Originally Published: Friday, 10 September 1999 Author: Chris Marshall
Published to: news_learn_firststep/Firststep News Page: 1/1 - [Printable]

Fresh Out of the Box

You're proud. Linux has been installed, and you're feeling all warm and fuzzy. You're free from the daily crashes of an OS like Windows 98. You get the freedom to choose your software and actually contribute back to the community. You're at the top of the world.

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You're proud. Linux has been installed, and you're feeling all warm and fuzzy. You're free from the daily crashes of an OS like Windows 98, you get the freedom to choose your software and actually contribute back to the community. You're at the top of the world. Now if you could only figure out how to change your screen resolution, you'd be set. Finding "help" with other operating systems can seem pretty easy. Just call some tech support number and sit on hold for about six years, being told repeatedly by a recorded voice exactly how important your call is to them. But now that you're using Linux, you're beginning to feel a bit uneasy. Where can you turn to now? Who will hold your hand? Don't sweat it pal. No other OS has more documentation and user groups then Linux. It's almost a given that if you want to do it, then so did someone else... and they probably documented their efforts. The only question which remains is: where do I find the answer I'm looking for? Good question. Let's answer it in three steps.

First off, if you're very new to Linux, like I was (and in many ways, still am), you've probably got quite a few questions about rather general concepts. You'd like to know exactly what are user accounts and why you should ever bother logging in as anything other than root. You want to know why file permissions are such a big deal (something most mainstream OS users never think much at all about). You'd like to know what commands you can run in the terminal. Maybe you just want to know what the heck a terminal is. There are many sources geared just for these sorts of basic yet important questions. The first source you might consider is a bit obvious. Which distribution did you decide on? Debian? RedHat? Mandrake? Yellow Dog? Every one of these, and nearly every other distribution, maintains some level of documentation on their Web site. This is a solid place to begin your quest for answers. But realize that it is just the beginning. You'll almost certainly find help with installation and basic configuration, but some of these sites may leave you hanging in terms of extensive and in-depth explanations. Head over to the Support section of Linux.com and you'll find just about the best source for your general questions: the Linux Documentation Project. Its goal is clear from its title: to produce a concise and comprehensive location for Linux documentation. If you have a conceptual question, or are wondering what the features of your kernel are, check in with them. While you're over at the Support section of Linux.com, notice the HowTo documents.

And speaking of HowTo's, one of the most significant resources that the Linux community has is, in fact, the HowTo guides. Rather then being a solution to a particular problem or an explanation of a concept, each guide serves as a step-by-step guide of various procedures. Want to know how to use your cable modem with Linux? Looking for a simple explanation of how to set up a Web server? Want to use your Zip drive with Linux? Think of the HowTo guides as, well, how-to guides. If you want to use the hardware, then chances are someone has either come up with the procedure to do so, or is working on it. And if not, then maybe you should consider contributing to the HowTo guides yourself! Your diligent efforts to do that which has not been done can be documented for all those who come after you, and it will make you into a better lover (results may vary).

So, now we have an idea where to start looking for general and conceptual answers, and we know that the HowTo guides are our friends. But suppose you're having a very specific problem. Suppose that you, much like I needed to early in my Linux experience, want to run CGI scripts with Apache (which came pre-installed in your distribution), and can't figure out why the ScriptAlias command isn't "allowed" at line 18, or any other line for that matter, of your httpd.conf file. You're at a loss. Almost no HowTo is helping you. And while both Apache and RedHat have great documentation on their sites, neither one seems to help much in this particular case, you're just at a loss as to where to turn. Well, it's time to turn to the single most significant resource that the Linux community has to offer (I lied when I said the HowTo's were the most significant resource), that being the Linux community itself. And just how, you might ask, are you supposed to get in contact with anyone in the Linux community, let alone someone who knows how to solve your problem and is willing to tell you how to fix it. For this, one needs only to turn to one of the original "portions" of the Internet itself: the Usenet feeds. The number of "mainstream" OS users who don't use this resource amazes me. Every topic imaginable is covered in the Usenet feeds, and more then likely at this very moment, someone is reading and posting to those feeds that can help you with your problem. Ask nicely, and someone will point you in the right direction.

Finally, stick with the clichés: try different things and learn from your mistakes. Linux is a powerful and robust operating system. It can offer you a user experience like no other. With nearly no further configuration, nearly any distribution can offer you power, stability and features like no other OS can. However, the real fun begins the moment you go beyond the standard install, and embrace the untapped resources at your fingertips.

Chris "Bix" Marshall (marsha_c@denison.edu) is a student at Denison University, and the admin/webmaster of several sites, including his personal site. He wants to become Illiad one day.





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