Linux has a bad reputation in some quarters. A lot of people believe it is all command line stuff, very technical and only for geeks.
Things have progressed and Linux can be installed and used by virtually anyone with minimal knowledge of computers. This post is a very brief introduction for an absolute newcomer.
I am assuming you have installed Linux (and preferably Mint!).
If not then installation is relatively simple. Download the version of your choice from one of the Linux Mint repositories. There are dozens of these but one example is http://mirrors.evowise.com/linuxmint/stable/ Select the version you want (32 or 64 bit, depending on your machine) and the version you want (my preference is Cinnamon but that’s just my thing). Burn the file to DVD (or USB), insert the DVD and reboot.
The only sticky area is possibly setting up the hard disk to accommodate the Linux system. There is a very old tutorial I wrote here back in 2011 but the principle is still the same.
Right, so you have booted into Linux. Where to go from there?
The first thing you’ll notice is that the overall layout is vaguely similar to Windows. You have your Task Bar along the bottom containing a few icons and a couple of icons on the desktop. However, when you select Menu (equivalent to “Start”) you’ll see the first major difference. In Windows, the pop-up gives a rather messy display of the installed programmes apparently thrown in at random (!). Linux lists its programmes according to usage, so Internet will gave access to your browser and mail client, Accessories will have a list of, well….. accessories and so on.
At this stage you are ready to go. You can browse the Internet, send and receive mail, create and edit documents and all the rest. Basically you can do all the simple stuff.
What is Root?
One thing to note about Linux is that it is very keen on permissions. When you installed it, you were granted rights as Administrator. However quite a few actions require you to use the rights of “Root”. Root is very powerful as it gives unquestioned access to everything in the operating system and is therefore very dangerous to use. Never log in as Root unless you have a death-wish. However there are times when you need access to the operating system such as when you are updating programmes, installing them or making changes to the system itself. If you are doing that from the desktop, you will simply be asked for your password. This is nothing to be worried about – essentially it’s just making sure you want to do that task and will temporarily grant you Root privileges. The password is the same as your user password you entered when installing.
Sometimes you need to do something in the Terminal (equivalent to the DOS Command box in Windows). If the command involves something involving the system it will fail with a warning “Permission denied”. Rather than switching user, you simply put the word “sudo” before your command. You will then be prompted for your password (which incidentally won’t appear on the screen either as text or asterisks) and the command will run. Sudo essentially grants you full privileges on a very temporary basis.
The fie browser in Linux should be familiar to anyone who has used Windows. However, the way Linux is installed is considerably different to the Windows layout.
For a start, there are no letters attached to the drives (no more C:/ !). If you look at the root of the system (where all files are stored) which you’ll find on the file browser marked as “File System” you will find a long list of folders such as “bin” “boot” “cdrom” and so on. All of these are part of the Linux system and to do anything with any of the contents requires Root permissions. Playing around with anything there is dangerous and can make the whole Linux inoperable.
There is one exception to the above and that’s the folder “/home”. That contains all your files within your own folder. You can do what you like with those! Each user will have his or her files stored in their own folder under “/home/username“.
Windows has a nasty habit of scattering files all over the place. Your files are usually kept in a sub-folder of c:/user, but your settings can be virtually anywhere, such as “Program Files”, “ProgramData” or worst of all the Registry. Linux on the other hand stores all that information in your Home partition/folder.
One thing to note is that Linux can span different partitions or even drives without any problems. So in theory you could have all your Root Linux files on one drive and your Home on the second drive. It makes no difference to Linux. In my link near the top I mention partitions, and how I like to put all the system files on one partition and Home on another. That way I can format the Linux partition while leaving all my own files intact. Try doing that under Windows? (Don’t!!)
One major difference between Windows and Linux is case sensitivity. Windows is case insensitive but Linux is case sensitive. In Windows “MyFile.txt” is the same as “myfile.txt” but in Linux they can be two different files. This can cause confusion when it tells you that “Myfile.txt” doesn’t exist when you know for a fact that it does (but with a different case in the filename).
The time will come where you will need software that doesn’t come bundled with the original DVD. The first port of call is the Software Manager. This is basically a one stop shop where you can pick and choose which programmes to install. You get a description of the programme, a screenshot, reviews and an Install button. It is that easy. No licences, no questions, no reboots, it just installs quietly in the background and sets itself up. It really is that simple.
If you want to search the Net for software that isn’t listed in the Software Manager feel free. Be aware though that you should only use software from reputable sources. When downloading you are usually given a choice of file types. The best choice is usually a .deb fie as that can be opened directly by the software installer. Do NOT chose .exe files as they are for Windows and will not work in Linux.
On the right hand end of your taskbar you should see a little shield icon. Normally this shield will have a green tick on it. If however it displays a red X it means there is one or more updates available. Clicking on the shield will bring up a new Update window, displaying the software that needs to be updated. All that is required is to click on “Install Updates” and to enter your password.
Unlike Windows, updates are nothing to dread. There are no constant calls to reboot the machine or little queries (“Do you really mean to do this”!). Updates in Linux tend to be very fast and unobtrusive and only on the rarest occasions will they suggest a reboot. They will just download the files in the background and install them without any hints or prompts.