Five things to know when you switch to Linux

[ Sunday, 19 November 2006, ariadacapo ]


If you have just installed GNU/Linux on your computer, and have only ever used Windows before, here are five things you need to know to get going rapidly.

Author: Olivier Cleynen

#1: App-searching is a pleasure, or:
How to install and uninstall programs

On Windows, you were probably used to find a given program on the Internet, download a setup.exe file, and then install the program in something like C:\Program Files.

Things are very different on GNU/Linux.

On most main distributions, finding, downloading, installing and uninstalling applications is done with one single add/remove program.

|| the Ubuntu installation program ||
Pic.1 Software installation in Ubuntu

Within this program, a wealth of useful, free and gratis software has been listed, sorted and described for you. You need only select/deselect the programs you wish to install/uninstall, and apply your changes. The download and set-up will be done automatically.

You do not have to worry about where the program is installed. You do no have to worry about viruses, malware or “demo” programs (the application list has been constructed and checked carefully by your distribution’s programmers).

This aspect of GNU/Linux is probably the most satisfying and enjoyable to newcomers. Don’t be afraid to try new things out and enjoy your time!

Also on PolishLinux.org: a more advanced installation tutorial.

#2: Be wary when going root, or:
The command-line and the root user

Whichever operation you are doing on your GNU/Linux computer, it can be done by typing code.

Therefore, when you ask for advice, advanced users might reply with a series of coded commands for you to type in your computer, rather than long explanations on “where to click”. This method is called the command-line and code is entered through a small program called a terminal. You do not need to know how to type code for a normal use.

|| Terminal Program snapshot ||
Pic.2 System console

On Windows, the main computer user is allowed to run any program and change any system parameter. In the Linux world, however, things are different.

A normal user is allowed to perform normal actions, such as moving/writing files, launch normal applications, etc.

Only the root user, however, is able to modify system configuration, update the system, and install programs. This restriction makes sure that any malicious program inadvertently run by a normal user, because it hasn’t got root privileges, may not cause much harm.

When you attempt to do something only the root user can do, you will be prompted for the root password. Therefore, you should have a password set for the root user, even if it’s very simple: this will prevent yourself from inadvertently damaging your system.

Whenever your computer prompts you for a password, be wary and make sure you know what you are doing.

When using the command-line, getting root user privileges is done by typing sudo before the command (it means: super-user do and you will be prompted for a password). If you are asked to type a command starting with sudo and you are not sure what it means, ask in a forum (we suggest the beginner-friendly Nuxified.org).

More on PolishLinux.org: the terminal and the root account.

#3: Two (different) sides to a coin, or:
GNOME and KDE

You will quickly come across two frequently used names in the GNU/Linux world: GNOME and KDE.

Windows only has one look and feel, however, the GNU/Linux world has many. In particular, GNOME and KDE are the most popular desktop environments.

Under one desktop environment, you run the same computer, with the same Linux distribution, with the same files, as under another. What you alter is the graphical display: the way windows are managed and things are viewed.

|| a KDE Snapshot ||
Pic.3 Sample KDE desktop

||a GNOME Snapshot||
Pic.4 Sample GNOME desktop

Most programs run equally well under KDE or GNOME. Some more specific applications –generally programs whose name starts with a K or G (such as KOffice or Gedit)– simply look better in their native environment.

You might find that KDE favors graphical artifacts, configuration menus, customization possibilities, to enable impressive desktops. GNOME, on the other hand, might appear more frugal for it favors simpler, cleaner and easier (if maybe less advanced) menus and graphical configuration. In any case, both enable very sleek, attractive and/or productive desktops -only in different ways.

GNU/Linux distributions often come with a default desktop environment (for example, Ubuntu with GNOME, and OpenSUSE with KDE), but you are able (and encouraged) to try a different one. There are also other desktop environments, perhaps most notably the less hardware-intensive Xfce.

More on desktop environments on PolishLinux.org

#4: You-may you-may-not, or:
File permissions

The file permissions determine who is able to access, move or modify each given file. The GNU/Linux system is very strict with these (there is no way to bypass or ignore them), and treats a folder the exact same way as a file.

||File Permissions Snapshot||
Pic.5 File permissions in UNIX

There are three types of actions on the file: read (self explanatory), write (the ability to change and move the file), and execute. The latter, execute, is a bit peculiar:

  • Setting a file as an executable means the system will try to run it as a program when you open it. This is potentially dangerous and you should never do this if you are unsure;
  • Setting a folder as executable simply means that programs will be able to access its contents (this is a default property). For example, your vacation photos folder will be executable, so that you may browse your photos with your favorite program.

The file owner is the only user who can modify the permissions. He can set different permissions for himself (the “file owner“), defined groups of users (“user groups“), and all other users (“others“).

In practice, all of your files (usually stored in /home/your_user_name/ ) will always have permissions set so that you may access and change them. You won’t be able to access other users’ files at all (they are usually stored in /home/someone_else/ ), and you won’t be able to change system files (files such as the ones in /bin/ or /dev/ ) without the root password.

#5: Five more quick tips, or:
Various additional details

Some miscellaneous points that might be useful:

  • No defragmenting needed

    You may be used to regularly defragment your hard drive under Windows. Under GNU/Linux, however, the file systems in use are extremely resistant to fragmentation so that this is completely unnecessary.

  • Anti-viruses made redundant

    Because GNU/Linux is very secure, running an anti-virus is not necessary either (unless you deal with Windows files under an emulator, or pass them on to Windows users). Be careful when you go root, and keep your system up-to-date with the automatic security updates: you’ll stay safe.

  • Case-sensitive filenames

    Filenames under GNU/Linux are case-sensitive. This means that report.odt, Report.odt, and report.ODT will all be different files that can be in one given folder. This is inherent to the system and you cannot change it.

  • Hidden files start with a dot

    Files and folders whose name starting with a dot (like a .thumbnails folder) are hidden. There are usually many such files and folders in your home directory, containing your settings for the programs you use (do not erase or alter them). You can activate the viewing of the hidden files usually through the “view” menu of your file manager.

  • Accounting for hardware

    There are sometimes different software versions, according to different hardware. “Normal” computers are often named “i386″ or “x86″ computers; But there are sometimes “64-bit” versions for 64-bit-processor computers, and versions for Mac hardware (including the G5, G4, G3 series). Unless you have special hardware, you can simply run the “x86″ (or “i386″) version.

Finally…

This is by no means a complete tutorial to GNU/Linux, merely a quick list of information to get newcomers going rapidly.

There is a great number of things you can learn to do with GNU/Linux, and the web is full of good places to guide you. You can start with the First steps section right here on PolishLinux.org, and then head off to the Nuxified.org forums where advanced users and beginners are all welcome.

Enjoy the free software world! You’ll never want to go back.

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37 Comments

fold this thread Ken Pryor  Monday, 20 November 2006 o godz. 1:03 am #  Add karma Subtract karma  +0

Great write-up. I’ve trifled occasionally with Linux, but kept with Winduhs due to certain MS only software. Lately, I’ve been using Linux a great deal more and plan to make it my main OS, although I will have to keep my XP install for certain things. This article is helpful to those of us with only passing or slight knowledge of how it all works.
KP

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fold this thread Eric Martindale  Monday, 20 November 2006 o godz. 7:04 pm #  Add karma Subtract karma  +0

Awesome job – I’ve had a large number of clients looking for a write-up exactly like this.

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fold this thread Alex N.  Monday, 20 November 2006 o godz. 8:13 pm #  Add karma Subtract karma  +0

Oh, man, how I wish I read this couple a years ago :) )
I think it would really nice to have a list of such idiosyncrasies obvious to spiced linux users, but completly strange to the new ones.

Keep up the good work!

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fold this thread Michael Bierman  Monday, 20 November 2006 o godz. 11:05 pm #  Add karma Subtract karma  +0

Excellent write up. Nicely done. This could be turned into a series of articles…e.g. For Mac users…for Windows users.

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fold this thread Gabe W  Monday, 20 November 2006 o godz. 11:20 pm #  Add karma Subtract karma  +0

You should touch on the hassle of using _spaces_ in filenames in this document. A lot of people love to write files with lots of spaces in the filenames, and while this is permissible, it makes for badness in other ways.

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fold this thread asdf  Tuesday, 21 November 2006 o godz. 12:28 am #  Add karma Subtract karma  +0

it’s C:\Program Files\ on Windows. \\\\\

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fold this thread michuk  Tuesday, 21 November 2006 o godz. 1:05 am #  Add karma Subtract karma  +0

it’s C:\Program Files\ on Windows. \\\\\

Or c:\PrOgRaM fILEs\, whatever. Windows is case-insensitive.

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fold this thread asdf  Tuesday, 21 November 2006 o godz. 1:11 am #  Add karma Subtract karma  +0

yeah but not forward slashes

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fold this thread michuk  Tuesday, 21 November 2006 o godz. 1:40 am #  Add karma Subtract karma  +0

yeah but not forward slashes

Right, fixed :)

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fold this thread JH  Tuesday, 21 November 2006 o godz. 1:51 am #  Add karma Subtract karma  +0

One thing about the disk defragmenting tip (and this probably only applies to folks who consider themselves “power users” in Windows, but I’m guessing that pretty much describes anyone who cares about disk fragmentation): The most popular Linux filesystems (ext3, ReiserFS) do actively resist fragmentation, but that’s not to say it’s impossible for them to become fragmented and for performance to suffer as a result.

The main thing to remember is to keep at least 10% of each of your disk partitions free at all times, and you should never have to think about defragmenting.

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fold this thread Quang  Tuesday, 21 November 2006 o godz. 11:13 am #  Add karma Subtract karma  +0

hey great introduction man. Also Linux is Free Free Free =]

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fold this thread Nadav  Tuesday, 21 November 2006 o godz. 11:52 am #  Add karma Subtract karma  +0

Hi,

I’ve been trying to post a comment since yesterday but the site was down&up, and now I guess it’s finally back. This is my original comment:

“Thanks for this amazing article. Sometimes it is these simple (but critical) things we forget to ask before we cross over to the Linux world (or at least consider to).

Your article is very informative and helped me get a better grasp of Linux as a Windows user, even though it was just “Five Things”.

I have never seen a comparison of the KDE and the GNOME, and this certainly answers some of my questions (like, what’s the big diffence?).

I have also wrote a short blog entry about your article in my blog and linked it here.

Thanks again, and hope you get lots of traffic!
Nadav.

…Guess you did get lots of traffic ;-) .

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fold this thread Gav  Tuesday, 21 November 2006 o godz. 3:55 pm #  Add karma Subtract karma  +0

“Windows only has one look and feel”
I don’t see this as a negative in any way. I can go to ANY windows PC and know how to get to what i need. You can alter the ‘feel’ of the interface using winblinds etc.

I ALWAYD run with minimum effects on anyway. I see no point in having a pretty interface. It does nothing to make the OS easier to use.

“GNOME and KDE”
To a new user that’s confusing. Which one should they chose? What’s the advantages/disadvantages of each?

“On Windows, the main computer user is allowed to run any program and change any system parameter. In the Linux world, however, things are different”

Vista Changes that. OK so it’s not out/mainstream yet but it’s a step in the right direction.

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fold this thread mikey  Tuesday, 21 November 2006 o godz. 4:39 pm #  Add karma Subtract karma  +0

hi im mikey…you know im a newcomer in linux as of now im using a windows…but im deciding to switch to linux (i think you know the reason why)…but i need to learn more about linux….hope you will help me….

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fold this thread karthik  Tuesday, 21 November 2006 o godz. 4:58 pm #  Add karma Subtract karma  --1

There is no recycle bin in linux. So be careful before deleting anything

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fold this thread Paul  Tuesday, 21 November 2006 o godz. 5:41 pm #  Add karma Subtract karma  +0

Good, basic descriptions for a new user. One of the user comments was a bit misleading: a poster made reference to the fact there is no “recycle bin” in Linux. This is not an accurate statement. The GNU/Linux desktop evironments KDE and Gnome both have trash cans on the desktop which function in a similar way as the recycle bin in windows. Linux (the OS kernel) itself has nothing to do with the desktop environment, but windows users may not understand this since micro$soft has chosen to nearly eliminate the command line, and blurred the lines between the OS itself and the desktop. As I mentioned, this may or may not be important to new users, but I wanted to clarify this.

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fold this thread michuk  Tuesday, 21 November 2006 o godz. 7:07 pm #  Add karma Subtract karma  +0

There is no recycle bin in linux. So be careful before deleting anything

That is obviously absolutely untrue. All major desktop environments do have a recycle bin (called “Trash”). Of course if you remove things in the command line using rm command, it will be unrecoverable (at least not with a simple mouse click). Same as in Windows.

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fold this thread Steve Gazzo  Tuesday, 21 November 2006 o godz. 8:38 pm #  Add karma Subtract karma  +0

Excellent writeup. I switched to Fedora Core 6 about 3 weeks ago, and learned a number of these things in the mean time, step-by-step, mistake-by-mistake. Had I read this article beforehand, I would have had a much easier time.

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fold this thread Matthew  Tuesday, 21 November 2006 o godz. 11:42 pm #  Add karma Subtract karma  +0

@Gav

Windows Vista’s protections have already been shown to have flaws. And we can get into ALL sorts of reasons why Vista can be a pain in the ass (and in alot of cases not worth the upgrade). Oh and these “protections” in Vista can be disabled. However that’s not possible to do in Linux (unless you just run as Root 100% of the time and in which case you deserved it). If it can be disabled some hacker will find a way…thankfully my Linux box is nice and secure.

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fold this thread mark  Wednesday, 22 November 2006 o godz. 3:15 am #  Add karma Subtract karma  +0

All that has been stated above is correct about Linux, but the crucial missing reason is that your computer cannot be rendered useless because you have changed some hardware and need to Ring “Bill” again.

Once the software is running, it will not die, be cripled or require you to re-identify your self, address, phone and a lot of other data.

You will not need to pay several times for what you own (well actually licenced).

WGA has created a lot of resentment.

Nobody likes being accused of being a criminal (prirate software) and have to prove their innocense.

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fold this thread jj  Wednesday, 22 November 2006 o godz. 5:40 am #  Add karma Subtract karma  +0

I’m a Linux nOObie+ 6 months. Some statements you made are a little broad-brushed from my brief experience.

When you say “You do no have to worry about … malware …” this is really not true. Granted viruses are but a few thousand in Linux as compared to hundreds of thousands in Windows. However, in Linux even more so than in Windows, root kits and other nasties can be equally or more a problematic and the defenses difficult to erect and interpret even if you set them up correctly (I haven’t.) Further, if you download from servers outside your core distribution (e.g. Ubuntu) AND without MD5 checksum verification, there is a good chance you could encounter a keyboard logger or some other spyware nastie like a Windows never heard of root kit. When I fiddled w/Mandriva I somehow downloaded a nastie scanner (like Nessus or something) that was broadcasting off my NIC in promiscuous mode and tying up my CPU. Even one Linux leader/legend name alludes me) recently stated that repository security today is in sad shape in general.

Statements like “You need only select/deselect the programs you wish to install/uninstall, and apply your changes. The download and set-up will be done automatically.” Granted if you are using Apt-get you are less likely to get into “dependency hell” then with RPMs but even Ubuntu the so called “Just works” distro can’t really handle an upgrade smoothly, especially if you add from outside core repositories.

What I have come to find is that Linux is neither easy nor for your “average user.” After you “get going rapidly” there are funny-named details that can slow you down again like: forks, console, terminals, shells, symolic links, cron jobs, archives, localhost, widgits, user nobody, core dumps, tarball, mount points, daemon,“/” vs. root directory, on and on.

Keep Wikipedia close by if you commit!

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fold this thread Chris Travers  Wednesday, 22 November 2006 o godz. 10:29 pm #  Add karma Subtract karma  +0

I thought this article was pretty good. A couple things to note though:

1) Security on any system is up to the administrator. Security patches aren’t the only thing. And if you want safety from rootkits, etc. you need to take measures. I have one customer who had a linux system compromised and a rootkit installed.

2) Linux is a far more transparent system than Windows. This is a good thing. While there is often a learning curve (especially for Windows power users), I have found that Linux is actually easier to learn than Windows once Windows-isms are unlearned. For example, I migrated my parents from Windows 95 (tech support calls every week or two) to Red Hat Linux 6.1 back in the day (they are now on FC5). They knew so little about Windows that I would get calls every week or two asking me how to questions. Now they are comfortable with Linux and find that their knowledge transfers back to Windows pretty easily. It is all about what you expect (and “segmentation fault” is a more noob friendly error than “This program has performed an illegal operation and will be shut down”).

3) Linux is also a more robust system. Unless you are running as root, you are unlikely to destroy your operating system install (cannot say this about Windows, since most Windows users are used to admin priveleges). For this reason, Linux encourages people to explore their computer and learn in a fun way rather than regard their computer as a fickle modern device that at best is to be made peace with and at worst is something to be feared.

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fold this thread phil  Saturday, 25 November 2006 o godz. 8:30 am #  Add karma Subtract karma  +0

jj, you must realize that installing/uninstalling software and system upgrades are two very different animals. Package managers do a very excellent job of handling dependencies. Upgrading your system, however, is much more complicated.

I believe by applying his statments about installing/uninstalling software to system upgrades you are taking those comments way out of context, and giving a misleading readers.

Linux is very easy for your average user, even the beginner, if configured properly. Granted, getting it configured may require some assistance, but once it is, it is very easy to use. And I would challenge you to show me a newbie try to do a fresh install of Windows, and then hunt down all the needed drivers. For the most part, with modern Linux distros, those drivers are installed by default. You say it is not easy, and I disagree. It is certainly different from Windows, and so if you mean that it is not easy because it is different, then you need to rethink that statement. It is a new layout, but it is not hard. It just takes a little time to get used to how the system works.

Change is not always easy, but sometimes it’s more than worth for the benefits you will reap later on. I believe that learning Linux is worth the time it takes to become comfortable with it.

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fold this thread ursus_orribilus  Saturday, 25 November 2006 o godz. 9:10 am #  Add karma Subtract karma  +0

To jj: Your statement, “viruses are but a few thousand in Linux” is categorically, absolutely, flatly false. As a newbie coming from Windows, I can almost understand how you might be inclined to make such a ridiculous statement. Viruses are virtually no problem at all in Linux. I have been using Linux (first Caldera, then Red Hat, then SuSE, and now Kubuntu) for the past ten years, and have NEVER, EVER seen a single virus using any distribution of Linux that caused any problem to the system whatsoever. Please get your facts straight before you publish another wrong one. If you don’t believe me, see “The short life and hard times of a Linux virus” at:

That article should set you straight. Good luck with your new Linux experience.

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fold this thread ursus_orribilus  Saturday, 25 November 2006 o godz. 9:19 am #  Add karma Subtract karma  +0

To jj: (continued) The link did not come through on the first try (HTML didn’t work in this blog). “The short life and hard times of a Linux virus” can be found at:

http://librenix.com/?inode=21

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fold this thread machiner  Saturday, 25 November 2006 o godz. 3:06 pm #  Add karma Subtract karma  +0

I think that this article is terrific. It is written in such a way as to NOT insult the reader’s (and the computer user’s) intelligence and that’s a rare thing. Bravo.

It’s clear that the important fundamentals were considered and are represented. Tough, though, because this 5 thing list could have just as easily had been 10 without repeating yourself. Many new Linux users loose interest quickly becaue of some profound differences between Windows and Linux, and the lack of understanding thereof, and the quick descriptions used here work well. Like I wrote – without insulting anybody’s intelligence.

In the comments to this article I read troubling inconsistencies with the truth that are the biggest reason for a lack of Linux dominance on the desktop. Linux has been ready for this for some time – it’s just that nobody has figures a way to show this. Mindshare is not with it and when posters like JJ reference Ubuntu as a Linux standard we are kept in perpetual “almost there” as Ubuntu is certainly not the wunderkind that all the n00bs think it is. Ubuntu has introduced a troubling “frustration factor” like the one Windows has with its own users that cannot even find and open a program without help, let alone modifying program or even basic system settings to personalize their environment, and make their work more like their own style.

Basically, computers suck and continue to do so. I often recommend tossing the one you own out your window. Life was much more harmonious and simple when we used pen and paper – and we knew our neighbors. If you would like to make the most out of your sucky computer; I suggest you get, install, learn (takes maybe an hour), and run Debian GNU/Linux on it. Afterwards you’ll have your life back and you will not have wasted any time with the flavor-of-the-day, or pissing your life, $$$, and soul away to some software maker in Redmond, WA – USA.

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fold this thread Gerard Fernandes  Monday, 27 November 2006 o godz. 8:43 pm #  Add karma Subtract karma  +0

Statements like “You need only select/deselect the programs you wish to install/uninstall, and apply your changes. The download and set-up will be done automatically.” Granted if you are using Apt-get you are less likely to get into “dependency hell” then with RPMs but even Ubuntu the so called “Just works” distro can’t really handle an upgrade smoothly, especially if you add from outside core repositories.

Your statement is quite untrue in general of most of the new breed of user-friendly distributions – regardless of whether “.DEB” based or “.RPM” based. You must remember that .DEB and .RPM are parallel technologies. So to are APT-GET and YUM or URPMI etc. Functionality is therefore exactly the same although implementations will differ slightly in how they look and feel.

The author is therefore absolutely justified in making a statement that installing software on such Linux distributions (Ubuntu, Fedora, Mandriva, SuSE etc) is actually easier (although slightly different) than Windows.

What I have come to find is that Linux is neither easy nor for your “average user.” After you “get going rapidly” there are funny-named details that can slow you down again like: forks, console, terminals, shells, symolic links, cron jobs, archives, localhost, widgits, user nobody, core dumps, tarball, mount points, daemon,“/” vs. root directory, on and on.

This is quite untrue as well. None of the modern user-focussed distributions (Ubuntu, Fedora, Mandriva, SuSE) expose the user to any of these internal details. The user may learn such details at their own discretion. The system makes no such presumptions nor any demands.

Further, if you download from servers outside your core distribution (e.g. Ubuntu) AND without MD5 checksum verification…

If you perform any such action, you must be prepared to face the consequences. All of the user-focussed modern distributions have a wealth of software available at RECOMMENDED repository locations. If you make a choice to go beyond RECOMMENDATIONS, you should do so at your own risk and be fully prepared for the consequences.

Again, the author is perfectly justified in the assumptions made for this article – its target audience is the GNU/Linux beginner audience. No beginner should go beyond advised and well documented RECOMMENDATIONS of the specific distribution he/she is trying.

In summary, all of your criticisms are completely off-mark and quite senseless. If you do have meaningful, objective and constructive criticism, please log such criticism as bugs with appropriate details at the specific distribution bug-tracker. Do not make baseless blanket accusations that you can not substantiate.

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fold this thread LPA  Monday, 4 December 2006 o godz. 8:48 am #  Add karma Subtract karma  +0

Wow. I can tell you from my Ubuntu experience (and a long time linux user) that ALOT of software that I want to use is not as easy as a single click here and there. I still have to drop into the command line to get some simple installs done.

I am happy that Linux is getting easir. But when I use the two side by side most tasks still require fewer click and keystrokes on Windows.

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fold this thread Henrik  Saturday, 9 December 2006 o godz. 8:43 pm #  Add karma Subtract karma  +0

Nice article,
I am now a long time Linux user, but I still remember when I was not, and the headaches I got from what I now know is normal procedure in Linux.

But one of the first thing to understand/learn when you start with Unix is what kind of package system your soon to be distro uses.

I still remember RPM hunting on the internet(now more or less obsolete), you always wanted the *.src.rpm.

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fold this thread doddo  Monday, 1 January 2007 o godz. 4:41 pm #  Add karma Subtract karma  +0

Nice Article, I was going to write something similar, cause it is what i’d needed when I was new to linux

I guess now I dont have to :)

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fold this thread belle  Tuesday, 5 June 2007 o godz. 1:04 pm #  Add karma Subtract karma  +0

how do you declare in the begining that the linux should always ask before executing the rm fynction

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fold this thread sem calcinha  Tuesday, 28 February 2012 o godz. 10:56 pm #  Add karma Subtract karma  +0

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fold this thread más información  Monday, 17 June 2013 o godz. 10:27 am #  Add karma Subtract karma  +0

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es muy interesante. Un saludo
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En Internet rara vez se encuentran artículos como esté.
Mis más sinceras felicitaciones.
¿Podrías ampliar la información? Muy interesante, de verdad.
Saludos

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Thanks!

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fold this thread www.grempol-wtryski.pl  Friday, 11 July 2014 o godz. 1:35 pm #  Add karma Subtract karma  +0

I every time used to read piece of writing in news
papers but now as I am a user of net therefore from now I am using
net for articles or reviews, thanks to web.

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Olivier Cleynen

Student in France; Concerned with freedom in computing. I also like photography, reading, listening to music, windsurfing. Still looking for the meaning of life......

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