posted by Charles Williams on Wed 16th Apr 2003 04:11 UTC
IconIn the previous article, our computer newbie family, Mike, Diane, Mary and Carla, had decided they wanted GNU/Linux installed on the new family/business computer. Debian, via Libranet 2.0, was installed on the system, with appropriate business/office software, as well as the Gnome desktop environment. The next steps involved getting the system configured for easy use and adding various minor tweaks. Mike, Diane and the kids were not involved during the configuration phase of the system.  

The kernel was rebuilt with a couple of patches, to provide a smoother and quicker desktop experience. Then the sound, printer, and Nvidia drivers were set up and installed. Additionally, the squid caching web proxy was installed and set up to block Internet ads. It seems that Mike and Diane were quite sick of the Internet ads which had appeared while they were surfing the Internet on the WebTV. Squid was installed to solve this problem. I then created three new user accounts, all with the same password, so that she could later change the passwords herself. I did minimal setup on these user accounts, hoping that she would opt to do them herself later, which would help familiarize her with how the Gnome desktop worked. The computer was now set up with a pre-loaded operating system, as far as Mike and Diane were concerned.

Mike had just returned home from work as the system configuration was completed. He had not seen the computer in operation yet and wished to see it. The Mozilla web browser was opened, and each of the ten links on the Mozilla toolbar was hit in quick succession. His jaw hit the floor as the pages appeared almost instantaneously, thanks to the squid proxy and the cable modem.

It was then that Mike asked me about an email problem he had previously, while using WebTV. Mike daily received large amounts of spam in his email, using WebTV. He wished to know if there was anything he could do to control it using Debian. I told him he could bounce (roughly translated as returning the spam to the sender with his address marked as non-existent) the spam, or he could filter it directly to the trash, depending on which email program he wished to use. (All mail servers had been removed from this system.) He seemed very interested in being able to bounce, or 'return to sender address unknown,' any spam he might receive. I did not explain to him what email headers were, but did tell him, bouncing email will not always work, if the spam is sent from a fake email address. He still wanted this ability. I knew then that Kmail would be installed on the system, along with KDE, since Kmail has had the ability to bounce email, at least since version 2.0. Mike was satisfied and went into the house as I returned home.

I met Diane after dinner that night, as we had previously planned. I brought up the QuickBooks topic, which she had mentioned again the previous evening. I reminded her of all the points we had gone over several times before:

1. Windows and Linux are two different systems.
2. Windows programs will not run on Linux in many, if not most, cases. (WINE excepted)
3. Windows software dominates in business in this country and some others.
4.You can walk into any store and buy a new program to run on Windows, but you can not do that for Linux yet.
5.Debian has thousands of programs available, all of which are free in both ways.

I reminded her that if she needed QuickBooks, she would need to install Windows first. I also reminded her that there was room on the hard drive for Microsoft Windows to be installed if she wanted.  I had noticed that the few times she had mentioned Quickbooks up to this point, she ALWAYS, in the same breath, mentioned check printing. I told there was a Linux program that would print checks, named MoneyDance, which could be purchased for $29.99. Diane had checked the price of QuickBooks, and as it turns out, MoneyDance was 85% cheaper to purchase, as compared to QuickBooks. I told her not to compare the two programs on price alone, as Quickbooks may well have more features to justify the higher price. She said she would rather stick with Linux. Of course, I had reiterated these facts to her again, more to satisfy my own worries, and was glad I did, as her answer settled my mind for the course she had chosen. I suggested that she decide up front which features she needed, then choose an application with the correct fit. She decided she would later look into MoneyDance.

With that behind us, she sat at the computer and logged into her account. I began showing her some of the basics. She learned where the menu was and that you could use it to launch programs. We covered the Metacity titlebar, as she learned how to close, maximize and minimize windows. She learned that in the Gnome environment, her home folder was actually a file manager named Nautilus. I repeated several times, and had her repeat back to me, 'a folder is a directory and a directory is a folder', while viewing the Nautilus file manager. I hoped this short game of word association might stick and come in handy later. At this point, perhaps out of utter boredom, she asked me,

'Where is GnuCash?'

I asked her if she would first like to have a GnuCash icon on her desktop and she said yes. She learned how to click and hold the Gnome menu icon, then drag it to the desktop and have an icon. She then clicked the new icon and opened GnuCash. The GnuCash wizard appeared, offering to set up a default set of books for her. She read over the choices and selected the default set of business accounts. She did not know how to expand the Income or Expenses list. I guessed where to click and the full list of possible entries appeared.

She said, 'Oh this is exactly like the books I have been keeping by hand, but then accounting is accounting.'

She asked how to make an entry. I told her I didn't know as I had never used the program. I guessed if she either clicked or double-clicked on one of the account entries, she would probably be able to enter dollar amounts. She clicked and the fields appeared. She then wanted to know if there was a manual of instruction for GnuCash. (I kid you not. This newbie wanted to RTFM!) Now previous to this, roughly three days before, I had seen GnuCash documentation listed in Synaptic, one of the Debian package managers. I had installed GnuCash, along with the manual, on one of my own machines, running Unstable, to see what the documentation was like.  I already knew that at that time, in Unstable, if you clicked on the help file, GnuCash would promptly shutdown and close, without ever having shown the help files. I told Diane this and asked her if she remembered what I had told her about Unstable? Luckily she remembered.  I told her it was just a guess, but I bet she could instead find the manual somewhere on the Internet.
She said:

'OK, I was going to ask you that anyway. How do I find things on the Internet?'

Table of contents
  1. "First Steps, Part I"
  2. "First Steps, Part II"
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