A New User Guide to Linux Communities


Featured image credit:  Leonardo Leporte

Are you a new Linux user? Fantastic! Welcome to the world of freedom. Freedom of choice, freedom of expression, freedom from vendor lockin. You’ve made an excellent choice. Now that you’ve chosen, installed, and are using Linux there are a few things you should keep in mind as you learn the ropes of your new system.

1. Not all Communities are the Same

Each Linux distribution has its own distinct community with their own ideas. Think of owning a vehicle or a certain brand of appliance…along with the ownership of this comes the lifestyle that is reflected by users/owners of the product. The same is true with Linux. Each community will have a different idea on what is important. What is important to you may not be even on the radar of those users and developers of that community. Find one that suits you.

Keeping this in mind, be patient. Ask questions the smart way. Be explicit and tactful. Be precise and direct. Provide more information than you think is necessary…no one will become upset if you provide too much information but they may not answer your question if you have too little.

2. Many Linux “Guru’s” are actually master Google searchers

That’s right! Many of the guru’s in Linux are actually average Linux users savvy at searching Google or another search engine. You can be too…use http://google.com/linux for searching Linux only content and use the advanced search help to get an idea how you can pinpoint exactly what you’re looking for. Pay specific attention to the search operators linked on that advanced page.

When someone does help you, ask them exactly what they searched for and how they searched for it to find a solution. Learn from these users. Often, they may have searched for a specific word order or searched within results from a query. Not asking the user who helped you find this will only inhibit your ability to find answers in the future. When asking, please remember the proper way to ask a question 😀

3. Just Like members of Social Networks (MySpace, Facebook, etc), Linux Community Members Can be Rude

Linux communities are sometimes politically charged. They’re also socially interactive. Communities often ascribe to different philosophies and standards. The best way to navigate through becoming part of a community or finding one that fits you is to respect others. You may not get that same respect in return because there are always those few that choose to be intolerant of opinions other than their own. Be cognizant of this fact. Understand that by not reciprocating the bad behavior you may find, you’re actually improving the community you are participating in 🙂

When someone answers a question for you or helps you out…don’t forget to thank and all those who helped you. A small thank you often help those few attitudes to adjust.

4. The Software is Free and In Many Cases…So Is The Support

Many Linux distributions are free. You can download them, install them, use them how you see fit. The support is community based and is often times free as well. The support is done by volunteers from around the globe.

Keeping this in mind, do not assume to know that the person you are speaking to inside a forum or Instant Messenger or IRC is English speaking. Don’t assume they are male. Don’t assume that they have nothing better to do than to help you. Don’t assume that helping you is #1 priority for them. Assumptions will only inhibit the ability to learn and improve. Assume nothing about the other person; remember to ask questions the smart way and keep a tactful approach. With free support, the the person helping does not OWE you that support…they GIVE YOU that support for free. Do not become upset with someone who is giving you a gift…even if they give you the that gift with a crufty comment.

5. Linux can be a Cult of Personality

Once you use Linux for a while and see the choice/freedom, you begin to get used to it. You start to live in a blissful state where you feel sorry for those that do not have choice. Users in those communities then begin to ignore small problems they may find with distro X.

Communities are often standoffish to this real criticism, even when it might help them. Be patient and continue to voice this criticism in a tactful way. File bug reports and follow them. Don’t blame people for the failures you see directly in a community…remember, there is no centralized support heirarchy and it’s FREE! It’s a gift! Why get angry when someone gives you a gift?

There are many distributions out there to choose from and in each distribution, a set of users that identify with the advantages/features of that distribution. Find the community that fits you. If one community is not a fit for you doesn’t mean there will not be one that does fit.

Part of the foundation of the General Public License under which Linux is distributed is the concept of sharing. One gains and all others gain as well. It’s what makes Linux strong and technologically superior in many aspects to other software. Think of this concept and try to live above this “cult of personality” where everything inside the community revolves around that individual distribution…Don’t slam honest criticism that could help make your community or distro better. Through sharing opinions, code, and help…you participate in your community. Get involved! 🙂

6. Remove the Veil of Anonymity

I always use the comparison of driving a car to explain this. If you’re driving a vehicle and cut someone off or are cut off by someone, it’s normal. People do this all the time while driving. Now picture yourself in the line at the bank. If someone comes in after you, do they cut you off in line? No, that wouldn’t work. The reason that this doesn’t work is because there is a veil of anonymity with vehicles…the person driving doesn’t have to interact with you on a personal level.

Sometimes, Linux communities can be this way. People will not think that choices or words they make or say will have a large impact on others. While this is faulty thinking, it is the nature of the internet. The internet is the main vehicle that powers Linux distribution and development.

Keeping this in mind, remember that your actions have an impact on others within your community. Sure, others will cut you off from time to time with rudeness (see #3) but you can improve the quality of your community by making certain you do not do the same.

Closing Thoughts

Many journalist and technical pundits will have you believe that Linux communities are chock full of nothing but unruly kids that contribute crappy code to a hacked project. This simply isn’t true. Large companies dedicate engineers to Linux development because their business is Linux. When you get started with Linux don’t buy into the hype that these people spout. Find out for yourself by joining a community. Ease your learning by asking questions the right way and have patience. Eventually, you’ll find a community you can be a part of and contribute to.

It took me 4 community switches before I felt like I actually belonged to a community. Through it all, I kept tolerance for opposing opinions and a special region of my heart for helping users with even less experience than myself. In doing so, I was able to attract like users into the community I participate it. Can one person change their Linux community? I believe they can and do regularly. As a new user, see what you can do to change your new community for the better.

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.

9 thoughts on “A New User Guide to Linux Communities”

  1. I would add one thing to the searching suggestions. If you get an answer that still requires you to do more research, post the solution so others can benefit from your work.

    Later . . . Jim

  2. Thank you for this.

    Just a big +1 or 2 or 3, as more and more ‘non-geeks’ get into Linux it helps if we can get everybody on the same page.

  3. More Linux gurus should be anon. That way they wouldn’t spend all their time defending their reps and egos.

    But anyhow, the big point for newbies is this. A lot of Linux – oh forget Linux, just _nix in general – is 40-year-old crud and cruft that is broken. Now, I love Linux and am far from knocking it. However many ‘experts’ will lecture you why things should be this way or that way, they have always been this way or that way, but if you feel it’s broken, you’re probably right…don’t let them ram their authority down your throat. At the same time, don’t waste your time arguing with them. If they start talking like that they are in authority mode and rational design is the last thing on their minds.

  4. Hi All, I’m a new user in linux. I downloaded from mandriva and it started well until I tried to download files. It becames very slow. I was tring to download httpd to generate a server for my research group. Is this a mandriva problem, what could I do?

  5. It maybe to do with which mirror the software installer is pointed at. Mandriva may well default to a French location. If you’re not in France this could slow things down.
    Have a search for “easy urpmi” and follow the instructions there.
    Come back if you get stuck – or try at http://www.linuxquestions.org

  6. Its funny that this post is about tolerance but the more than half the linux community is just made up of anti-ms trolls. If I were a new linux user, I would actively avoid using linux after reading this. Nobody needs to be verbally assaulted everytime they ask a dumb question. Better pray nobody reads this! :p

    About the journalist thing. Yeah, some of them do hold this view, its not without cause. They have been subjected to angry emails and rude threatening letters from linux users right from the 90's whenever they write articles about linux. They have learned to stay away through basic evolution. Nobody needs this grief..

  7. yours is a common experience, unfortunately. one of the reasons most people are just not willing to put up with that, and who can blame them. wake up Linux users, save snobbery for the Mac crowd. no place here in the world of Linux.. it’s up to us to show the best, after all we feel Linux is the best, so we should ACT that way..

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