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The Linux Newbie Replies: WFM?

Hemos posted more than 14 years ago | from the getting-the-newbies-onboard dept.

Linux 365

Thanks to Sensei^ for sending us a link to a piece about dealing with new Linux users. Given the gigantic growth of Linux over the last year, this is an issue within the community: How do we deal with this influx of population? Everyone recognizes the need for more documentation, but what's the best way to do it? If you've got an opinion about the whole schmeal, click below and add to the conversation.

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Cool (2)

EricWright (16803) | more than 14 years ago | (#1432286)

A whole spate of web-archaeology articles, right at the end of the 1900s...


Re:Cool (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 14 years ago | (#1432287)

Why not just yell "First post!"? Your post had about the same amount of content as those.

Linux Manual (3)

jormurgandr (128408) | more than 14 years ago | (#1432288)

What the linux community needs is for a group of gurus to get together with one of those ever-popular journalism majors and create a light-weight web site (as in low color graphics) that provide examples of everything anyone would ever need to run linux. The site should start out with teaching the basics of the terminal, then go on to examples of X and the a few window managers, and continue with advanced terminal use. It shouldnt be more than 150 pages long or so, and it should also provide info on how to use man pages to gain even more info.
There was never a genius without a tincture of madness.

My Newbie HOWTO (1)

Niac (2101) | more than 14 years ago | (#1432289)


There are a number of ways of dealing with newbies, some good, some bad, but they all leave an impression on the new user. That is important to remember, first impressions mean a lot. One of the less preferable ways is to simply tell the newbie to RTFM. A better way is to guide them to helpful information.

Here's what I do.

If I am the one that introduced the Newbie to linux, I show them how to find information, and how to use the system up to the point that they can find things on their own. Not that they nessessarily will have everything that they need, but hopefully with the information (meta-information?) to find what they need to know.

If someone else introduced them to linux, then I do what I can, and try to help. *smiles*

Playing the Tech-Support game is not enjoyable, but molding a new convert into a successful linux user is. *grins*


Newbies and documentation? Useless. (3)

technos (73414) | more than 14 years ago | (#1432290)

It has been my experience that whenever I refer someone with questions to a manual, help file, man page, or HOWTO, they always come back with questions. I know it isn't a deficient manual, because usually the questions haven't changed.

I think our 'instant availability' society is the cause. They know I can give then a simplified, concise answer in seconds, while referring to the manual may cut into their coffee break and actually require them learning something! They may flip through the manual, perhaps looking at the index and actually finding that the manual has relevent information. But they never seem to read it.

Society sucks.

Dealing with New Users is easy (1)

Greyfox (87712) | more than 14 years ago | (#1432291)

The smart ones RTFM and don't ask questions. We don't want the dumb ones to breed, so clubbing them like baby seals is the idea way to handle new users who ask too many questions.

Of course, this is technically currently illegal, which is why we should press for legislation changes in 2000 which would allow us to club new users in the name of evolution without fearing prosecution.

Documentation (1)

Ryn (9728) | more than 14 years ago | (#1432292)

Why is it such a big deal? HOWTOs are pretty complete and irc , last time I checked, was helpful (ok, there are lamers on #linux* that yell and send to RTFM, but overall help can be found on irc). Mailing lists work (debian ones, at least. Dunno about others). Besides, we all started out somewhere, with less documentation, and managed to get it all working, didnt we? If a windoze user is looking to be "cool Linux guy", but can't answer "How much ram your system has?" question, they don't deserve to use a computer, let alone Linux. *puts on asbestos suit* Andrew

Treat them better ... (1)

D3 (31029) | more than 14 years ago | (#1432293)

I hope I remember to treat Linux newbies better than I treated AOL newbies when AOL opened the floodgates. :)

The curse of being mainstream (1)

haus (129916) | more than 14 years ago | (#1432294)

Everyone (here) loves linux, it powerful, you can do whatever it is that you want, but please don't make me have to explain it to my mother-in-law.

But to take that next big step, someone will need to be able to explain it to good old Mom, and a lot of other people who are even more scared of the machine than she is. God bless the poor soles who are on the front line trying to spread the word of linux, because it is a thankless job that needs to be done.

all persons, living and dead, are purely coincidental. - Kurt Vonnegut

Re:Linux Manual (2)

Niac (2101) | more than 14 years ago | (#1432295)

I believe that is available and I believe it's called "Running Linux" printed by O'Reilly maybe? *smiles*

I could be wrong. :-)


Pictures! (3)

MicroBerto (91055) | more than 14 years ago | (#1432296)

In working at an ISP here in Cleveland and having made many How-To web pages, I must say that pictures are very essential to documentation, and linux howto's do not have enough of them.

Although many of the text-based unix commands seem to have no need for pictures, even having them pictured would make things easier, so that a newbie would know where to type a command and when.

And then for the graphical interfaces that the newbie will want to see, there should be a LOT more pictures. Just seeing a page full of words is very discouraging, which is why I still hate man pages. I'd rather read 50 pages with pictures around all over the place than 10 pages of pure text. And many others agree. Pictures lighten up documentation.

- Mike Roberto
--- AOL IM: MicroBerto

RMS says.... (0)

GNUs-Not-Good (130016) | more than 14 years ago | (#1432297)

that first they must refer the operating system in that disgusting and wrong way that I refuse to repeat here.

Then, they must bow down before him, join every boycott that he joins, and generally just agree with everything that he says.

If you do that and follow him 100%, Slashdotters will comend you for thinking independently (go figure).

Concept Mappings (3)

Jikes (123986) | more than 14 years ago | (#1432298)

One thing that might be helpful is a sort of comparison between Win/Mac concepts and terminology to the Unix-style equivalents..

Et al, an explanation of the divisions between Kernel/Shell/X11/Window Manager/Desktop Environment and the Windows environment... Where to find how to change common system settings... What Linux/BSD is good at and what it is NOT good for.. [!]

The most killer thing for newbies seems to be understanding partitions, setting up X, setting up the mountpoints, 'startx', and understanding common commands like ls, rm, mv, cat, et al...

I dunno. All I do know is that a lot of computing enthusiasts hear all sorts of great things about Linux/BSD, hit a snag or ten, and dance right back into Windows, probably never to leave again. Perhaps a real-world document on how to get comfortable in a unix environment quickly would be helpful.

Re:Newbies and documentation? Useless. (1)

Chameleon (5810) | more than 14 years ago | (#1432299)

Thank you, you took the words right out of my mouth. The whole "I _LIKE_ being ignorant" mindset is increasingly popular with the advent of computers. I find, however, that just claiming to not be able to give as precise an answer as the FAQ/man page is often enough.

Personally, though, there shouldn't be any need for extensive documentation. There is no reason a powerful operating system should not be able to be easy to use.

OH yeah... (1)

nion (19898) | more than 14 years ago | (#1432300)

I'm relatively a linux newbie myself, only having had exposure to it for the past year and a half or so. I took a crash-course so I could secure up my DSL firewall though, so now, among people I know, I'm an 'expert'.

This makes me a prime target for EVERYONE to ask me 'how do you do this' or 'how do you configure that'. Now, I don't mind doling out advice occasionally, but at one point I had this certain individual coming to me DAILY with problems he had. I'd patiently hold his hand and pat him on the back until he got the issue fixed...however for even the MOST serene person this can get bothersome.

What I'd personally like to see is more of the newbies RTFM'ing instead of instantly throwing up their hands in exasperation when they can't get the 3dfx.lib RPM to install without the dependencies. I usually troll the newsgroups (alt.linux.*) for information before I go and post, or hit the LDP [] . And I did this when I was a newbie, too.

Newbie-ism isn't bad, but they need to learn that learning isn't something they can grok from the resident expert ALL of the time. Do some research, LEARN it yourself insead of having someone else do it for you - otherwise you'll never really figure it out, and those of us in the know will eventually get tired of you, and you'll go back to windows.

(sorry for my lapse back and forth into talking 1st/3rd person. :)

Re:Newbies and documentation? Useless. (2)

provolt (54870) | more than 14 years ago | (#1432301)

I would tend to disagree with the sentiments that people don't want to learn. Most people do, but I know when I was learning, I looked at every man page I could find, but I needed to ask questions because I didn't know which manual to read. You can't expect someone new to know of every possible command on the machine.

Using "man -k" can help, but it isn't perfect.

I don't think moving toward the "press-one-button-and-it-will-do-everything" type of computing is necessary, but helping newbies get the basics down shouldn't be looked down upon.


Manuals (and the /. Effect) (3)

Little Brother (122447) | more than 14 years ago | (#1432302)

The most usefull tool to veteran UNIX users are probably the ever-present man pages. (Ok, so I once set up a system without them, but that is the exception not the rule) Man pages are complete, concise, and way to technical for most linux newbies to read. However if some brave soul would remake all the man pages to an extent that they would be understood by most newbies, and make a nice little index, I beleive that the newbies wanted to read the manuals themselfs could.

Nothing however will repress the newbies who try to get phone/IRC/YahooChat/email/personal/Psychiatric/etc . help BEFORE they attempt to read any documentation. The only thing that some people will accept is one-on-one walktrhoughs. Others will read documentatin, but only if it is physicaly printed on the pressed pulp of dead trees. These people should go out right now and buy a copy of LINUX FOR DUMMIES, or even better if somewhat redundant REDHAT LINUX FOR DUMMIES.

On a side note, I did not read the article in question. The /. effect had already cripled the site to the point that it wouldn't load on my computer. So if I'm totaly off topic here, you have only yourselves to blame.

Re:Newbies and documentation? Useless. (3)

Zachary Kessin (1372) | more than 14 years ago | (#1432303)

Well there is also the issue of that sometimes linux does not make it easy to find things (The same can be said about windows ofcourse) and you know that person may actualy be trying to get work done and spending 3 hours digging in the manuals may be time that they don't have. Hell they may be on a tight deadline too.

Documentation (2)

Skyshadow (508) | more than 14 years ago | (#1432304)

I don't know that there's a need for more documentation as there is for more user-friendly docs.

Look at the average man page -- I'd be scared if I were a newbie. Even the HOWTOs are frightening. What we need is the sort of online docs that Microsoft uses -- a "press this. Did this happen?" type of thing to walk through some really basic problems.


Re:Linux Manual (1)

Orville (104680) | more than 14 years ago | (#1432305)

I also have the O'Reilly "Running Linux" book, which covers the basics very well and is accessible to nearly any Linux newbie. (It does help to have a *little* computing experience, as with most O'Reilly books.) Even more "advanced" topics are covered well enough that you could easily say 'RTFOB', I guess...

Well... (2)

matticus (93537) | more than 14 years ago | (#1432306)

There's a few options...
  • Ban anyone who can't learn Linux on their own from using a computer ;-)
  • Stop being lazy and document everything we can(don't assume that someone else will, ie, if you got QuakeIII running in Linux under Graphics Card X that is not formally supported, post it somewhere on the web. don't keep quiet).
  • Split linux into two types of linux-that for people who can't program their vcr, and that for those who can(or some other attempt at a divider).
  • most of all, HELP YOUR FRIENDS LEARN IT. If you keep telling them to check it out but don't give them a hand...they won't get very far if they have been brought up on dir, ctrl+alt+delete, and internet explorer, not to mention they won't ever figure out that you have to unmount a floppy to remove it(get involved!).
Of course, these options are pretty blatant, but if we get our wish and microsoft dies horribly or something, then we might have to decide.
If Linux is to become as popular and widespread as we want it to, we need to spread the word ourselves. If my friends had not taught me about /etc/fstab or tab autocomplete in Bash, much less getting X up, i would not be still using Linux today. But i started out as a newbie with Slackware 3.0, so that could be why i was frustrated ;-).

Better documentation, not necessarily more. (5)

dustpuppy (5260) | more than 14 years ago | (#1432307)

My first real foray into Unix (ie install OS, help users etc) was with FreeBSD. I learnt about Unix in general as well as the specific FreeBSD issues as I went along.

Two years later I delved into Linux and have been using it for a year and a half.

Although Linux has an extensive set of documentation and I wasn't a novice to Unix by then, I still found FreeBSD easier to learn even though I was virtually new to Unix.

I found that the documentation for FreeBSD was organised very much like a manual which was great to start with as I could work through it as I installed a system. The topics were also general such as 'disks', 'backups', 'serial communications' and it was easy to quickly find what you needed.

The Linux docs are organised by a specific 'need' and while it is great when you are after a solution to a specific problem, it is too unstructured for a newbie.

A newbie needs to be lead through the topics in a general fashion so that they can gain an overall picture - Linux docs don't really give a good overview.

It's 5am so I'm not very coherent at the moment - so i apologise if my opinion isn't very clear. I can't really give specifics (at least I can't think of specifics at the moment), but that is my general feeling about what makes Linux that little bit more difficult for newbies.

there is a project aimed at this (after a fashion) (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 14 years ago | (#1432308)

LUIGUI [] is working to make it so linux is more useable/intuitive (and therefore newbies will ask fewer questions and not have to RTFM.

I am of the opinion that Linux as a whole should be more usable for the common mother-in-law. This is not to say that Linux should be dumbed-down, but that there should be an effort to make linux software (in all areas) conform to the standards of useability.

my experience (1)

mr_burns (13129) | more than 14 years ago | (#1432309)

I've been around Linux for a couple years, but it wasn't until the last 6 months or so that I've been really using it extensively. So the obstacles/hard things are fresh in my mind.

The problem with the documentation is that it's written by geeks. Often, when you're so well versed in something, you start to believe some things are common knowledge or easy to pick up. Not so. When you write a doc or guide. Write a test for people to take afterwards, and have them send it back to you when they're done. This will allow you to see what you've overlooked. Making it a web form should make this easy for all people involved.

A lot of the books I've come across tell you how to configure settings in linux using x. Well, what if the linux box used to be your windows box and it doesn't run x? Lots of people begin their linux usage on a discarded windows PC. If we don't help these people out, they'll reinstall windows. There needs to be a reference that shows the newbie how to use and understand linux from the CLI.

Every newbie needs a mentor user. Often, a new user will have really good books and docs, but will lack the context or experience to make sense of all the data. Having a friend who's already walked the same ground is important, because they can listen to your questions and figure out what it is you're really trying to find out. I suggest that we make (if not in place already) a site that will locate the LUG nearest to you and give you contact info so that newbies can get a proper indoctrination into the community (from more of the "elder statesman" users).

Well....that's my two cents, having recently scaled the learning curve.

It's NOT the documentation! (1)

michellem (110855) | more than 14 years ago | (#1432310)

The amount of documentation available for Linux is quite adequate. Besides the great set of O'Reilly books, there's a whole load of others of varying quality. Also, the documentation available on the LDP site and others is really good. Any new Linux user who is a savvy computer user will do just fine. The problem is, you can't possibly write any documentation for Linux that "Mom" can use! Linux itself has to evolve to be a much user-friendly desktop OS. When people I know ask me about Linux, and ask me whether they should take the plunge, I give them advice based on what I know of their computer knowledge. If they've successfully fought the IRQ, or plug-and-pray game, re-installed Windoze several times, and they can download and install software in their sleep, I'll point them to "Running Linux" and say "go for it." Otherwise, I tell them to wait a year.

Re:Linux Manual (1)

Wiggins (3161) | more than 14 years ago | (#1432311)

Light weight, journalism, and linux are a contradiction in terms......Our company has tried to write instruction manuals for the most ignorant internet user who is trying to do something on the web that requires simply filling out forms and clicking buttons, not unlike how to use /. As a technical person I wrote the basic instructions which came out to a rather lengthy 11 pages, by the time the "writer" got done with it, it was 78 PAGES LONG!!!

They aren't getting as much support these days, but I still like the newsgroups.....don't know something, ask someone!

Maybe... (5)

Mechanical_Governor (101122) | more than 14 years ago | (#1432312)

...if every Linux user dropped the attitude and helped the newbies instead of getting off on how superior they are because they know Linux.
Simply reading the manual/readme/whatever doesn't always work. If someone is used to OS xyz or 123 jumping to Linux takes a little help. I think that the Linux community doesn't want average Joe to use Linux because that would put average Joe on the same level.

"If you do not believe in the freedom of speach for those who you despise, you do not believe in it at all." -Noam Chomsky

More Newbified Stuff (1)

Spiffington (106513) | more than 14 years ago | (#1432313)

With the big number of new users that linuz is getting, myself included, I see a need for not neccessarily more documentation, but better ( ok, dumbed down ) documentation.Linux Newbie [] has been a great help to me, and I know quite a few others who have benefitted from it. I think this is really a good step in the right direction but we need some of these NHFs with the distrobutions. Lets face it for some one learning a new operating system so of those HOWTOs can be pretty cryptic. So, keep if ya got a talent for dumbing down stuff and you know a particular subject like the back of your hand, get and old help file, and rewrite it to help out the new and somewhat ignorant user base. After all, somebody did it for you.
"Dont knock on Deaths door, ring the bell and run ( he hates that! )."

And what do YOU suggest? (0)

FascDot Killed My Pr (24021) | more than 14 years ago | (#1432314)

So you want us to stop following RMS and follow you instead? How will that make us any more independent? Typically fallacious thinking from a troll.

Just because I share (a subset) of beliefs with Person A doesn't mean that I revere that person as a god.

Newbies (1)

Litmus (113122) | more than 14 years ago | (#1432315)

I would consider myself a newborn to the Linux enviorment. The man pages have helped me out alot and the HowTo's are a good resource. But I think for Linux to be able to pull more population, it has to be easier to install and use. When I was first installing Linux I posted a question on a QA boared. I never recieved a response. A lot of people are intrested in Linux and would like to stray away from MS. Just like MS does, we need to hold their hand and take them there. We need a way to show how Linux benefits people and business. How about more Linux certifications? And, of coure we all know we need more compatibility with other apps.
Another decision that should me made is if Linux should focus on the PC market or the Server market, or both. Who are we trying to sell Linux too... Only software geeks, who usually don't buy a single piece of software anyway. We want to touch the people who control money in business.

Sun-Managers (2)

devphil (51341) | more than 14 years ago | (#1432316)

I think our 'instant availability' society is the cause. They know I can give then a simplified, concise answer in seconds, while referring to the manual may cut into their coffee break and actually require them learning something!

No kidding. And it's not just Linux, either, because the jump-on-da-shiny-Web bandwagon dorks over lots of communities other than Linux.

For example, the Sun-Managers mailing list is an unmoderated high-response list for Sun-related emergencies. Anything that isn't directly dealing with Sun, and urgent, doesn't belong. That doesn't mean that those questions don't need to be asked, just that they need to go to a newsgroup or something else. (And this is all spelled out in the FAQ.)

What's it like today? Fucking useless. "I know this is supposed to be only for Suns, so forgive me about this HP-UX question, but" blather blather blather. One guy posted an "emergency" problem because he couldn't create any files in his home directory. The problem? No write permission to that directory. He had no clue what dr-xr-xr-x meant in ls(1) output. He'd never read a man page or bought/stole/borrowed a book.

There were occasionally some actual emergencies posted, and I tried my hardest to help those fellow victims. Eventually I got tired of the sheer amount of laziness and unsubscribed.

My point? Don't bother. It's a complete waste of effort. Those who actually use documentation will know how to get it, and how to produce it. If they really want to learn, I'll help, but if they're in too much of a hurry to read, I'm in too much of a hurry to write.

Re:Linux Manual - Red Hat's job? (2)

mkendall (69179) | more than 14 years ago | (#1432317)

Isn't this the job of Red Hat, et al? Commercial companies who seek to make money from Linux claim that what they bring to the party - that new users can't get from just downloading the sources - is support. Surely, good old market forces will deliver what new users want and need from these companies.

Books and installers. (1)

jeroenb (125404) | more than 14 years ago | (#1432318)

O'Reilly has (as everyone here knows) published some good ones and most other publishers of computer-related books have done some general Unix books. My Unix-related books are rarely on my own desk (except for the programming references :))

Besides that it's important to have a good installer. Redhat, Suse and some others are doing a great job at this but it needs to get better. People will more likely try longer to understand their system if they can at least read their mail, browse a bit and do other basic tasks. I think most people (with only a single computer) need to have some kind of guarantee that they won't be isolated while trying out Linux.

Newbies and Linux (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 14 years ago | (#1432319)

I'm posting as AC because I never get sent a password when I sign up for an account! But I'v never really felt the need to post before either.

I'm a Linux newbie (well sorta) I've been running Linux on servers for just about a year, and on my desktop (Winbook actually) exclusively for about six months. Prior to that I had no Unix experience. I'm probably not the typical newbie as I got certified by Red Hat back in June.

I have seen some interesting things though. I started by buying lots of books. I own a good chunk of the O'Reilly Bookshelf. This was a huge boost, but one thing this Linux newbie didn't realize was how much I could glean from Unix books. A bunch of lights went on after reading Essential System Administration. The books, the man pages (once I figured out how to make sense of them) and the howtos were great sources of information.

My other source of information was, and I noticed two very interesting types of Linux users there. There were those who took the time to carefully explain answers and made helpful responses, and then there were those whose sole comment was "Read the man page" or "Type man smb.conf", or "Type ps aux" or something. They never provided an explanation of why someone would want to do that, they just said do it. If I had been some of the users that received messages like that, I would have been incredibly discouraged!

When I first started, I didn't know enough to make heads or tails of a man page, it was only through experience that I discovered how to find the information I needed on my system, now when I teach new users, I stress to them just what a valuable resource they have on their systems, and try to teach them how to use it.

Linux users in general need to be more tolerant of the newbies. Many people forget that many of these people are coming out of the Windows paradigm and that that is a huge adjustment. The best things you can do for a newbie are:

  • Teach them how to use the information sources available, not tell them to use the information sources available.
  • Explain why they need to do something (e.g., rpm -qa | grep joe), not just tell them to do it.

My two cents

Stand Fast,


Hmmm... (1)

EricWright (16803) | more than 14 years ago | (#1432320)

Now how did that get in this thread? Of course, this is offtopic here!

Eric (who obviously needs more caffeine) (2)

FascDot Killed My Pr (24021) | more than 14 years ago | (#1432321)

Already been done, although not with an over-arching tutorial style.

And before you say "HOWTOs are not enough" consider this: HOWTOs (and man pages) are about all I ever use.

That's not to say that HOWTOs are enough for everyone, just that they are enough for some people. Which indicates that different people need different solutions. Which in turn indicates that there is no one solution that will work for everyone. And therefore create a guru-site may not be as universally useful as you suspect.

Re:OH yeah... (1)

Little Brother (122447) | more than 14 years ago | (#1432322)

I solved this problem quite neatly. After my reputation as "guru" spread through my community, I was bogged down with questions, as you were. I did the only American thing I could, I started making them pay. I set up a psudo official buesness, (no tax number, oops) and started charging $25/hour for in person tech support. I made over $150 in a day once. True I got questions still, but much less of them, and the ones I did still receive were more likly to be actual problems instead of people wanting inital walkthroughs.

Nice to see... (1)

GNUs-Not-Good (130016) | more than 14 years ago | (#1432323)

that the point man for the cult has responded so quickly.

People should think for themselves. Like most others in the cult, you follow in lock step.

has a great satire on him that is oh so true at the same time, with his word twisting, and ego in full bloom.

No Foolin... (1)

Smallest (26153) | more than 14 years ago | (#1432324)

I like to think of myself as "computer literate" (7 yrs as a full-time professional programmer and 5 years before that just for fun).

So, I got RedHat 6.0. I've done *nix programming and run the MKS shell on my Windows boxes because I love the power of a good *nix-style shell.

So, I was absolutely amazed at how difficult Linux is to set up. (Not the install, that was easy. thanks RedHat)

I spent a week fussing with xcongifurator and friends. I did manage to get X up and running, but was totally underwhelmed when Gnome finally appeared - it looks like Windows but runs much slower - whee. So I grabbed the latest Enlightenment release, found every stupid utility library that it wanted and fought with RPM over dependencies. But, I got that running. It's still slow.

I spent another two weeks with pppd (reading all the HOW-TOs, everything ever mentioned about pppd on deja, etc.). I finally managed to get a dial-up connection running. But, the connection drops immediately, half the time and Netscape is total crap. So, I upgraded to NS 4.7. It's still crap.

My initial plan was to use my Linux box as a gateway for the rest of my (Windows) PCs. But, after the nightmare I had just getting the thing to dial, I can't imagine what's in store when I start dicking around with "pppd /demand" , ipchains, ip-masq, etc., etc.. And I know, if I ever managed to get the Linux box working as I want it, it will take all of ten minutes to get my Windows PCs happily onto my little network.

The sad thing is, I really want it to work. I want to have a working Linux box that will be happy as a gateway and will let me screw around with *nix programming again (has anything changed in 8 years?).

But, I'm held back by the lack of adequate documentation, and discouraged by the amount of time it's taken to get as far as I have. The HOW-TOs are mostly out of date. The newsgroups are clogged with people having the same problems I am, and their questions go unanswered.

I want to do it! But I can't find any good, accurate information.

WFM? Indeed.

What about Matt Welsh's "Running Linux?" (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 14 years ago | (#1432325)

When I first began with Linux, I ordered that book and it was tons more help than the RH 5.2 manual. Could we consider "Running Linux" the standard for introducing new users to Linux?

Re:Linux Manual (1)

Catch22RG (71033) | more than 14 years ago | (#1432326)

A "Linux Manual" site is an excellent idea, but it would NEED to cover more than just terminal use and X. I'd like to see it consist of a getting-started guide of sorts, followed by an in-depth instructional/reference section.

The former would contain such things as:
- basic terminal use, such as navigation, grep, output redirection with | or >, the find command (the find command can be VERY difficult to learn if not explained well)
- using X
- installing new software
- basically everything that you should know before starting to use Linux, be it out of necessity or just to make life easier

The latter portion would discuss:
- sound configuration
- dialup/PPP (this may be the #1 question asked in #linux on EFnet)
- printing
- all other specific areas that may not be necessary for every user

The Problem With Most Newbies (1)

x mani x (21412) | more than 14 years ago | (#1432327)

A few months ago I decided to no longer actively help newbies with their linux-related troubles. Why? Well, for several reasons:

- Most newbies do not read documentation. If they do, they seem to only skim through it and choose not to "swallow" any of it.

- They are often rude. Most newbies who have access to my phone number seem to have a lack of respect for my own time. Believe it or not, people have accosted me verbally for choosing to no longer help them. I just hate when they get offended when you choose not to help!

- They ask far too general questions. "How do I get on the net with Linux?". Of course, if you decide to help with this question, they'll get irritated when you start getting into the details of how things work. You see, newbies want to gloss over everything without having at least some fundamental knowledge of how things work. There are currently other great (and not so great) operating systems for people who do not want to get into these issues.

What I'm getting at is that a lot of people's time is getting wasted on helping people who just decided to "jump on the ol' linux bandwagon". While there's nothing wrong with trying to learn linux, when you're only doing it to be hip and you don't have the fortitude to RTFM, you'll be stepping on some toes!


Of course, I don't mean all newbies are like this. I was a newbie once! But of course, I bought the books and I read them. Unlike the masses of recent linux converts.

"solutions database" (4)

arp (130934) | more than 14 years ago | (#1432328)

I find it hard to hear such words springing forth from my own mouth, but the concept of a "solutions database" seems remarkably appropriate here.

Generally, I rail like nothing else against solutions databases, because my job is to enable people to solve complex problems in complex systems, and solutions databases tend to grossly oversimplify this task, which I find mildly insulting. also, we must consider the 90%/10% rule, whereby 90% of the calls/problem reports encompass 10% of the possible problem domain, but, conversely, the 10% of the calls which involve the other 90% of possible problems will also consume 90% of support staff's time.
However, we are talking about newbies here. And newbies happen to consitute 99% of the 90% easy calls. Thus a solutions database becomes a realistic and productive answer.

blah blah blah solutions database blah blah solutions database blah.... okay, WTF do I mean by solutions db?
think search engine, but with better semantics, and an astonishingly high signal to noise ratio. the actual database consists of answers -- and only answers, so we don't frustrate users by matching their query with an unanswered question -- which are concise, correct, specific, cross-referenced to more detailed information (THERE'S TFM). these answers will be submitted by whomever (one thing linux has is an amazing volunteer support base), but (here's the catch) must be filtered, combed, possibly edited, by a dedicated group of individuals.

What's the value add beyond the many linux-based search engines, specific help pages, newsgroups/email reflectors, etc? specificity and conciseness -- in short, a very good signal-to-noise ratio. the key is not treating this like a damn swiss army knife -- build one tool that serves one purpose well, rather than doing a shitsplatter job trying to cover everything with one tool.

if anyone is interested in hosting such a site, I'd be glad to help make such a thing a reality.


Re:The curse of being mainstream (2)

paul.dunne (5922) | more than 14 years ago | (#1432329)

But who in their right mind would want to inflict Unix on their mother? And why is this something that needs to be done? Different strokes for different folks. Until someone comes up with a really easy-to-use, fully GUI-based, Linux distribution, Linux is not suitable for people who don't want to hack a little. The problem-solving mindset goes with the territory for now.

man man (1)

#include (130485) | more than 14 years ago | (#1432330)

Okay... I'l admit it. the more cryptic, the more obfuscated, the more it looks like a train wreck on a Friday night, the more I love it. It gives me a feeling of power, sure it's self rightous power, but power all the same. ( My shrink says it's good for me to be honost with myself :)

I really want to go back to the days when I was hacking on a VAX/VMS. oh baby... no skirt wearing point and click moron was just going to log onto that puppy and start sending email :) No siree bob, you had to have knowledge, you needed a friggin manual or you were toast.

So screw the newbie... let him/her learn he hard way, or don't learn at all. I HATE shiny icons, I HATE user friendly GUI's...give me a little 9 inch monitor in a dark closet with a 15 wat bulb swaying over my head... damn

Now when some stranger finds out that I'm into computers thay will usually shriek "ME TOO !!!" Then start asking me about my instant message screeen name.. I just slowly walk away... with my head down... emasculated... dear God...what has become of us...

Improve on the HTML docs (2)

Shotgun (30919) | more than 14 years ago | (#1432331)

One of my biggest frustrations while learning UNIX has been that DOC1 assumes that you know what is in DOC2 and DOC3 which both assume that you know what is in DOC1. Of course, you don't know any of it so you're just SOL.

The Redhat and Mandrake distributions now provide the HOWTOs with an HTMLized front end through KDE. Why not make the HOWTO's themselves HTML and provide an internal link to each section? If in the CD WRITING HOWTO I refer to retrieving a file through FTP I can link to section in the FTP HOWTO.

Then we can convince Google to open up their search technology and provide a help search engine for the HOWTOs. I type in ipforwarding and get a list of docs with references (hopefully with the IPCHAINS HOWTO at the top).

*nix needs more detailed error messages all over (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 14 years ago | (#1432332)

The most difficult hurdle for newbies is simply understanding common error messages which may pop up in the shell or on a desktop.



doit: Command not found.

mv doit pleasedoit


Permission denied. wouldn't this be better:


doit: Command not found. If the "doit" file is not in your path then you must specify the full path to the file and make sure the file permsissions allow the "doit" file to be executed.

Now that's very verbose but perhaps we can agree to set a system-wide flag that says "VERBOSE_ERRORS" which is left on by default so newbies will have a better understanding of each mistake they make instead of fumbling through and quitting.

Standards?! (1)

cruise (111380) | more than 14 years ago | (#1432333)

Standards? As in the File/Quit crap many windows compat programmers put out... Now tell me one thing.. SINCE WHEN IS QUIT AN OPTION ON A FILE Too many programs put that file menubar option in where it does not belong.

Some standards are just plain wrong. Just because there well adopted does not mean we Linux Apps should jump off that bridge too.

You are a threat to free speach and must be SILENCED!

There's plenty of good resources out there. (2)

richj (85270) | more than 14 years ago | (#1432334)

There are many bood books ("Running Linux" by O'Reilly comes to mind) that help the new Linux user transition into the UNIX/Linux world.

I only wish Sun and HP offered a quarter of the documentation that's available for Linux, and I often find myself grabbing a Linux HOW-TO for a quick guide on how to do certain tasks on HP-UX or Solaris.

I've seen it in computers all of my life, people are lazy and would rather have someone else set something up for them than have to actually read the documentation and do it themselves.

It happens in the Sun world and the HP world, read any of the HP or Sun admin mailing lists, over half of the questions are simple questions, and when you reply to the sender and kindly let them know where to find the answer you usually get a snide remark about not fixing their problem because they need the actual command to run or need to know what to click on in 'sam'.

My advice to new users is always to get a copy of "Running Linux", and try to install Linux themselves. A lot can be learned during the install, especially if it's a "Linux only" system where you can fdisk the drive and not worry.

It's just the way people are, no amount of documentation, friendly manuals, or beginer webpages are going to change the fact that most people are lazy and would rather have someone else do their work for them.

Re:Newbies and documentation? Useless. (1)

bicyclingfool (106572) | more than 14 years ago | (#1432335)

I fully agree that people on the whole are impatient and lazy when it comes to reading documentation. But for now, it's a fundamental skill if one can expect to be successful with Linux.

I can safely classify myself as a Linux newbie, but I've known from the start that the majority of the answers to questions I have lies at LDP [] . I've waded though a buttload of documentation -- most of it useful, some truely helpful and some truely useless.

If I have learned anything through it, it would be the fact that finding answers in Linux documentation takes some skills. Clearly, one has to understand the difference between a HOWTO, a Mini-HOWTO, a guide and a man page, and the scope of the information in each - sounds like HOWTO is in order for this? *half kidding*.

I don't know what the answer is for newbies without the patience to RTFM. I get frustrated by the lazy "hold my hand" approach of some newbies, but I try not to give them attitude.

Sometimes the road to world domination is long and arduous. We'll get there.

Re:Concept Mappings (1)

roomfull of blues (113363) | more than 14 years ago | (#1432336)

Yes, this is very much needed. The first step to learning any system is to get a feel for the enviroment, and to do that, one must first get a feel for the terminology.

Since it appears linux is aiming for the windows/mac audience, it should make sense to have such a guide. How many windoze/mac users that have (at least tried to) turned linux are confused about folders and directories? Even a simple name difference can cause loads of confusion.

I come from a DOS background (yuck) so I am pretty familiar with a command-driver interface, so the transition to linux/UNIX was less painfull for me. But how about all those ppl who have never typed a command before?

Oh, just rambling, sorry. But that should be done...
Dilbert: I have become one with my computer. It is a feeling of ecstacy... the blend of logic and emotion. I have reached...

Linux For Newbies (1)

zensmile (78430) | more than 14 years ago | (#1432337)

Being a Linux Newbie, my biggest problems were...

1. Finding good distibutions for two processors (PPC: LinuxPPC and Pentium: SuSe)
2. Getting the drives partitioned
3. Getting an X-Windows to start-up (video set-up is a pain on the Pentium-side...the PPC side was pretty easy)
4. Emulating a 3-button mouse or getting 3rd party mice to work correctly (kensington, etc...)

These seemingly minor tasks were very difficult for me as a new user. I found that SuSe had EXCELLENT documentation, where LinuxPPC had really crappy documentation (but the install was a dream!). Coming from a MacOS and W98 GUI, I have to learn to use the GUI first and then command-line stuff later. I find that people are project oriented...get the OS running, figure it out, and get to WORK! I don't have a whole lot of time to experiment...I wish that Linux had a good installer for Pentium systems and good documentation on getting to work right away. Then I would think that Linux would catch on big time.

As a linux newbie myself... (1)

God I hate mornings (110205) | more than 14 years ago | (#1432338)

I have found it easier to relate what I'm learning to the OS I'm most comfortable with. For me, I feel most comfortable with Netware, for the simple reason that I learned that as my first networking OS. I know that Linux isn't just a networking OS, but a desktop OS, but I found it easier to relate a lot of what linux was doing to things in Netware.

I think I was lucky. I had a person who was kind enough, and patient enough to sit down with me and show me some of the basics of Linux. Then I started fumbling around myself, learning what to do and what not to do. But when I do get stuck, and the man's, faq's etc fail me, he's also kind enough to let me call upon him to help out.

That person, is probably the main reason I keep trying to learn Linux. He's become my Linux mentor. I wish every Linxu newbie had someone like that to help them out.

Happy few (1)

fpetillo (117733) | more than 14 years ago | (#1432339)

Being insufferably snobbish, I've considered moving to BeOS. Two immediate advantages: Linux newbies are not a problem anymore; BeOS enthusiasts still have reasons to be proselytes; I'm a newbie, which is *fun*!
That's three, by the way.

Re:Newbies and documentation? Useless. (2)

badbitbucket (94967) | more than 14 years ago | (#1432340)

Uh, excuse me, um, no disrespect intended, but I'm a 4 month Linux newbie, and I've read through a large number of How-To's, and other docs. the questions you're getting are not the result of us being lazy or inept. It's the result of unclear and VERY VAGUE instructions. don't get me wrong, I'm appreciative of the free info, but the fact is, most of the stuff is real vague. What I think is really needed is a document(s) that shows Windows/M$-DOS veterans how to accomplish a similar task in Linux/Unix. It should compare the windows-DOS process to the Linux/X process. I'm a 14-year DOS/Winders user folks, and making that transition is exponentially more difficult than if Linux/Unix had been the first thing I learned. My 2-cents

too much documentation (1)

Skapare (16644) | more than 14 years ago | (#1432341)

Part of the problem is there is too much documentation. Just reading the documentation sequentially would take ages. It's not all that well indexed, and much of it assumes certain prior knowledge. Much of it is self recursive in prerequisite.

Linux newsbies come in 2 popular flavors: those already experienced with computers (mostly Windows or Mac, but even some UNIX), and those without any computer experience. Those with experience are the largest group right now. And many are actually deploying, or soon will be deploying, Linux (or one of the BSD cousins).

Many newsbies want, and need, to learn fast. And that means not spending the time to learn everything else whether it is actually needed or not. While it's always good to learn the foundations, it's often not practical for many newbies because they are entering the Linux realm because of a need to solve some technical problem in their new deployment today (probably brought on by not having spent the last 3 months reading every document).

I've watched the questions newbies ask. Sure, a few are "where can I learn all about Linux?". But most are more practical like "why am I only getting half my harddrive?". These questions are the result of someone actually setting up, administering, or programming, Linux. They can't just drop all and go read the foundational documents because they have to get things done and running now.

Those with experience also find the introductory documentation, and beginner books, boring and dull. While there is information in there they need to know, it is surrounded more and more with stuff that is totally boring.

So, sure, we need more documentation, and we need less, at the same time. The reader paradigm is shifting from what it was just 2 or 3 years ago.

Those of us with solid Linux eperience need well referenced and indexed documentation. Some of that exists now, but it remains skimpy in many areas, and not well integrated.

Those of us with other UNIX computer experience need to know what's different about Linux, as well as the same. It will be hard reading because most of the differences are the subtle details and the abstract concepts. Many of the differences don't matter today, but they might tomorrow.

Those of us with other OS computer experience need to understand what this is all about, in 25 words or fewer, in terms of how things were done in Windows or Mac or VMS or MVS/390 or whatever it might be (anyone here still using TOPS-10/20?).

Basically the answer is that the documentation needs to be right-sized and customized. Short (read in 30 minutes or less) documents introducing Linux, oriented to each incoming experience, would be among the most needed. A solid (by that I mean well organized for looking things up) reference document is also needed for everyone once they have the Linux experience (no one can know it all anymore, especially with so many distributions and other diversity). Make liberal use of hyperlinks for all concepts, too.

FAQs are OK for the most common questions. But they just can't handle the mass of knowledge that really needs to be presented. While I wouldn't say to drop FAQs, as they are still a valuable tool, other documentation should not assume that FAQs are present.

I'd also like to put much blame on the horrible architecture we call the PC. But that is best left for another thread another day.

Re:Newbies and documentation? Useless. (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 14 years ago | (#1432342)

Sometimes TFM assumes knowledge that newbies don't have. I just started writing shell scripts (something I have never tried yet)on my Linux box and I was having trouble getting it to do what I want. I posted a question, got a script with explinations back. Problem is I didn't have the basic understanding so this script and explination wasn't helpful. I have figured out some but it is kinda like re-inventing the wheel myself so I can use the plans for the new Corvette.

Re:Concept Mappings (1)

sugarman (33437) | more than 14 years ago | (#1432343)

There is a Win-to-Linux HOWTO available, AIR. It kind of went through exactly what you were stating. Basics, like 'mounting' and the like.

As for your conclusion, that a lot of people pick up a distro (Mandrake or RedHat, most likely), and bail when they hit a snag, I think you hit the nail on the head. A lot of these poeple are probably technically savvy enough to use Linux, but could sure use a hand getting things going. I know I'm one.

Recent Newbees Must Document (1)

av8tor (70257) | more than 14 years ago | (#1432344)

Techies are great at being techie, but newbees know what they stumbled over. A Howto written by a newbee is of far greater value to other newbees because their thinking is usually decidedly non-technical. It stands to reason therefore that a non-technical newbee who has accomplished some task can explain what they did in a way that is understandable to other newbees.

Vocabulary is one of the highest hurdles that a newcomer must clear. Let the newbees write so other newbees can understand.

"Point man"? (2)

FascDot Killed My Pr (24021) | more than 14 years ago | (#1432345)

Nope. Just someone who meets three criteria for finding you amusing:

1) CS major, Philosophy minor so I'm familiar with logic and, in your case, illogic.
2) Liking to keep a browser open while I work.

3) Working on a large project with a long compile-time--leaving me plenty of time to respond.

So, tell me again why I should follow YOUR advice rather than RMS's. Also, could you tell me exactly what actions I have taken that are in "lock step" with RMS?

It's not the documentation... (1)

fishlet (93611) | more than 14 years ago | (#1432346)

It's not the lack of documentation, but what has to be done to configure a linux box. Alot of the documentation is old and many tasks still have to be done from a command line. Documentation is pointless at that point because the typical users is going to toss it right out the window the minute he/she discovers they have to go in and do some typing. Everyone has their favorite input method, be it GUI or CLI. For those of you who argue that CLI is better, you may be right, but by no means are millions of windows-bred users going to use command line tools EVEN IF it is more intuitive. The only hope is in standard GUI based configuration utilities... and I mean STANDARD because now each distribution stubbornly chooses to do it their own way. Theres Linuxconf, YaST, Coas, the list goes on and on. It's pretty frustrating for a new linux user when he goes out and buys a book and the books prefferred configuration tools don't apply to the distro of Linux he's using.

I'm hopeful that the desktop environments (prefferably KDE but perhaps gnome) come to the rescue and provide a set of config applets that work across different distro's. Theres little hope of a Red Hat, or Caldera bending and adopting tools used in another distro.

Re:Concept Mappings (1)

spinkham (56603) | more than 14 years ago | (#1432347)

Ever see the Dos/windows to Linux howto? It sounds about like what you are discribing...

Man Pages (1)

Alton (80146) | more than 14 years ago | (#1432348)

A recent event made me realize just how great the man pages are. My father was visiting for Christmas, we were in the computer room together, playing with hardware, swapping stories and playing games. He isn't new to the computer scene, but its not his life either. Until 3 years ago, he used a C64 only. Since that point, he's had a Win machine. He has reached the point that he can install Win98, and fix most of the common problems for his friends. He even builds machines himself. He's never used Linux before though, and he calls me for more in depth technical questions.

So I showed him Linux. He thought the GUI was great (kde) but when I dropped to the CLI and told him I had more power there, he looked at me and said, "If had to learn to use that, your mother would kill me. I don't have the time.".

Alright.. I could understand that, but then I pulled up a man page... Immediately he blurts out "Is that a help file??" He sounds astonished. I explain that most standard *nix applications have man pages. He was VERY impressed and started going on about how much he "wished MS would have documentation that was 1/4 that extensive and clear."

That was some good warm fuzzies for me on x-mas.

Sorry for rambling. Just thought I would share.

Re:Newbies and documentation? Useless.? Nope. (1)

SlashDread (38969) | more than 14 years ago | (#1432349)

There is two kind og newbies, the user newbies, and the tech newbies.
User newbies, yeah your argument holds, they dont RTFM. But who cares? If some techie takes the time, gets management backup, he could set up a no-questions asked windows look alike productivety workhorse.
The tech newbies are your target here. Desillioned Windows hackers. Frustrated NT Admins. They need a better Oracle server. They need it quickly, but will read the fucking manual. They will get scaredoff by compiling, so there needs to be heaps of docs here to look for.

What is usefull for tech newbies? The HOWTO's are. The FAQs are. The apps docs and man pages are. The Linux Documentation Project is. The distro docs are. Whats missing? Maybe a huge knoledge base would help.
Good helpdesk logging systems can provide lots of usefull stuff, maybe a Open Source Linux Helpdesk would be a good thing.

Greetz SlashDread

Re:*nix needs more detailed error messages all ove (1)

Skapare (16644) | more than 14 years ago | (#1432350)

Sounds like perhaps we need a newbie shell? I know I wouldn't want my shell stuffed with such code. But I wouldn't want to deny it to others, either.

Now if xterm allowed hyperlinks, and you hyperlinked the error messages, then people can just click on them to get more info, that might be an interesting approach.

what newbies? get rid of them (1)

bitwiz (95663) | more than 14 years ago | (#1432351)

I was born clutching UNIX source code listing in my little hand. Never needed a manual, howto, or man page to do anything. I am UNIX. I need no stinking newbies installing linux just because it's cool. They try it, complain how hard it is, and give up. I gave up years of my life to UNIX/Linux. On's #linuxhelp most questions are the same, day in and day out. The problem is, everyone wants instant answer and everyone is too lazy to RTFM. At work I get pestered so much with stupid questions about linux that I am sick of it.

I never said... (1)

GNUs-Not-Good (130016) | more than 14 years ago | (#1432352)

to follow me. Think for yourself.

Ah, a college student. The great recruitment grounds for cults. Wait until you get out in the real world and realize that you can't eat following Stallman's bizzare viewpoints.

I fail to see why you being a philosophy minor means anything. I took many philosophy classes in college too, but I don't use that as a basis for arguing that I am right.

A guide to writing documentation for newbies (5)

jd (1658) | more than 14 years ago | (#1432353)

In 10 easy steps...

  1. HOW-TOs need pictures. Newbies can read, but they can't necessarily relate. If they had the experience -to- relate, they wouldn't be newbies and probably wouldn't need HOW-TO's either.
  2. We need MANY MORE translations. Linux is international. The documentation isn't.
  3. Related to the above - the "man" command needs to support multiple languages, and the "man" documents need to be translated.
  4. Installers need better "back-stepping". Not everyone has one of those globes from "7 Days". It should be possible to undo exactly one step, at ANY time.
  5. There needs to be optional "automagic" configurations. One-button installation, for given categories of user, taking you right the way through with NO further interaction. The computer picks sensible partition sizes, arranges things just so, configures -everything- and installs all the packages that that category of user would want, given the size of disk, speed of processor and amount of RAM.
  6. Linuxconf is good, but doesn't cover -nearly- enough areas. It needs to do MUCH more.
  7. Automatic upgraders, such as the one Debian has, should be standard, and should be capable of downloading alien packages.
  8. Documentation should be in hypertext format. Either "classic" hypertext, using links, or in the more mundane (but truly original) folded document style. Seeing too much can blind even an expert, never mind a newcomer.
  9. X configuration is -still- the worst part. This MUST be made more automatic, with automatic graphic card detection & identification as far as humanly possible.
  10. PPP is not as friendly as it could be. I've lost count of the number of times either PPP, chat, or one of the GUI tools, has barfed, with no error message, no core dump, no message in the log and no information as to even that there's a problem other than ifconfig shows PPP isn't there and 'ps axuw | grep pppd' returns a big, fat zilch.
  11. For "newbies" who are at the point of wanting to do kernel upgrades, there needs to be a script which sets the defaults to intelligent values. I mean, let's face it. If you're running a 386, it doesn't make any sense for the Linux kernel menuconfig script to start by assuming you want to work on a Pentium II. Sure, you might, but doesn't it seem likely that you are more likely to want a kernel on the system you're using? Once you tell it, sure, it can retain the value for next time, but initially, sensible values would seem sane.
  12. The same goes for everything else. Sensible Defaults, PLEASE!!

(Ok, so I lied about it being 10... :)

My Experience as a Linux newbie (2)

NakNomik (21692) | more than 14 years ago | (#1432354)

My Experience as a Linux newbie and what I desired most as a Linux

Though linux was new to me UNIX wasn't. So didn't have to understand
how linux system works in general. I didn't have many of those
questions that are faced by my other friends who started to use or
experiment with linux and had no prior *NIX experience.

I didn't know how to configure my sound card, how to use TrueType
fonts, how to use jdk1.1.7 with StarOffice, How to configure my
network card which the RedHat install program failed to detect, how to
use my CD-RW drive with linux machine. It took me some time to solve
the mystery of winmodems.

Almost always I could find answers to my questions on either HOWTO,
Deja, LinuxStart, tunelinux or #linuxhelp. Because my
problems were trivial people on linux related IRC channles didn't show
any interest in solving my problems. They most of the times just used
to ignore me, or tell me to RTFM... but my problem was I even didn't
know which program I'm supposed to use to solve the problem so how
would I know which man page to read? May be the questions I was asking
were silly, but I even didn't know that they were silly.

But I could always solve the problems with one of the popular Linux
website's help. I was willing to take efforts and knew where to
look. I wonder how many new Linux users do that. Particularly if s/he
was a windows user in past. Linux HOWTOs are a great help. Websites
like,, Deja, do a good job.

Sometimes I was overwhelmed by the amount of information available
about a subject. It took time to filter through all that information
and get the answer.

It is best for a newbie to get in touch with some local Linux guru and
learn from him/her. Every linux enthusiast can contribute some of his
time to local Linux user group and help new linux users learn more.

Re:Newbies and documentation? Useless. (1)

sugarman (33437) | more than 14 years ago | (#1432355)

Take a look at The Dos to Linux HOWTO []

It should be what you're looking for.

What about this.... (1)

cansecofan22 (62618) | more than 14 years ago | (#1432356)

I know that there is already a Linux web ring but I think that a centralized place (like that has things broken down into subjects with links to specific sites that specialize in one area. I have been using Linux for 2 years now and I have yet to see a site like this. I think that and have the right idea but each a little ways off. Then if someone could print out a book that highlights the most used areas of that site could: a) make a lot of money b) help a lot of newbies out c) make life a lot less crowded in the newsgroups Thats my $.02

Real docs (1)

Aphelion (13231) | more than 14 years ago | (#1432357)

The reason I mostly go to an IRC #linux channel is to ask them: what command will do what I want?

If there was some manual indexing or keyword-associated search effort, this need would be eliminated, and I could focus on solving problems instead of figuring out what the commands are.

Another Linux newbie concurs (2)

WillAffleck (42386) | more than 14 years ago | (#1432358)

Now, don't get me wrong, I've been on the Net since '78, helped crack games back in Apple II days, and seen more OS than I care to recall (CP/M, DOS, Unix flavors, many more). But I have to admit, especially since I've set up Mac Servers to run native Unix, configured various daemons, and so on - it is a tad bit confusing on the Linux side. It would really be nice to do a default Secure install and then enable services as I need them, without looking totally clueless as to the exact name of the script I'm supposed to have guessed at somehow.

I can cope with it, especially with tons of Linux geeks amongst my friends - spent part of Trolloween talking about how to do IPV6 with another friend as we watched them light a dinosaur on fire, for example.

But I think we're going to get way more confusion than usual, as all the totally clueless come wandering over from MSFT Windows1900 to find something that works.

Documentation format (5)

ajs (35943) | more than 14 years ago | (#1432359)

The fundamental problem right now is that no one knows what format their documentation should be in, and many people just punt or write minimal documentation as a result. HTML is useless for creating any kind of structured searching (unless you layer a documentation standard on top of it). roff has a decent documentation standard for UNIX, but no one likes it any more. texinfo is nearly impossible to manage since it requires sophisticated tools that don't play nice with anything that anyone actually uses. Plus, it requires a central table of contents which is difficult to manage automatically from un/installation scripts.

I've been thinking about it, and I really believe that Larry Wall's greatest contribution to the world has been POD (not Perl, itself). POD is a very simple documentation format that can be used to follow the roff-ish manual conventions of UNIX, but the format is so simple that it can be converted to man, HTML, texinfo (though texinfo standards usually want more prose than a UNIX manpage has), plain text, etc. This is a very nice solution for someone who's ambitious enough to go through the entire Linux documentation base (HOWTOs, FAQs, man pages, texinfo, PostScript, etc) and convert it all to this one format. Then each distribution could choose it's pet format to render in (probably *both* HTML for the new people and man for those who have "man -k" hardwired into their brains).

It would be nice to layer a few additional features on top of POD:

T which takes a term or phrase and indicates that this particular section of this document defines that term in a way that should be indexed globally. This is not quite the same as LaTeX's indexing. More of an HTML "A NAME=" sort of thing, but where HTMLs mechanism could be called a pull model, T would be a push.

H which takes a semi-colon separated URL and filename. The filename is an image that should be used as a figure in the document (numbered from one on). If the URL is provided, it is the location that should be referenced when users view this document in a text-only setting. The lack of images in POD is the only thing I don't like, and I know that it's quite unreasonable to expect that all Linux users (or UNIX users in general, for that matter) will be viewing documentation under a windowing system, but it would be nice to be able to show diagrams and other figures when the possibility exists.

Given these minor changes, rewriting the documentation would consist of converting all of the extant documentation over to text and then hand-hacking it back to POD (POD is very nearly plain text, with minimal markup that makes HTML look like a general purpose programming language).

Any thoughts. Should I just duck now?

Something to tell them how to solve their problems (2)

Fross (83754) | more than 14 years ago | (#1432360)

i agree, there is a bit of a dearth of good introductory documentation for Linux. there definitely is a lot of documentation out there, a lot of it very good, and as technical as can be. the HOW-TOs have been one of the best additions in recent years - giving good guides to get things done.

however, both from my own experience getting to know linux and helping others with the same, the question that crops up most commonly, for a newbie, once the lot is installed, is not "How do I do xxx" but rather "Ok, so what do I do now?"

The beginning user is unfamiliar with the potential of what they can do with Linux, rather than how to do what they want. This is where I feel the documentation lacks a little. What we would need is a set of "beginner tutorials" for various tasks, kinda like meta-HOW-TOs, or WHAT-TOs, if you like :)

These would familiarize the user what they can look into doing, and in the process, get them familiar with the resources they have - what the HOW-TOs are, how to look up something in the man pages, and so on and so forth. Once a user is familiar with what to look through to get an idea of what to do and how, they are usually pretty self-sufficient. A development of this sort of documentation would make entry to Linux less daunting, more friendly, and help users get on and learn the OS with more confidence.

As long as we don't have a stupid paperclip or anything.

Fross :)

I hate them... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 14 years ago | (#1432361)

Dealing with newbies just plain sucks. Linux was meant to be exclusive and they just screw everything up. Let then have their lame Os and stop polluting mine. You know you hate them all too, every newbie makes linux look worse and worse...

Getting more documentation (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 14 years ago | (#1432362)

Force the programmers to do it. Put a gun to their head and threaten their life. Why not? Its not like you could offer to pay them which would be virtuous.

Re:What about Matt Welsh's "Running Linux?" (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 14 years ago | (#1432363)

Yes we can. I'm relatively a Linux oldtimer.... been running it since the days of kernel .99somethingorother, half a decade ago :-) !!! I use Matt Welsh's "Running Linux" all the time as my first reference book of choice. It's damn good.

Re:Dealing with New Users is easy (2)

Mindwarp (15738) | more than 14 years ago | (#1432364)

Taken as a joke, that comment is pretty funny. Unfortunately, I suspect that there is more than a grain of truth in that little message.

Quite honestly, it's elitist opinions like this one that will help keep Micro$oft's sorry efforts the Operating Systems of choice for the majority.

The sad fact of the matter is that the average Joe User doesn't want to have to read through reams of manuals to get their computer working. They want quick, easy, 'sound-bite' (should that be sound-byte?) help information. They want the 'Press F1 for a graphically pretty' type of help. But most of all, they don't want to be met with derision and hostility from the existing user community.

Just my thoughts...


A GNG record! (1)

FascDot Killed My Pr (24021) | more than 14 years ago | (#1432365)

1 Paradox, 1 Fallacy and 1 Missed Deduction.

Paradox: "[Don't]...follow me. Think for yourself." But wait, if I think for myself I'd be following you. Less trivially, my point is that you want us all to follow you in believing RMS to be "bizarre", "neo-communist", "cultish", etc.

Fallacy (non-sequiter): "Ah, a college student." Who says I'm a college student? I graduated years ago and I've been in the "real world" for quite a while.

Missed Deduction: "I fail to see why you being a philosophy minor means anything." Because the philosophy classes I took were (mostly) logic/advanced-logic classes. Very useful with someone of your type.

"I took many philosophy classes in college too, but I don't use that as a basis for arguing that I am right."

Yeah, that's pretty clear.

Re:Newbies and documentation? Useless. (1)

Skapare (16644) | more than 14 years ago | (#1432366)

Part of the learning Linux process is unlearning the DOS/Windows background. I say unlearning because no matter what stuff you learn first, like a particular OS for computers, your impression isn't "this is how DOS/Windows works" but rather "this is how computers work". The unlearning process is to disregard all that in terms of computers in general, so that you start with at least a semi-clean slate to now pick up Linux.

I had this problem when I moved from IBM mainframes to UNIX (then on to Linux was a lot easier).

PostgreSQL-HOWTO (1)

jeff_C (19805) | more than 14 years ago | (#1432367)

If you want to see an example of WAY overdone useless documentation. I doubt anyone has every made it all the way through this 249k, 95 page monster.

Sure there's lots of good documentation, but there's some that should have never written.


linux newbie-learning everyday (1)

Dogmatix (130270) | more than 14 years ago | (#1432368)

This is my first post to /. I wanted to comment because I would consider myself a newbie even though I've used linux on a laptop for the last 1.5 yrs.
A quick background:
My husband, Dave, set my laptop up for me (since I had not a clue) and I went from there. I just recently installed RedHat 6.1 for the first time and built in the latest kernel. The how-to's, man pages, manuals, and posts to usersgroups really helped but I have to thank Dave for patiently answering my questions. I have no computer/programming background so alot of the jargon used can be a little confusing and where to find answers or files/directories is not always obvious. It can be a little overwhelming at times too.

Unfortunately, I think its impossible to help all newbies because backgrounds are so diverse as well as willingness to dig in and learn yourself. The HowTo's and man pages are the best starting place. When I can't find what I want I often use deja powersearch to get my answer (if one exists). The HowTo's don't always help if you encounter a situation that is not in the how to. For example on my computer at work some of the linked files were either not correct or did not even exist. I could not find the answer on the Red Hat site, but I think that was partly not knowing how to navigate their web site (still learning), however I found the answer by searching linux usergroups on the deja site. It seems to me that it is not too uncommon to run into a problem that is not in a howto.

To get to the point I think it is very useful to have a guide to where all useful info lies (There's plenty of it out there!)such as HowTo's, Distribution web sites FAQs and other helpful info, usergroups and deja powersearch. Beyond that I think the support of the community at sites like this and others, and the usergroups really make a difference too. However, it would be much better if us newbies would at least check and see if the answers already exists. I have to admit its easy to start relying on the local guru but it sure is more satisfying once you figure it out and know that you can fix it/install it/etc the next time around!
A few years ago I never would have thought I could do the things I've done with computers but the support I found has really made the difference. (I've even started learning to program a bit. :-O )

Please be patient with us newbies! Someday we'll grow up to be supergeeks too. :-) I am sooo happy to not being using M$ products!


Linux is exclusive and should stay that way (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 14 years ago | (#1432369)

It's like a club, you don't want the trash wondering in off the street.

Slashdot, Elitist!? Naaaaahhhhhhh!!! (1)

Rabbins (70965) | more than 14 years ago | (#1432370)

What is the reaction going to be when people log into their AOL accounts from a Linux box?

Me: Newbies and Manpages (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 14 years ago | (#1432371)

I'm a Linux newbie. I started with Debian after my friend installed it on one of my computers and showed me the basics. After a few months of just playing with my pre-installed Debian, I printed the installation documentation and was able to install it on my friend's computer.

The manpages can be vague sometimes, but there is a lot of it and usually I find that I can acheive my goals by simply reading and re-reading manpages. The HOW-TOs are also very helpful... without them I think I would have a much more difficult time.

Basically, it comes down to Linux and Unix being 'different' from MSDOS and all the other commercial mainstream ilk that makes it initially difficult. For me, persistence and RTFM has worked in Linux, although I'm sure not everyone would be as willing to spend the time that I did (and still do) learning the system.

Re:Dealing with New Users is easy (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 14 years ago | (#1432372)

Don't forget we can deal with programmers who think their work is actually *worth* something in the same way!

How about a knowledge base type thing (2)

Pfhreakaz0id (82141) | more than 14 years ago | (#1432373)

I would have loved ONE place to go like the Microsoft KB when I was trying to get my redhat going. Yes, I could go to the RH site for most of it, but I often went to a list of other bookmarks as well.

From a Linux newbie (1)

colnago (91472) | more than 14 years ago | (#1432374)

I've been using Linux for about 2 months. I've wrestled with Linux for about 8 months. I'm an English Lit grad who earns a living programming, which I've done for about 6 years. Much of this article hit home.

I agree that enough documentation exists to fill a stadium. Moreover, I've learned to navigate much of it to find my answers. I find that sometimes the documentation helps, other times I've modified so many files that I couldn't undo the changes when whatever I was trying to do didn't work anyway.

I have a couple of observations. First, my local users group (Cincinnati Linux Users Group [] ) responds quickly, and most times correctly, to questions I ask. The linux newsgroups have been a font of information for me. I read through the messages just to gain more understanding. I find that as long as I insert some sort of text indicating I've at least tried to find an answer elsewhere the necessary help if forthcoming.

On the flipside, I think the windows software world has trained users to ask for answers from a certified source. Since no manuals exist the individual will take a class, purchase a book, call the helpdesk or whatever to find an answer. The corporations pay for these materials so why not use them. They create a source of revenue for ISV's and third parties, so there is no incentive to provide your answers along with the software. This brings to mind the sort of recent post [] about the MS engineers doing the usability study on Linux by trying to play games. MS's own engineers didn't go to the manual first.

Corp's aren't to the point where they can support a help infrastructure for linux, the installed base isn't large enough so the individual is on their own. If there is a help infrastructure in place it's for a commercial version of unix.

Finally, I think most linux adopters are either network admins that understand enough about how things work to know what kind of documentation they need to look for to make it work in linux, or they are individuals willing to navigate the technical waters for the satisfaction of making linux run.

linux is running for me on a laptop. I've installed StarOffice, Apache, PHP and other software to make it useful to me. I'm killing myself to get freeamp working and 2 pcmcia network cards working simultaneously on RH6.0. I'm also wrestling with sound and networking on a desktop machine. I must say installing NT was much easier, but there's no satisfaction. Conquering XF86Config and editing a modeline to make 16 bit color work is satisfying - now I know why it works along with how to do it.

So, for now, I think there is enough help out there. If a user is really serious about using linux to meet his needs - whether corporate or individual - I think the individual must give back to the community. Attend a local LUG meeting, chime in on the local mailing list, post questions to some newsgroups and I think the newbie will find the answer he needs.

Re:My Newbie HOWTO (2)

JammmGrrl (131305) | more than 14 years ago | (#1432375)

RTFM, for a Linux newbie (however proficient with computers they are) is extreemly frustrating.

Linux does take a little getting used to. I finally took the plunge on my home computer two months ago, and it was a scary experience for me. It is a vastly different paradigm than DOS/Windoze. It's scary to be partitioning a secondary drive, not wanting to accidently partition your primary drive (which still has Win95 on it, along with years of beloved data), especially when the partitions have names like, "hda1" and "hdb6" instead of "C" and "E".

I'm very fortunate that some people on IRC were willing to give me a few begruding answers. RTFM doesn't help much when you're not even sure where to start looking. Even doesn't help much when you don't know an XFree86 from a \dev\...

Now that I've used it a bit and understand some of the basics, finding help in the manuals is much easier, though it can still be tiresome and frustrating.

I wouldn't mind seeing some better documentation out there. It seems to me that the HOWTO's are a bit disorganized, and in some cases didn't cover topics I needed to read about. I figured with all this open-sourceness and late-night-labor-of-love coding that there would be plenty great docs overlapping every possible known linux configuration. Yet I had a heck of a time trying to find out what an error message meant when I kept trying to use X.

I like Linux, and I'd love to see it one everyone's workstation in every business and home and send Gates back to his mommy. Most people are afraid of it, though, and good support and docs is just the thing to help abate that. Anything to help alieviate the confusion would contribute to its success.

(As a funny side-note... The guy who convinced me to install linux promptly disappeared from IRC for a month and a half, until about the time I got it running... So much for his help! :) )

Whatever.... (1)

GNUs-Not-Good (130016) | more than 14 years ago | (#1432376)

In order for someone to think for themsleves, they do not have to agree with me. Boy, you are dense. I know some people that agree with some of what Stallman says, and not others. They agree with him more than I do, and that does not make them sheep.

If you are a CS major, you are a COLLEGE STUDENT. You may not live on campus, but you go to college. Do they teach you common sense there?

Your attempts to paint Stallman detractors with a wide brush of wannabe cult leaders is quite interesting.

Everytime someone says something about the bearded freak you are the FIRST one to defend everything he says. That is how you are the point man.

Maybe you should go over to pych labs and volunteer for some experiments. Or talk to your philosophy professor about your off-base assertions. I am sure your C would beome a D- pretty quick.

Re:My Experience as a Linux newbie (1)

Skapare (16644) | more than 14 years ago | (#1432377)

Sometimes I was overwhelmed by the amount of information available about a subject. It took time to filter through all that information and get the answer.

This is part of the problem. But whether to blame the documentation for taking so much time, or to blame the new user for not committing enough time, is the tough issue. There are no easy answers. I have seen where I think I could improve the documentation in many ways. The problem is I don't have the time to do it.

Re:Documentation (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 14 years ago | (#1432378)

Personally I'd like local documentation and never use IRC as a recourse because Linux users are such tremendous pricks about everything. They don't even care if whatever you need to get done gets done, they just want to make sure you're chanting their mantra and joining in the "let's do everything for free" circle jerk.

Re:No Foolin... (1)

RobSweeney (19353) | more than 14 years ago | (#1432379)

I'm in exactly the same boat.. I've been using Unix heavily for about 13 years or so, including a bout of heavy sysadmin (sysV-flavor) around 10 years ago. I program in a Unix environment all day long; have done so for years. I'm not clueless.

As you say, the RH install went just fine. Then the tweaking began: X configuration, PPP, networking. The current project is getting my sound hardware to do the right thing (at the moment, to get it to do anything at all). Then I'll play with ip-masq and all that. I don't own any weird hardware - a Linux-friendly ether card, a real SoundBlaster, etc., but still, little worked properly post install.

I can see now that putting together what will ultimately be a small home office network is going to take me weeks of spare time in the evening. True, at the end I'll (hopefully) have a much deeper understanding of How it All Works than your typical Win-duhz user.. but I'll have earned it. The whole project would have taken me an hour so under Win98 or whatever. But I didn't want that. (the box is for Perl and database development, and I need what's comfortable, and for me, that's a lot of xterm windows running ksh.)

This isn't really a gripe. But I know my way around Unix. I can understand what the HOWTOs are saying. I prefer terse technical instructions to "dummies" and "idiots". I'm confident rebuilding a kernel. I like having this level of control and involvement. But there's just no way that someone outside the hobbyist community, who isn't interested in knowing all the details, and isn't being paid to care, is going to go through all this. They'd likely give up even before seeing the partition info in the install.

And another thing (1)

ChrisGoodwin (24375) | more than 14 years ago | (#1432380)

I'm still learning Linux myself, but I'm at about the point where the man pages, the HOWTOs, etc. are actually helpful.

The man pages and the HOWTOs don't often tell you what to do when something goes wrong. What do you do when you've RTFM, followed the instructions and it still doesn't work?

Re:Dealing with New Users is easy (1)

Mox-Dragon (87528) | more than 14 years ago | (#1432381)

Of course, you can always take the conventional "My OS is better than yours and that makes me god" approach, be a raging bitch to newbies, and be the most self righteous and arrogant person in the world, as a lot of experienced linux users are... (sorry i get this way from hanging around IRC #Linux channels too much). But i prefer to answer newbie questions as well as i can, no matter how stupid the questions sound, because not everyone knows everything about all the things they use. Im sure not all of you know how to take your dryer apart and put it back together, or your car, or your house. So i beg you, do not be mean to newbies, it casts a bad image on Linux and the Linux community in general.

The only thing missing to the man pages... (1)

Julyen (129200) | more than 14 years ago | (#1432382)

...are examples. Sometimes I don't want to go through all the switches, options, etc. I just want to get something working quickly, and then tweak it when I have time. It would be nice to have an "example" section toward the end of the man page, with a few common uses.

a different flavor of books (1)

Judah Diament (113966) | more than 14 years ago | (#1432383)

The average Linux book (RedHat unleashed, Linux in 21 days - that whole genre) take a fundementally flawed approach - they assume you can teach end-users how to ls -l, grep, etc. That is WRONG - plain users couldn't even deal with the DOS command set, do you think they are ready for UNIX? To handle newbie end-users coming from the Win9x world, you need simple books.tutorials wthat only teach the same KDE/GNOME based features as the ones people used in Win9x - you CAN'T teach OS concepts such as what a file system really is to an MS user. They need a simple - "click on this icon to do this" approach.

I'm not saying this to be nasty to MS users - I'm sure Electrical engineers can get a good laugh at us programmers for our pitiful understanding of these computer things that we spend the day working on. The point is that you can't pile info on to people which is above their head and expect them to absorb it, so start VERY slow and low, and if they want to go deeper, they will find how to get there. You first spent years in grade school learning 2+2=4 before you tried to do derivations!

Re:Linux Manual (1)

jormurgandr (128408) | more than 14 years ago | (#1432384)

I recently purchased (shudder) redhat 6.1 boxed (just to get the CD's, I was sick of downloading off their FTP site), and the manual that came with it, although quite large (about an inch think or so), was completely useless. It's explanations ranged from [keyboard selection: what keyboard are you using] to [Horizontal Frequency: The frequency your monitor refreshes]. If I didn't know what I was doing, I'd be SOL. And Redhat touts this package as being deisnged for a beginner!
There was never a genius without a tincture of madness.

Re:Linux Manual (0)

jormurgandr (128408) | more than 14 years ago | (#1432385)

I recently purchased (shudder) redhat 6.1 boxed (just to get the CD's, I was sick of downloading off their FTP site), and the manual that came with it, although quite large (about an inch think or so), was completely useless. It's explanations ranged from [keyboard selection: what keyboard are you using] to [Horizontal Frequency: The frequency your monitor refreshes]. If I didn't know what I was doing, I'd be SOL. And Redhat touts this package as being designed for a beginner!
There was never a genius without a tincture of madness.
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