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Getting Started with Linux

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When the news broke that Microsoft had seen its share of the operating system market drop below 90% for the first time in over a decade, my first thought was “Wow. Vista must really suck.” My next thought was that it must be something to with netbooks.

Many netbook manufacturers offer a choice of operating system with their machines: usually between Microsoft XP and a Linux distribution. Generally, the model with the Linux distribution will be cheaper. Even so, Linux netbooks account for only 30% of sales, according to the Wall Street Jounal.

It could be that consumers are intimidated by an unfamiliar operating system, and would prefer to a little bit more and stick with Windows. Or they may have heard the tired old falsehoods about Linux being too difficult to figure out and only suitable for users with programming skills. Regardless, it seems a shame if people are paying more than they need to, even if it isn’t a vast amount of money.

In the interests of public service, we’ve put together a quick run-through of where to start learning about Linux. While a few things will depend on which distribution of Linux you are using, there are lots of issues that are common across all versions.

Getting Started
The best place to start is probably the free courses offered at Linux Online. The site offers beginners, intermediate and advanced courses, with additional short lessons detailing specific topics and a tips and tricks section for getting stuff done.

There is a Linux 101 page at About.com, with links to articles covering most of the things newbies will need to know. While it isn’t exhaustive, it does provide an overview of all of the basics. However, don’t expect to become an expert by using just this site, however.

Clemson University also offer a Linux 101, but in their case it is a very impressive wiki, with all sorts of hints and tips on various topics, along with a course that users can follow. If you’re independently minded and are happy dipping in and out of topics, this is probably the best place to do that.

General Linux Advice
For those with more ambitious plans and want to make a wholesale change to Linux, IBM have written a guide for migrating to the new system which is available as a free download. While the guide is intended for businesses rather than individual users, it does provide good advice on making the switch from one operating system to another.

Linux Tips & Tricks offers – at this time – 210 separate tips on various topics, organised into categories. If you’d rather have them all to hand, you can also download all the tips as one archive file. The archive is in tgz format, so make sure your archive software can handle it before you proceed.

For those who want to make more use of the command line, there is a handy reference guide for  common commands that users may need. It’s very basic, and I’m sure it doesn’t cover everything, but as the title is “Linux Tips for Beginners” I don’t believe it’s supposed to.

The Linux Domentation Project is an ambitious effort to offer subject-specific advice to users, along with a wiki of topics currently being worked on. Out of all the general advice sites, this is probably second only to Linux Online in how much it brings out the fangirl in me.

Boards and Forums
There are also a multitude of boards and fourms where you can ask questions and get advice. Personally, I’d plump for the User Area at Linux Online,  which is lists Linux user groups around the world. Nothing for Kenya yet, but it’s just a matter of time, right? Registration is fairly onerous for a board, so if it’s just quick tips and informal advice that you want, I’d suggest Linux Forums, which offers boards and general Linux-related news.

Linux Questions is another board where users can ask questions and get advice. Registration is required to post, but you can lurk with imputiny and view replies to any questions asked.

So that’s our brief, and far from comprehensive, look at Linux for newbies and how to get started. I’m sure that we haven’t covered everything, and that somewhere out there somebody has just put a fist through their monitor because we’ve missed something vitally important. If you’d like to add anything or offer any tips on Linux for those who are new to the operating system, feel free to go wild in the comments.

[Image by Miguel Angel Nieto]

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