Sick of Windows? How to log into and start using Linux

Jack Wallen continues his introduction to Linux for new users, this time walking through the process of logging in, updating and installing applications.

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Image: Larich/Shutterstock

I started using Linux in '97, and in the past couple of weeks, I've actually watched Linux trend on Twitter at least three times. That's something I never thought I'd see, but am thrilled it's happened. To me, that's a sign the open-source operating system is starting to gain more and more market share on the desktop.

SEE: 40+ open source and Linux terms you need to know (TechRepublic Premium)

As the Linux desktop market share continues to climb, it means more and more new users will be hopping on board. That's why I started this new "Sick of Windows?" series that walks new users through each step of using the open-source operating system. First I demonstrated how to test-drive Linux and followed it up with how to install Linux. During this series, I've used elementary OS as an example. The reason is that elementary OS offers one of the cleanest and simplest experiences (with one exception—more on that in a bit) in all of Linux land. Does that mean it's the best distribution to use? Not necessarily. And given there's a vast array of distributions to choose from, there is something for everyone. The good news is that the installation of elementary OS is a great representation of how easy Linux is to install. If you can install this operating system, you can install Ubuntu, Linux Mint, ZorinOS, Deepin and just about any of the modern versions of Linux.

With that said, we're going to take our next step forward by logging in and using the operating system. I want to show you just how easy it is to get up to speed with Linux on the desktop.

What you'll need

I'm going to continue using elementary OS as the example, so you'll need a running instance of that desktop OS and that's it.

How to log in and update the OS

You might be asking, "Why would he bother showing us how to log into a desktop?" The answer is simple—because I don't want to assume anything. 

So, to log into elementary OS, start up your computer and wait for the login screen. When you see the login screen (Figure A) type your username (which isn't your name, but the username you created during installation) and your password.

Figure A

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The elementary OS login screen.

After your initial login, you'll be greeted by a welcome app (Figure B), which allows you to set up a few features such as the look of the desktop, enabling Night Light, automatic deletion of old temporary and trashed files, online accounts and installing applications. 

Figure B

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The elementary OS welcome app.

You don't have to worry about any of these configurations, as they can all be taken care of later.

One of the first things you should do is check for updates. Take a look at the AppCenter icon on the panel (far end, looks like a little shop front). A red circle with a number (Figure C) indicates there are updates available.

Figure C

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The elementary OS App Center indicating there are updates available.

Click the AppCenter icon and then click the Installed tab. Here (Figure D) is where you can install all available upgrades.

Figure D

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The AppCenter updates tab is ready to upgrade some apps.

That number 5 was a bit misleading. One of those updates is for the operating system itself. As you can see above, there are 51 OS component updates. It's very important that you always install updates as soon as they become available (so you can keep your operating system and its apps up-to-date and secure).

Click Update all and the upgrade will begin. 

How to find and install applications

One of the things you should be aware of is that elementary OS ships with a bare minimum of applications. This is also where it veers away from being as user friendly as it could be. If you click on Applications in the top left corner (Figure E), the app menu will open.

Figure E

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The elementary OS desktop includes the applications menu for finding and launching applications.

Scroll through the elementary OS menu (Figure F), and you'll see how few applications are installed out of the box.

Figure F

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The elementary OS menu seems a bit barren at first.

You'll find the following useful apps:

  • Mail—read, send, delete email (and spam).
  • Music—play your favorite songs.
  • Tasks—keep a list of all the tasks you have to take care of.
  • Calculator—add, subtract ... you get the idea.
  • Document Viewer—view all those PDFs people send you.
  • Videos—watch videos.
  • Web—browse TechRepublic (and other sites).

At this point, you're probably thinking, "That's not enough applications to help me get my work done!" Fret not, the AppCenter is your friend. Let me show you how to install the LibreOffice office suite.

Normally, I'd simply say, open the AppCenter, search for LibreOffice and click Free, and then click Free again. However, even the elementary OS AppCenter is pretty bereft of many of the tools you might need. If we were using Ubuntu (or a similar distribution) the software installer GUI would have considerably more entries. Hopefully, this is something the elementary OS developers will address in the future (otherwise, I might have to stop recommending this distribution for new users).

Let's fixt that. A word of caution, we're going to use the terminal window. Don't worry: It's simple.

Open the Applications menu and click Terminal. Once the terminal opens, type:

sudo apt-get install snapd -y

Hit Enter on your keyboard to run the command. When prompted, type your user password and hit Enter again. Once snap support has been installed, you can install LibreOffice with the command:

sudo snap install libreoffice

This will install LibreOffice and add an entry to the Applications menu. The installation might take some time, because installing via snap isn't nearly as fast as installing through AppCenter.

And that, my friends, is one of the most challenging things you'll have to do on desktop Linux. And remember, if you're using a distribution like Ubuntu, you won't even have to do that. Hopefully, this might sway the elementary OS developers to add snap support to the AppCenter by default (so it's easier for new users to install the applications they need).

That is how you use Linux. I'm going to continue this series, but shift to Ubuntu Linux, so you can get an even better feel for how easy the open-source desktop operating system is to use.

Enjoy your newfound freedom.

Also see

By Jack Wallen

Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic, The New Stack, and Linux New Media. He's covered a variety of topics for over twenty years and is an avid promoter of open source. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website jackwallen....