Getting Started With Linux

Posted by fiddlemath on April 21, 2012

So, you have a Linux system, and you want to learn how to use it well. (If you don’t already have Linux, you can get it pretty easily. It’s free, and installation nowadays is pretty painless.) If you’re just starting out with Linux, you can learn how to wield the system by trial-and-error, and googling for specific commands when you recognize the need. But this requires more time and patience than is really necessary.

The Linux Documentation Project has a pretty decent Linux user’s guide, with the caveat that some of the more specialized programs it recommends are now supplanted by better-to-use, more robust programs. (Ignore everything it says about CD recording, for instance.)

Actually try the exercises. Try even those that seem trivially easy; it’s always nice to get feedback telling you that you know what you’re doing. Moreover, whenever you feel like you’re getting full of uninternalized detail – and there is, I admit, a lot of detail – stop reading and fiddle with an actual computer instead.

If you get stuck:

  1. Use the built-in documentation to look for clues. Relevant commands are man, apropos, and info.
  2. Use The Google. Sometimes, the literal error message you’re seeing will be exactly the right search term.
  3. Use reductionism. In particular; see if you can focus your confusion onto a very small, confusing thing. (This can be difficult, but often solves the problem itself.)
  4. Ask someone. In particular, ask ubuntu and superuser are probably the best places to get help quickly. Doubly so, if you’ve already done (3), and can therefore explain your problem succinctly and precisely.
  5. If, after all this, you still can’t the system to do what you want, you can try to get in-person help from a local expert, perhaps from a nearby Linux User Group. Volunteerism is a big part of the Linux ethos; so you can probably find someone willing to help you solve tricky problems – especially if you’ve clearly tried the above, other ways to solve the problem.