First Time Linux



This site is intended to give an overview of what linux looks like to a complete beginner, and what the first experiences in this new world could be like.

It came about as I was investigating buying my first PC, and investigating what the alternatives are as to what software you can run on it. So it's a diary of a first, tentative foray into the shiny, exciting, daunting (and occasionally bumpy) new world of free and open source software.

Following the introduction, the site works through each of the steps that I went through, namely Trying it out (running Knoppix on an existing desktop machine), choosing and purchasing the hardware (in this case a laptop), and then after running this live CD version on the new laptop for a while, going for a full Linux installation to make a dual-boot system. After that it's more about running Mandriva going on to programming with linux, and ends with some more info including links and handy tips, and a few downloads.

More recent events cover not just laptop use but also the purchase, assembly and installation of a new Shuttle barebone system using Debian linux, which is now the current system (now using Debian Stable). And as a mobile supplement there's also now an Acer netbook, which is currently running Linux Mint, and a Raspberry pi running Raspbian.

This is, needless to say, a work in progress. It will probably raise more questions than it answers, but I hope it's of some help to those considering this brave leap into the unknown!

Historical status

The faithful Dell Inspiron 510m laptop which was running a dual-boot system with Mandriva, is now sadly deceased. It will be sorely missed. While it was with us, it had a variety of apps and tools including OpenOffice, Firefox, Gimp, Inkscape, Java, Java3d, C++, eclipse, scribus, perl, python, sed, tex and more. It used digikam for loading and organising photos, and downloaded GPS data from a Garmin etrex Vista using garble (and from an etrex Vista HCx using gpsbabel), used Inkscape for creating and manipulating vector and raster graphics, edited web stuff (including this site!), developed C++ and java, translated to and from German, and stitched photos together with hugin.

For browsing the internet it had Mozilla Firefox, Thunderbird for email and gave FTP access with KBear the command line Filezilla Konqueror, downloaded files with BitTorrent KTorrent, played music with Amarok, and phoned for free with Skype. Not to mention of course the occasional game like Frozen Bubble, Planet Penguin Racer or Knetwalk. And among the other gadgets it had a local subversion repository to provide version control for web stuff and code.

Current status

Unfortunately that laptop is now deceased, and in its place is a new desktop system based on a Shuttle barebone. It's now used for similar things to the laptop, but it's obviously less mobile, more powerful, and has a bigger screen with higher resolution. Also it's running Debian linux, not Mandriva, and using Gnome Maté instead of KDE. So some of the tools are different, and some the same. At the moment it's got OpenOffice LibreOffice, Iceweasel Firefox, Gimp, Inkscape, Java, Java3d, eclipse, python, sed, octave, digikam, gpsbabel, gpsprune, hugin, Icedove Thunderbird, gftp, transmission, ekiga, Rhythmbox, Kile, Bluefish, Meld, pdflatex, VLC, Stellarium, K3b, Subversion, Google Earth, Skype and jitsi. Plus also World of Goo! It's currently running Debian oldstable (Jessie) with Maté after a long time with Wheezy/Maté and Squeeze/Gnome2. Unfortunately java applications look a bit awful with OpenJdk so if anyone knows of a fix please let me know. Oh, and I put in an additional SSD recently which has speeded everything up enormously.

Another addition to the family in 2011 is an Acer Aspire One netbook for doing stuff on the train or at the kitchen table or while lying on the sofa. After starting with Debian Squeeze and Gnome 2, it's now running Linux Mint and Maté, and a subset of the above applications. Mainly it's being used for browsing, emailing, developing with eclipse, java and python, and general writing and documentation. Plus it's a very convenient way of controlling the new pi (see next paragraph) over ssh. Any stuff being worked on on the netbook is synced before and afterwards with the Shuttle using rsync over ssh or scp.

In 2013 the collection grew a little larger (but not much larger!) with the addition of a long-awaited Raspberry pi. A few reports are now available with the things I've done with it so far - currently it's running a standard Raspbian Wheezy Jessie image with LXDE, and sometimes running OpenElec with XBMC LibreElec with Kodi as an entertainment centre, mostly for streaming tv shows and internet radio.

LaptopMandriva, KDE3
Desktop Debian, Gnome2 / Maté
Netbook Mint, Maté
Raspberry Pi Raspbian, LXDE

Latest Updates

  • December 2017 - playing Minecraft with help from python
  • October 2017 - Playing with a tor-enabled Tails live system from a USB stick
  • May 2015 - developing games with a 3D accelerometer using the Raspberry Pi
  • July 2014 - playing with demultiplexers and shift registers using the Raspberry Pi
  • January 2014 - exploring more with the pi, using Raspbian and OpenELEC with Noobs
  • 27 November 2013 - finished the Buzzer game using the Raspberry Pi
  • November 2013 - struggling to get xsane to scan photo negatives properly; vuescan works but with watermarks :(