Update! Before you read the article, please note that an inaccuracy of Point Number 3 has been pointed out in comments by cafeina. Thanks for pointing this out…there are downloadable guides for Ubuntu Dapper Drake available at http://help.ubuntu.com. These guides could be much more user friendly (they don’t have pics included) but that they get the job done quite nicely. Thanks for pointing this out Cafeina!
With the popularity of Ubuntu swelling these days, one can hardly visit digg or other tech news sites without seeing a Dapper Drake or Breezy Badger (both recent titles of Ubuntu releases). Another strong indicator that Linux in general, dapper drake aside, may be seeing an influx of users is the news that Microsoft receives a call back from Windows computers daily. Many users expressed deep concern about false positives where Microsoft receives reports that you are using a pirate copy of Windows when you are running a licensed version. Also, why not examine why WGA (Windows Genuine Advantage) fits the bill for Spyware? So, what’s a ticked off user to do? Give Linux the old college try, that’s what!
I’ve seen an influx of people dusting off Mandrake (that’s right, Mandrake not Mandriva…we’re talking pre-name change) and Red Hat 7.2 disks and firing off questions in forums about how to do various things in Linux. Renewed interest in alterntives to Microsoft coupled with big headlines for Ubuntu means many new users are examining Ubuntu when they evaluate (or re-evaluate) the state of Linux. This being said, I have 5 Tips for New Ubuntu Users that you won’t hear anywhere else.
1. Keep in mind that Ubuntu IS NOT the only Linux out there
There are countless distributions out there, each with its own specific flavor and variety. If you didn’t like something in Ubuntu, chances are that someone else didn’t like it either and they found other users who didn’t like it and grouped together to create something more fitting for their preferences. Chances are that those same users now have a distribution of Linux (or flavor) that caters to your individual tastes and likes. Instead of being locked down (Like Windows) to one incarnation of software, you have something inherent in all Linux flavors….choice. Plus, you don’t have to pay someone to take that choice away when you use it (think about it, MS has you pay them and removes all choice from you…gotta love it!).
Ubuntu may be great for many people and many new users, but it isn’t the best the community has to offer. There are other distributions of Linux that offer both paid and free versions that are much more suited for new users. Distributions like Xandros, Linsipire for paid supported versions, and MEPIS, Kanotix, and PCLinuxOS offer much more for the new user than Ubuntu can and will. Bottom line: Don’t think Ubuntu is Linux and Linux is Ubuntu. It’s not. There’s a whole world of new Linux distributions out there. Find the one that suits you. Don’t make a purchase based on what others are saying about something. Find out for yourself…afterall, if no one found anything that suited them best, we’d all be wearing, driving, and using the same things that everyone else was. Choice is good.
2. If you’re afraid of the shell (aka command line), Ubuntu may be scary for you.
As stated previously, there are tons of other flavors of Linux out there. What makes Ubuntu so scary to some new users is that in order to get your multimedia working, you’ll need to edit files via shell. If this is scary for you, consider switching to Xandros or Linspire. While you may pay for them, you won’t have to crack a config file or check anything with a shell tool.
Many people here will tell you that I don’t know what I’m talking about. They’ll scream, “You can get Ubuntu Multimedia working without the shell!” and in certain instances they’d be correct. For instance, if you know how to operate kedit or kate in superuser mode, you’ll be set…of course, no shortcut exists for this in Ubuntu, Kubuntu, or Xubuntu so you’ll have to create a shortcut. In doing this, you’ll have to “kdesu kate” from the command line or figure out how to make that shortcut…both tasks that are a bit daunting to new users.
So let’s say that in Ubuntu you do figure out this information and are able to edit your files out there to get multimedia working without dropping to a shell (command line). Great! Congrats! Now let’s continue with multimedia and get 3D graphics to work for you. If you’re like me, you need nvidia drivers…something that you MUST DO via shell in Ubuntu. In fact, don’t you have to install graphics drivers via shell all the time with all distributions? Nope. MEPIS has nvidia and ati driver installs in 2-3 clicks. There you go, new user, you’re forced to drop to a shell when you don’t need to. Ubuntu is a fantastic distribution for those of us who don’t fear the shell…but it’s not for your standard Windows convert. Take a look at what still needs a console for Ubuntu. Also, please understand that Ubuntu isn’t alone in this…there are only a handful of distros that DON’T require you to drop to a shell (command line). Make an informed decision for yourself though, don’t take others’ word for it.
3. Ubuntu doesn’t come with an owners manual or User Guide
I’m pretty sure all Ubuntu fans are going to spontaneously combust when they read #3, pointing out various online resources of information and listing various urls of help sites. Despite all of these online resources, Ubuntu does not have a manual. There is no published manual geared toward new users. Sure, there are how-to’s, tutorials, and other handy wikis such as ubuntuguide.org…but there isn’t anything that you can download to your desktop or print out to refer to when you’re getting started. I’m also sure that many will claim that owners manuals are only available from commercial distributions…but they’d be wrong. The PCLinuxOS community published new user guides geared to help new users at operating the LiveCD, Installing PCLinuxOS, and a General User Guide that can be downloaded free of charge in PDF Format.
4. You can’t install from source with Ubuntu without configuring the ability to compile from source.
Ubuntu comes crippled when you install it. The area that it is crippled has to do with the ability to install from source. What this means is that if you are out searching for a piece of software and find that it isn’t listed in Synaptic (apt) for Ubuntu and that it doesn’t have an rpm (most likely it would be a rather new package…the community is good about getting packages put together) you’ll not be able to install it from source without first configuring that ability. Many programs out there must be installed from source because software developers don’t have time to custom tailor packages to 300+ flavors of Linux…so they release source code and you’re able to download this code and install it on your system. This ability is default in a majority of Linux distributions out there…but not Ubuntu. To get it to work in Ubuntu, you have to first configure it to work.
What this entails is installing the “build-essential” package…but of course, how would you know that as a new user? Check the manual. Crap. No manual. Check the online resource (wiki, etc.). If you didn’t know the first thing about forums and weren’t very good at using google (e.g., you listen to music and check email on yoru PC and that’s about it…which takes care of a large chunk of normal users) how would you know to do this? You wouldn’t. Ubuntu is crippled in this instance…it’s one of the few distributions out there that takes away your ability to install from source at the beginning. So if you want the ability to install anything right away and to dive into things…Ubuntu may not be what you want.
Some claim that Ubuntu needs to be this way for security purposes. This is nonsense to me. Linux has always been about putting control in the users hands, not removing it from them. That’s why I am of the opinion that this IS NOT a good thing…regardless of any security problems a developer thinks I might have. Sure it is easy enough to install things when I read an ubuntu quick start…but the idea is to get new users up and running and giving them a bicycle with one wheel and not telling them where to find the other wheel is silly to me. I’d rather give a new user Slackware than Ubuntu for this reason alone. I may be of the minority of thought on this subject as well…but it makes little sense that someone would want Linux without GCC. It’s almost like having Windows without DOS (which really sucked when we went from 98 to XP from a system administrator point of view). Now I’m rambling…but you should understand where I’m coming from now. I don’t like someone else to take away something that has been inherent in Linux since the beginning.
5. Ubuntu will never be as fast as other Distributions; it’s not optimized for it.
“But Devnet, Ubuntu is the fastest distribution I’ve ever ran!” I’m sure you believe that. However, I’d argue that you lack understanding of 3rd through 6th generation processor architectures. Ubuntu is compiled to support a large variety of processors. It uses i386 optimized instruction sets in order to support old hardware (i386 supports CPUs operating at 33Mhz and above). In doing this, they do not make use of all that power you have under your CPU hood. Many other distributions also use this to make sure they reach the widest audience they can. However, for the average desktop user, this is like having a two stroke engine inside of a corvette. You have the processing power of Celeron, Pentium 4, and AMD Athlon or above right? Why aren’t you utilizing it? If you’re going to use or are using Ubuntu, you’re not taking advantage of the optimizations that i586 and i686 instruction sets have to offer…which mainly is enhanced performance.
If you are using a Dell, HP, Gateway, Compaq, or Emachines laptop or desktop that you’ve purchased in the past 2 years and you’re running Ubuntu, you’re not taking advantage of what your processor has to offer.
Confused? Let distrowatch do the hunting for you. Results from i386 architecture, i586 architecture, and i686 architecture. Give PCLinuxOS a try…it’s optimized i586. Give Foresight Linux a try, it’s i686. Give Arch Linux a try…it’s i686. Try Vector Linux and Slackware…both noted as some of the fastest distributions out there. All of these distros offer a great performing desktop and if you’re using Ubuntu, you’ve already had to drop to the shell once or twice so using these distributions should be water under the bridge you old hand.
Ubuntu, Pretty in Brown? Don’t Let Others Decide For You
In closing, I’d like to advise the new Linux convert to try ALL distributions that are in the top ten distributions listed at distrowatch. These receive the most page views at distrowatch and they receive those for good reason…they generally offer a fantastic desktop experience. Please remember that Ubuntu might be the perfect distribution for you and that is great! Welcome to the wonderful world of Debian based Linux. However, before you throw yourself into the Ubuntu fray and classify all Linux as Ubuntu when you try it out, do yourself a favor and check out other distros. You may find that they suit you better than what everyone thinks suits you best.
This content is published under the Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.