Open Source

Five tips for helping your users switch to Linux

You can make the transition to Linux a smooth one, even for your least technical users. Here are some ways to anticipate their concerns and help them feel at home in their new environment.

If you're transitioning some (or all) of your end users to Linux, you may have encountered a few hurdles. They aren't huge hurdles, but they can be tricky for users who can't innately learn the ways of a different desktop and operating system. In some cases, they just need to learn some new terminology. In other cases, you'll need to educate them on whole system processes. Ultimately, it depends upon how the end user actually uses the machine. But no matter how complex the job, you can help your end users make the transition easily.

1: Build similar desktops

This is one of the strengths of Linux. If your users are familiar with Windows XP, make their Linux desktop resemble and act like Windows XP. If your users are familiar with OS X, make their desktop look and feel like OS X. Most of the time this isn't difficult at all. For instance, with OS X, you can use a default GNOME and you're almost good to go. I have always found that making users comfortable in their environment is the best way to ease a transition. Even though they will be using a completely different computing environment, if the machine feels familiar, they will have much less trouble adjusting to the changes.

2: Get it all working first

The last thing you need is to roll out a new desktop to users before you get Flash working with Firefox, or get their printer working or their music playing, etc. For the most part, these will be taken care of upon installation. But as we all know, there's always something we forget. And although hardware usually works with Linux these days, it's not one hundred percent guaranteed. Make sure you iron things out ahead of time. You don't want your users to see you struggling to get a piece of hardware working — they'll either lose faith in you or their new operating system.

3: Create user-friendly directories

It's hard enough for users to go from C:\ to /. Make things easier by following the standards many of the modern Linux distributions are starting to follow. In the user's home directory (~/) create the following (if they are not already there): Documents, Downloads, Music, Pictures, and Video. Then, make sure that applications that would make use of these directories (such as Firefox using Downloads and Rhythmbox using Music) are configured as such. This will make it much easier for your users to find files they have downloaded or need to work with. You can take this one step further and add bookmarks for these directories in the file manager and even the main menu.

4: Set up file associations

This can be your worst nightmare: If you don't associate files with applications, your users will wind up calling IT all day. When a user double-clicks a .doc file, make sure is it opened with OpenOffice Writer. When a user double-clicks on an .mp3 file, make sure it is opened with Rhythmbox or Amarok (or another media player). You can do this from within your file manager. For instance, in KDE's Dolphin, right-click a file on the Open With submenu and then click Other. From within this new window, select the application you want to use and then select the Remember Application Association... check box. Do this with the file types your users will use.

5: Give them documentation

IT departments tend to ignore the area of documentation. But in this type of migration, it's best to have a printed manual that users can refer to now and then. This manual should explain some of the fundamental differences between the operating systems and desktops. It should also include some helpful tips — even things you might think are too simple (such as how to copy and paste). For users migrating from Windows to Linux, no tip is too simplistic to be included. Besides, the more they see the similarities (Ctrl-c copies and Ctrl-v pastes, just like in Windows), the more at ease they will feel right off the bat.


Check out Five Tips... the newsletter

Get a concise roundup of solutions and techniques that will make your IT job go more smoothly. TechRepublic's Five Tips newsletter, delivered every Tuesday, gives you instant access to the information you need. 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.

Editor's Picks