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.

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Bringing Linux to Work – Portal Part 3

Ubuntu just doesn’t want to be chosen for me. I’ve had nothing but problems with it since I started going on it. I decided that it would be easier to use Ubuntu (1 disk install, apt-get abilities) to house the in house Intranet portal page here where I work. However, I didn’t count on Ubuntu having so many problems.

The first of many problems was mod_ntlm. This Apache module WILL NOT compile on my server. I emailed someone who actually got this to compile in Ubuntu and asked for how they got it to work, implemented their changes in the .c file, yet still couldn’t get it to compile. This reason alone is enough for me to not use it. But there are more reasons still that Ubuntu doesn’t do it for me.

The second reason is going cold. What I mean by going cold is that it almost froze up. For example, it would take over an hour to run apt-get update, about the same to run apt-get upgrade (depending on downloads) and even 20 minutes to do a standard ls -al | grep keyword command. After a reboot everything was fine. This led me to believe that some sort of power saving module was kicking in. So I removed all power saving modules, recompiled a kernel from scratch, turned off all BIOS power saving items, crossed my fingers and rebooted. Even with all of these actions, Ubuntu still went cold after a day of uptime. This is on an IBM NetVista P4 with 1 GB RAM. Ubuntu however will not be staying on any PC at my job due to the previous problems experienced.

I’ve got an exact match of this machine to provide backup for it so I’ve simulataneously been using CentOS to experiment around with it. There’s a reason that Red Hat is the leader in the server arena…because they get it done and provide a fantastically stable Linux environment. CentOS is repackaged Red Hat Enterprise Linux and it is fantastic. So from this point on, Ubuntu will not be actively developed on by myself…I’ll be using CentOS from this point on. Which leads me to the decisions I’ve been trying to come to.

I’ve been trying to find a good portal CMS that can house documents and provide news announcements for my department. No chat is needed…no forums…just a repository for docs. With all of this being said, I need to provide a flexible solution to house these documents as well because who knows what the director will come back and say. Perhaps tomorrow he’ll change his mind and want to have all documentation developed and worked on in Sharepoint and all reports to go on our intranet page. So I need flexibility if I’m going to get a CMS running on Linux and I need it to be stable so I can show tangible results to upper managment. Otherwise, they’ll continue to go with what has been working for them…and that is Windows.

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Why Ubuntu isn’t for New Linux Users

I was getting a bit tired of saying the same things over and over to friends on the net. I was getting tired of repetitiously posting in forums the same sentiment over and over. Yet, just like getting a second wind in a long and tiring race…my tiredness melts away and I find myself feeling refreshed and anew. What the subject of this rant has to say and what I have to say in the paragraphs below are NOT written to start a flame war. I am a user of Ubuntu and a strong supporter of all Debian based distros. This article is written to allow insight into where I believe Linux needs to go to succeed. I’m not out to win any popularity contests…I’m not out to garner a bunch of page hits to generate ad revenue. I’m just out to help the Linux community and rant a bit when I find a subject that strikes a nerve. The subject at hand is Why Ubuntu is NOT New Linux Users.

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What’s in a Name?

With Knoppix at least they named the distros differently. With KDE and Gnome, taking the first letter of the names was good enough. But Ubuntu and those using it have developed a silly idea and are trying desperately to make it ‘cool’. Unfortunately, most people seem to agree with them that this naming convention is just that…cool. My stomach turns…

I disagree with this notion of ‘cool’. I think it is silly and unprofessional. For those that have no idea what I’m speaking of, please take special note of the names of the following distros:

  1. Edubuntu
  2. Kubuntu
  3. Ubuntu
  4. What next?

Perhaps some of you may think I’m being harsh. I don’t think so. Adding oddly named distros of Linux that are so similar in name have a chance of confusing the general public. Is there anything to stop these projects from popping up? Will there be derrivatives such as Gamebuntu or other such oddities as GovBuntu or Serverbuntu/Mailbuntu in months and years to come? Not if good taste comes into play. I defeatedly will wait for Pornbuntu to come out sometime in the next few years (ok…perhaps I’m stretching, but you should get the picture). Why didn’t Canonical just name it Ubuntu – Education Edition, Ubuntu – KDE Edition, or something along those lines. Why try to make it ‘cool’ to have Ubuntu inside that new name for the new project? Why Why Why?

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The Point is Click Linux; a managed theme…

I’ve decided to adapt a central theme for the distros category in this blog. I’m going to cycle through the 5 biggest ‘Point and Click’ distros and am going to do a quick 2 day assessment on each. After I get through all the distros, I am going to do a fresh install starting with the first one (whatever that may be) and I am going to have my wife, who is new to Linux, check out what she can do with each and which distro she feels is truly the most ‘Point and Click’ distro out there. Remember that it doesn’t matter what distro of Linux is used to most new users…they just want something that WORKS. They want to be able to browse the web, listen to music, and check email and if something is broke from the get go…they abandon it and go back to something that does work. So…we’ll be looking specifically at distros that work out of the box on a standard hardware and hard disk setup.

Here’s the list of distros I’ll be posting w/ screens on:

  1. Mandrake 10.1
  2. Libranet 2.8.1
  3. PCLinuxOS Preview 7
  4. SimplyMEPIS 2004.04
  5. Fedora Core 3

Some of you might be wondering why I don’t have ‘X’ distro listed in there. The reason is that I’m looking for the following criteria: 1. Full version is free 2. Noted by the Linux as very new user friendly 3. the distro’s not Ubuntu (REVISED: Ubuntu is now in the mix due to reader response).

As a past user of Ubuntu, I can tell you that it doesn’t hold a candle overall to any of the distros I’ll be investigating and will therefore NOT be included into this group. If you need Ubuntu snapshots and reviews…go google it and you’ll come up with at least 500 misguided ones. I suppose if there is any feedback about Ubuntu here I can probably give my two cents on it.

As I posted earlier, I recently installed Mandrake Linux 10.1. I was quite impressed with the default install and how it appeared. Now that I’ve had about a week to analyze it I can share some observations.

First and foremost, this OS is eyecandy. Everything looks and feels organized and soft. There aren’t any hard, right angled fonts, icons, or windows. You look at the desktop and get a sense of completeness. Â I can’t explain it any more than that. For appearance, Mandrake is hands down the most eye pleasing free distro available.

The second most noticeable thing is the organization of the menus. Everything has its place and there isn’t a ton of confusing menus to mess things up. For instance, with most KDE default installs on distros that don’t preconfigure them for you (i.e., slackware) you find ALL of the KDE menus intact. This means that when you go to the more applications link in the K-Menu, you find EVERY SINGLE APPLICATION INSTALLED. This makes the menu branch out and get quite confusing and frustrating. If one knows how to tweak this, it isn’t a problem. But for those that are just starting out in Linux, it’s very confusing.

I like the fact that it is very easy to configure the various aspects of your desktop and the settings. They have the menu organization down to a tee. I really think this is the way a Linux distribution should be after it is installed. It is simply KDE done right. You’d think with all of this going for it, Mandrake would rate high on my list…but remember, I’m thinking more along the lines of this distro being ready set go right out of the box. So it fell short on a few points.

The first place it falls short is package management. I realize that Mandrake is trying very hard to have a ‘package warehouse’ like that of Linspire and Xandros…but it falls very short. I tried to upgrade for any security holes numerous times without any success. Also, requiring the user to ‘register’ in order to receive said updates put me off somewhat. If I’m just installing an operating system…I want to accomplish my goals ASAP without adding my email address anywhere in order to accomplish them. So, I was a bit annoyed by this little detail. Perhaps they should make it so it asks on the 2nd update try.

The second place Mandrake falls short is configurability. I know many of you are going to hop all over me for saying this touting “It’s totally up to the individual to configure it” and you’re right…it is up to the individual. But what new user is going to know how to do this out of the box? If I were a new user, I’d be going to the Mandrake Control center for everything I needed…kinda like the Control Panel in WinDozeXP and I wouldn’t want to snoop around to find anything else. I know that this could be a ‘KDE’ or ‘Gnome’ thing depending on the OS…but you’d think that a distro that has developed as many custom menus and such for Linux would go the extra step and take ‘Y’ out of the equation…i.e. making it just one step easier to configure the look, feel, and styles of the desktop.

The last place Mandrake fell short for me was sound. I had no sound at the first boot. No probs I thought….I ran ‘alsaconf’ and pumped up the sound volume making sure it wasn’t muted. I tried the sound again with no go. So…no matter what I did, I couldn’t get the sound going without having to jump farther into the command line that I should have to with a distro such as this. Eventually I did get the sound going. It seems Mandrake detected my onboard sound as active even though it was deactivated in BIOS. Odd, because it is the only distro that has done so. However, I couldn’t ignore the fact that sound wasn’t good to go after a few intervening actions on my part.

Overall, I’d give Mandrake a thumbs up though. This is a pretty solid distro. I can’t wait to see how it fares with my wife. She is really good about checking into what programs can and can’t do and will really put these distros to the ‘new user’ test. As promised, I’ll cycle through each distro myself during the next couple of weeks and post my thoughts on it. Then at the end of this period, I’ll install one of the five listed at the beginning of this post and I’ll have a true new user come and check out each. I think sticking with a distro a week for her to test will be a good idea. That should give her enough time to truly ‘feel’ what it is like and decide for herself if it will get her stamp of approval. I consider this type of test MUCH more unbiased than one you’d read on some large new site…mainly because new users don’t do the reviews…and I’m sure you’d agree that having someone new to Linux take a look at a distro would provide some really interesting feedback.

Thanks for reading and stick with us…it looks to be very interesting.

PS: On the horizon…I’m uninstalling Mandrake 10.1 right now to look at SimplyMEPIS 2004.04. I should have initial reports back sometime in the next few days.