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Moving to Linux: The Paradigm Shift Explained, Part One

Novell Cool Solutions: Feature
By Scott M. Morris

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Posted: 8 Sep 2005

The first time I installed Linux, I stared blankly at the screen for quite a while. I had no idea what to do. I was a little apprehensive, as most new Linux users are. Eventually, however, I worked up the courage to go exploring through my shiny new operating system. To my pleasant surprise, I found some of it to be familiar to me. Some things were quite different than what I was used to. Other things about Linux were brand new, conceptually. For computer users switching from Windows to Linux, much will feel familiar.

If you choose to use KDE, the desktop should make you feel at home. The K Menu in the lower left corner feels natural. There is a kicker bar will be easy to use and familiar with its application launch buttons. The time and system tray are where you'd expect them to be.

That said, however, there are quite a few things that are different in Linux. It would have been nice to have had these things explained to me while I was making the transition, myself. Instead, it was a little like putting a firehose in my mouth and turning it on full force. I'd like to discuss a few of the things to assist in a gentle paradigm shift for new Linux users. Hopefully, this will save some from the firehose syndrome.

One of my first questions about Linux was, "How do I install software?" Windows users are used to going to a store and purchasing software which they then take home and install. Other times, software can be downloaded from the Internet after it is purchased online. With Linux, it is quite different. I have never had to take out my wallet or leave my seat to install software.

With SUSE Linux Professional, we have YAST. This is an excellent tool that allows you to manage your system. To install software, run YAST, open the software installation module, search for the software, tick a checkbox to install it, and click ACCEPT. As you are getting used to Linux, you may not know the name of the software that you are trying to install. You can very easily search through the descriptions of the package to locate an application. If you are looking for a media player to play your MP3s, you may not know to look for xmms, so you can search for "media player" instead. xmms comes up as one of the results.

So, no buying software. You simply run YAST, find what you are looking for, and install it.

On Windows, I hardly used the command prompt. If you want to use Linux, it would be a good idea to get familiar with the command prompt. It is not absolutely required, but it's good to know. For example, the command prompt allows you to perform detailed administrative tasks, both locally and remotely. This can all be done without using the command prompt, but it is more cumbersome and consumes more of your system's resources. If you think you might want to get started with the commandline, take a look at an introductory article from earlier this year. It introduces some of the basic commands to get you started.

If you've used Windows, you are probably used to calling tech support when something goes wrong. Many times, you will call the company that wrote the software that is giving you problems. In Linux, you do not generally call technical support. More often, you look for help in other areas. If you go to the home page of the software that is giving you trouble, many times there is an online manual. Also, you can search through related forums to see if there are solutions to the problems you are experiencing. Another great resource for help is any mailing lists that are related to the software that is acting up. The Linux approach to problem-solving, though it takes a little longer, leads to increased knowledge about your platform. The Windows approach, while quicker, merely fixes the problem leaving you no more knowledgeable about your system than you were before. This has been my general experience.

So, if you are on Linux and you have problems with a program, go to its home page, go to its forums, and subscribe to its mailing lists. In short, "read the fine manual," as they say.

When upgrading to Linux from Windows, there are a handful of things that are different. In my experience, the things I've described above are some of the contrasting ways of using Linux versus using Windows. Though I've covered a handful of the basics here, in future articles, I will discuss some of the more in-depth differences.

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