If you follow any of my articles on this site, you know I am a fan of Linux. You also know I believe it’s not for everyone. However, I do think that many of us out there could make the switch to a Linux laptop or PC and never look back. While I do have a laptop that uses Linux exclusively, I must confess that I probably don’t use it as much as I could. In fact, I would wager than anyone that has dipped their toe into the Linux pool probably doesn’t use it as much as they could.
I would like to change that. In order to make Linux more attractive, you have to make things easier for people. While many of the leading distributions, such as Ubuntu, have made major strides in doing that, the fact is Linux is still more difficult to use than Windows or Mac, primarily because most people haven’t ever used it. It’s just that simple.
So today, I thought I would do my part in making Linux easier for anyone knew to the Linux world. Below you will find ten tips for Linux beginners that should help you understand how it works a little better so it doesn’t seem quite as foreign and, for lack of a better term, “hard” for people that aren’t computer experts.
Tip 1: What Is Linux?
Simply put, Linux is an operating system just like Windows 10 and macOS. It controls the hardware and gives you a platform to install software and interact with your machine. Linux as designed by Linus Torvalds in the early to mid 1990’s and was based upon the UNIX operating system that was made popular in large businesses and college campuses for decades prior to its creation. Today, Linux powers hundreds of different distributions and is even the basis for the Android and Chrome OS operating systems. You can even find it powering your televisions and routers, as well. To learn more about its history, click here.
Tip 2: Distributions Explained
As you just read above, I mentioned distributions. Distributions are simply the basic Linux kernel with a subset of software applications and design philosophies. Many distributions are made with a specific goal in mind, while others just try to create a good user experience by combining the Linux kernel with certain software and features to create usable desktop environment. There are hundreds of distributions, and you can learn more about the different distros out there by visiting Distrowatch.
Tip 3: Desktop Environments
When you look at your computer, you probably think those pretty graphics are the operating system. While that is sort of true, it really is a graphical interface that is on top of the main part of the OS. While on macOS and Windows you don’t have a choice what GUI you use, on Linux you do. There are many different interfaces today. The most popular are KDE, Gnome, Cinnamon, and Ubuntu’s Unity interface. But there are many more than that, such as Xfce that is designed to run lighter than the other options, making it perfect for older machines and even virtual machines. While your distribution will come with one, you don’t have to stick with it. You can use any graphical interface you want on any distribution. The choice is up to you.
Tip 4: Installing Linux
Installing Linux can be a bit daunting to a new user, and really it is probably the most difficult part about adopting Linux as your operating system. However, it’s not as difficult as you might think. You will need a few tools, however. For example, you will either need to create a bootable DVD with the ISO or put it on a USB flash drive and then boot your laptop or desktop to it to install the software. Once you do that, you may want to install it alongside your existing Windows installation. That means you will have to use software such as Partition Magic to create a separate partition on your hard drive or install it onto a different hard drive altogether. This does take a bit of work. Check out our guides here and here to learn more about it. While one of the guides focuses on a Mac, the process is essentially the same on a Windows machine.
Tip 5: Recommended Distributions for Beginners
Now this one I must admit is a tough one, as which one will work for you will largely depend upon your experience. However, there are several that I can recommend. That will at least give you a place to get started on your search. Ubuntu is one of the top distributions and runs a very polished interface that is easy to use, but it is bit different than what you are used to if you are coming from Mac or Windows. For Mac users, I recommend elementary OS, which is based on Ubuntu but has a Mac feel with the customized graphical user interface. Other great candidates are Linux Mint, which feels a little more like a Windows interface while you are using it, and Zorin OS, which was created specifically for Windows refugees. Research these to get started and try them out, I’m betting you will find one that you like.
Tip 6: Don’t Fear the Terminal
Ah the terminal, a source of huge amounts of stress for the new Linux user. Remember, even Windows has a couple of terminals, known as Command Prompt and Powershell. In the old days, you had to use the command prompt for everything, but then Microsoft created a much improved graphical interface that lets you control everything from there, without ever needing the terminal. Linux, on the other hand, is a bit different. There are many things you can do on the terminal and, in some cases, you won’t have a choice about using it or not. Play around with it and use it. In the end, it will be your best friend and you will be able to do more with it much faster than you ever could using the graphical interface. For more help with the terminal, try learning more about it here.
Tip 7: Understanding the File System
Most everyone understands the Windows file systems. You have your folders under the C Drive and then a Windows folder where everything about the OS is stored. Linux works a little differently, spreading bits and pieces of software across a bunch of different folders with weird folder names such as “etc”. While this is confusing, it is very logical and once you are more familiar with the environment, it will make perfect sense to you. For now, however, just think of these weird folders as what is in your Windows folder. Don’t touch them unless you have to and just stick with your Home folder. That folder will look a lot like your Documents folder under your account on Windows and be much easier for you to manage until you get more comfortable with the system.
Tip 8: What is Root and Superuser
In Linux, you have two types of accounts, a regular user and a root user. This is just like Windows and Mac, that have regular users and administrator accounts. In Linux, I recommend you setup a separate user as the root and then create a user account for all your stuff and day to day activities. If you are on your account, you can always elevate your privileges in order to do admin stuff without having to change users. This is what is known as a superuser. It’s basically you with root level access. It makes administrating your computer much easier but, at the same time, keeps you more secure from attacks and accidents while you are using your machine because you have to authenticate with the root password in order to use those privileges.
Tip 9: Missing Drivers
One of the biggest problems people run into when switching to Linux is missing drivers. In most cases, Linux will include a generic driver that may work fine. However, in other cases, you may need a proprietary driver to really take advantage of your hardware. This often happens with graphics cards, such as NVIDIA cards, but it can happen with almost any piece of software. If this does happen, check with your manufacturer. NVIDIA, for example, makes drivers for Linux, and you can download and install them yourself. In other cases, the Linux community could have the solution for you. Do a few searches and if all else fails, ask the community for your distribution, most of them are more than happy to give you a hand.
Tip 10: Repositories and Installing Software
Installing software isn’t exactly like it is in Windows. You package manager, which controls what is installed on your system, makes use of repositories to download the software straight to your machine. These repositories are basically FTP sites with the installation files you need. You choose what you want to install with your package manager, and then it goes out and finds what you need. In some cases, you may have to add different repositories to your system in order to access the installation files you need, but that can quickly be done via the Terminal. Once done, you can install and update any software on your system whenever you want to, and your package manager will even let you know when updates are ready for your system and software packages.
Bonus Tip: Try Wine
I know, I said there were only going to be ten tips here, but I decided to add one more as a bonus. I feel like it’s worth it, too, especially if you are making the conversion from Windows. Wine is an application that includes many different libraries and requirements to run Windows applications right inside the Linux environment. It can be used for all types of applications such as Adobe Creative Suite, and even many games out there like World of Warcraft and more. You can find a complete list of what will run in Wine right here.
I won’t lie and say that Linux isn’t different from Windows and Mac. It definitely is. However, because of macOS tracing its roots back to BSD, the same as Linux, the two operating systems are more similar than you probably realize. Still, most Linux distributions lack the polish that Apple has spent years developing. As such, it can seem much more difficult to use when you really start to dig into it.
That being said, even a computer novice, with a little time, can get used to Linux and even begin to use it as their primary operating system. Just think about the benefits that would bring. Imagine having the freedom to really do what you want on your system. Now doesn’t that sound like something you could get behind? I know I can. Hopefully, these tips will help you with your journey into the Linux world and make it a little easier for you.
I hope you enjoyed these ten tips for Linux beginners, and I hope they help you get used to one of my favorite operating systems. Do you have any Linux tips for beginners that you think I should include in this post? If so, by all means share them with the rest of the class. Comment below and give me a tip you think everyone new to Linux should know.
About the author
Matt is an IT professional with over fifteen years experience supporting network infrastructure and computers. An avid gamer, Matt enjoys his time playing and writing about his experiences both in the IT world and in the gaming communities. You can find more of his writing for LaptopNinja where he enjoys talking about everything tech.