Open Source

Five tips for a smooth Linux migration

A successful transition to Linux hinges on setting the stage so you can dodge areas of confusion and prevent common problems.

We've talked a little bit before about ways to bring your new Linux users along so that their migration experience is positive. Here are a few more tips to help make the switch to Linux a pain-free experience for you and for them.

1: Teach them the basics

You wouldn't plop a Windows or Mac machine in front of a user who has never used either OS without at least explaining about the Start menu, Explorer, Menus, Finder, Taskbar, or Notification Area. You have to give new users a bit of a launch pad to help them make the leap. So for Linux migration, at least give the new user the briefest introduction to the desktop they are using. For GNOME, make sure you show them what the three main desktop menus do (Applications, Places, and System). Also, show them the Add/Remove Software tool and explain the password they will need to use to run any installation. You will also want to introduce them to their HOME (~/) directory and explain what that means in relation to the rest of the directory hierarchy. (This will help them when they need to specify where to save a folder and the save dialog has defaulted to the root (/) directory and not their home directory.)

2: Start them on GNOME

I am not a KDE hater. In fact, I quite enjoy the latest iteration of the KDE desktop (4.5). Here's the issue: KDE 4.5 has a lot of fairly complicated features. The Activities alone would send a new user into apoplectic fits — just trying to understand the concept alone. A safer bet for new users is the GNOME desktop. This particular Desktop Environment won't throw too many tricks and traps at them. One of the only issues the users will have is getting used to the locations of various submenus within Applications, Places, and System. But if you followed the tip above, your users shouldn't have any difficulties.

3: Don't hand over a machine that isn't complete

Although you and I might not have any problems installing Flash for a browser, some users are not that lucky. In the Ubuntu distribution, you can be presented with three different Flash plug-ins to install. The only one that works on the majority of sites is the official Adobe plug-in. New users might not know that and just install the first one they see. This can cause issues when those users are desperate to view their favorite YouTube video du jour. The same holds true with multimedia plug-ins. Don't leave your new users without MP3 support! For additional details on prepping your users' machines (along with some other useful migration tips), see 10 things you can do to keep your new Linux users from bailing on you.

4: Set OpenOffice to default to Microsoft formats

As much as it pains me to do this, I always set OpenOffice to default to the Microsoft format. Since Microsoft won't adhere to standards, it's up to other applications to make sure users can play along with Microsoft Office. One of the easiest ways to do that is to set OpenOffice to default to the Microsoft Office document format. You don't want users sending out .odt files, only to have their Microsoft Office-using counterparts shocked when they can't open up the documents they received. This can cause confusion, mass hysteria, and the plague. Don't let this happen to you or your users.

5: Make sure users understand removable media

This happens on EVERY operating system. I don't know how many times I've had to instruct Windows users to click the USB icon in the Notification Area and then click to eject their device. Too many users don't do this and wonder why the data on the drive is corrupt. The same thing holds true with Linux, only Linux will seem more familiar to Mac users in this respect. Make sure your users know to "eject" the drive (or device) before they unplug it. Although you can sometimes get away without this in Windows or Mac, just unplugging a device in Linux will probably result in data loss.

Other tips?

Taking these steps will help your new users start their journey with Linux. Once they master the fundamentals, you can start giving them more advanced tips on things like dealing with Archives, permissions, and multi-user environments.

Do you have a list of "go-to" tips you give your new Linux users? If so, share them with your fellow TechRepublic members.


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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