posted by Charles Williams on Tue 17th Jan 2006 21:25 UTC
IconWhat ever happened to the total computer newbies who tried Debian (part I | part II)? Mike, Diane, Mary & Carla are still doing very well, although much has changed since the first articles were written. They no longer use Libranet. They no longer use Gnome & believe it or not, Windows has now been installed. Read along to find out what happened.

Within a few months of the original install, there was a recurring problem not easily resolved with Libranet, which had been upgraded to Debian Unstable. Updates were becoming a problem. There were points along the upgrade cycle of Debian Unstable, where apt didn't work as planned. (I do not fault Debian for this. There is a reason that branch is called Unstable, so we had all been forewarned.) The readers among you who questioned the choice of Debian Unstable turned out to be right. At that point in time, my neighbors and my father (which is another article. Have you ever tried to teach a 66 year old, with NO previous computer experience, how to use a computer?) both had Debian Unstable installed. There came a point, when a new version of KDE had been released into Debian Unstable, but CUPS , the underlying printing system, had not yet been updated to work with the new version of KDE. Because of this, the desktop could not be updated and neither could CUPS. I know we could have waited a couple of days for Debian Unstable to work out the kinks and all would be well, but that wouldn't work if printing was needed in that moment. We decided at that point it would be best to change the system to a distribution somewhat easier to update, rather than take Debian to Testing, which had somewhat older software.

Around this same time, Mike had called me. A co-worker had given him a few Windows games as birthday gifts. He wanted to know if they could be made to run under Linux. I reminded him of WINE, which allows Windows applications to run under Linux and we decided to give it a try. Anyone who has used WINE knows it is still very hit or miss. Certain applications run extremely well under WINE, while others can't be made to run at all. WINE was installed into Debian Unstable, and not surprisingly, none of the Windows games would run.

In the meantime, I had gone back to Gentoo and was amazed at how much that distro had progressed. It was also during that time, that KDE 3.2 series had been released, which brought major speed improvements, along with usability improvements, to the KDE desktop. So the decision was made to repartition the hard drive, dual boot Windows & Gentoo, then setup all desktops to KDE. Mike's business partner purchased a copy of Windows for the transition. A Knoppix CD was then booted and used to layout 5 partitions, one for Windows & four for Gentoo, being /boot, /, /home & swap. Knoppix was then shutdown and Windows was installed & updated. A free (as in beer, not speech) firewall was installed into Windows, then Internet Explorer and Outlook Express were disallowed access to the Internet via the firewall. The full Mozilla suite, including browser and email, were then installed into Windows. It seemed like the right thing to do given that IE hadn't been updated for some time & didn't include pop-up blocking or tabbed browsing. Mozilla is also more standards compliant than IE. Outlook Express was denied Internet access for security reasons as well.

Next, Knoppix was rebooted and a stage 1 Gentoo tarball was downloaded. From the Knoppix virtual terminal, the Linux partitions previously laid out were mounted and Gentoo was installed from a chroot environment. KDE was installed and the user environments were then setup, including email and chat accounts. was installed for spreadsheets. A Gentoo installation is always a nice test of the hardware. This particular Gentoo install, including Mozilla, XFree (at that time) and a complete KDE, took little over 18 hours to compile, with major portions of the install occurring overnight. Not once during this time did the machine miss a beat, with all software compiling without error or pause. The neighbors began dual booting both systems. I really didn't know what would happen at this point. Would they end up going totally with Windows & forget Linux, or would they use Windows for games only?

Diane seemed a little confused over the change in desktops from Gnome to KDE, but given that she is such a quick study, she soon caught the similarities and had very little trouble making the switch to KDE overall. Her main concern, as it was from the beginning, was moving her hand written business ledgers over to spreadsheets. I had worked with her quite a bit showing her how to setup columns in She had actually gotten so familiar with that she was able to tell me where certain preferences could be found in the menus, which I didn't know existed. The only problem she had with, was remembering how to insert functions to total, or sum, the columns. I only had to show her how to do this twice & she hasn't ever had to ask again. Diane also wanted to know how to keep backup copies of the spreadsheet ledgers she had created. She learned how to back them up onto floppy disks, which were auto mounted via the supermount (at that time) kernel module.

But what about the accounting software? If you remember from the first articles in this series, Diane had asked her accountant what accounting software she might need. Her accountant had told her she didn't have a preference and Diane could submit her numbers however she wanted. At that time, I had told her about GnuCash & mentioned to Diane I had never used it, which meant I couldn't show her how to use it, but that I could point her to the documentation. She did refer to the GNUCash documentation, but was completely unable to figure out how to use the software.

Table of contents
  1. "Total Newbies, 1/2"
  2. "Total Newbies, 2/2"
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