Open Source

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/
  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.


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.

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

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