July 6, 2001

Web review: Linux Newbie Administrator Guide

Author: JT Smith

As a denizen of the world of Open Source, I am weary of Microsoft headlines, even if they are all about how MS is doing a slow burn on the highway to self-destruction. We now return you to the regularly scheduled broadcast -- Linux, and how to do it.
I still consider myself a Linux newbie, even though I've been seriously using it for a year now, have installed dozens of times, configured, compiled, and tweaked with varying levels of success and/or frustration. It has taken me a while to get to the point where I feel I can carry on an intelligent conversation with my fellow LUG members. Yet, last night at the local meeting, I was passing on some tips, tricks, and reassurance to one or two newer newbies. It encouraged them, and it encouraged me. This is a "good thing"(TM).

Lest we forget from whence we came, fellow Linux people, let us not neglect the care and feeding of the newly initiated and the curious, since the Redmond company that shall remain nameless is becoming more generous each moment in sending them our way. When we congregate, let us speak not only in jargon reserved for the full-fledged, experienced user, but let us remember to communicate with the new ones in welcoming language, and in ways that will help them along the road to Software Freedom.

A good example of this kind of Linux evangelism, the Linux Newbie Administrator Guide, is a service set up by a couple of guys who consider themselves to be newbies as well, and they've been at it since 1998. Don't let the term "administrator" fool you -- this is for anyone who is considering putting Linux on a desktop system, or has already taken the plunge but doesn't know what to do next.

The guide is remarkably thorough, beginning with pre-journey preparation called "Part 0 -- For the Undecided," and ending with an appendix, "Kernel Upgrade." The first section indulges freely in Linux PR (or propaganda, depending on your point of view):

"If you truly enjoy working with computers, Linux is the operating system of your dreams. It is more fun than any other computer operating
system around. However, the reason why Linux is truly revolutionary is that it is Open Software. Our science and technology works owing to
the free availability of information and peer review. Would you fly a plane that was based on proprietary science and unreviewed design, a
plane at the internals of which nobody but the manufacturer could look? Then, why would you trust a closed, unreviewed, proprietary
operating system? Linux is ideally suited for a mission-critical application."

I was impressed by the sheer quantity of content included in this guide. It's a complete manual, online, and is suitable for someone with no command-line experience. This guide really walks you through it step by step, with helpful additions like "notes for the clueless," and it's obvious that having once been there themselves, the authors cast no aspersions on those lacking a full share of wisdom. And while the quantity is vast, it is quality quantity; intelligently written and simply conveyed to maximize benefit to new converts.

Yet, this guide is useful to second- and third-stage newbies like yours truly as well. It's a reference tome worthy of a spot on your computer-side bookshelf (or barring that, a bookmark); you'll reach for (or click?) it again and again. Besides the basics, the author leads us through a full kernel upgrade in an easy-to-follow narrative with specific examples and "what-ifs," and there's even a small, painless tutorial that will have you compiling and running your first "hello world" program written in C in about 90 seconds.

The Linux Newbie Administrator Guide is released under the Open Publication License, which means you are welcome to copy and distribute it if you follow the terms of the license. It also means the guide is a living, growing thing that will continue to increase in value as more contributors add their clue nuggets to the vault.

The guide has been translated into Portuguese, Russian, Polish, and Chinese. It is hosted at Andamooka, the open content aggregator. A new version was just released last month, version 0.145, whereupon "millions" of typos were fixed, according to the authors, Peter and Stan Klimas.

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