Linux for Newbies: the Ubuntu Path

Wednesday May 6th 2009 by Carla Schroder
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Getting started with Linux isn't that hard, especially if you opt to begin with the Ubuntu distribution of Linux.

In Linux For Absolute Beginners: 3 Easy Ways to Test-Drive Linux I reviewed some simple ways to safely test-drive Linux. All of them involved selecting a Linux distribution to try, then downloading and burning it to a CD. Anyone can learn how to install Linux in different ways, such as dual-booting, standalone on a single PC, or in a virtual machine. While installing Linux is very easy as far as installing operating systems goes, it still requires a bit of geekery. If anything goes wrong it can eat up a lot of time troubleshooting, especially when you're not familiar with Linux.

There are a lot of excellent, step-by-step installation howtos. With all of the excellent Linux distributions to choose from I am going to focus on Ubuntu Linux. It is a very good Linux, it has vendor support available, and it is showing up on a lot of OEM computers. What you learn on Ubuntu applies to many other Linux distributions as well. Here are a few Ubuntu installation howtos for your perusal:

How to install Ubuntu : The Ubuntu Installation Guide
Ubuntu Community Documentation: Installation
The Perfect Desktop - Ubuntu 9.04 (Jaunty Jackalope)

So what if you just want to get your hands on it right now and start exploring it, and set aside learning how to install operating systems for later? There are options for that too. In part 1 we learned about running Linux from a live bootable CD. While that is a great way to test-drive Linux it has its limitations. It's slow because CD drives are slow, and if you want to save settings or data files you have to jump through some extra hoops. Again, all solved problems, but let's go ahead and look at how to get Linux pre-installed so you can dive right in and start playing with it.

Finding OEM Linuxes

In theory, the easiest and most foolproof way to get a Linux computer is to purchase one with Linux already installed. Presumably a commercial vendor provides you with a polished package where everything works, and support if anything goes wrong. Ha! You don't get that with Windows, why should Linux be any different? But you do with Apple, so let's use that as our model.

Maybe you're looking at netbooks and thinking, yeah baby! Cute and cheap! Get a Linux netbook! Despite all the buzz about Linux netbooks it's not that easy to find one that's worth the bother. Or to find one at all. But there are some good choices when you know where to look. Dell currently offers its excellent Mini 9n with Ubuntu, and Hewlett-Packard's Mini series comes with HP's own customized MIE Linux. I'm not a fan of these vendor-customized Linuxes because nearly all of them are poorly-done, crippled in various ways, and larded with proprietary crud that gets in the way. My vote goes to Dell for making its Linux computers easy to find, and for using real Ubuntu instead of some strange customized thing. HP's homegrown MIE Linux has been getting favorable reviews, so if you can get your hands on it before purchase give it a try.

I prefer independent Linux vendors over the big-time computer vendors. They are not subject to the pressures from Microsoft that Microsoft partners are, and they really understand Linux and Linux users. My current favorites are ZaReason and System76. Both sell Ubuntu computers, have competitive pricing, and are responsive and helpful. ZaReason is agreeable to customizations, so if you don't see what you want on their site, give them a call and ask.

Dell, ZaReason, and System 76 are also good places to shop for Linux laptops and desktop systems.

Find Friendly Linux Geeks

Most Windows and Apple users have long forgotten what they went through when they were newbies. We spent years learning how to use Windows and Apple, and we pestered more experienced users when we had problems. Linux is no different, so keep your eyes open for friendly Linux geeks and user groups.

Buy the Book!

I always wonder who buys all the hundreds of thousands of computer books that are sold each year, because I have yet to meet anyone who has purchased and studied a "How to Use Linux/Mac/Windows" book. Instead they waste years of their lives doing things the hard way, and computers are always a big mystery to them. People! Wise up and buy a book! The best book for a new Linux user is Ubuntu For Non-Geeks, 3rd Edition. Assuming you're running Ubuntu Linux, of course, and I think that Ubuntu is a great Linux for a beginner.

In our next installment we'll start poking around Ubuntu Linux and make it go.

Article courtesy of Linux Planet.

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