Suggestions and Tips for Newbies

by V.C. Heirman

I've been using the PCLinuxOS distribution (distro) since May 2006. There were obstacles along the way, of course, but nothing that couldn't be solved with some help from the PCLinuxOS main forum, or by just experimenting. There were many instances, however, when I wished I had a person sitting next to me that I could ask basic questions. Since this is a luxury not all of us have, I decided to write this article with some suggestions and to share some of my newbie experiences with you. It's nowhere near as good as having your personal nerd, but I hope it is helpful.


Like many newbies, I often forget to use the search function before getting frustrated or asking questions online. I have since realized that 85% of the things I want to know are answered already in one of the forums or Wikis. Making an effort to search (it may take a few tries) is a time saver for yourself and for the community. Remember to use appropriate and sensible search terms.

Adjusting your computer, operating system, and programs can make all the difference between a superb, fun, efficient computing experience and agonizing drudgery. Some examples:

Tweaking Firefox really makes it much neater, faster, more secure and convenient. If you spend a lot of time surfing you will notice a marked positive difference with an appropriate set up. To accomplish this I recommend upgrading Firefox first, since not all of the add-ons work with older versions that may come with your distribution. The best add-ons in my opinion are most of the top ten extensions on I always include Session Manager 0.4.3 (which will add some great functionality), the Black Japan theme (very easy on the eyes yet great legibility) and remove the Google and other commercial search engines and replace them with the likes of, Wiki, Rotten Tomatoes and other such engines. The Scroogle engine will allow you to search as efficiently as with Google, without the major drawbacks.

The Thunderbird mail client is amazing, but being rather new to mail clients I often have trouble setting them up (the configuration for the outgoing mail server, incoming mail, etc). If you have trouble with this ask your provider for help, as having a powerful mail client really improves the quality of computing, especially when compared to certain online mail services. If you know how, it is a three minute set up. Once you have it working, go through the settings and write them down on paper (keeping them on your PC is useless if your PC ends up fried) as you are likely to need them again one day. This goes for all your essential settings and tweaks.

As a person who likes order, I really do my best to keep my desktop as clean and functional as possible. That means I always make an "Initial Icons" folder in the corner of my desktop and dump all the icons I rarely use into this folder. This includes the Beginners Manual icon, the Donate icon, the secondary Home icon and more. If ever I need or miss them, I can always find them there or even put them back where they were. The idea is to have as few icons as possible cluttering up your desktop, and the ones you do have should link to programs and directories you access most often.

PCLinuxOS comes with many great and clear icons installed. I like using a nice picture of a hard drive on my desktop called "All Drives," which is linked to "All Media" as I need to access this often. Also, I find the igloo icon for Home (folder) very cute but ambiguous, so I replace it with the little house icon instead. Many other icons are also useful for MP3 players, specific programs and folders, etc. These type of things may seem very minor, but I find they end up saving you work with the mouse and time too. Additionally, people new to PCLinuxOS will find the process of searching for locations and programs a lot easier if you make it visual. If you're not sure how to replace icons, check the manual or Wiki. It's really very easy and quick.

If you intend to buy hardware (especially printers, CD-writers and MP3 Players), always check the lists on the Internet to see if it is Linux compatible. Check out this site which has a list of PCLinuxOS-compatible hardware.

It pays to shop around. For every piece of hardware there is always at least one or two manufacturers that offer great quality, price, and support Linux too. The Sandisk Sansa E 270 6 Gb "I Pod Nano" clone is a good example. I have used both and the Sandisk is better in almost every way than the Nano, and a bit cheaper. It works straight away with PCLinuxOS. In this example, by shopping around you would end up with a player that has 2 Gigabytes more storage space, much longer battery life/hours of playback, a superior screen, expandable memory and other improved features. The conventional choice is not always the best one; this goes for hardware as well as operating systems.

I found there are many useful applications and helpful programs included in PCLinuxOS. Even so, it's easy to assume they're not there or even miss them altogether. Spend some time each boot up checking out one or two of them. I found that nearly everything I needed was there, right under my nose, but I still had this Windows mind set of "Great,.." I need a program, I guess I better go find freeware, download it, install it or alternatively pay out a truckload of money for commercial software." A particular example in my case would be Kmix (if you need a small volume control in your system tray), particularly useful if you are watching videos on line and don't want the whole neighborhood to enjoy them too because the volume is not set right. Also there are one or two applications that will help you fix your MP3 ID tags and names quickly.

Linux may be solid as a rock, but backing up is essential here also. Remember, if you are new to an OS (no matter which) chances are very good you will mess it up at various times; you will actually learn a great deal from this, so no need to worry about it, (providing you backed up of course, preferably on a separate physical drive). Back up the things that are irreplaceable to you. In my case these include pictures, music, settings and documents. Ideally you could have a program running in the background that automatically makes duplicates of certain directories at set time intervals (I am still looking for one of these). Another option would be to make your own Image/Live CD with all your settings; see the Wiki for this.

In the same vein, make sure you don't log in as Root unless you really need to and change your Root password when you first install.

I personally tried quite a few distros before I found that for me PCLinuxOS, was the very best. Results may differ for you, check out, do a live-cd distro test, think about your needs and hardware, and try a couple. Distros I thought had real merit were Puppy - especially on older/slower rigs, Mandriva, Kubuntu and a couple more. But there is also the old adage of "if it works, don't fix it!" By that I mean that if you find a distro that runs great on your hardware and does everything you want it to then stick with it. Try as many live CDs as you like, but test those CDs a lot and think long and hard before you overwrite your main distro. Of course having another PC for testing purposes solves this problem, but that option is not available to everyone. It's often the details that you don't see at first that make a great distro. In my opinion this is one of the areas where PCLinuxOS truly shines.

I found the file system, directory structure, and partitioning that Linux employs to be total mumbo jumbo at first, but it helps to think of the directory structure as a family tree. It also helps to figure out what Linux calls your hard disks: hda, hdb, hd... (not C: or D: as in Windows). You will find there is usually more than one way to navigate to a certain (deeper) directory and this can get confusing. Again, writing things down, employing quick access icons, and reading is the way to go. Look up "Var," "Home," "Lost and Found," "/", "Root" and others in the online tutorials and Wikis, and really make an effort to visualize what they are, what belongs in them, and how to navigate to them. Then write it all down.

Sometimes you will get stuck. A couple of days ago I removed some directories I thought could be redundant. Oops! On the next reboot, the graphical environment wouldn't load and I was left with a command line only. I tried to correct this problem with the Live CD, but got frustrated and decided to reinstall. That was a good choice in this case. Everything works even better now and I took the opportunity to re-partition and re-format my secondary drive using the native Linux file system. Things seem speedier now. So, sometimes reinstalling is quicker and easier (especially since the PCLinuxOS install procedure is lightning fast when compared to the Windows equivalent) than troubleshooting certain problems. The downside is you will probably need to redo your settings although the PCLinuxOS Wiki explains how to avoid that!

Above all enjoy! It's truly a joy to use an operating system that is legal, stable, free, complete and above all a labor of love! If ever you get stuck or frustrated, remember there are many people on the boards and elsewhere willing to advise. As you can probably tell from this article I am no Linux whiz-kid, but PCLinuxOS puts a smile on my face every time I use it, I hope you have the same experience,
As one more thing, donating to Tex and the team is the right thing to do. They've put a lot of work into developing a fabulous distribution and the community's financial support makes it all possible. If you haven't sent in a contribution yet, I would encourage you to do so. Even if just to say, "Thanks!"