Walter Mays

Learn You Some Linux for Great Good Part 0: A Word of Caution

This is one of several posts in my "Learn You Some Linux for Great Good" series.

Here be dragons. The Linux world is fraught with pitfalls, gotchas, and undocumented quagmires through which even the most seasoned Linux guru struggle to wade. Using Linux can be productive, but it can also lead to many late nights, many lost files, and many outbursts of frustration. Be prepared.

You Will Waste Time

Something you’re going to try won’t work. You won’t know that until sinking hours into it. That time is gone forever.

That’s not to say that you’ll get nothing from it. Learning to use Linux can lead to great time-savings later in the form of automation (or, if you’re like me, great time-wastings in the form of fiddling with configuration files). Just don’t expect to get your first Linux server, complete with installation, software, and configuration running in an hour or two. It ain’t gonna happen.

You Will Lose Data

It’s almost a rite of passage to fatally break your Linux installation in a completely stupid way. Unless you’re learning in a controlled environment (which this most certainly is not), you’re going to accidentally run a command that trashes your system, forcing you to adopt the “nuke and pave” approach: wiping your hard drive and starting fresh.

That’s not to say that Linux is unreliable; far from it. Most reliable, high-performance servers run some variant of Linux (or a similar Unix-like operating system), and most web services, including Amazon AWS, run on Linux. Rather, people are unreliable. And people use Linux. Ergo, people using Linux => people losing data.

The data that you put on that first installation will be gone forever. Just make sure it isn’t important data.

You Will Pull Your Hair Out

When it’s running Linux, your computer is going to do things that you don’t expect. Coming from a Windows or Macintosh background, many of the design decisions of Linux are completely unintuitive.

Why do I have to use the terminal so much? What year is it?

Who decided that permissions should be set in three groups with three bits each, and why is there an “executable bit?” Why can’t the programs just end with .exe or .app?

What the hell is an X11?

Many of the metaphors that you’re used to no longer apply. Linux takes after the Unix philosophy; Mac does somewhat, but Windows most certainly does not. The differences will be impossibly confusing at first, but persevere. It’s worth it.

You Will (Probably) Get Addicted

Those that know me would describe me as a Linux junkie. I can’t get enough. I’ve switched Linux distributions more times than I can count, and I’ve become almost obsessive with my use of Linux as a main driver operating system. That’s not to say you will most certainly meet the same fate – if you use Linux as a tool and nothing else, then you can probably leave it to just that. But you may also find that when using your computer, something inside you awakens. Something that loves trying new commands, new window managers, new distributions. Something that keeps bringing you back to the command line. Something that loves Linux.

If after reading all this, you still want to forge ahead – whether it be because you have lots of free time, a real use for Linux, or (like me) are totally insane – then read on, and Godspeed.