Don’t panic! (Seven ways to troubleshoot Ubuntu)

Stability is a Linux strong suit. But when things go wrong, here’s how to go about the repair work -- or get the help you need

Ubuntu strives to be suitable even for novice Linux users, but as with any operating system, problems will inevitably arise. Resolving issues with an unfamiliar OS can be daunting, but never fear. Plenty of resources exist to help get you back on the right track. Here are just a few ways to troubleshoot your Ubuntu desktop.

1. Use the online help. Clicking the question mark icon in the main menu bar will bring up Ubuntu’s extensive collection of formatted help documents. Use these to get up to speed with major features and applications.

2. Read the documentation. The Ubuntu developers maintain a documentation site at help.ubuntu.com. The quality of the instruction varies, but it’s a good way to familiarize yourself with the day-to-day workings of a Linux desktop. If you prefer paper manuals, a growing list of volumes is available, including The Official Ubuntu Book, published by Prentice-Hall.

3. Join the forums. By and large, Linux is developed and supported by the open source community. Your fellow users are your first and best resource for answers and advice about your Ubuntu desktop. Become an active participant in the community discussions at ubuntuforums.org, and ask your questions there. There’s a good chance that someone else has already experienced the same problems you have and has already begun the discussion -- use the search feature.

4. Search the Web. If the official forums can’t provide the answers you seek, by all means search elsewhere. Ubuntu’s popularity has inspired any number of enthusiasts to produce their own documentation and tutorial Web sites. Much of this advice is high quality.

5. Get paid support. Canonical, the company that maintains the Ubuntu Linux distribution, earns its money by offering enterprise-level support for Ubuntu users. You can purchase a 9-to-5 support contract for yourself or your business, or pay a little more to receive around-the-clock support. Contact Canonical Global Support Services for more information.

6. Enable the remote desktop feature. Under the System > Preferences menu you’ll find an option called Remote Desktop. With this enabled, IT staff (or your Linux-savvy friends) can use an application called a VNC (virtual network computing) client to view and control your PC remotely, in order to help diagnose and fix your problems. Just make sure your firewall is configured to let VNC connections in.

7. Make peace with the command line. Linux newbies dread the prospect of working with a text-based interface, but the command line prompt can be your best friend in a troubleshooting emergency. Although it’s similar to the old MS-DOS command shell, the Unix command line is more complex and also much more powerful. Once you’ve learned to use it, you’ll find that Linux is packed with hidden tools that get you back on your feet when the GUI fails you. A Web search will reveal a number of online tutorials to teach you the basics. To get started, you can access the command line in Ubuntu by launching the Terminal from the Applications > Accessories menu.

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