June 22, 2008

What Is the Best Way to Learn Linux?

There are many ways to learn Linux, and I can't think of one as being the 'best'. Of course, something may work for some users while failing miserably for others. There are users who prefer to ask a friend or get their answers fast on a forum, either because they are too lazy or they just don't have enough time to learn something new: they want it to work in their own way. Well, that's not quite an option, since there is no universal program which will fit any user's way of doing things.

I remember that when I started I made some very dumb questions on forums and IRC, but I always liked to read documentation, which is by far the best way of learning Linux in my opinion. There is a saying which goes like 'give a man a fish and he will have food for one day, teach the same man how to fish and he will have food for his entire life.' Well, not exactly like this, but you got the point. I think keeping asking questions rather than reading manuals and tutorials first will get you out of trouble for the moment, but there will always be problems in the future which need to be taken care of.

A thing I recently observed was how most of the IRC channels and forums handle beginners: on IRC there is usually a topic and a helpful bot, and on the forums are the stickies which contain detailed information for newbies. The only problem is that this kind of help reached a level of automation: not once I saw well-intentioned persons on IRC who just give a command and a channel robot will show some help regarding that specific problem. Now, I really don't know how much a newcomer understands from help provided this way, but I can't think of a better way to do it either. Users who are new and ask the same question over and over again are countless: in forums, threads like this are always on the front page, and there is a big percentage of similar threads on the entire forum.

Too few users search, and too few read the helpful stickies. This is a common problem actually: usually (and it's just a natural thing) somebody wants a fast answer to his problem, and prefers to post on a big forum like Gentoo forums or Ubuntu forums to get a fast answer rather than reading ten pages of FAQs and an entire thread specially made for this kind of problems. But what is the gain in this? It's true, a little annoying, but the user gets his answer usually. But is this the right way to learn doing things? If that same user would have read the manual page (painful for a beginner, i know - how many even know how to quit the manual page after reading it?), he would have earned much more than asking in a forum or a mailing list. This process is part of learning how to learn.

Not to mention the satisfaction: at least I know how happy I am when I troubleshoot something on my own, without going to ask more skilled users on how to handle something. And the gain is bigger: a manual read well offers 10 times more general knowledge about a certain issue than an answer to a single, specific question.

If new users understand that it's better for them to first do the reading, then Linux and the Linux community will make one step ahead.

Updated: Jun 22, 2008 (Created: Jun 22, 2008)

9 comments:

Anonymous said...

Well of course it's better to read the manual (man pages,faq's etc) but...there are linux users..and linux professional(or on the road to become one..). The Linux user just wants the damn thing to work, no compiling no make no make install, even using rpm or dpkg is hard for some people. Only those that work with Linux every day(at work, courses) will try first to understand the problem, gather documentation and then try to solve it. So you see it's impossible to ask that ALL linux people should read man pages etc because some of them don't have the technical skills. These days you get a working Linux system (full desktop, video,muzic etc) just by following the installer wizards... so no need for some people to learn fdisk,runlevels,compiling options, directory structure, package and dependencies management etc
So let the simple user be.. a simple user...

Anonymous said...

Not to be incendiary but only thought-provoking, what is wrong with reading a book?

(Normal people should not have to read man and info pages or so-called online help to find out how to do something. Furthermore, nobody should have to use the Internet to get their answers either.)

Anonymous said...

This is common peoples beheviour. To troubleshoot, dig, read manuals etc, you have to be interested in knowledge. Most regular users are not. They just want a working operating system and in case of problems they don't want to lear why "something" happened, what is the ideology, what is the story of bug, they don't even want to know what is "bug". They just want to know the solution. Quick solution. It's nothing strange since Linux is forced to desktops and is introduced as an better alternative to windows. Digging, reading and learning is for hobbyst. And times where linux was used only by hobbyst is already a past. It is absolutely normal behavior. I do not understand people on irc channels that are angry about people asking the same questions, about people that want fast quick solutions and answers and about people that do not want to RTFM. COmputers and operating systems is not a hobby for most people. It's just a tool. Most users don't even know what actually is operating system. And you can't blame them for that.

candra said...

good article, I have same way.
For me Read the Manual, README File and INSTALL in sofware package is the best way to learn linux and to learn every opensource project.

Anonymous said...

Why should some basic information about why a problem occurred and what the solution actually does, be so feared by the so called mainstream users? It isn't much slower, it can help later too, and the user can form some basic understanding about what to expect from his or her pc. Which makes more sense, "DON'T EVER TYPE sudo rm -rf /" or " dont do it because sudo does this, rm that, [short explanation]" ?

Mariusz said...

For me reading manuals, tutorials, howtos etc is also fun. But it's nothing strange with people who doesn't want to do that. Everybody will find a tool that they use and are not interested in internals of the tool. For some persons it is a car (it is just a car, it must run. If it's not I go to garage or ask people what to change in it. I don't care what is the construction of the engine/brakes etc). Advises like "dont do rm -rf / " is something that they need. Of course they will ask "why?" But the answer that they expect is "becouse you will delete everythig you have on your computer", not "block devices represent an abstract interface to the disk. User programs can use these block devices to interact blah blah blah (...) Partition is blah blah blah (...) File system hierarchy is blah blah blah (...) / represents blah blah blah."

Anonymous said...

I think the best way to learn Linux is to have a contact person. Reading Manuals and things are fine and good, but you need someone to point you in the right direction sometimes. When I first started I didn't even know the "man" command and therefore had a very hard time even finding documentation. Google was good, but it takes much more time and effort than if you know where you can find the right documentation. And I didn't.

takdog said...

Oh yeah "linux is a great altrnative to windows"....but when windoze usrs migrate and then ask Qs on irc they get smart arse answers from some skinny geek who tells ya go RTFM ,(I can just hear the whining bitches)to that I say meet me in teh carpark and I'll PYFLO (punch yer fucking lights out)ya skinny geekazoid.........

gtanev1989 said...

These are the BEST Linux Video Tutorials Online:
http://world-shopping.org/products/software-video-lessons/learn-linux-video-courses/

You can learn almost everything about any Linux distribution!
Good Luck!