Don't Fear the Penguin: A Newbie's Guide to Linux

Linux has an undeserved reputation for being complex, cryptic, and difficult to use. With this simple guide, you can get started using Ubuntu Linux today.

Configuring Your System

We've talked about the Administration menu already. Between it and the Preferences menu--both of which are located under the System menu in the top menu bar--you can perform the majority of commonplace system-configuration tasks easily. The division between Preferences and Administration is somewhat arbitrary; just think of these two menus together as the equivalent of the control panels in Windows or Mac OS X.

For example, the Appearance panel (under Preferences) allows you to customize the look and feel of your desktop. You can adjust the shape and color of window borders and buttons, change your desktop wallpaper, and pick new default fonts for windows and applications. This panel is also where you enable the snazzy "desktop effects" of Compiz Fusion, if your graphics card supports them.

Look to the Printing panel (under Administration) if you're having trouble printing. Most USB printers will be detected automatically and the system will install drivers for you, but you'll need to adjust the settings here if you have a parallel or serial printer, or if you want to print over a network.

Under Preferences you'll also find the Network Configuration panel, which is where you can set up wired, wireless, mobile broadband, VPN, and DSL connections. By default Ubuntu will try to configure your wired ethernet connection automatically via DHCP, which should be sufficient for many cable and DSL modems, but manual configuration is straightforward. You'll need to install additional software before you can set up VPN connections--search for "vpn" in the Synaptic Package Manager.

As mentioned in "Ubuntu Linux: The Easy Installation Guide," not every Wi-Fi card will work out of the box with Ubuntu. Consult that guide if you're having trouble. If your card is supported, you'll be pleased to find that wireless configuration is simple and supports both WEP and WPA security.

One additional tool that's very useful is the Network Manager applet, which you can find to the right of the upper Gnome menu bar. It allows you to manage several connections from one easy menu, and it also displays the signal strength of wireless networks. You'll need to install extra modules to manage VPN connections with the Network Manager applet; search the Synaptic Package Manager for "network manager vpn."

Cross-Platform Computing

For the most part Ubuntu coexists well with other operating systems and the hardware devices designed for them. In some cases, hardware manufacturers may choose not to release specifications for their devices, which can make Linux support difficult or impossible, but you might be surprised by the wide range of peripherals that Ubuntu can manage automatically.

Join the PC World newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags Linux

Our Back to Business guide highlights the best products for you to boost your productivity at home, on the road, at the office, or in the classroom.

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Neil McAllister

PC World
Show Comments

Most Popular Reviews

Latest News Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Azadeh Williams

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

A smarter way to print for busy small business owners, combining speedy printing with scanning and copying, making it easier to produce high quality documents and images at a touch of a button.

Andrew Grant

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

I've had a multifunction printer in the office going on 10 years now. It was a neat bit of kit back in the day -- print, copy, scan, fax -- when printing over WiFi felt a bit like magic. It’s seen better days though and an upgrade’s well overdue. This HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 looks like it ticks all the same boxes: print, copy, scan, and fax. (Really? Does anyone fax anything any more? I guess it's good to know the facility’s there, just in case.) Printing over WiFi is more-or- less standard these days.

Ed Dawson

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

As a freelance writer who is always on the go, I like my technology to be both efficient and effective so I can do my job well. The HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 Inkjet Printer ticks all the boxes in terms of form factor, performance and user interface.

Michael Hargreaves

Windows 10 for Business / Dell XPS 13

I’d happily recommend this touchscreen laptop and Windows 10 as a great way to get serious work done at a desk or on the road.

Aysha Strobbe

Windows 10 / HP Spectre x360

Ultimately, I think the Windows 10 environment is excellent for me as it caters for so many different uses. The inclusion of the Xbox app is also great for when you need some downtime too!

Mark Escubio

Windows 10 / Lenovo Yoga 910

For me, the Xbox Play Anywhere is a great new feature as it allows you to play your current Xbox games with higher resolutions and better graphics without forking out extra cash for another copy. Although available titles are still scarce, but I’m sure it will grow in time.

Featured Content

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?