Switching from Windows to GNU/Linux (a newbie’s guide)

All right fellow newbs..I tried to make the argument for why GNU/Linux is wonderful and how everyone should make the switch..I may have forgotten some things but hey, I'm still a newb too!
In this post, I will be reviewing the distributions (distros, or "flavors") of GNU/Linux that I personally have downloaded and tried out, which ones I liked or didn't and why…all keeping in mind of course that there are features that I am not knowledgeable enough to try out yet lol…with GNU/Linux, one learns humility fast!
Okay, here we go….

First things first..some helpful vocabulary:
Distro-a distribution..a version of GNU/Linux (aka flavor)
Newb-a person who is new to a computer concept (aka newbie)
Guru-a GNU/Linux expert
Packages-The components of a distro (examples: media players, office programs, mail servers, firewalls)
Repository-a place to get packages from
Kernel-the core of the operating system..without it, the computer is just a lightbox
Mirror-In computer speak, a mirror is a copy of a website, mostly used to provide multiple copies of the same thing, used for large downloads.
Proprietary-referring to ownership of software..which is contrary to what GNU/Linux stands for..(most notorious example..Microsoft)
Free software-refers to the freedom to copy the software and make changes to it as the person sees fit and to redistribute it..often it is free as in price too, but not always.
Deb package-refers to a package specifically made for Debian Linux users that can also be used by other distros based off of Debian (and they are many)
LiveCD-is a disk (CD or DVD) with an image (iso) that is bootable (in other words, can be run as a program when the computer is powered on)..used for running an OS straight from the CD/DVD drive..great for test driving an OS without changing anything on your computer
GUI-graphical user interface (which means pictures you interact with lol) in other words, point n click!
Desktop Environment-don't worry you know this one..GNU/Linux has KDE and Gnome; you used Windows (95, 98, Me, XP, Vista etc.) with Microsoft
OS-operating system..without it, you and your computer would have a very difficult time talking to each other..(notorious examples: Windows, GNU/Linux, Mac OS X, and BSD)
command line/terminal– this is where commands are typed in (no point n click) takes skills I do not have yet lol
root-the root user is "the man" of the computer, can do anything to it..so caution must be used with it…"with great power comes great responsibility..and a new harddrive"

We are now at the most fun (and most frustrating) part of the switch to using GNU/Linux..
According to the Wikipedia article on Linux distributions..there are currently over 300 distributions worldwide…(wow)…some of these are commercially backed (have funds to help them) and some are community driven (a few folks doing this because they love it) and many have been made by just one person who wanted their OS to be a specific way for their own personal preferences…Typically the more users a distro has, the more testing it has gone through and the more support it has (like anything else)..

Try exploring DistroWatch, which keeps track of all the various distros of GNU/Linux offered from people around the world, including their websites, features and reviews.
Once you have read a little about some of the major distros on the Major Distributions list (top of the page) you can either visit their sites to learn more about them now, or you can take a "test" made
for us newbs that will help you to make the right choice for you.
There are several tests or "distro choosers" out there. One of the ones that I used was on the Zegenie Studios website..To start getting help choosing the right distro for you, just remember to answer the questions honestly!! There is no shame in not knowing anything about Linux and there are no "wrong" answers in this quiz..it is just to help you weed out a lot of the distros that will be all wrong for you, such as the ones that are more technical..you don't want to start out with a technical distro when you are a newb…that would be like getting a graphing calculator when you are in first grade..pointless….Besides, as your skill level rises, you can always hunt down a new distro to fit your changing needs (it is a lot of fun trying them out!)
CLICK HERE TO TAKE A DISTRO CHOOSER TEST now. There is a question in the test about whether you are interested in Live CDs..go ahead and choose yes on this; it will save time in the choosing process.
Okay so you've taken the test..Check out your results by visiting the homepages…here are some guidelines as to what to look for…….
1. A FAQ page or list of common questions asked of the distributor.
2. A list of requirements: This is what specifications you need on your computer in order to use that distro.
3. A place to download the distro…is it a mirror? or a regular page? or a directory page? and believe it or not, I have come across the odd distro or two where I couldn't figure out how to download it. (probably not worth it to a newb)
4. Support, support, support!!!! Being able to ask the developers questions is important..that's right, in Linux you can email the maker of the application or distro and they actually answer back!! Another important part of support is a user forum..where other users of the distro ask questions and post answers to help each other. Another important aspect of this is…how nice is the forum (what did she just say??) lol..seriously though, if you are a newb and have a lot of questions, you don't want some jerk telling you that you are too stupid for Linux; you want someone who will help you with real solutions that work! Additionally help from other non-gurus is good because you will understand the help you are getting..gurus are great..but if you can't understand the solution then you aren't being helped.
5. Along with support, it is important to take things with a grain of salt..beware of "one posters" with no replies or comments..there have been reported problems of people deliberately giving wrong advice in order to help a newb or a not-so-newb screw up their system..One very helpful user forum for Linux newbies is the Ubuntu help forums (yes, even though I don't have Ubuntu) Anytime I google a newbie question that I have, the same question has usually been asked by someone already on the Ubuntu User Forums There are so many newbies in the forum because Ubuntu is the fastest growing distro..so while your question is likely to be found there, remember there are many many other newbs in there who may be inadvertantly giving out bad advice. Double check to make sure the "solutions" are being given by someone who knows what is going on..investigate the author of the solution post to see if they know what they are talking about. And don't be afraid to ask what experience someone has before you follow advice, ESPECIALLY if it involves making changes as the root user (which can toast your system if you aren't VERY careful)
6. An important part of your distro will be the GUI (Graphical User interface) and Desktop Environment…Sorry, gurus, but us Windows refugees need our point and click lol..and if you are into eye-candy (especially the Vista users) KDE (i think) is the best, then Gnome…
7. Check out the 'packages' listing the distro has..if they have one..if not, maybe they aren't for the newb..Check and make sure that the things you will be using everyday are there…like the webbrowser you like, or a media player of some kind, email and an instant messenger…Try to find distros that work "out of the box" so to speak..these are the most newbie friendly. On the flip side of that, try to beware of distros that specifically cater to Windows users..I mean, we left Windows because it sucks; no need to go right back to it..
8. The website itself…is it easy to understand? not too much techie-talk? well-organized and laid out with important sections like requirements, features, support links and FAQ readily visible?
Hey You Got a Headache Yet??
Time for my Personal Review of the Distros I have checked out…All of the following were free dowload versions!! Here we go!!!!
(In order of how I used them)
1. Debian GNU/Linux
This distro was the first one I tried because I was a hopeless newb and this is one of the ones that kept popping up when I searched for a distro based on not having much RAM (only 256 MB). Debian (named for the publisher, Ian, and his wife, Debbie) is very strict about only using free software, so there was no package for downloading Flash Player, which is required for my favorite browser, Opera. I am also a command-line moron, so a graphical user interface (GUI) is very important to me..(What is it? basically–point and click, which is what Windows uses.) The Desktop used by Debian is Gnome, which had somewhat of a similar feel to what I was used to..and was not sluggish at all, despite me having limited memory. Debian has, I believe, the largest package repository in all of Linux-dom, so as long as it is not proprietary (owned by someone and not copyable) Debian has it! All you do is open Synaptic Package Manager, search for your package, click apply and you are done! Even better is if it's a deb package, which has its own installer..open the package with the Deb Installer and you are done! That is nice! As a windows refugee and hopeless pointnclicker..I loved right clicking on the desktop to change it..the color picker is loads of amusement and downloading themes is a snap..
Okay what I didn't like…the install took just this side of forever and was kind of unclear..I was soooo confused the first time I did it..fortunately I enjoy trial and error so I had to completely reinstall about 8 times LOL..so it got easier..but for a newbie it was really murky..I really hated aptitude..it was so hard to figure out..and like i said, command-line moron here! (which is my fault but still not newb friendly)…Also, I had issues with applications freezing solid..although the insty-quit button was nice..i had that right on the desktop for frozen apps..Support was vast, but a little too technical for my comfort. All in all, under whatever kind of crazy guidelines I have..I give Debian Linux a B+, a little hard to learn to use, but pretty easy to use (does that make sense?) And I did come back to it after trying out other distros….
2. KNOPPIX GNU/Linux (two websites: http://www.knoppix.org/ and http://www.knoppix.net/) (the first is a german based website, the other english based but both available in english)
Designed by a guy with the last name Knopper, this distro of Linux is pretty much the one that came up with the Live CD concept, which enables the user to run an entire operating system completely from a CD disk..I downloaded that and ran it..graphically it was pleasing..on the .net page it says zero to linux in 5 minutes..true! I got a tad confused on a couple of set up questions but I mostly chose defaults when that happened…the KDE desktop is my personal favorite and it was very pleasing to the eye..the downfall for me is that Knoppix isn't really made for hard drive install so that was a deal breaker for me..but if portability is your major concern..Knoppix is great! I give it a B…
3. Puppy Linux
Already you have to love a distro that comes complete with a puppy desktop lol..of course, Puppy does refer to its size but hey that is one way to get people to try it out anyway!! I tried Puppy Linux because it is a small distro, which is necessary for me as I have limited RAM..The Live CD was about 90 MB (yes seriously) and there were many programs jam packed into Puppy. Great things? Puppy has a very well organized and easy to understand website that will tell you all you need to know about Puppy..Not so great things? Call me shallow but I didn't like the way it looked..lol..sorry! It really performs well though and if you aren't as "eye-candy hungry" as I am, then it really is great, especially for older systems…I gave it a B-
4. Feather Linux
This is another of the "small distros" available out there..I tried it out but I very quickly decided this one was not for me; it didn't seem to recognize my monitor right..all the colors were messed up on it and of course I didn't know how to fix it lol..It requires more technical ability than I possess as a newb…At 128 MB this compact OS is also another good choice for an older system..(That's another great thing about Linux; revive your old PCs) Overall, I gave it a C
5. Vector Linux
This distro I really liked…so much so that I installed it to my hard drive from the Live CD..Great things: It came with Opera "out of the box" which I thought was AWESOME! It also has Seamonkey..one of the Mozilla projects…Multimedia support including for iPods is included and overall, a really great OS.. The not so greats: The installation process is a newbie-nightmare…so I probably did something wrong, as it froze up after I installed it to the hard drive and refused to boot again, except from the CD which was less than I wanted..So, as much as I thought it was an A operating system, i have to give it a C- for freezing up and being an installation nightmare..
6. PUD Linux
This version of Linux was what I had been looking for..a light version based off Ubuntu..the version of Linux Everyone who is anyone (lol) is talking about..so when I saw this more friendly to my RAM version, I got it…Now bearing in mind that the develper is Taiwanese (people do different things in different ways in different places) right off the bat I wasn't sure about the website..The main page is in chinese? is there a 'taiwanese'? (I assume so..sorry not an expert in oriental languages; wish I was)..but there is an english page, no problem..There is a list of categories but no way to expand them to learn more about the features..Everything I learned about it was on DistroWatch..I can't really review this distro well because my LiveCD was a little hokey..I'm not sure if it was corrupt or what happened but it froze up right off the bat..so I have to give this an Incomplete lol…
7. PCLinuxOS
Their website is a little hokey and hard to navigate for a newbie but once I downloaded the live CD ( I used the "MiniMe" download) I popped it in, rebooted and in less than 8 minutes I was using this distro…then as I kept using it and kept loving it more and more…I decided to hard drive install it (HDD install) and had no problems, except one; I couldn't figure out how to install it to HDD..(if you have tried this distro you get the joke) there was an icon right on the desktop to install it to the hard drive LOLOL…my bad! So anyway, I installed it…The goods: I love KDE desktop..and oddly enough the one thing I thought I wouldn't like, the lack of applications on the disk, was actually perfect! I just went to Synaptic Package manager, updated the repository list (places to get packages) and I just started picking what I wanted….and only!! what I wanted….it was great!! The HDD install was a breeze, with a step by step point and click, pictures and all dream!! I give this a good solid A…not an A+ because at some point there will be something I don't like..otherwise, I love it…It's a keeper!!

As a side note, I have also downloaded one more distro…Slax, based off of Slackware, the oldest continuing distro of GNU/Linux…I just never tried it out because I found what I wanted…
Okay fellow newbs…hopefully my ranting and longwinded discourse was helpful in your choosing of the right distro (for you!)…Just remember, keep in mind what your needs are and don't worry about what someone else says is "the one you should get"…you may be a newb but you still know what you want! Do your homework and be willing to learn….If I can help clarify any part of my ramblings, feel free to contact me by email: Pattycakes Please add: Linux Blog in the subject line so I will not think I am getting spam LOL..Good luck and welcome to GNU/Linux!


4 thoughts on “Switching from Windows to GNU/Linux (a newbie’s guide)

  1. You know what? This is a fabulous little introduction to the world of Linux, offering some great pointers for those wondering how to get into it. You should work this up into a downloadable PDF or something. 🙂

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