Dec 13 2007

5 ways to help new Ubuntu users

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Switching to a new Operating System can be confusing at best and downright frustrating at worst. Ubuntu has done a wonderful job of shaking the belief that Linux is for hard-core geeks and techie power users. However, there are a few things that experienced Ubuntu users can do to help foster Ubuntu’s growth.

1. List the whole path to a file when giving instructions on forums and websites

-A prime example of this would be “You have to edit your sources.list or xorg.conf file”. I know that this may seem trivial for experienced Ubuntu users, but not knowing where files are located can be frustrating for a new user. I have seen many forum posts end in frustration on the new user and experienced user’s part because the new user did not know where a certain file was located.

The solution to this problem is simple. We must make a conscious effort to list out full paths to files when giving instructions. Instead of:

“You have to edit your sources.list” or “You have to edit your xorg.conf”

State the following:

“You have to edit your ‘/etc/apt/sources.list’” or “You have to edit your ‘/etc/X11/xorg.conf’”

This way the new user gets more necessary information and the helper doesn’t have to resort to a frustrated statement like:

“Why don’t you just RTFM!”

2. Stop saying RTFM!

-Speaking of RTFM! We need to stop using that statement. Not all new users know how to find the answers they are looking for by “Reading the Friggin’ Manual!” or Googling. I know this may upset some of my geek/techie brethren, but the elitist attitude towards new users needs to stop. It does nothing to help spread the use of Ubuntu. Not all the forums and websites that I have visited have users that act this way, but many do.

If you know the answer to a new user’s question, then help them. If not then you can:

3. Point new users to a good resource like the Ubuntu Forums

-If I can’t find an answer by Googling, I usually find the answer at the Ubuntu Forums. The Ubuntu Forums have saved my personal systems from a baseball bat many times. The users on the Ubuntu Forums also tend to:

4. Type out all the commands needed for a procedure

-This is similar to stating the full path to a file. New users are not familiar with many of the commands that are involved with certain procedures. If a procedure requires you to edit your “/etc/apt/sources.list” file, don’t just say “You need to edit your “/etc/apt/sources.list” file. Tell them the command.
gksudo gedit /etc/apt/sources.list
This is necessary because most users will not be running their OS as root. So, if they navigate to the file and open it, they will not be able to save it back to the original location.

Also, notice that I did not give the following command:
sudo vi /etc/apt/sources.list
I know this is flame bait for Linux purists out there, but please don’t tell a new Ubuntu user to edit something with vi. They will just get frustrated. Ubuntu comes with the perfectly suitable “gedit”. If you must stay on the command-line when you are giving instructions, tell them to use nano (at least it has instructions at the bottom).
sudo nano /etc/apt/sources.list

5. Tell them about vendors who pre-install Ubuntu on Desktops and Laptops

-If a new user is contemplating buying a new desktop or laptop, at least tell them about some of the vendors that pre-install Ubuntu on their hardware. This way the new user gets more support than if he or she were to do things on their own.

I can personally vouch for System76 because I happily own a white Darter Ultra laptop with Ubuntu Feisty Fawn (7.04) loaded on it. Dell and Linux Certified also sell Ubuntu systems.

There you have it. Five simple ways that more experienced Ubuntu users can help foster the use of Ubuntu among new users. Just remember, you were a new user once. We should try to understand what new users are going through. Perhaps Elizabeth Newton’s famous sociology experiment “Tappers and Listeners” holds the key to misunderstanding between experienced and new users.

Do you know any other ways to help new users get the best experience from Ubuntu? Let me know in the comments below. 

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4 Comments on this post


  1. nongeek said:

    Another one is to mention both command line and graphical tools (or front ends). Doing this way you’re helping to dispel the “Linux is too difficult” myth whilst still giving enough information for those eager to learn

    December 13th, 2007 at 6:05 pm
  2. Alfred Saforo said:

    Thanks for the comment on my website i found your site very helpful.

    December 13th, 2007 at 7:21 pm
  3. Wray said:

    Thanks for spreading this word! I’m one in need of slow and patient help. Even though my daily coffee cup has RTFM written in huge letters across it, that procedure has not worked tonight as I’m getting frustrated trying to get a network (cheap print server) printer working in 7.10 that 7.04 installed so fast by itself that I did not see what it did. No, I haven’t got Ubuntu figured out yet so I’m headed for the Community now!!

    December 13th, 2007 at 7:56 pm
  4. hstagner said:

    Thanks for reading and contributing to the conversation. I agree. It is also important to mention the graphical tools as well.

    Thanks for stopping by and I am glad that the site has helped you. Ask me anything if you are having trouble. If I don’t know the answer, maybe I can find out.

    Did you try to go to “System -> Administration -> Printing” and clicking on the “New Printer” button ? If you open that , many times the printer is detected Automagically. If not, then you may have to set it up manually by choosing “App Socket”, “ipp”, or “LPD” since those are the common methods for IP printing.

    What kind of print server is it?

    December 13th, 2007 at 10:04 pm


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