As more people come to Linux, those of us who help the Windows refugees make the switch will need to be very patient with them. The more someone knows about Windows, the more likely it is that they will break Linux. Handing them a Linux laptop and saying, “Here ya go…” is not enough if they are going to succeed. You’re going to have to hold their hand for a while and telling them to “RTFM” will just drive them back to Windows. Understanding why they struggle as much as they do will help you to help them avoid some of the common pitfalls.

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I specialize in helping people get started with Linux. I’ve helped hundreds of people over the last few years and I can pretty much spot the ones who are going to do well and those who are going to be frustrated. If a client approaches me and they start the conversation with “I’ve been using Windows for 20 years…” I know it’s going to be a bumpy ride.


The pattern is always the same: I walk them through an install and all is well for about two weeks and then I get a frustrated message from them about how Linux is stupid and doesn’t work. I know without asking that they’ve broken something major or borked up the whole system. I usually can fix the problem and make a good lesson out of it for them. I have gone so far as to walk them through a second installation from scratch. If the system is totally hosed, that’s the best way to go. Give them a clean slate to work with and hope they learned something.


On the other hand, if a client tells me that they know nothing about computers but they need one to get things done like writing documents, spreadsheets, web surfing and email then they usually have zero issues. I get them setup and I don’t hear from them again. I usually contact then after a month or two and they invariably tell me everything is working perfectly. I got a call from a gentleman I hadn’t heard from in a year and a half recently. He said everything was working nicely but he wanted some advice about upgrading his Linux Mint from 17.3 to 18.1 and could I help him get it right. No problem. Wonderful to hear that all is well!


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I put my Mom on Linux a couple of years ago and she has had no major issues, as well. I go over there every so often and check on the state of the system and it’s chugging along just fine. I upgrade the kernel and that’s about it. She hasn’t even changed the wallpaper since I installed it. It’s not like she doesn’t use the computer; she’s on it every day. Since I switched her to Linux, she has embarked on a big research project that involves crunching a lot of information and scanning in mountains of documents and photos. She told me that she never did anything like that before because she was always afraid of breaking Windows that now that she’s using Linux she isn’t scared anymore.


So, what gives here? Sit a total newbie down in front of a Linux computer and they just start using it but hand Linux to a 20 plus year Windows power user and they trash it and get frustrated. Why is that?


I’m not a psychologist but I can hazard a guess or two on the subject. First off, nobody becomes an expert overnight. No, it takes years of practice. Lots of reading and experimenting and poking around have to take place before you can call yourself any kind of guru. A lot of it becomes muscle memory after a while. Take someone who is used to the Windows way of doing things and then put them in front of a Linux machine and it throws them off balance. What makes matters worse is that they are coming to Linux because they have reached a point of severe pain. They have become so disgusted with Windows that they are desperate to rid themselves of it. They’re impatient from the …


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