Profile of the new Linux User

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Tom Adelstein writes an interesting piece on New Linux users changing the face of community which leads me to a rambling, late night blog.

While talking to Jules (sorry but finally decided the full transcript isn’t going to happen – should have taken notes – my beer clouded memory fails me…) he “confessed” to have recently switched from Windows XP to Linux (Fedora Core) on his desktop. What allows him to make the switch was cross platform Open Source, namely Firefox, Thunderbird and an (unnamed) cross platform text editor. Otherwise he was able to “survive” on Linux thanks to experience with Linux as a server (i.e. the shell), when working with PHP.

Have to confess my story is very similar – just add SciTE to the list with Firefox and Thunderbird. If I remember right, only started with Linux as my desktop almost a year ago (Suse 8.1), although I’ve had numerous run-ins with various flavors of Unix since being a student in Physics (where I was taught just how useful Fortan can be).

My generation of “UK nerd”, I guess, started life with a Sinclair ZX Spectrum (in fact had a ZX81 before that) and grew wings with DOS and Windows 3.1. Much of setting up Linux for use on the desktop reminds me of how things were when IBM PC = DOS. I still bear a grudge against MS for Win 95 (and beyond) and the “dumbed down” interface it provides to it’s internals – I like control.

Anyway, returning to Tom Adelstein’s remarks, what particularily got me was this;

They ask a lot of questions, politely. They also catch on quickly and don’t mind letting you know they’re wanting to change operating systems. These users go to support forums and pose interesting situations. They don’t want to look stupid, even behind the mask of a forum alias. When pressed, they tell you whatever you need to know to help them. They also learn quickly how to solve problems by using mailing lists and forums.

When I started working full time in IT (1993ish) the prevailing attitude was “protect what you know / protect your job”. Ask someone a question like “Why?” or “How?” and the response was typically a hostile snarl.

The Internet changed all that – pass some error message by Google and problem solved 9, times out of 10.

When possible I try to share what I know with as many people as possible, so they can remind me later what I’ve already forgotten (hence the articles for Sitepoint – saves me having to fill my mental disk space).

From where I stand, what marks you as “good” in IT is not what you know but what your attitude is – the ability to remember endless facts has become largely irrelevant IMO – what’s more important is having the confidence to try as well as a logical approach to problem solving when dealing with the “unknown”.

It’s good hear of a “new breed” of Linux users, with the confidence to ask questions and admit ignorance. Surviving with Linux (Unix in fact) is really nothing more than knowing the right stuff, IMO. More so than Windows, where the “truth” is often disguised a “user friendly” error message.

Of course there’s an almost endless stream of things to know about Linux, and software that runs on it, it having inherited Unix’s past. This can be daunting, but so long as you’re not obsessed about remembering everything, a happy Linux user you can be. And the good news is once you’ve learnt it, it’s likely to stay relevant – I’d be prepared to bet you could take a reasonably experienced Unix user from the late 1970’s, put them in front of Linux and they’d get on just fine.

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  • http://www.jraleigh.com dravine

    Very well put. I suppose I don’t really fall into the category of “new” linux user, having been using it as exlusively as possible for about the last 5 years, but I’ve always been the type of person who researches a problem before seeking help on an issue. In doing so, I’ve been able to help a lot of people throughout the years. I started the #apache channel on undernet to get some help with my first apache install. I ended up helping a lot of people with there problems, while gaining the experience to solve my own problem. Through helping others, I became one of the apache guys who answered the really wierd questions. Personally, I think the most rewarding aspect of the Linux community in general is when you are able to help a newbie get on there feet, and begin to appreciate how much better Linux and the Linux community is than the windows community.

  • Kevin Polston

    I too am finding that people are trying different operating systems (or rather trying Linux over Windows)

  • Bill Creswell

    I would like to find that kind of community he describes. I couldn’t find much help to solve my laptop install problems.
    I formatted my disk and re-installed w2k.
    Takes more than just a willingness to learn and search, it takes finding the right sources of help.

  • cholmon

    Agreed. The best thing about the open source community in general, and the PHP community in particular, is the way that information is so unabashedly shared. Most guys that I know who have recently (thankfully) become exposed to Linux (and other technologies, ie LAMP) are of the sort who scour google and relevant mailing lists for answers so that they will not only solve their problem, but also understand how/why the solution works so that they can return the favor to some fortunate newbie in a matter of time. Information is infective, even explosive, especially with regard to folks who have a passion for sharing their knowledge (SITEPOINT!). The more information you share, the more you discover you don’t know, and thus the more you end up discovering. The people who you end up helping will inevitably get caught up in the ride as well. In the windows community (if it can be called a community), I believe the emphasis has always been on the solution to any given problem. In the Linux community, as much (if not more) emphasis is placed on the path that leads to the solution for any given problem. Perhaps this is because Linux users know that there will more than likely be a similar problem in the near future (those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it). Or perhaps they simply get off on clearing away the mystery of their system, one piece at a time.

  • http://www.sample.com Widow Maker

    Whenever I try something from the deep depths of the unknown, I get all nervous and start out in a cold sweat :eek:

    Very scary, I can tell you ;)

  • andrei

    That “(unnamed) cross platform text editor” was probably JEdit?

  • http://www.rideontwo.com z0s0

    Hadn’t actually got that far yet – I installed it on my last afternoon before taking off overseas. But I’ll check that one out when I return on Monday, cheers ;-)

  • si from sshnug.com

    I tried jEdit but found Eclipse (with PHP and Javascript plugins) to be a more natural fit for my needs. The SVN and CVS integration is also nice.

    Other cross-platform apps I use are Mozilla Sunbird (calendar), Azureus (bit-torrent) and even Flash MX is (kinda) cross-platform as it works under WINE.

    The status quo mandates a WinXP dual boot for a while to come, and whilst I will miss Sygate, TortoiseSVN and Beyond Compare, the switch is definitely on :)