Easing into Linux for the Windows-using newbie

Yes, another Windows to Linux newbie guide. There are a whole plethora of these that exist, but I figured I would take a crack at writing my own and seeing how the community likes it. Also, using Ubuntu MATE as a base can help to ease some frustration some may have with Linux in the past, considering how friendly it is as a “Linux for Windows users” distribution.

In fact, it’s wrong to say it like that. People (previously) used Windows because it was in every workplace, and, at least before Windows 8 was known to be an easy-to-use system. So really, it should be boiled down to Ubuntu MATE is a good choice because it is familiar. Not just familiar for old Ubuntu users who weren’t please with Canonical’s Unity desktop environment, but also easy for users of other systems because of tools installed to make Ubuntu MATE familiar for others.

#Before you even try…
Most software that exists in a typical Ubuntu MATE installation can be used within Windows. The more familiar you are with open-source solutions, the less sore it is going to be as a user to switch between systems.

If all you care about is the software and are not terribly concerned about the system it runs on, great! You can remain on Windows and use solutions like GIMP, Pidgin, LibreOffice and Firefox without much hassle. Even Steam is something you can use on Linux, but if you have some games that you can’t detach yourself from which rely on DirectX or are ported for Windows systems only, then don’t bother if you’re too involved in them to use any Linux system, because they simply won’t work.

If, on the other hand you’re willing to drop a few Windows-only things in favour of a free and open desktop, then Ubuntu MATE is a good first step. You don’t have to use other Linux systems beyond Ubuntu MATE to be considered a Linux user, and if anyone dares to cast shade on you for using Ubuntu MATE because of its association with Ubuntu or it’s “Linux for n00bs” as most elitist Linux users jeer, don’t mind them; Your Linux is just as well as their Linux and they probably need to learn how to grow up.

#Things to understand about Ubuntu MATE
Users may come into this before they understand one important thing; If something doesn’t work as you would expect, tell this to yourself. Tell this to yourself every single day you use it, until it is truth for you;
Linux is not Windows.
Linux is not Windows.
Linux is not Windows.

I sincerely wish for size tags to be a thing because I would make the above mantra as large as allowed by site administrators; It cannot be stressed enough. There are common interface paradigms between both UM and Windows (before Win8), even if you have to make it so Ubuntu MATE feels like Windows, but it will not act like Windows. That shouldn’t stop you from trying it, which is what this guide will assist in doing later on.

Ubuntu MATE is a distribution built from Ubuntu that uses the MATE desktop environment. Allow me to break that down;

  • Ubuntu MATE is an official flavour of the Ubuntu desktop
    It means that Ubuntu MATE has Canonical’s blessing, and Martin WImpress, the man behind Ubuntu MATE has access to a wealth of resources that ensure Ubuntu MATE is up to snuff as an “Approved” fork of the still very-popular Ubuntu. This also means that packages for Ubuntu will work in Ubuntu MATE.
  • Ubuntu is a derivative of Debian
    You wonder why packages for Ubuntu use .deb as their extension? This is why. While Debian is adamant about keeping the free desktop free from commercial code, Ubuntu has succeeded where Debian fell short because of Canonical embracing easy, unfettered access to Non-free packages that infringe upon the software freedoms Debian so deftly hold onto.
  • MATE began as a fork of GNOME 2
    For people who saw Ubuntu before Unity was a thing, or used any other system with the Explorer-alike GNOME 2, this is very welcome, as it is a familiar desktop with a familiar workflow. But also, the GNOME panels are very customizable, and the tools provided in Ubuntu MATE allow you to select from pre-made panel configurations that allow for different users of different systems to fall into similar workflows from different desktops.
  • There are lots of support options
    Due to everything above, this means if there is a problem in Ubuntu MATE, it may already have been resolved for Ubuntu users, by Ubuntu users. Because Ubuntu MATE is only one of many Ubuntu derivatives, there are lots of options for support through the entire family of Ubuntu systems. Not only that, Ubuntu coming from Debian means there may be some issues users will encounter on both Ubuntu and Debian, which means a solution is probably held in some Debian support resource, or for some other Debian system’s support resources should you look around.
    Since most Linux-compatible software exists on different distributions beyond Ubuntu and Debian, solutions to common problems may be found on support resources for Fedora (and derivatives), Slackware (and derivatives), Gentoo (and derivatives) et cetera.

All of the above makes Ubuntu MATE a solid choice for newbies, because there are years and years of resolved issues which make it easy, should you be patient and read through enough stuff to find a solution to problems you may have. And if there is no solution? You can see if others have your problem, and try to make one. Do note, you can use the systems before installation, which should come in handy when figuring out if a problem you encounter later on is your fault, or to try out software before making it part of your primary system installation.

#Making an installer within Windows
You can use any variety of tools to write a disc installer, so long said disc can hold 2GB of content. Most 4.7GB DVD-R’s should be able to handle holding a Linux installer, but because of how much space would be wasted, one should look into making a multi-arch installer with at least the Intel (i386) and Advanced Micro Devices (AMD64) builds available.

If you have a 2GB or greater capacity USB drive, tools like pendrivelinux.com’s Universal USB Installer will house one installer. 4GB or greater can allow for the use of pendrivelinux’s other tool, Your Universal Multiboot Installer.

A typical installation wiil require at minimum 16GB. If you’re going to try it out for an extended period of time as an installed system, a single-partition 16GB install should work. If you like it, you can then move your installation over to a larger drive, or as part of the drive inside of your machine should you make room for it. To be safe, you should reinstall the system (which honestly doesn’t take that long on a modern computer) versus moving an installation over, though it is possible to do so; Such procedure is outside the scope of this guide.

#Advanced installation for an external disk
If you want to make an installation of Ubuntu MATE that makes it really easy to access user files made within Windows, then you’ll want to do the following;

  • Do gksu gparted
  • Format a capacious disk drive (at least 500GB) and set it up as such;
  • 32GB Ext4
  • Remainder (sans 4GB) Extended partition
  • ~ 16GB Ext4
  • ~ Remainder NTFS
  • 4GB Swap

During the installation, make the 32GB partition / (root) and the 16GB partition /home. After installation, reboot, sign in and do in terminal sudo apt install gnome-disk-utility, then gksu gnome-disks. Select the NTFS partition and disable automatic startup options, making it mount on boot (it will modify /etc/fstab to allow this) and reboot again.

Then, move ~/Documents, ~/Downloads, ~/Music, ~/Pictures and ~/Videos into the NTFS partition, making links with ln or within the file manager to have the contents of the NTFS partition linked into ~. Here is a sample script to assist, modify as necessary;
mv ~/Documents /mnt/ntfs/Documents mv ~/Downloads /mnt/ntfs/Downloads mv ~/Music /mnt/ntfs/Music mv ~/Pictures /mnt/ntfs/Pictures mv ~/Videos /mnt/ntfs/Videos ln -s /mnt/ntfs/Documents ~/Documents ln -s /mnt/ntfs/Downloads ~/Downloads ln -s /mnt/ntfs/Music ~/Music ln -s /mnt/ntfs/Pictures ~/Pictures ln -s /mnt/ntfs/Videos ~/Videos

#Using Ubuntu MATE
When you first begin, press <Alt>+<F2> and input mate-tweak; This software allows you to select from a variety of options to quickly and easily modify the MATE panels (mate-panel) to suit your needs. In the case of Windows users. most would be comfortable using the Redmond interface with the advanced menu enabled.

With that done, access the newly-created menu on the lower left and poke around through there; See what you’ve got in each category, and become familiar with the software in use. All users will at some time acess the following core set of software;
Desktop Manager (session manager): lightdm
Terminal: mate-terminal (Also included: tilda)
File manager: caja (replaceable with nemo, can also be used with xdg-open)
Text editor (graphical): pluma
Window manager: marco
Window decorator: gtk-window-decorator (replaceable with emerald)
Compositor (optional, change in mate-tweak): compton or compiz (0.9, can be replaced with older versions if necessary, but may cause issues)
Panels: mate-panel
Screensaver: mate-screensaver (replaceable with xscreensaver)
Task manager (graphical): mate-system-monitor
Display settings: mate-display-manager (alternatively, arandr can be used.)

For anything which can be replaced, there is a guide that has been written for it. Use the forum search functions to find them, or search through Google.

The advanced menu (mate-menu) is a useful piece of software that allows you to have something similar to a start menu. It’s also customizable, though most customization in preferences is limited; If you wish to run an application of your choice in the System menu, you’ll need to modify the Python files it relies on so it can run whatever you specify, whic requires some knowledge of programming (but not very much).

There is no software manager per se, but you can use the software boutique in the welcome screen to install solutions such as Ubuntu Software Centre, App Grid and Synaptic to manage installed software. I would recommend Synaptic as a no-frills, robust GUI solution and App Grid as a more frilly yet capable metapackage installer.

There isn’t anything much else about Ubuntu MATE I can say, aside from explore around; Click on things, then right-click on things. Get a feel for where some things are, and from there the rest should fall into place.

#Stuff for all Ubuntu / Debian systems
Updates for software are handled in update-manager. This is something you’ll occasionally see as software needs to be updated for security and functionality improvements. Unlike in Microsoft Windows where it’s only first-party software that receives automated updates, most Linux software can be updated via an update tool of some kind that treats all installed Linux software as first-class denizens on your system. This not only removes bloat from software, since no update tool needs to be baked in but also allows for easier updating, since everything is done as a single operation.

Because Ubuntu MATE doesn’t hold anything back, you can use the latest versions of everything on your system, unless some software relies on an older version of some library that also was updated. Though, to resolve this Dependency hell some software might cause, Canonical’s Snap package format (usable via snap) can allow for installation of software without the need to worry about shared system libraries being up to snuff.

From the terminal, all software can be installed from online sources with apt / apt-get, or locally (at your filesystem) with dpkg.

A graphical front-end for dpkg exists known as gdebi; presumably short for GNOME Debian Installer. Since MATE is derived from GNOME, this make sense as gdebi is a GTK application.

#Stuff for all Linux distributions
If you are having display problems, you can use xrandr in the terminal to create new video modes; See this article on Ubuntu Geek to learn how.

Using a computer with Beats by Dre audio? Tough luck; there’s no easy solution for that. But, you can try the solutions on Ask Ubuntu (of the Stack Exchange network).

If you’ve managed to use symbolic links in Microsoft Windows via mklink, ln in whatever system allows its use swaps things around; so the from path comes first, then the to path. Otherwise, caja (as well any other competent file manager) can make symbolic links for you, though you’d have to rename them since symbolic links are only made in the same directory you are viewing.

Lost on an application? Try using the man command with it. Undocumented? People make up their own documentation as they go along, though most developers are kind enough to have a flag called --help to execute a program with, the sole purpose being to spit out help text. Examples;
man vlc vlc --help

If you need Windows applications and games, anything using DirectX 10 or older, or Microsoft .net can be handled with WINE Is Not an Emulator, or Wine for short. You can install as-is, or (least for UM) do the following;
sudo add-apt-repository ppa:ubuntu-wine/ppa && sudo apt-get update

Then install the latest version of Wine from that repository. At the time of writing this is wine1.8.

While Silverlight may have been a software that was presumed dead before it ever became gold, thanks to solutions like Flash and HTML5 existing to take its place, some websites may still require it. Install Pipelight, then do the following to make it show up in Firefox;

  • Go to about:support and open your profile folder
  • Close the browser (completely)
  • Delete pluginreg.dat

Then Silverlight will show up. The same can be done with Adobe Flash, though it is preferred you install browser-plugin-freshwrapper-pepperflash instead.

#Am I missing something?
Post something below. If there is something that is very important I should add to this thread, or something which needs clarification, tell me what it is and I’ll credit you below. I want this thread to have open dialogue between users for things that can help complete newbies jump on in and have a good time.


Hi @tiox,

a good post but I think you should include graphical descriptions as your thread is directed at beginners and although well written; it may still confuse people?. :smiley:

You should also include links to video tuts, stuff from YouTube/other sources for example!. :thumbsup: