Linux for a Windows Power User
July 7, 2006 8:35 PM   Subscribe

What are some books and resources that can help a Windows expert make the transition to Linux for good?

I've been a Windows power user and basic administrator for many years. I've used Linux on and off for 5 years, but I've never been able to go cold-turkey for personal use. I've had installs running for months, but I've always ended up getting frustrated and returning to Windows. I really want to make the jump, but I need some help.

Part of my problem is unfamiliarity with the command line and shell scripting. For one thing, I'm not a programmer by any means so I have no experience with even basic shell scripting. I know the real power of Linux comes alive from the CLI and manual config edits, etc, but I have relied on the GUI for many things that I should do the "real" way. I know all the CLI basics, from general file/folder navigation and manipulation to source installs, but I mean the REALLY juicy stuff...

I'm looking for one or two excellent books that are geared towards Windows power users that can help make a logical and permanent migration. I'm not a total Linux newbie, and I want something that really highlights using the CLI and system administration. However, I don't want a book that focuses on advanced network administration side of Linux, since that's beyond my current focus.

I'm also looking for any resources or tips on how to stick with Linux and not give up. I know it's partially an attitude and mindset thing, so some suggestions from people who have successfully converted would be great.

In summary: I want to be as comfortable configuring and controlling a Linux system as I am with a Windows system (which is pretty comfortable). Help me do this!

As a note: I've used many distributions, including Red Hat, Mandrake/Mandriva, SuSE/OpenSuSE, Ubuntu, Libranet, and more. I recently installed Ubuntu 6.06 and have been very pleased with my results so far - it's come a long way since 5.x, so I feel comfortable with sticking with this distro for awhile. I'm not particularly interested in a book that focuses on one specific distro though, since I don't think that's as important as understanding Linux functions and configuration as a whole.
posted by sprocket87 to Computers & Internet (13 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
If you do go with Ubuntu, there's O'Reilly's "Ubuntu Hacks."
posted by mattbucher at 8:41 PM on July 7, 2006

Pick up a copy of Think Unix.
posted by evariste at 8:45 PM on July 7, 2006

Also, Life With Unix.
posted by evariste at 8:59 PM on July 7, 2006

There are a lot of "common shell command" websites out there, which will probably teach you some stuff you didn't know. Next stop would be the Advanced Bash Scripting Guide, which I find is even better than the O'Reilly book on Bash. After that, you should go with an O'Reilly book on Linux, "Linux in a Nutshell", as I believe it's called. Just remember that there's nothing wrong with using GUIs if they get the job done -- you shouldn't feel like you're cheating.

One common source of frustration is the lack of support for multimedia (e.g. viewing WMV files online). I highly recommend getting EasyUbuntu ( It'll save you a ton of headaches.

For general support, join the Ubuntu-users mailing list. (But be sure to set up your inbox filter; there are hundreds of messages a day.) People there know everything.

Best of luck!

-A convert

p.s.: Check out Emacs if you haven't already. It's my Swiss Army Knife for scripting.
posted by lunchbox at 9:03 PM on July 7, 2006

Some more tips:

-go to, download a good .bashrc and customize it.
-learn to use cdargs and checkinstall.
-sign up on StumbleUpon and start stumbling on Linux websites. StumbleUpon will quickly figure out you're a new Linux user and direct you to a bunch of cool pages.
posted by lunchbox at 9:08 PM on July 7, 2006

Think about this, too: Why do you want to switch? Is it just because you want to use Linux, or is it because Linux suits your needs better?

What are your needs? Does every website you use (or rely on) work under Firefox, or do some require IE? Are there any Windows-only programs you use regularly? Do they have Linux equivalents? And most importantly, are you willing to have to learn how to use your computer all over again?

I find that, more often than not, people who switch to Linux and end up switching back do so because of negative answers to one of those questions. If Linux isn't a good match for your computing needs, you'll just end up getting frustrated and going back to Windows again.

Don't get me wrong, I love the *nixes. Some more than others. I'm particularly fond of OpenBSD at the moment, but I have experience with various Linux distributions, SCO Unix, and Solaris. But I use them as servers, because it's what they excel at.
posted by CrayDrygu at 9:45 PM on July 7, 2006
posted by punkrockrat at 10:54 PM on July 7, 2006

The book you're looking for is the Rute tutorial.

Also, installing Gentoo is one of the more common ways for aspiring linux geeks to learn hands on. The ultimate way to teach yourself Linux is to go through the Linux From Scratch guide, but that takes days, and leaves you with a shitty system, while installing Gentoo only takes hours (well, 2 hours from you, and n hours of unattended compilation), and leaves you with a kickass system.

The Linux Documentation Project is probably the best place to go to learn the command line. There's plenty of good bash guides there, although the Advanced Bash Scripting Guide is the best known.
posted by gsteff at 12:00 AM on July 8, 2006

Also, if you want to try Gentoo, a tip: print the installation guide before beginning. You can access it from the command line, in its own virtual terminal if you want (hit alt-f2, and alt-f1 to switch back to the original terminal), but that gets annoying.
posted by gsteff at 12:06 AM on July 8, 2006 [1 favorite]

Do a base packages and HowTOs Slackware install on some trash Pentium you pick up at a yard sale for $20

Get everything working, which will probably involve compiling a new kernel and editing LOTS of config files.

Then hand-install the Xserver.

Either you'll get it, or you'll kill yourself. :)
posted by Orb2069 at 9:05 AM on July 8, 2006

I'm going to respectfully disagree with the "go primitive, learn by doing it from the ground up" people, but leave it at that.

I used to run one of the larger Linux sites, wrote a book about Linux, and got a pretty good sense of how the long-time users who frequented our comments stuck with it:

1. Find your local Linux User's Group. If there's not one really close by, just find one in your region and check out their web site for mailing lists. You don't have to go to the meetings or anything -- just subscribe to their lists or frequent their boards and keep an eye on things. They're almost continually solving some problem or another.

2. There are several sites that offer almost continual Linux information: The great thing about these sites is that they're generally very desktop/end-user oriented, so the chances are good you'll find an article about how to manage just about any task, from basic word processing to more advanced or tricky stuff like how to make sure you can play all the media files you come across on the Web.

With your LUG and frequenting these sites, you get in touch with a support community. There will be some assholes around, as with any subculture, but there are usually some very helpful people. You'll hear from the assholes first, because it takes about a minute to be a dick, vs. a good ten or fifteen to explain how something works and look up a few supporting links. Just ignore the assholes and wait for the helpful people to speak up.

3. Once you pick a distribution, stick with it. A lot of people hop around because they never learn how to fix what goes wrong. So they start with Mandrake, but it breaks, so they jump to SUSE until Fedora has some feature they can't get working.

The sad fact of the matter is that where desktop users are concerned, there isn't one Linux: There are lots of Linuxes, each speaking in their own accents. People who are awesome with Debian find themselves befuddled on Fedora, so pick one (preferably the one most commonly used in the LUG you're following, or the one most of your Linux-using friends are using) and stick with it, even if it falls down in one area or the other. Almost all common Linux variants aimed at end users are moving forward very quickly, so their respective shortcomings aren't always very long-lived.

By sticking with a distribution, you'll build up a base of consistent useful knowledge that you don't have to relearn because you hop from one distro to another and find the guts have all been rearranged on you.

4. Linux Chix, while ostensibly aimed at women, offers a very supportive community for folks of all genders. Good way to dodge the asshole factor.

5. Consider dual booting, but with a very minimal Windows configuration ... just enough space to get stuff done in a pinch, and make sure you can get at the output from a Windows session from Linux by mounting the Windows partition from within Linux. So if you're doing something in Word that you don't know how to do in OpenOffice, you can save your work, boot back into Linux, and pick back up where you left off.
posted by mph at 1:14 PM on July 8, 2006

Wow, thanks for the fantastic feedback! I'll try to address most of your questions/comments briefly:

lunchbox: I'm having good success with standard Ubuntu so far. I have complete multimedia playback (except for one particular streaming radio site I use, but that's an isolated issue), including WMV, so I'm not very stressed about that. Like I said I've been using various Linux distro's on and off for around 5 years, so I'm pretty comfortable getting a system set up and running. Thanks for the tips!

CrayDrygu: Ah, now you've reached the crux of it! This has been on my mind for some time too, and I think it's a multi-part answer. I want to switch because I enjoy the principles of free open-source software. There is a vast amount of Windows software available, but nearly all decent tools are closed-source and rather expensive to buy legally. It is an unfortantely simple task to obtain software illegally for free these days, something that I have done but regret greatly. I like the idea of using a totally open-source environment where I can use some excellent software to accomplish my tasks in a free and legal manner. Sadly, it is true that I do rely on a couple Windows programs heavily. I enjoy photography, so I use a couple RAW image processors as well as the prolific Adobe Photoshop. My experience with the GIMP has left me less than amazed, but I have hope in the Crossover/WINE offerings. I feel that I could make this issue work though, and it shouldn't get me too stuck in the Windows-lust-phase. I am an avid Firefox supporter as it is, so there is no problem there. Our Intranet here at work displays most pages properly only in IE unfortunately, but I've successfully installed ie4lin on my Ubuntu and it works great for this purpose. I've connected to our Exchange server using Evolution, which is working okay so far. Sadly it's nowhere near as rich as Outlook but it will have to do for now. Worst-case scenario I can set up some sort of VM to access Windows only for the few programs I need to use. I just don't want to *rely* on the OS for my daily tasks.

I also think it's important to learn how to command a *nix environment because it is quite obvious that it's here to stay, and it will soon be a requisite for many career paths. Not to mention that with every day that passes Microsoft licensing terms get more and more ominous...

gsteff: Thank you very much for the excellent links! "The rute tutorial" looks like a real winner! I will delve into these as soon as I can afford some time. Thanks for the Gentoo tip as well; many of my *nix-friendly pals have recommended a custom Gentoo build as well, but it looked very intimidating. Perhaps I will bite the bullet, though I'd like to learn as much as I can in the Ubuntu sys that I already have running.

mph: Thanks for the insight. I've experienced the exact condition you're talking about - jumping from distro to distro in hopes of solving basic problems or because of claims of a richer featureset. I think it's good to some extent to try a variety of distro's. This is the only way you will know which one is right for *you*. But I agree that this can be dangerous to someone [like me] who needs to buckle down and learn the core and not just the interface.

I will investigate some LUGs in my area, though my time for getting to meets is probably limited. I am familiar with several of the links you posted already, as I have been involved in the community (on and off) for several years now.

I appreciate your dual-boot suggestion. I am currently dual-booting, in fact, on my work laptop, which has been working very well. However I have most of my disk space allocated to my Windows partition. I can see the benefit of restricting the disk allotment for the Windows partition to keep me from reverting to it for all sorts of programs. I am already set up with multiple external FAT32 formatted hard drives that I use for data sharing between my partitions, so that is not a problem. Thanks for the tips!

Thanks again to everyone, this is some excellent feedback. I'll start looking through some of the resources and (hopefully) applying what I'm learning. I think I need a Linux Tutor who can look over my shoulder to make sure I don't boot into Windows or something ;)
posted by sprocket87 at 5:50 AM on July 10, 2006

I have a previous version of Red Hat Fedora [X] Unleashed. I find the book is ok. It definitely helps me out. But the main thing that helps me out is a network of friends and coworkers who use Linux. I can't stress the importance of that. I'll spend a few hours at night trying to configure something that has mysteriously gone awry, only to talk to a Linux guru the next day for, like, maybe five minutes and have the problem fixed. (A few of those things have taken a lot longer--even with the help). If you do not already know some people, I'd try to find a users group in the area. Best of luck!
posted by Java_Man at 8:22 AM on July 26, 2006

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