Getting Help With Linux

So you've heard a lot about the power of Linux and you're eager to try it out for yourself. But where do you start?
The Internet

On-line is where all the action is, for sure! Like most free software, Linux was developed in its entirety by a virtual community on the Internet, and the Internet is where you'll always find the latest and greatest in Linux developments. You're missing out on a lot if you're not connected to the Internet. The ISP Hookup HOWTO gives all the details.

If you want, you can download Linux right off the Net and onto your computer. I've done this myself, and it's still my preferred method of installation on systems that don't have a CD-ROM drive. But be warned: this could take quite some time with a regular modem connection.

The general path to take when downloading Linux from the Net is first to download a set of installation disks—typically 5-10 diskettes—from which you install a bare-bones Linux system on your computer. Then use your existing Internet connection (a modem and an ISP dial-up account, for instance) to reconnect and download the specific applications and packages that you need. Instructions on how to do this are at both the Red Hat and Debian web sites.

I also like to frequent the 2GB+ Linux software repository at Sunsite, a machine hosted by the University of North Carolina. (There are mirrors of it worldwide.) They also host an excellent hands-on tutorial for total newbies who want to learn how to use Linux.

Not only is the Net where all the developments are taking place, but this is also where some of the best help and documentation can be found. If you want to learn how to do something with Linux, or have a question about some aspect of your Linux system, here is the way to go about finding an answer on the Net (see Resources for addresses):

  1. Check the HOWTOs. The Linux HOWTOs are part of the Linux Documentation Project and a useful collection of up-to-the-minute tutorials on how to do various things with your system.

  2. Look it up at the LDP. The Linux Documentation Project is an intense collection of free documentation on Linux, including the HOWTOs and several full-fledged Linux books (some of which are available from O'Reilly and others).

  3. Search netnews. Usenet, or “netnews”, is a huge, ongoing discussion base on the Net, and the Linux newsgroups are among Usenet's busiest. Searching it with tools such as DejaNews and AltaVista and entering “Linux” and key terms that relate to your search will often yield positive results.

  4. Wade through Linux links. The Linux Resources Page is hosted by the pro-Linux consultants at SSC (publisher of Linux Journal), and contains links to just about every Linux resource on the Net. Worth searching here are the archives to Linux Gazette, Linux Journal's digital sister publication.

  5. Ask on IRC. The #linux and #linuxhelp channels on IRC can provide you with instant help from a live person. Used sparingly, this can be an excellent resource for quickly finding out just what you need to know.

  6. Post on netnews. If you still haven't found your answer, open up your news-reader software and post your question to the appropriate Linux newsgroup on Usenet. You'll be answered by a live human (probably several) who will help you for free. There's only one catch: once you too become a Linux guru, return the favor and spend a little time on Usenet helping out a newbie with a problem for which you know the solution.

Regional User Groups

Regional Linux User Groups have been popularized by the folks at SSC and have really taken off in the past six months. Called GLUE—Groups of Linux Users Everywhere—the idea of regional LUGs has spread to the point that there is now a LUG in almost every major city, and in many out-of-the-way places, too.

Talking to the folks at a LUG can be extremely helpful if you're a total newbie and need help with Linux. It's also a great way to see some of the amazing things that others are doing with Linux in your area—I always come out of our LUG meetings here in Cleveland having learned something new. And LUGs hosting Linux “Install Fests” are not uncommon; this is a meeting where you can bring in your computer, and LUG volunteers will install Linux on it for you for free (or a small donation).


You may represent a company or other entity with specialized needs or requiring a great deal of support; if so, there is a whole world of Linux consultants out there. Start with the Linux-Consultants HOWTO (see Resources), but note that a number of traditional computer consulting firms and even ISPs now provide Linux consulting services.

Another rising trend is companies who provide preconfigured Linux systems. If you don't yet have the hardware, this can be a good way to purchase a running Linux system and not have to bother with installation.