Beginners’ section.

    Oh, and do read the cautionary tale about the perils of ‘Installing random debs from the Net’

  17. #17 MadScientist
    December 21, 2009

    I’m being forced, by evil corporations, to use MSWin and … ugh … program for it. Oh well, I run it all under VirtualBox and I can reboot Winduhs very quickly and without losing my other work. VirtualBox seems to have a few bugs too though – pity I don’t have time to resolve them. :(

  18. #18 dargndorp
    December 21, 2009

    I’ve an old computer here that would just love to be converted to Linux. However, I’ve run into a few roadblocks and might as well toss them up here.

    The computer is an IBM Thinkpad A30, with 512 MB Ram and 1GHz P3. It’s name is (unimaginatively) \\A30 on the home LAN.

    The primary purpose of A30 is to download US TV series (think: Sinpsons) via utorrent, automatically set up per RSS. Running along is Peer Block and Ultrasurf (so as to protect my privacy. Also, the status of the legality of these downloads is unsure in my jurisdiction). These series are then watched on the TV, attached via S-VHS connector. Audio goes directly into the living room stereo equipment.

    I recently tossed up Xubuntu on this machine (per WUBI – nice!), the core installation ran through fine. However, I was unable to convince it to output anything on the TV. I did not find anything really helpful in the repositories nor on the Ubuntu forums, just some programs to support the Thinkpad-specific volume keys.

    Furthermore, A30 runs a dyndns client and the Bitnami Dokuwiki stack, but those seem to be available for Linux and I don’t see any problems looming there.

    So that’s what I’m tossing up here:
    1. Peerblock functionality
    2. Ultrasurf functionality
    3. Comfortably switchable video output to TV
    4. A lightweight, RSS-feed capable Bittorrent client á la utorrent.

    On the plus side, once I realized that it is a waste of time to try to get Flash from Adobe, going through the repositories made it easy.

  19. #19 MartinB
    December 21, 2009

    “It is trivially easy to install software.”
    Sorry, but this is just not true. It is trivially easy only if you have some package for installation – if you have to go through “configure-make-make install”-hell, it is no fun at all, especially if there are lots of unresolved dependencies which you all have to resolve per hand. (Program A needs B. So you download and try to install B, but this needs C etc. etc.) And many nice public domain programs are like this (just installed RawTherapee on a linux machine during the weekend for which I could not find a package.)

  20. #20 ljenux
    December 21, 2009

    gnome? why would any beginner use than anyway?

    actually, why would anyone use that THING anyway? ok, a lack of estetics and taste is in order, but at least, be reasonable to beginners and recommend KDE for beginners.

  21. #21 Greg Laden
    December 21, 2009

    Elfie: Most of your experiences look like rather esoteric goofups or abuses on your part. I would suggest not giving yourself the root password any more. And yes, I’ve used Windows lately. As a tech commenter I feel the responsibility to keep a copy of windows around. I used Windows from its very very earliest incarnations, though I did not use Vista very much. No one did. I have not used windows 7 yet.

    Martin B. It is trivially easy to install software from the depository provided package repositories, and if one ads a few carefully suggested repositories, it remains trivially easy.

    Beyond that, my experiences have been that it remains trivially easy.

    If there is no package, you might be in trouble. That is not a problem specific to Linux. Please revisit the premise of this discussion!

    ljenux: Personal preference? If I’m the person answering questions, I’d reather it be gnome beause I don’t have any long term expereince with KDE, because I never used it, because it kinda sucks in my opinion. Having said that, one of my three clients does prefer it and she is more then welcome to mess with it!

  22. #22 Greg Laden
    December 21, 2009

    taliesin Thanks for that interesting link!

  23. #23 AC
    December 21, 2009

    What a load of tripe this article is… And the posts about windows being eerie and sensing evil??? WTF? Get a life.

    I work with computers everyday. Windows/Linux/AIX/VMware/ storage, you pick it… They all have faults and they all do what they need to do.

    The fact that you felt the need to write this article for Linux and not for Windows or Mac just proves that you think linux is to much for the average person… I give people the benefit of the doubt and let them try things on their own instead of putting drivel like this up to try and show how 733T I am with the comut3rz. And you know what,,, most people figure it out and do just fine… Computing paradigms are not that different between the Windows, Mac and Linux.

  24. #24 Jason Thibeault
    December 21, 2009

    AC: the fact that he wrote this article for Linux and not Windows or Mac proves that people like you have done much to poison the well for newbies going into Linux when the learning curve for Linux is far less steep than Windows<>Mac conversion. Period. Yelling at Greg for daring to try to enlighten people about Linux who are otherwise too scared to try it, betrays the mentality to which you’re anchored. And it ain’t a pretty one.

    Elfie: have you ever tried Ubuntu? Since 6.04 or so (and there have been 9 major releases since then), none of the things you’ve suggested are problematic. They even have a pretty little Restricted Drivers wizard for your Nvidia. I haven’t had to deal with any of your complaints, personally, in at least seven years.

    Well, except Flash. I hate that you have to go to the repositories and find and install “flashplugin-installer” then press Y to the prompt to install it. That’s so lame.

  25. #25 Greg Laden
    December 21, 2009

    I never know if I should press big Y or small y.

  26. #26 davem
    December 21, 2009

    Biggest problem I have with windows – (I have W7 on my new laptop) is the way it tries to hide stuff from me. eg. Following Greg’s tip the other day re the /tmp directory for youtube files, I thought – “windows must do the same” – so I looked for the temporary directory that it might store flash files. Under IE options, I found where it was stored, then tried to access the directory. W7 simply wouldn’t let me look at the directory, even after making ‘invisible’ directories visible. In command window (Why is it so difficult to find?), you could do a CD to a directory, but you have to know that it exists, becasue it isn’t listed, and you aren’t allowed to look at its contents. WTF?

    Second most annoying thing is the attempted forcing upon you of Microsoft’s data collection – from the DVDs you’re playing, to your browsing habits, to attempting to force Bing on you, to hiding Google search on page 3 of search engines… aaaaRGH!

    As to security, if you need a supervisor to check that it’s OK to update your system, FFS have a supervisor user, and stop bothering me with multiple ‘do you really trust this provider’ shit. If a computer only has 1 user, then s/he IS the supervisor, FFS.

    And as to Vista taking a staggering FIFTY Gbs for a basic installation, WTF?

    I’ve had a few hair-tearing out moments with Ubuntu, too, but I do like being the master of my machine, and not being Microsoft’s Patsy.

  27. #27 Ray Ingles
    December 21, 2009

    Elfie – What distribution are you using? I know Ubuntu hasn’t needed to ‘recompile’ anything to use the Nvidia drivers on a kernel upgrade for at least a couple years now. Your other issues seem similar.

    And yes, I have used Windows XP lately – I still boot into it once in a while to play games. That’s it. And less and less of that these days; I’ve got a game console, and it’s a lot less hassle to play on that than Windows, plus the DRM doesn’t cause crashes and instability.

    My elderly parents have no trouble running Ubuntu. The last problem I had to fix for them was actually a Thunderbird issue, which could have happened on Windows, too. (Compact those folders occasionally!)

  28. #28 Steve
    December 21, 2009

    Elfie is a troll. He should be “Trollie.” He is a bitter person who used Linux years ago and it bit him, so now he wanders the Internet bitching about Linux.

  29. #29 MarkW
    December 21, 2009

    Case Study:

    A friend (actually my wife’s sister’s boyfriend) came to me yesterday saying “hey, Mark, do you have a Linux install disk lying round? I’ve got a virus again, I want to try Linux instead.”

    I lent him a Linux Mint install CD, he ran the installer in less than 20 minutes, and was completely wowed by the difference in experience between Windows and Linux.

    Within an hour, he had run the installer for a second time, this time completely removing the Windows partition.

  30. #30 Spiv
    December 21, 2009

    Like the linux stuff, but need to watch the standard 10 year old windows complaints. Like many others here I can’t remember the last time I had a window’s crash. I also don’t bother with any of the antivirus software, and haven’t for many years. In fact I think a great deal of the complaints about sluggishness and strange things happening are related to people using symantec’s useless poisonware. Either way ragging on it is going to turn some people off; essentially for your own satisfaction.

    Disclosure: I used 2000 till xp64 came out, and just recently have moved to 7. My complaints about 7 (64 bit) are essentially interface design and lack of driver support for my stupidly old wireless B card that I should have tossed years ago. Otherwise everything seems to be smooth and snappy. I dual boot with ubuntu on that same machine. I have two netbooks: one runs xp (because it came with it, and I’m lazy, and things seem to be working just fine on it), and the other is running ubuntu netbook remix. My machinery is run from FreeDOS.

    I’d kill off the windows boot if it weren’t for mastercam, inventor, solidworks, and various adobe suite products. And probably Trillian because I’m not finding any joy out of the various linux “equivalents.”

  31. #31 Ray Ingles
    December 21, 2009

    MartinB – It’s true that “configure-make-make install” can be complicated. But it’s also hardly ever necessary. Especially these days, pre-packaged installs of applications for practically every common purpose are available for one-click installs.

    I’m trying to remember the last time I needed to compile my own software, and I’m coming up blank. I think it was for a game that was half-ported from Windows to Linux. And that was, like, four years ago.

  32. #32 Ray Ingles
    December 21, 2009

    Spiv – I have a Dell that we bought about two years ago. It had Vista on it, but with ‘only’ 1GB of RAM Vista was unusable. I wiped it and put XP on it – my wife’s used MS Office and couldn’t adapt to OpenOffice or Crossover.

    I’ve had to wipe it twice since then due to malware, and had some other infections which required less drastic measures. My wife doesn’t do much beyond Word, email (Tunderbird) and web stuff. She doesn’t install software. We’ve still gotten hit w/malware.

  33. #33 CB
    December 21, 2009

    Looking forward to this series: I consider myself fairly tech-savvy and am comfortable using any flavour of Win, MacOS and have experience of VMS, DOS, etc from years back, but have never managed to get confident with Linux despite having bought a Linux eee last year.

  34. #34 Spiv
    December 21, 2009

    Ray: Perhaps browser choice has as much to do with this as anything, but it does seem (like all things) that the user experiences hit a broad range and must be a result of a lot of factors beyond the OS itself. I’ve have seen a number of notes out there regarding website delivered malware that IE is (at least initially) powerless to defend. Firefox seems to be the next best choice, and chrome nearly invincible.

    I also do not have any of the office products installed on my home machines. Could be a factor. I might be a real curmudgeon, but I use google docs to put anything general together, then bring it in to adobe indesign when I want to get serious. I can’t seem to think of an Office product that I actually have a use for; especially once they made excel so horrid with “the ribbon.”

  35. #35 Elfie
    December 21, 2009

    As far as distributions, I’m using CentOS (scientific packages we use work best on a basic redhat distribution).

    Should’ve specified that up front – obviously the more enterprise level stuff isn’t going to be as user friendly. And I’m obviously pushing Linux more than the average user… my point is just that the learning curve is fairly steep when you want to get into the powerful stuff. And not sure how tasks like setting up VPN connections, USB drives, and compiling software packages got labeled “esoteric”. Most of us aren’t installing Linux just to get Firefox working at full 64-bit speed.

    I still find Windows easiest to use at home – not at all a MS fanboy, just don’t have a compelling reason to change. I know crashing used to be a huge issue, but that’s largely been taken care of in the past 5 years. Security updates ARE annoying and a problem – but I tolerate them.

    I completely agree that Linux is best for research. It’s a piece of cake to automate things, there are lots of open source projects that are Linux-only, and it’s stability/speed is awesome.

    Not sure why people care so much about a “winner” between the two… go ahead and try each out and see what you like. Fanboy OS flaming is soooo 1990s, does anybody still care which one is better? They’re just tools – each has pros/cons, use what fits best.

  36. #36 Heff
    December 21, 2009

    This does not seem like a post on which OS roolz. It seems more like a post on if you are using Ubuntu (with Gnome) what do you need to know.

  37. #37 Elfie
    December 21, 2009

    Heff – Greg’s post wasn’t fanboyish, only correction I have is the dated statement that “Windows cr4shes!! OMG!!”

    I was talking about the comments that seemed to treat my listed problems with Linux as some sort of threat. Those were just gripes off the top of my head – I wanted to point out that all the power comes at the price of complexity and ease-of-use challenges.

    But since this seems to be focused on consumer-level versions of Linux (I was confused, this is SCIENCEblogs!!), nevermind my list, Ubuntu and such ARE fairly easy to use in addition to being an improvement to Windows in many ways. Not enough for me to change due to my laziness, but worth trying if you’ve got the itch to try something new.

  38. #38 John Swindle
    December 21, 2009

    For the Windows evangelists here – okay, I apologise for using what I thought was colorful language (eerie, doom, Sauron, etc.) to describe my misgivings about helping someone install Windows. I did not realise it would infuriate stockholmed Windows apologists, and I assumed – wrongly, it seems – that no one would be injured by my words.

    Okay, that’s bullshit. I don’t care if I hurt your feelings. A couple of you are telling me I didn’t experience what I said I did. I assure you, I exaggerated only a little. So keep it in your pants, there’s no need to bang it on the table.

  39. #39 chrisinspace
    December 21, 2009

    Wow…these comments have it all. FUD, flames, acronyms/jargon that Linux newbies would find indecipherable. And we wonder why people are intimidated when it comes to giving Linux a try.

    The simple truth is that it is more stable and powerful than Windows and doesn’t require a major investment to take for a test-drive like Mac. If you want to try something new, then give it a shot. You have nothing to lose and a lot to gain. Linux and the majority of the software for the OS are free. Most versions of Linux (“distributions”, for the uninitiated) can run from a Live CD without installing anything. If you do want to try an installed copy, the Ubuntu variations can be installed alongside Windows using the WUBI installer without making any changes to the system that aren’t easy to undo. The only investment required is some of your time. As with anything new, there will naturally be a learning curve, but nothing you can’t overcome with some research and help from the Linux community.

  40. #40 Dave
    December 21, 2009

    Perhaps we can try laying off Elfie@9 a bit. As someone who has used Linux as his primary home OS since kernel version 0.92, some of his/her objections are valid.

    –NVIDIA – this is a valid issue, Ive experienced it myself. Yes, as has been pointed out, this is distro dependent, but that doesnt mean it doesnt exist in some situations. On the other hand, Ive read several comments by people having to re-install XP drivers for older hardware when Win7 updates. So this isnt just Linux.

    –Initialization scripts — shouldnt be a problem for most users, but yes there can be a fair bit of confusion. In my not so humble opinion, standardization is improving, but still has a ways to go. At the same time, this isnt any worse (and in my opinion is better) than trying to figure out where in the windows registry the advanced settings are.

    –I havent had problems with screensavers, but I have had problems getting power saving settings to turn off my monitor. Ive not had comprable problems in Windows.

    –External HD’s, this seems a rather unfair comparison. Is your complaint really that Linux doesnt support NTFS as well as Windows?

    –USB has been an issue for me. Its been much better in the Ubuntu install I have than the CentOS, although that may be hardware rather than software. Windows USB has never given me any problems, including on the same box that Linux gives me fits.

    –VPN, Ive not had any problems setting up VPNs from Linux, and rather like the fact that in somecases, I tie it right into the networking layer, rather than use an add-on application. On the other hand my firewall admin just spend three days troubleshooting a problem with a specific windows workstation. Personally, I think VPNs are a bit of a black-art.

    –Config/make Yep, it can be a pain in the arse. I spent two days trying to get music-brainz working on a CentOS box and finally gave up. If your experience is with CentOS (and one of your comments indicates it is) I strongly urge you to try using a Debian based distro, there is a far greater breadth of pre-packaged software. For what most users have to do, Ubuntu with perhaps one or two additional Debian channels will be sufficient for almost all of their needs.

    –You must have been doing something wrong on the FTP. Im sorry to point fingers, but Ive put up FTP dozens of times, and while I agree its pretty simple on Windows (although requiring a reboot if IIS wasnt already installed) its been just as simple, if not simpler under Linux.

  41. #41 Elfie
    December 21, 2009

    I got the FTP working – my problem was I wanted anonymous access to a read/write directory, and whatever program I was using wouldn’t allow that to anon. I had to setup a user system, and then it all worked. Fine, just didn’t see that in the documentation, and had to do a bunch of debugging before I figured that out.

    None of my gripes are permanent problems with Linux – it’s just obviously designed by geeks who aren’t necessarily obsessed with ease-of-use.

    And I’ve had no problem with NTFS support – it’s the lack of support for external hard drives going into a power saving state that’s annoying. The fuse-3g NTFS driver seems to work fine.

    The VPN issue is the only thing that truly stymied me. I use OpenVPN on Windows with no problem, but couldn’t get the routing correctly configured on Linux. I established the server, created a virtual network, created all the routes – could setup an end-2-end link, but couldn’t route any traffic over the connection! On Windows, the tool automatically creates all the routes in the background – not sure what happened on CentOS, but that thing refused to work.

  42. #42 Dave
    December 21, 2009

    Bizzare, I usually use vsftpd and its pretty trivial to set up an anonymous upload. Of course, with eleventy-something different FTP daemons, Im sure there are some that are an issue. As far as OpenVPN goes, Ive never used it so I cant comment, I was just pointing out that Ive experienced other VPN software going bad in the windows enviornment.

    Sorry for misunderstanding your external hdd comment, when you phrased it as, “problems with external hard drives/NTFS support” I assumed NTFS was part of your problem.

    As far as being obviously designed by geeks without regard to ease-of-use, five years ago, I would have agreed with you. Today, there are several projects, including Ubuntu, that are explicitly oritented towards ease-of-use. You are using CentOS, a distribution designed for system admins, and complaining about ease-of-use. Thats not a feature thats high on the priority list for that distro’s target audience.

  43. #43 Elfie
    December 21, 2009

    You’re totally right – I’ll go read Greg’s new post about different distributions, and remind myself that not all Linux distros are created equally.

    I forgot that we’re not all science researchers on here looking to beat the hell out of Linux with all sorts of cool open source research projects. If you happen to be one of those folks looking to get into Linux – just get ready for a rough ride!!

  44. #44 llewelly
    December 21, 2009

    I got the FTP working – my problem was I wanted anonymous access to a read/write directory, and whatever program I was using wouldn’t allow that to anon.

    For those who don’t know, there is a very good reason for this – anonymous access to a read/write directory is potentially a major security hole. It should be difficult to enable.

  45. #45 TechSlave
    December 21, 2009

    Getting ready for a ‘rough ride’ varies greatly based on the distro. Ubuntu’s been (pretty) smooth ride for me. Mind you, back on Ubuntu 6, getting my roommate’s lender laptop to play nicely with a Wacom tablet was pretty much pulling teeth. I haven’t got one to play with, so I can’t say how Ubuntu 9.10 handles it.

    External HDD, NTFS support, nVidia drivers, and most of Elfie’s issues I haven’t experienced.
    Flash is a nightmare, because anytime something related to it updates, it falls over and has a seizure. However, Adobe is now shipping Linux versions of Flash 10, though it’s ‘alpha’ software.

    But overall, CentOS isn’t a user-friendly distro. This doesn’t mean that Linux as a whole isn’t. As others pointed out, there are a lot of user friendly distros Elfie could try out, possibly in VirtalBox.
    I recommend Ubuntu, Linux Mint gets a lot of commendations a well, PcLinuxOS I heard good about, etc. Check out the DistroWatch website, too. Lots of options.

  46. #46 alamedated
    December 21, 2009

    I love trying different distibutions but I have to agree with elfie as more than 75% of the distibutions do not work. There always seems to be something that will make it unusable. I understand that it is all my fault because I am a non-elite, non-geek, noob but when the video drivers don’t work the help files do not help me. Go find a tarball or a tarbiz2 or some such geek stuff that I do not understand and get frustated with.

    That being said, I have Linux running on 3 different computers in my house and most people do not realize they are using Linux until they need to run an MSoffice application.

    Linux is tough. It takes a lot of work to get it running in a usable state. It is usually very easy to install Linux. Getting the applications to work is another matter entirely.

  47. #47 Mike
    December 22, 2009

    Where I work, we use Ubuntu for our teacher and administration workstations. Given what they use it for (word processing, interacting with management systems) the learning curve is pretty simple. They generally find it pleasant to use and reliable.

    That said, actually setting up Linux workstations is a cast iron biatch. I’ve done hundreds of Ubuntu and Fedora workstations. I’ve got it down to a bit of an art now… I have a long list of workarounds to solve the many, many breakages.

    And, while Linux has gotten prettier with time, some things have gone back, badly. The biggest hassle from my institution’s point of view is the decline in printing support, particularly using Qt4. On paper it looks wonderful, and in use, abysmal. It would probably suffice for personal use, but on an institutional scale, no. That alone nearly sent us back to Windows, despite the management hassles that brings. Then there’s some horrible things that Ubuntu does with nfs,

    I guess my point is that, while Linux is a pretty cool thing, and I love it to bits, it is *not* a reasonable consumer grade operating system.

    The windows target consumer knows what that clicking thing does. They know which button to push to turn it on or off. They can start a game of hearts without spraining anything. *That’s it*

    The windows consumer doesn’t know what ‘secure’ or ‘reliable’ means and doesn’t care.

    The windows consumer buys their OS *pre-installed*, like it comes on the DVD player.

    Linux and Windows happen to run on the same hardware. That’s good for Linux, because otherwise no one would run it. However, they’re different beasts, and for different people.

  48. #48 Sean
    December 22, 2009

    Ok its not a war. I am an IT professional and have always used the appropriate tool for the job at hand.

    For my home desktop I have settled on Ubuntu. Because its easier and everything just works – and when I need a new package its free. Its been a long time since I have had to do anything techie to get an nVidia driver or any other hardware to work. I even installed netbook remix on an ancient laptop and it works fine out of the box. Had tried Vista but it was just too slow and wouldn’t support the wireless card.

    I also have a Windows 7 desktop and I have made this headless and access it using terminal services from Ubuntu or my macbook. Most of the computers at home (ermm there are quite a few :-)) are now running Ubuntu.

  49. #49 Sean
    December 22, 2009

    Meant to add: The point of the article is valid. There is no steep learning curve if you opt for a recent distro and the non geek users have no problems. They don’t have to understand the way it works underneath (same as WIndows or Mac OS). As someone who does understand the way things work Windows can be frustrating because it is increasingly hidden from users.

  50. #50 Aliaksei Holik
    December 22, 2009

    So, for instance, Windows can crash on them again and again and again and they will keep going back, like zombies to the brain bucket, but if Linux does anything they don’t like they will leave Linux and never look back and complain incessantly about it forever.
    Funnily enough, I’ve had Windows XP installed on my desktop for more than 2,5 years now, without a need to reinstall and without it crashing at any noticeable rate or getting sluggish. At the same time I made countless attempts to get Debian working on it. And even when I succeeded, it would crash in 2 months later after an update. But I keep going back, just like a zombie… And speaking of crashes, I was trying to install Debian with LXDE on my laptop and within a couple of hours it froze completely non-responsive three times.

    Not saying that Linux is a bad OS, but rather agreeing with the point the previous post makes. Linux is a great thing, but it takes a hell lot of commitment and determination to get into it. Don’t sell it as a piece of cake.

  51. #51 jane.g.
    December 22, 2009

    Aliaksei, my personal experience has been that Linux (Ubuntu in my case) is a piece of cake, and Windows has been a nightmare. Your personal experience has been the opposite. What is the difference between us or windows versus linux that would make one version of that story more valid than the other?

    If I read this correctly, this post is directed towards a person with Linux operating and running on their computer already, just as windows is when one buys a computer with windows on it. That shold be kept the focus.

  52. #52 Aliaksei
    December 22, 2009

    Jane, I guess nothing would make one story more valid than another. Either of them (OS’s) can be a nightmare or a piece of cake. Peace :)

  53. #53 Ray Ingles
    December 22, 2009

    Dave – Windows USB has never given me any problems, including on the same box that Linux gives me fits.

    Actually, I’ve had problems there. The way Windows enumerates and identifies USB devices can become an issue. Some drivers fasten onto the specific port a device is plugged into. If you plug the same device into a different port… then you have to reinstall the driver.

    More; on Windows, some hardware requires you to plug the hardware in, then insert the CD. Other hardware requires you to first run the install program, then plug in the hardware. And if you do it in the wrong order, well, God help you.

    With Linux, the only USB problems I’ve had have been with two *really* cheap, dodgy bits of hardware. An old webcam and a dirt-cheap Bluetooth dongle (that actually uses an invalid device ID).

    Apparently, mileage varies. :->

  54. #54 Greg Laden
    December 22, 2009

    Sounds like trying to use Windows with an LCD projector. Not recommended!

  55. #55 Dave
    December 22, 2009

    Ray — Never had the problem with the driver binding to a specific port in Windows, although frankly, I dont do much with usb other than data storage and printing. But, now that I think about it, I had a printer some years back that needed the driver re-installed each time I disconnected it, even if I plugged it back into the same port. On the otherhand, I do have a CentOS box where one port works and the second does not. As I mentioned no real problem with Ubuntu.

    I have seen the problem with installing the driver before connecting the device. I agree that that is annoying as heck, but I usually catagorize this as a problem with Windows Plug-n-Pray rather than the USB interface itself. But still a problem with Windows — I want the damn OS to install a driver when I tell it to, not when it decides to.

  56. #56 Simon
    December 23, 2009

    I started on Fedora, then BLAG (as I wanted a fully ‘free’ distro) but recently I’ve found Trisquel to be excellent, with most things working out the box.

    An excellent guide btw.

  57. #57 victor
    February 3, 2010

    this is very amaizing and very useful

  58. #58 REM
    December 15, 2011

    This is a fairly informative group of posts. It has helped me somewhat. Other that some on here can’t speek other that in vulgarities and diareea of the mouth.