HOWTO – Treat a *nix Newbie

Introduction – Defining The Newbie

Source: Wikipedia (

A newbie (written in 1337 as: n00b) is a newcomer to a particular field, the term being commonly used on the Internet, where it might refer to new, inexperienced, or ignorant users of a game, a newsgroup, an operating system or the Internet itself. The term is generally regarded as an insult, although in many cases more experienced/knowledgeable people use it in purposes of negative reinforcement, urging “newbies” to learn more about the field or area in question.

Variant spellings, such as newb, noob and, in Leetspeak, n3wb are numerous and common in Internet use.

For the purposes of this discussion, the term “newbie” refers to the new user. In this case, new to *nix.

1. The Menu

The *nix world has grown considerably over the past decade. There is no longer just Linux or just Unix, but rather dozens of varieties each proclaiming to be the distro to choose – One needs only to visit sites like Distrowatch to see this for themselves. Many old-school users went with the flow and have settled with a branch that they feel most comfortable with.

But what about the new users?

New *nix users are dumped knee-deep in a slurry of distributions. The seasoned user may think ‘Oh, how I wish I had this much choice when I started out!’ but stop and think for a minute. The true new user knows nothing about these menu choices. It’s like visiting a multicultural restaurant and perusing the dishes on the menu – You know some of the names and heard that some of the dishes are good, but you have no clue what is in them or if they will suit your taste.

Usually, the new user knows a few people who use *nix, as this is most likely where their interest was ignited. This is usually a logical idea, since surely these people know what the new user needs, as they were newbies themselves once. Unfortunately for the newbie these friends and associates probably have a wide variety of preferences and mch more experience. Chances are, none remember what newbiehood was like. If these people are Slackware or Gentoo fanatics, then our newbie is most likely out of luck. These are not – I repeat, not – newbie-friendly distributions. Reasonable suggestions for the newbie are distributions such as Ubuntu, Mandriva or anything with an easy installation process and a safe way to add new software like apt or yum. You do not jump in the deep end of a swimming pool when you do not yet know how to swim.

When coming across a new user who has chosen wisely, do not tell them they are lame for using the easier distribution. Mostly, do not harrass them to the point where they try the ‘leet’ distributions. Do not throw the user in the deep end.

2. The Command Line

Unless the newbie is new to computing altogether, they most likely came from Windows. Windows is not like *nix, almost everything there works with the click of a icon or the push of a button. *nix and the command line is, to say the least, a culture shock.

*nix isnt quite the same. Some things still require command-line. If the newbie has DOS experience, then this will not be a major problem, but remember that many newbies do not have this background. When explaining to the newbie how to do something, choose the most automated way possible. You may like doing everything in a terminal, but the newbie may not even know what you mean by terminal.

3. RTFM,, etc

*nix has evolved to a point where the more user-friendly distributions are very similar to the windows or mac envirionment that the new user knows and is comfortable with – however, *nix is still different. When helping a new user one must remember that the *nix environment is new territory that the new user does not yet understand it.

It is not their fault that their knowledge is so limited, and you should not use phrases such as ‘Damn Windows user!’ every time they ask a question as it is entirely counterproductive. Compare it to visiting your mechanic and having them tell you that you are a “Damn Computer user!” because you do not know how to fix the car yourself. Constructive suggestions will always work a heck of a lot better.

Teaching or helping newbies can be frustrating for experienced users. They speak the jargon and know how things work, so why doesn’t the newbie? It is simple, right? You just read the manual for goodness sake. Think for a minute – Does the new user even know how to access the manual? Will they understand what they see?

Let us take a look at the famed ‘man man’

MAN(1) Manual pager utils MAN(1)

man – an interface to the on-line reference manuals

man [-c|-w|-tZ] [-H[browser]] [-T[device]] [-adhu7V] [-i|-I] [-m system[,...]] [-L locale] [-p string] [-C
file] [-M path] [-P pager] [-r prompt] [-S list] [-e extension] [[section] page …] …
man -l [-7] [-tZ] [-H[browser]] [-T[device]] [-p string] [-P pager] [-r prompt] file …
man -k [apropos options] regexp …
man -f [whatis options] page …

man is the system`s manual pager. Each page argument given to man is normally the name of a program, util‐
ity or function. The manual page associated with each of these arguments is then found and displayed. A
section, if provided, will direct man to look only in that section of the manual. The default action is
to search in all of the available sections, following a pre-defined order and to show only the first page
found, even if page exists in several sections.

What on earth does that jumble of letters words and symbols mean? What is ‘prompt’, ‘pager’, ‘regexp’? Will the average Windows migrant understand this? Will they understand what the man page is talking about?

The newbie will probably come back and ask you questions. When they do, telling them to Just Fucking Google It is not appropriate. Valid questions deserve valid answers. ‘[I do not know | I am busy right now], why don’t you try Google’ is a valid answer. It is courteous and doesn’t leave the newbie feeling as though he or she has just been kicked in the face.

Attitude such as ‘RTFM’ and ‘Just Fucking Google It’ is quite discouraging to the already confused and baffled newbie. We want to encourage people to use linux, rather than discourage them. Sure, you might answer some questions over and over, but that is because there’s more than one *nix newbie in the world.


When dealing with a *nix newbie, the most important thing is to try to be understanding. They are not going to comprehend everything they need to know right away, the same as you did not. Do not punish them for being confused, or for being a slow learner.

To encourage Windows migrants, you need to be tolerant, understanding and compassionate. I know, it may seem tough, especially when not all newbies are as smart or experienced as you. Adopting a sour attitude is not going to achieve anything positive, especially since you catch more flies with honey. Get off the high-horse and be useful. Make a newbie’s first *nix experience a good one, not a bad one.

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