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The missing five-minute Linux manual for morons

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Stob It is time to wake up and smell the elephant in the room. Vista is struggling to achieve escape velocity. Microsoft finds itself the butt of an international joke, but does not seem able to get a grip. The issue of choice of platform is once more up for grabs.

Of course there is an alternative; a popular computing platform whose design attracts universal admiration. But although we all look forward to literally punching in the numbers, the Wii does not yet quite hack it (use of a dread phrase coming up) 'in the enterprise'.

So, for the time being, I'm afraid we are all back on re-evaluation-of-Linux duty. Never mind. I've already done the spadework. Let me lead you through a few simple steps to a full-on Open Source experience.

Blog

At any given time, in various places and languages around the world, there are simultaneously 14 blog entries being written by Linux neophytes, documenting their first faltering steps.

This rate is well down from the 2002 peak of 37 such articles generated per hour, but is still impressive, especially when you remember that back in the old days most blog software defaulted to subject line 'I try Linux!!!' .

(Although I believe Google, showing the clever innovation for which that company is justly famous, indulged in word play with their default of 'Bye bye Windblows!!'.)

Anyway, I say the best thing is to get the blog over and done with before going near the software. After all, the text itself rarely varies: it nearly always reports the difficulties the writer had configuring a driver for his sound card. Here is a perfect example to get you started. Off you go.

Choosing your distro

There are many hundreds of Linux distributions, each of which has its own plus and minus points. It can be very confusing.

The conscientious would-be Linux user should take time to mull over the pros and cons of the Red Hat versus SUSE, and Debian versus Gentoo. He will want to evaluate the various package installation schemes - comparing .deb with .rpm - and will spend many hours on the web absorbing great quantities of freely offered advice over whether to go for Gnome or risk post-Trolltech takeover KDE, or just run the whole thing in text mode, like a Real Beard.

After he has done all this, he will install Ubuntu, because that's what everybody does.

'Ubuntu', by the way, is an African word 'too beautiful to translate into English'. The term was first popularised by Alexander McCall Smith in his The No.1 Ladies' Detective Agency series of books, in the following, typically action-packed, scene:

'Mma Ramotswe?'

'Yes, Mma Makutsi? Would you like to boil the kettle to make some more bush tea?'

'No, Mma Ramotswe. I was going to say: there are unpleasant brown stains all over the floor, and also a smell. I wondered if you perhaps had trod in some ubuntu? The Tlokweng Road is covered in it today.'

'No, Mma. I do not have any ubuntu on my shoes. I am very careful. Perhaps you have some ubuntu on your shoes.'

'No, Mma Ramotswe. I do not have any ubuntu on my shoes either. It is a mystery.'

'Perhaps Charlie, Mr J. L. B. Matekoni's unsatisfactory senior apprentice, brought it in on his shoes.'

'Ah yes, Charlie. I am quite sure that this is the correct explanation.'

Precious Ramotswe allowed her traditional build to lean back in her chair and relaxed. Later on, she would go out in her tiny white van and investigate something. Later, but not just yet. The wall lizards basked in the morning sunshine, and flies buzzed laconically around the light fitting.

'Mma Ramotswe?'

'Yes Mma Makutsi, what is it now?'

'Shall I fetch the mop?'

Although modern Ubuntu has come on a long way in the last few years, its default desktop theme is still shaded the same brown colour, as a reminder of its inspiration.

Incidentally, Ubuntu also famously gives its releases hippy alliterative names: 'Feisty Fawn', 'Hoary Hedgehog' and so on. These names are created using the same algorithm that fellow wrinklies will remember as the old CompuServe password generator. This knowledge enables me to predict with confidence that when the current 'Gutsy Gibbon' release is retired, the next four will be called Weedy Willie, Sexy Sadie, Lorelei Lee and Moon Unit Zappa.

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