Helping people with computers... one answer at a time.

Learning Linux is best done right on the internet with a copy of it in-hand so you can explore and play.

Is there a better way to become a Linux expert other than getting a book?

In this excerpt from Answercast #70, I talk about how I typically learn a new programming language or something new.

How to learn Linux

Yea, absolutely! In fact, I would think that just getting a book is probably one of the worst ways.

The best way is to get Linux; install it; start playing with it. That's exactly what I do for any software. Whenever I encounter something interesting, or something new that I want to learn, I get it, I play with it, I figure it out. I do things with it and I just sort of learn by doing.

Linux books

The books are handy; they can be good reference materials. In all honesty, most of the reference information that you would ever need for something like Linux, because it typically is so geeky, is gonna be out on the web. You may not need a book as long as you have internet access.

A book can be a good way to get an overview of things; but by far, by far, the best way to learn technology (especially something as large and as encompassing as Linux) is to get your hands on it, start playing with it, and start doing. You'll find yourself learning at an incredible pace.

Article C6029 - November 14, 2012 « »

Leo Leo A. Notenboom has been playing with computers since he was required to take a programming class in 1976. An 18 year career as a programmer at Microsoft soon followed. After "retiring" in 2001, Leo started Ask Leo! in 2003 as a place for answers to common computer and technical questions. More about Leo.

Not what you needed?

November 16, 2012 9:39 AM

I am a fan of the - play with it method of learning. It usually helps if you have a particular goal in mind.

However, bouncing ideas off of others and learning from their experiances still beats it. Especially for really open ended learning like an operating system (when do you learn enough to know the tricks). Consider taking a class or joining in a user group. Consider reading and practicing a book of tips, tricks, and traps (there used to be a series by that name on several programs).

November 16, 2012 11:31 AM

Word of caution. If you end up on forums/blogs about Linux, you'll have to handle two user extremes. One is the anti “M$” group and the other is the ultra-geeks, very often the same people. The M$ haters will attack you without even asking if you've come from a Microsoft background as they just assume it and the ultra-geeks will go way over your head with their Linux geekspeak and then act like it hurts to water anything down for you. Very few IT people in this world are as professional and easy to understand as Leo Notenboom. I'm an IT professional in my career and I've tried to approach Linux "playtime" on several occasions and while I've made more and more progress each time I've attempted it, I ultimately throw my hands in the air after I have to go to a forum and ask a question. Trust me when I say it’s not just me, I’ve heard this complaint on many a website forum while referencing the Linux community. Nevertheless, I love the idea of working with that OS but I’m just to easily frustrated when I have to get help from humans. While I’m quite bitter about this issue, please don’t let this discourage you but definitely be prepared to deal with it.

Good luck.

Gord Campbell
November 16, 2012 2:36 PM

Gabe: I've been using Ubuntu or Mint for five years. I've had many questions, but I have never needed to ask a question on a forum; I have always found the answer by using Google.

At this point, I answer lots of questions every month, and try very hard to avoid the extremes you mentioned. At the same time, I have to bite my tongue almost every day, when I can answer a question about something I have no experience with, just by doing a single query in Google.

Joseph Lee O.
November 16, 2012 6:33 PM

My own experience is similar to Gabe's. I am a hobbyist with a multi-boot machine having several Windows and Linux installations co-residing, and I mostly had to learn on my own. I do lots of Google searches to find answers and so on, and that sometimes includes reading posts on forums. However, I have yet to find any forum that "covers it all" or is bias-free, so it took me quite a while to eventually learn when and where to add a grain of salt to things I heard.

Puppy Linux is an excellent tool for setting up, maintaining and expanding multi-booting, and Debian is just as easy to use as a daily system. If you would like to try some Linux while being sure you do not mess up your Windows, I have learned it is possible to leave all boot loaders completely alone in their native states by using Grub4Dos on a bootable stick. Or, if you might prefer, use a "Live" Linux CD or DVD without having to install anything anywhere. But whatever you do, please do not fall prey to the kind of "advice" that says to just let Linux and/or EasyBCD handle all booting unless you are prepared to later learn how to fix your Windows boot loaders...and believe me, that can be quite a challenge!

Mike Lynch
November 16, 2012 6:59 PM

I found this site recently and it's been a great help for me with learning about Linux. A lot off in depth articles on the various distributions and help with using them.

November 18, 2012 3:09 PM

I have indeed read and appreciated the article on Linux
It has been a lifesaver .I have had a dual boot on my Advent 7201 Notebook.And good i did because the windows side is so completely Corrupted( "help" !from Brother -in- law meant he accidentally deleted some vital links from the registry which has defeated PC World techs!) so I have to become familiar with Linux and to hear it is so geeky is kind of scary( I am hamfisted!!!)
However your article and the comments hearten me greatly.Wish me luck-will update as i "master the Geekfest!
Terry Breeze

November 18, 2012 6:24 PM

I agree with Joseph Lee O. I would use the "Try Ubuntu" option from the live CD, but be very cautious with the "Install alongside Windows" option. I tried it, and decided to install it alongside Windows, at which point it took over my computer and obliterated my Windows os. I had to reformat my hardrive and have had problems with my computer ever since.

On the other hand, I found knowledgeable people more than willing to help and encourage me. The problem I ran into was that my printer manufacturer didn't make a driver for Linux and had no plans to developed one, so I couldn't print anything in Ubuntu. I had to save it to Windows and print it from there. I decided the live CD "trial" was as far as I could take it. But, I found it fairly intuitive and straightfoward and I have very rudimentary computer skills. I'd recommend you give it a try if you're so inclined.

Dan Aquinas
November 19, 2012 1:11 PM

I would encourage those starting out learning Linux to obtain a "Live" CD; that is, one that is bootable. That way you do not have to worry about getting the installation to work (at least not right away). That should not be taken as implication that installations fail- they have worked well in my limited experience (2 versions of Ubuntu, one on a Lenovo laption, the other on a Dell tower, and Suse on another Lenovo laptop).

Having said that, I would like a good primer on how to install drivers for printers - especially older printers (one of the strikes against windows - it had great backwards compatibility up to and including XP, but since then has really come up short).

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