5 Unique Tips for New Ubuntu Users

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.

Author: devnet

devnet has been a project manager for a Fortune 500 company, a Unix and Linux administrator, a Technical Writer, a System Analyst, and a Systems Engineer during his 20+ years working with Technology.

26 thoughts on “5 Unique Tips for New Ubuntu Users”

  1. New user shouldn’t install from source.
    He sould to get use to the package manager.

  2. Hi devnet,

    there’s also the option of using automatix, but as you said, AFAIK you have to use the console to install it, but then you will get multimedia and 3D support with just a few clicks.

    There is also an excellent Ubuntu Users Guide at:
    It’s not official but gets you started really quick, just copy and paste into a console 😉

    Last but not lease, if you have a little experience you can compile your kernel from scratch and optimize it for your CPU, there are also some very good guides for doing this:

    This things don’t come out of the box, but I would say if you use Linux you HAVE to be able to read a little bit of documentation.


  3. Right, they shouldn’t. But when you tell someone they shouldn’t do something (like click on links in their email) what do they do? That’s right. They do it.
    I’m about not removing that choice from a new user. If they shouldn’t do it…then they wouldn’t know how to do it. So leaving it in doesn’t really matter much if you think of it that way.

  4. Uh…no thanks. I’d use Xandros or Linspire before that. Besides, there are free distros that work great without having to drop to the shell…MEPIS & PCLinuxOS to name a few. So I’ll stick with those.

  5. About point 4:

    Debian and Debian based distributions main strength comes from the huge repository of integrated packages. If you know enough to download source from other places to compile yourself, you should have no problems figuring out how to set up Ubuntu to do it.

    About point 5:

    What about:
    sudo apt-get install linux-686
    sudo apt-get install linux-k7-smp
    for example?

    BTW, I don’t use Ubuntu. I use Debian unstable with the latest kernel compiled from Debian supplied source:
    make menuconfig
    make-kpkg –revision=custom.1.0 kernel_image
    dpkg -i ../linux-image-2.6.16_custom.1.0_i386.deb
    and then reboot, that’s it!

    But though I agree it makes much sense to try out different distributions until you find the one you like, your arguments at places seems desperate to find flaws with Ubuntu. I’d agree with you more if you chilled a little.

  6. Re: point 5

    You claim that Ubuntu is not “optimized” for certain CPUs, yet you do not provide any numbers. Do you have any legitimate benchmarks that show the speed increase of “optimized” packages?

    I believe that the “optimization” myth mostly perpetuated by Gentoo fanboys has been debunked a number of times.

    Ubuntu chooses i386 because it’s compatible with the most machines and because it’s not any slower than i586 or i686 code. Try running the i686 Arch Linux on a Pentium 2 and watch it crash because it’s “optimized”.

    Re: point 4

    This is a straw man argument. You’re assuming the user needs to be able to compile from source. However, if, as you describe, this is a person that doesn’t even know how to use Google or the help forums, then they certainly don’t need to be able to compile software from source. Also, if an official Debian package isn’t available, there’s an unofficial one somewhere. In my four years of using Debian-based systems I’ve never needed to compile anything.
    And if they know how to compile from source, they know to install the “build-essentials” package.

    Re: point 2

    You can use EasyUbuntu to install the graphics drivers for your card, without using the command line. EasyUbuntu will also install the RestrictedFormats codecs for you.

  7. Re #3 Lack of Documentation
    Especially in DAPPER there is a lot of documentation delivered when you install it. Look under System in the menu bar and you’ll find the help button linking to a lot of info on how to do stuff in Ubuntu. You can even search through it.

    if you really want dead tree stuff then Amazon will gladly provide you with several books on Ubuntu.

  8. 1. True, give the ones you want a try. There will be something that may fit you better.

    2. False, go to http://easyubuntu.freecontrib.org/
    But I admit that they could change their install documentation to simple use graphic tools (archive manager and file browser)

    3. Please take a look at https://help.ubuntu.com/

    4. True, you need to install build-essential. But it’s all explained at the Users Guide (please see .3)

    5. I used to be a Gentoo “ricer” as some people call them. I switched to Ubuntu about 2 weeks ago. May be it depends of the kind of operations that you do, but I didn’t see any “visible” performance drop-down.

    Now, Linux is all about choice. And for what I understood from your article, you want people to understand that, and I fully agree with you.

    But as your article is written, it seems more like an “attack” to Ubuntu that a proposition of choices to people…

  9. >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.

    FALSE: Did You have a look at https://help.ubuntu.com/ ?? There are guides and tutorials for *buntu (Ubuntu, Kubuntu, Xubuntu) in PDF and HTML formats..You can print a PDF, right?

  10. Aha!

    Didn’t see that one…I’ll post an update to this blog post!

    Thanks for pointing those out. Very handy to new users!

  11. NilsR,

    I’m an Ubuntu user. I use it at work. I use it at home. I can be critical of it if I please. Really, I don’t need to chill on things. If I find flaws in it…I should be allowed to share those flaws with whoever I feel like.
    Ubuntu should not be untouchable and golden…one shouldn’t be chastised for pointing out areas it could improve. One should be applauded. After my experiment last year that pitched a new user using Ubuntu, the items I pointed out in the review were fixed. I’d say that was pretty nice. If I don’t point them out, someone else will. Of course, they’ll have to endure the same bashing I do when they do this.

  12. What’s important too, is that the page with links to these resources and community docs appears when a user opens firefox (it’s a default start page). Community docs are also much more detailed and cover more topics. https://help.ubuntu.com/community

  13. It didn’t occur to you to click System->Help->System Documentation before writing point 3? We do our best, but if you go out of your way to ignore the guides, then there is not a lot that can be done.

  14. There are times when a new user would have to compile something, and may be essentially clueless about using Linux in general. For example, a user has a piece of hardware that needs a module to be compiled. They have found a guide on how to install this driver, but it assumes that build-essential is installed. The user will get a cryptic error about make not being found. It is difficult to correlate the name “build-essential” to “make” or “install driver”. I thought that not having a compiler installed by default was a terrible idea. I used to say Windows was crippled because it doesn’t come with a compiler, now I have to say my favorite distro is the same way. build-essential is on the install CD; it shoule be installed by default.

  15. In addition to these resources being downloadable, the Ubuntu Desktop Guide and other official documentation is preinstalled on the system starting with Dapper Drake. It is available as previously mentioned under System > Help > System Documentation. Additionally, you can order print versions for cost from Lulu.com. The System > Help menu also points you to online documentation options, community support, and commercial support options.

  16. Few more comments:

    1) There’s also paid support for ubuntu, even if it seems expensive…
    4) Normally You don’t need to do so. All You need is in synaptic, few mouse clicks away.
    5) Try Vector Linux and Slackware…both noted as some of the fastest distributions out there.
    Yes they are, but for different reasons than optimizations. Mainly due to careful choice of packages and services run at startup. Also, Slackware’s packages are almost always unpatched.
    If one needs performance, then he/she should start from choosing which services/daemons run in backgroung and what applications start at boot time.
    On ubuntu You could also try prelinking, which gives you some speedup too.

  17. Each guide available on both your system and on http://help.ubuntu.com can be bought in dead tree format from Lulu.com for only the price of manufacture + postage (around $6 US). Each document contains a link direct to the Ubuntu Documentation shop front should you want a copy too.

  18. “3. Ubuntu doesn’t come with an owners manual or User Guide”

    —>System—>Help—>System documentation

    Ubuntu comes with the better documentation that y ever had seen in one linux distro out there.

  19. Try PCLinuxOS and compare the manuals.
    Download the guides here: http://www.mypclinuxos.com/downloads/index.php/
    Let me know what you think……

    One of the best if not the best Linux User Manuals I’ve ever used. Other distro’s reallly should take a look at this structure and language. No skipping and jumping/clicking all over the place (with few exceptions)…it’s all in one place and meticulously updated. I’m liking what I see here.

  20. Your article is written like its an attack on ubuntu. Ubuntu is the best distro i’ve ever used, (granted, i’ve only used around 3, if that) but being a recent convert from Windows to Linux means that I can compile programs from source, install different themes, use the command line, while not going through (too steep of a) learning process! Its great! Ubuntu should be easy enough to decipher for the average computer user, and sure, i wouldn’t recommend it to a computer novice. Whithout using the command-line, you wouldn’t be able to sue half the functionality of Ubuntu. Installing programs is made a snap with Apt-get, and synaptic works a charm. Once i get my hands on the rather lightweight distro Xubuntu, using the xfce Desktop Environment, then things on my (lets face it, rather crap), 366 Mhz, pentium II, then things will really fly. Right now, im just gonna have to settle for Ubuntu with GNOME/xfce. Really, its got to be one of the easiest distros around! As if you wouldn’t use ubuntu. Everything is flawed, but ubuntu is just THAT much closer to being the ultimate distro.

  21. After reading the first bullet, I expected the timbre of this article to be, “You have many choices, and Ubuntu may be a good one for you.” Instead, it seems to have been written, “You have many choices, but don’t choose Ubuntu.” It completely ignores the flaws of other Distros and the strong points of Ubuntu.

    The fact of the matter is Ubuntu has a much better installer for the unintiated that most of the distros cited in this article. If you’re a regular user, you will likely never have to install from source, and the only time you’ll use the command line is to install multimedia codecs. This is a one time thing and it has very clear guides on it online.

    The “flaws” pointed out here are contrived. Saying “Ubuntu needs to be able to install from source out of the box for new users” and then saying “it needs the command line too much” is like saying “this tank can’t fire nuclear weapons” and “this tank has too many weapons.” The idea of giving someone with no Linux experience a PC and a users manual for Slackware and saying “here, install this, it lets you install from source” is ridiculous.

    Additionally, people in general don’t want to read users manuals. Manuals are information based. People are goal based. Do you have a Windows Manual? I bet the majority would say “no.” Do you read it? I bet the majority of those who had them would say “no.” Did it help you acheive what you wanted? Again, I’d say the majority of those who read it would say “no.” The idea that you need to go online for a manual makes it a bad choice is juvenile.

    I think all of these points have some validity, but there’s too much of an axe to grind here on Ubuntu. Saying “use Arch or Slackware because they are optimized, let you install from source, and have manuals” is just a falacy on its face. Use those because you want to use those; use them because they offer features you want/need. Don’t use them because they have features you probably won’t notice or don’t need and Ubuntu doesn’t. That’s like buying a dump truck because it can haul more than a family sedan. It’s true, but if it’s not something you need, you’re really inconveniencing yourself without need.

    My opinion of Ubuntu can be summed up in a few small paragraphs and the information would be more usefull than this article.

    “Ubuntu is a very nice distrobution and worth considering, along with many other distrobutions. It has a large and helpful community, easy to use installer, excellent hardware detection, a vast ammount of preinstalled or ready-to-install software and generally compares favourably with most desktop Linux distrobutions.

    Potential users should consider the following.

    Ubuntu is ideal for:
    1. Simple end users. I.e., I just surf the web and check my e-mail, chat with my friends online, etc.

    2. Users willing to experiment and fiddle with their OS, or are not affraid of occasionally using command line for advanced features/troubleshooting. Most often commands can simply be copied and pasted; no experience is required, but those who feel “any command line is too much” should probably look elsewhere.

    3. Users willing (and preferably excited) about learning more about Linux, but are daunted by/not interested in a distrobution such as Gentoo, which immediately immerses you in command line, advanced package and service choices, etc.

    Ubuntu is NOT for

    1. Users who want others to do things for them. You will be expected to search for answers and to work with others toward any issues/requests you have; expecting resolutions/information to be handed out on a silver platter is a good way to get pointed to the door.

    2. Users who need specific software or hardware. If you just MUST have software XYZ for work, and it’s not written for Ubuntu, you probably should just use what it was written for, not try and shove it into an Ubuntu mold it wasn’t intended for. Note that you can try this out before hand by using the installer (LiveCD) so you will not be caught unawares.

    3. Users with limited/no internet access. Installation of software is most easily done from the large repositories Ubuntu has over the internet. If you have limited/no connectivity, it may be better to look into a distrobution such as Fedora Core, which comes on severl (four or more) CDs or a DVD so that the packages are all locally available.”

  22. This was written from the point of view of someone who KNOWS what it is to be a new user. I’m a documentation specialist and write with end users’ in mind. That being said, I wrote this with a bunch of distros in mind that were easier to use as a new user than Ubuntu.

    I appreciate your opinion so therefore I can expect you to appreciate mine. In this instance you’ve given me no concrete evidence on why Ubuntu is better than say, Xandros or Linspire…or MEPIS, or PCLinuxOS.

    Let’s look at #1 on your response. My wife couldn’t do anything with Ubuntu because her favorite website has flash. She hit a dead end right out of the gate. In this instance and many instances where flash/java/mp3’s are something that people rely on out of the box…Ubuntu falls short. No getting around it. So, in these cases…other distros stand head and shoulders above Ubuntu.

    Sorry, but that alone is enough to justify anything I’ve written here.

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