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Old 08-28-2005, 09:44 PM   #1
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Suggestion: Get Another Machine!

Why is "learning Linux" such a stressful experience .. for a or for anyone-else?

Frankly, I think it is because: You have to do potentially-irreversible things to your present configuration. You are (justifiably) fearful of getting into a situation you can't back out of, and putting your data at risk.

My strong, emphatic suggestion, therefore, is this: start learning Linux on another machine. Leave your primary war-horse exactly as it is, without touching anything or repartitioning anything. "Another" computer, such as the one you still have lying-around after upgrading to the machine you're using now, has the great advantage that it doesn't have anything of importance on it to 'screw up.'" (And if it does, just take the hard-drive out and put in a new/new-to-you one, completely blank.)

(It does help if the unit has a USB-port. If it doesn't, a dandy USB2.0+Firewire card costs about $50.) Having two disk drives is handy, too. They don't have to be large or fast, or new.

At this point, pop in a CD-ROM containing the Linux "distro" of your choice and install it... stock, vanilla, untouched. Then, play with it.

Put a legal-pad and a box of sharpened pencils (yes, pencils) next to the computer and keep a diary. When you encounter something that you don't understand, a question you'd like to ask or a new discovery you'd like to explore, write it down. Once you've done that, you know that you won't forget it: and now you can decide when to re-approach the issue. You can choose whether to chase after this particular rabbit now, or later. When you find the answer, write the answer down too.

To start with, the "distro" does pretty-much everything for you, and you can spend your time noodling around to figure out just what it did. A little later on, when you're feeling more adventurous, you can start "really changing things." And if it all collapses in a heap around you ... so to speak ... "so what?" On this machine, you can simply reinstall and keep noodling.

This is vastly superior, imho, to "dual-booting." In time, when you are much more comfortable with Linux, you can explore that topic again, but this is just not a good way for a to start out. You have enough on your plate, learning Linux, to justify risking .. well, anything at all .. as you do so.

If you don't have a spare computer lying around, look at used-computer shops or even a Goodwill store... Huge amounts of perfectly-good but slightly-used computer equipment is literally thrown away every single day. Most of it is dandy for learning Linux.

For what it's worth, this technique is also good for any sort of testing situation, or for validation of any sort where you need to be certain that what you are doing is not affected by, and is not affecting, anything else.

One final suggestion ... take it slowly. You can only absorb so much at one time, and some days will be much better than others. This is one of the reasons for the diary. This is also a good reason for having your favorite game (on the other, un-touched computer), maybe a good physical game of tennis, maybe a nice book, reconnect-with-the-spouse, or whatever, to balance your learning-experience. Periodically you will feel that your mind is exploding. But at least your prized data and the computer that it's sitting on won't be at risk.

Last edited by sundialsvcs; 08-28-2005 at 09:49 PM.
Old 08-28-2005, 10:06 PM   #2
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agreed...or you could just...

Get over it! and have fun trying to fix any potential screw-ups. Kidding seriously are exactly right
Old 08-28-2005, 10:26 PM   #3
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I always found that having a completely seperate harddrive helped. Only having one HDD plugged in at a time means there's no risk to your data, and it's a heck of a lot less expensive than buying an entire new machine. Something to consider for those comfortable being "under the hood" of their computer, hardware-wise.
Old 08-28-2005, 10:30 PM   #4
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This is a wonderful suggestion... if you can get your hands on an old computer.
There are a few ways to do this, of course.

1. Check out Craigslist. They're expanding more and more internationally, and every now and then in the "free" section someone will be giving away an old computer. Pay close attention and you may be able to snatch one up.

2. Pay attention to co-workers, friends, family. The minute someone says, "Yeah, I was thinking of getting a new computer," immediately respond, "What are you doing with your old one?" If her response is "I may just throw it away" or "I'll give it to someone who wants to try out Linux on an old computer," then you're in luck!

3. Just wait yourself. Eventually that old Windows box will get too old, and you may yourself actually buy a new computer. Then, play around with Linux on the old one.

Just to expand a little on the benefits of this approach...

First of all, Linux always has a hard time catching up to the latest hardware as far as compatibility goes. I think Linux distros do a smashing job in general, but they can't get everything. If you have an older computer, most distros should work fine with them.

On the Ubuntu Forums a while ago, someone was complaining about how he couldn't get his internet working with Ubuntu, and he was dual-booting. He was extra frustrated because he would ask something on the forums while logged into Windows; then, he'd have to reboot into Ubuntu to try out the suggestion, then reboot into Windows again to say, "Yeah, that didn't work." If you have two separate computers, you can always be logged into Windows and ask for help about Linux whenever you want.

Honestly, half the time people get screwed up on all the dual-booting and partitioning. It wasn't that difficult for me, but I see a lot of newbies struggling with this. Installing Linux distros is a lot easier if you pick the "novice installation option--wipe the entire hard drive clean" than if you pick the "expert installation option--manually partition." You don't have to worry about conflicting boot loaders on the MBR. You don't have to worry about how to access your Windows partition if it's NTFS or FAT32. None of that.

So, yes, if you can find a way, try out a Linux live CD first, and if you still are interested in Linux and you get frustrated easily, just get an old free computer to experiment on. If you don't get frustrated easily and like a challenge, dual-boot. Many have done it successfully, including me.
Old 08-30-2005, 10:27 PM   #5
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Good posts there guys, I actually did it slightly differently, I got a new machine and installed Linux on that, I've worked my way thru:-

Debian(BIG mistake for a newbie) even after 8 installs I never did get KDE working.

Mandrake, good move. I got it free on a Linux magazine, lots of nice GUI controls to help out the old Windoze user in me.

Then finally onto:-
Slackware, by which time I was up for a dual boot system, though I can't remember the last time I intentionally booted into Windoze.

I must admit in those early days with wvdial happily taking over my little 'ole modem and dialing up who knows what everytime I even thought of the letters http I was sorely tempted to return to Mr Gate$.

But now, who would use a system that you need to spend at least one day in every week just 'protecting'?

I leave my Linux box on 24/7 and it's just there and working whenever I need it. The old windoze machine finally became a Smoothwall firewall(a linux based firewall check it out at ) for my ADSL connection.

Nice note about the diary too. I did this from the start, you really do fill up some pages!


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