Open Source optimize

10 things you can do to keep your new Linux users from bailing on you

Before you hand off Linux machines to users who are new to the operating system, do a little prep work to ease the transition and make sure they have the tools they need.

When new users are presented with a new operating system, their experience can be tragic or it can be magic. Which path it takes depends upon a number of issues. First among those issues is how easy the transition is. If users are faced with hurdle after hurdle, you know they are going to either be coming back to you or giving up. It doesn't have to be that way.

In this article, I am going to show you 10 steps to take a default Ubuntu 10.04 installation and make it as newbie-proof as possible. After this walk-through, you can also re-create the "complete distribution" so you always have that newbie-proof Linux distro at the ready. Let's take a look at these steps.

Note: This article is also available as a PDF download.

1: Flash

This is always a big issue with new users. The last thing users want to see is that their favorite Web sites don't work with the default (or any) browser. You need to make sure the single most popular Web plug-in is installed and ready. The easiest way to do this is to open up the Add/Remove Software utility, search for flash, mark the official Adobe Flash for installation, and click Apply. Once it's installed, you should be able to open up the browser and enter about:plugins in the address bar, and everything should be all set.

2: Multimedia codecs

This one is a bit trickier because it's always hard to say what type of file format a user will want to play. If it's OGG, they're good to go. But seriously, most users simply do not use OGG. Most users are listening to MP3 or ACC files. The whole MP3 issue is a real thorn in the side of Linux. Think about it: Ubuntu One Music service downloads MP3 files, but you have to install support for those files after you have installed the OS. I get the licensing issue, but MP3 is such a universal (although lossy) file format. Nevertheless, you need to install support for these files. To do this, follow these steps:

  1. Open up a browser window.
  2. Enter the URL apt:ubuntu-restricted-extras?section=universe?section=multiverse into that browser.
  3. Allow the installation of the software.

3: DVDs

Now let's say your users will want to watch DVDs on their machine. Out of the box, this may not work. To ensure that it does, first install the codecs (from above) and then follow these steps:

  1. Open up a terminal window.
  2. Issue the command sudo /usr/share/doc/libdvdread4/install-css.sh.
  3. You will probably have to enter your password for this to complete.

That's it. Now when your user pops in a DVD, the default DVD player should immediately open up and play the movie.

4: Updates

You do not want to hand over a new machine only to have the user immediately presented with updates. Do this yourself. It's simple and you won't have the user thinking you installed outdated software. It also ensures that your users have (at least at that moment) the most recent software -- in case they never do another update again.

5: Default file formats in OpenOffice

This is a tough one because it SHOULDN'T be necessary. But the fact is most users are using the Microsoft Office default file format. So you don't want your new user pumping out office documents in the OpenOffice default file format. Make sure you set all the equivalent OpenOffice tools to default to the Microsoft Office default file format. When you do this, you won't have to worry about your new user sending documents to people who can't read or write to the OpenOffice file format. Even though the OpenOffice default format does adhere to the open document format, Microsoft Office does not.

6: Needed installations

Make sure you have a strong understanding of what each user needs from his or her PC. Once you determine this, you'll know what tools you must install so your users don't have to install applications on Linux right away. Although this is a simple task (one that anyone can do), you want your new users focusing on using their desktop, not on getting their desktop to meet their needs. Let that be your job.

7: Auto login

This is an interesting issue. Personally, I prefer to have my system require me to log in. Most users, on the other hand, do not. If you have users who don't care for that level of security (shudder), go ahead and set it up so that they don't have to log in upon boot. If you click System > Administration > Users And Groups, you can highlight the user, click Change on the Password option, and make sure the Don't Ask For Password On Login option is checked. If you aren't comfortable with this, you can at least disable the password requirement when the screensaver kicks in. You do this from System > Preferences > Screensaver.

8: Touchpad tap

By default, the touchpad often won't have Mouse Clicks With Touchpad enabled. This can be a real annoyance when users have to depend upon their mouse buttons for clicks. To enable this, click System > Preferences > Mouse and then click the Touchpad tab and enable the option. This will save you the inevitable phone call: "My touchpad won't work!"

9: Default applications

This one should be set correctly by default. However, you may find yourself installing nonstandard applications, like Chrome for a browser, Claws-Mail for email, or Banshee for music. To make sure these are all correct, click System > Preferences > Preferred Applications. From there, you can select from default applications or custom applications to serve as the system default.

10: Backups

Your users' data is just as important as yours is -- at least in their eyes. If they have an external drive to use (or you have access to an online backup), take advantage of the simplicity of LuckyBackup. With this tool, you can set up scheduled backups to ensure that user data is safe. This will go one step further to ensuring the user is comfortable with their new environment.

Bonus step

I would be remiss in not mentioning that you might also want to install a tool like Teamviewer on the off chance that you need to do a little remote support on their machine.

Conclusion

Although it may seem like I am saying Linux is not ready for the new user, I'm not. I believe to my core that Linux is ready for anyone to use. But it still can use just a little help before you hand it to a new user. This isn't much different from handing a Windows machine to a new user. Out of the box, Windows 7 isn't terribly useful without an office suite and other tools that help users get their jobs done and pass their time.

I hope you find this list as a whole as helpful as others have when I've shared these tips individually. If you have other steps you think should be added, please share them.


Check out 10 Things... the newsletter

Get the key facts on a wide range of technologies, techniques, strategies, and skills with the help of the concise need-to-know lists featured in TechRepublic's 10 Things newsletter, delivered every Friday. Automatically sign up today.

About

Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and Linux.com. He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website getjackd.net.

30 comments
WilliamRLBaker
WilliamRLBaker

Easy, Just keep making linux. there will all ways be a call for an alternative OS compared to the mainstream by the anarchist, and all around Rabble rousers. so Linux is in no way near death, or losing loyal users, As long as there is a base of people that hate the mainstream.

jeslurkin
jeslurkin

Personally, I wish that there as another flash player plug-in for FF. Adobe looks way too bloated.

gvarhelyi
gvarhelyi

I overcame those "hurdles" that were mentioned above but my main concern was not being able to send or receive my email within Ubuntu Linux or even Linux Mint. How to open the ports that by default are closed, is daunting for a newbie that isn't technically minded.

santeewelding
santeewelding

I have to say. Solid. I have a backup machine for when I screw this one up. It has Vista Home Basic installed, only because it cost at the time about the same as a duplicate XP. Only, now, it gathers dust, 'cause I screw up less and less on this one (W7Pro, now, vice XP). I dread every time I fire the other one up because of all the damned updates I am obliged to do. And, I do them. And, occasionally, I have to recover from the havoc those updates do. Not to mention all the updates from antivirus apps and whatnot. I think I'll kiss off the $200 I spent for VHB (couple years ago) and (again) install Ubuntu. Probably, also, better bookmark your article in case things go horribly wrong. Things do that.

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

Regardless of the experience of the user. It's a detailed list of what you do when you take pride in your work and want the customer to have the best.

Jellimonsta
Jellimonsta

Good stuff. I personally disable the touchpad doubleclick in Windows and Linux. It bugs the heck out of me. :) I also disable the touchpad while typing. I have Mint 9 on a laptop at home (installed it over U10.04) and I have the new PCLinux and Fedora 13 64-bit on VM's on my home desktop. PCLinux is pretty nice, but I not long installed Fedora, so I am not sure about it. BTW, anyone have any recommendations for a Linux equivalent of Windows Movie Maker? Imagination (at my limited tinkering) did not appear to allow video file insertion in addition to pictures, and Cinelerra was way too complex for an average user.

Slayer_
Slayer_

Just remembered my opinion doesn't matter here...

oldbaritone
oldbaritone

and make it the default application for EXE files. That will cover a lot of the users who stick in a CD and expect it to run.

ogouninfosec
ogouninfosec

I would add another bonus step. Install openssh-server, and deny-hosts. Teamviewer definitely works better for most folks behind a home router, but for the folks still on dial-up, or directly hooked to their high-speed modem, or on a shared network with you, this is going to be faster for you when you need to log in to fix a config issue. I feel that deny-hosts ought to be a pre-requisite package to openssh-server, but that's just me. ...and this one isn't going to help with keeping them from bailing, but should always be done... Configure UFW and give them a little guide on how to use it. (This should also be done in the Windows world with the built-in Windows firewall.)

The 'G-Man.'
The 'G-Man.'

But I think it goes for all desktops, Linux or not.

Neon Samurai
Neon Samurai

Many people who work on FOSS projects do so in absence of being counter-culture like anarchists and rabble rousers. Some folks just want to produce code they can use on there own systems. Others want to drive competition back into the software market. Can't normal people just prefer an alternative without the requirement to blindly hate what they are moving way from? Actually, I'd say if your key motivation is to stick it to the man or hate the mainstream, your reasons for using an alternative OS are staggeringly shallow and ineffective.

Neon Samurai
Neon Samurai

Why is a non-technically minded newbie enabling network services and opening ports?

r_widell
r_widell

(I like oldbaritone's suggestion for No. 11) I've found that setting up the email client is something that makes a "typical user's" eyes glaze over. While some ISPs have a support web page that will show, screen by screen, setting up Outlook Express (and maybe even Thunderbird), others only provide the necessary information on a printed page. Some don't even provide that. You have to call tech support so they can walk you through setting up the one email client (usually Outlook Express) that they have scripted. While such scripts have the information needed to set up any email client, the places where that information needs to be entered will almost certainly be different than scripted when using a different client (e.g. Evolution). In your case, you don't identify the email client you're trying to use nor the specific problems you're seeing, but unless you've also installed an MTA such as Sendmail/Exim4/Postfix I'd be very surprised if opening specific ports will be needed to correct the problem.

Jellimonsta
Jellimonsta

I like Mint 9 a lot Santee. You may want to investigate it.

Dyalect
Dyalect

Make it "look" like windows and amaze them at how stable it runs.

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

Who told you that? ?:| I enjoyed the article because it encapsulates a series of tips that apply to preparing any OS for the initial user.

Neon Samurai
Neon Samurai

I believe they both do the same thing though.

chipppy
chipppy

Not sure here but I though there was other versions of Linux besides Ubuntu. Appears all the ciommands used are specifically for Ubuntu what about some infio for Fedora or BSD or, or , or (add in other distros to your liking) I am getting sick of the Ubuntu=Linux in the press. While I feel Ubuntu is a superb distro. there are plenty of other distros out there that do just as good a job, if not better in some cases. Media please change your style to include all major distros when giving example of how-to or at least how-to for the top 3 or 4 downloaded distros. I really want to see a reversal of the Linux=Ubuntu trend. Remember thats how Microsoft got control of the OS market in the first place, Microsoft=Computer marketing

#1klutz
#1klutz

Good list of items that need to be added to the system before you give it to the new user. I would like to expand on one section. Updating the system. You need to show them where the update button is and what to do when it is telling you that there is updates, such as the red button in the top right task bar for Ubuntu and the shield in Mint. showing them how it is done is a plus. However there is still times when the command line is needed. let me suggest 6 and you can expand from there. sudo apt-get clean sudo apt-get autoclean sudo apt-get autoremove sudo apt-get update sudo apt-get upgrade sudo aptitude full-upgrade Show these commands to the new user and hopefully one or two will install something. You can explain what each does and then tell them they do not need to remember the commands. all you need to do is start terminal and use the up key on the keyboard. When you see the command just hit enter on the keyboard. I would also like to recommend showing the new user the Synaptic Package Manager. Knowing how to add and remove software packages is a big plus. When they see there is thousands of programs they can install there eyes light up. Last but not least telling them about a local Linux group, (LUG), where they can continue there education.

WilliamRLBaker
WilliamRLBaker

First off I don't use linux its quite frankly a horrible backwards OS that will never be in touch with the common man and it will remain that way as long as self absorbed rabble rousers continue to make distros in their own way they think are the best. 2nd I'm simply stating facts the #1 reason linux was made was because of discontent with the current OS environment made by a software engineer for other software engineers. That intent has continued throughout its evolution as its been 10+ years now, and linux still isn't user friendly for even 90% of the common population on the planet. but I would say one thing, and rudely. Your not god, and quite frankly ******** what right do you have to decide what is shallow or ineffective. The majority of non-buisness users, and non-software engineering users use it for that simple reason...Stick it to microsoft.

john3347
john3347

Jack, number 8 will give many users much grief. Three minutes needs to be spent demonstrating the fly-away cursor curse associated with sensitive touch-click touch pad adjustments and let the customer decide at the time of computer delivery which they want to try first. At least they must be made aware of the phenomenon so they know why the cursor goes flying off into the sunset, apparently on its own. santeewelding, I am a struggling convert (much heavier on the struggling than convert) from Windows to something Linux. While I have tried several Ubuntu versions from 7(something) through 9.10, I have not tried 10.04. I am currently struggling with LinuxMint 9 and find it clearly the easiest (or is it "least difficult"?) of anything I have ever tried - including quite a few distributions, and versions of each distribution, over the past few years. As a struggling wannabe convert who has tried various versions of Fedora, Mandriva, PuppyLinux, Ubuntu, and others over the past several years, I can recommend LinuxMint 9 as a possible path away from Windows. (Looks much prettier than Ubuntu brown and has a much more "Southern U.S." sounding name.) Even so, the learning curve needs considerable smoothing and leveling.

santeewelding
santeewelding

There is much to investigate here, thanks to yourself and to all others I have paid close attention to in these Linux matters. I was fond of PCLinuxOS (grabbed everything there was to grab) until I went to do something. Epic fail. Half me; half them, near as I could figure out. Never did master Klingon. I try; I swear, I try.

fatman65535
fatman65535

(chortle) I knew someone that did that to karmic and installed XP-skin (I believe that is what he called it). His users thought ""Windows"" was so fast, (he did not have the `heart` to tell them the truth!).

Slayer_
Slayer_

Not worth the inevitable flames I would have received.

LedLincoln
LedLincoln

Show 'em that list and you've lost 'em. If you're going to do any command line stuff in your setup process, do it in a locked room, with them on the outside. When you hand it over to them, there should be no hint of the terminal. Even pretty proficient Windows/Mac users are terrified of the command line.

Neon Samurai
Neon Samurai

Just show the user the Software Center or whatever Ubuntu calls the GUI front end. It provides install/uninstall and updates without the new user needing command line comfort. If you do go with command line documentation, I'd use aptitude for all those six listed rather than apt-get. The exception is apt-cache for searching names and descriptions. aptitude update aptitude full-upgrade ("upgrade" is deprecated) aptitude autoclean aptitude search [something] to find by partial package name apt-cache search [something] to find by partial package name or description But this is all *if* command line is appropriate for the user your handing the system off to.

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

[i]Your not god, and quite frankly ******** what right do you have to decide what is shallow or ineffective.[/i] He has the same right you did when you stated that "there will all ways be a call for an alternative OS compared to the mainstream by the anarchist, and all around Rabble rousers." He's as entitled to his opinion as you are to yours. If you don't like that idea, that's your problem.

Jellimonsta
Jellimonsta

Is most oft espoused only by those who have not the faintest notion. :D

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

You wrote, posted, then thought. I do that myself, but rarely admit it. I'll edit the post to set my title to "Mispost" and insert a period as the body text. Then I'll leave it at that.