February 16, 2019

.comment: So You Think You Want to Use Linux - page 3

What Does It Take?

  • January 10, 2001
  • By Dennis E. Powell

The folks at Microsoft have been extremely successful in imparting the idea that there's only one way of doing things -- the Microsoft way. As a result, a lot that is known to the new Linux user is familiar only because that's the way Microsoft did it, not because it ever made any actual sense. As one's familiarity with Linux (and, particularly, any of the several desktops available for it) increases, a lot of things Windows will seem goofier and goofier. Admittedly, many Linux desktops follow some conventions established by Microsoft, but this is to make life easier for the new user. There are plenty of places where developers found good reason to part from the Redmond edicts, and did so.

This means that the new Linux installation will have a familiar look to it, but you don't have to go very far before you find things that are entirely new. You don't understand them. Relax -- nobody else did the first time they saw them, either, and people not as bright as you are have succeeded with Linux. Let's presume that you do not have your dissertation due tomorrow and therefore you have a little time to get used to things. (If your dissertation is due tomorrow and you've wiped your hard drive so as to try Linux for the first time, I retract the sentence above about people not as bright as you.) Remember, too, that there is nothing truly intuitive about computing on any platform. I have a friend who has used computers for years who not long ago unintentionally revealed that he did not know the difference between a file and a directory, in that Windows uses the file folder icon (as does just about everyone) to signify a directory, so he had taken to thinking of directories as files. I can only imagine what the contents of his hard drive must be.

The point is that new Linux users often forget that they had to learn things in Windows, too, but they just did it, thinking that there was no alternative. Linux is in most respects, given the state of current distributions, no more difficult than Windows is -- it's just that the stuff you had to learn in order to use Windows won't necessarily be of much help in Linux. That's because Windows and computing are not synonymous. And the talk of a steep learning curve in Linux is actually mostly erroneous -- Linux is certainly no more difficult from the outset than running a plain old DOS machine used to be, and plenty of people cleared that hurdle

Important things for the newbie to do: Subscribe to the distribution's user mailing list, and subscribe to the mailing list for the users of the desktop -- KDE, Gnome -- of choice. (This means that you will have mastered correct spelling of "subscribe," apparently a particularly difficult task for many users; if the inability of successful subscribers later to correctly spell "unsubscribe" is any indication, there are tens of thousands of disappointed would-be mailing list recipients who never made it past the initial test. Probably just as well.)

If you encounter a problem, do these things, in this order: Look at the documentation that came with your distribution. Look at the other documentation on your system (the How-Tos, for instance; man pages can be a little tough at the beginning, though it's good to look at them as you go along, because this is how you learn). Check the archives of the mailing lists. Then, and only then, if you have a problem, post it to the mailing list in a polite and nondemanding fashion. Identify yourself as a newbie. You'll get help.

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