Learning to use Linux

Introduction

Now that you’ve switched to free / open source programmes and downloaded the Linux operating system onto a datastick, you can launch Linux from the datastick to familiarise yourself with it, but when you take the datastick out, it’s back to Windows.

Launched from a datastick, Linux doesn’t keep things that you install, or bookmarks etc. And you have to put your wi-fi password in every time. It doesn’t remember anything when it’s on a datastick. And it’s slower than if it were installed on the hard drive.

datastick

What to do

Below are some common things you might want to do, with instructions on how to do them in Linux. You don’t have to be technically-minded to do this. Most things will be very similar – it’s just a question of setting up to be able to do them. Anything you want to do, just search online for it, and you’ll find instructions, forums and videos.

Some of the software mentioned is corporate – sorry, it’s just because people might not want to jump into the deep end immediately, and to be purist about it might be counterproductive in that it might put some people off. We’ll update with more information on free / open source alternatives as we go along.

Launching

Once you’ve got Linux on a datastick, put it into your USB port and switch the computer on. It will automatically launch Linux from the datastick. If it doesn’t, see the end of the previous article.

You’ll then see a screen like this.

linux-desktop

The menu button bottom left, is key (and by the way, how much more sense does it make calling your menu button ‘menu’ rather than ‘start’ – especially as it’s also the route to switch off?). It comes with lots of open source / free software already installed – including Gimp, Firefox, Libre Office (text documents, spreadsheets, database, presentations etc.), media players and more.

Go to the menu and search around the applications for the software you’ve got, plus you can use the search box. Explore the menu to see the various areas. When you hover over an icon in the left column, some text will tell you what it is in the bottom right corner of the menu.

Get online

Click on the internet icon in the bottom right corner, find your connection in the list, click on it, enter your wi-fi password, and voilà– connected. Firefox is already installed. On the menu, the icon at the top left is the Firefox shortcut. Click on it to get online. Then everything is much the same as in Windows. Decide on your home page, add some bookmarks to the toolbar, etc. As mentioned though, you’ll lose these things when you close down – but you can keep them all once you’ve got Linux installed on your hard drive.

Printer

To print, you have to make Linux see your printer. Click on menu, then, in the left-hand column, the little icon with the cogs and gears is the system settings control centre. (If you hover over any icon in the menu, you can see what it is in the bottom right corner of the menu box.)

Type ‘printer’ into the search box in the top right corner. A little printer icon appears – click it. The name of your printer should appear. Click it and a little wizard opens. Keep saying yes (or rather, ‘forward’) to whatever it asks, until you get to ‘apply’. Click the apply button and it will ask you if you want to print a test page. Say yes, and it should do just that. Just to be sure, you can open a Libre Office document, type a few words and choose print from the file menu, to test.

Dropbox

Most people these days synch all their files with the cloud, and Dropbox is probably the most popular way to do that. It’s corporate software though, unfortunately – we’ll test alternatives and update this page. It’s pretty essential to save to the cloud – otherwise you’d have to back everything up every time you log off, or risk losing work if your laptop gets stolen or dies.

Don’t synch with the cloud when you’re in Linux on a datastick – wait until you install Linux on your hard drive. There’s a little Files icon on the taskbar at the bottom of the screen. Click it and underneath the Linux folders is a section called ‘devices’, in which you should be able to see all your Windows files. You can open documents and work on them. Changes will remain when you’re back in Windows, and they’ll be synched with Dropbox.

Socialising

Skype is part of Microsoft, but it’s really not difficult to dump it. It’s much more difficult to replace huge platforms like Facebook, because that’s where people are. Any non-corporate rival would have to have the numbers, right from the start, or it would be very difficult to build them. No-one wants to come to a social media platform that their friends aren’t on. I think there’s potential to build a platform with ‘our kind of people’ on – that wouldn’t harvest your data, have inane comments or advertising. A social media platform full of people who don’t want to be on a corporate social media platform – sounds good.

But Skype is much easier to get rid of, because you can use free, open source alternatives instead, for example Jitsi. You don’t have to download anything, and apparently it’s free and open source – but owned by a corporation. We’ll keep looking for a non-corporate alternative. Only install a few programmes to play with at this stage – you can install more when you have Linux installed on your hard drive. Skype is easy though, so here’s how to install it if you want to:

Click on the menu, and if you hover the cursor over any icon, you’ll see a little description in the bottom right corner of the menu box. The icon directly underneath Firefox, in the left-hand column, is called software manager. This is what you use to download and manage all your programmes. Click on it, and type Skype into the search box. You’ll get a list, and Skype should be top. Double-click it and you’ll get an install button. Click – there will be a progress bar at the bottom, and it should take a couple of minutes, after which it will say ‘installed’. Couldn’t be simpler.

Then go to menu / internet / Skype. It works exactly the same as in Windows, it just looks a little different, and it makes different noises!

Website

wordpress-1-300x186

This site is built in WordPress (open source), and it’s just a case of getting online, logging in from the login page using username and password – exactly the same as in Windows, in other words.

Print screen

This is a useful feature. Images are sometimes difficult to manipulate or save, and sometimes you just want to save / use exactly what you can see on the screen. In Windows, there is a ‘prt sc’ button (aka print screen button) near the top right of the keyboard. If you press that, it saves whatever’s on the screen, and you can then paste it into Gimp to crop / resize etc.

The print screen button doesn’t work the same way in Linux. Instead, go to menu, then applications / screenshot, and you have the option to save what’s on the screen as an image somewhere, or copy to clipboard, then you can drop into Gimp and play with it. It even asks if you want to keep the cursor in the image or not.

Create a PDF

In Windows, Libre Office documents have a button that creates a PDF from the document you’re in. In Linux, you can find this facility under File / Export as PDF.

Fonts

You may have noticed that you’ve lost some fonts that you had in Windows. It’s easy to install new fonts, but it’s best to wait until you’ve installed Linux on your hard drive. You’re only learning how to use Linux at the moment.

VLC Media Player and other software

See here for how to install a range of software. However, that page is intended for people installing free software onto a Windows operating system. In Linux, sometimes things are installed differently. For example, VLC might not be as simple to install in Linux. In that case, you just do an online search, for, e.g., ‘Linux Mint install VLC Media Player’. Here’s an example of what you might find. It looks scary, but just follow exactly what it says and it works perfectly.

Finally

There’s more about using Linux in the next article, about installing Linux on your hard drive. Remember, if you come across any problems doing any of the things above, or anything at all – just do a search for your problem and there will be forums, videos and advice on how to solve it. Free software people are generally geeky and they love to share information – so there’s tons of it out there.

 

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