Help On The Way: Five Great Linux Support Sites

Linux support and documentation sites are a dime a dozen -- and some aren't worth much more than that. Here are a few sites that really give you your money's worth . . . or at least they would, if most of the content wasn't already free.
Linux support and documentation sites are a dime a dozen -- and some aren't worth much more than that. Here are a few sites that really give you your money's worth . . . or at least they would, if most of the content wasn't already free.This certainly isn't a complete list of quality online Linux support resources. Think of it as a snapshot of some of my current favorites; even if these don't deliver what you need, they at least show you what to expect when you go looking for other, similar, Linux support sites.

  • This assortment of contributed content now includes around 2,000 tutorials. Nearly half of these deal with various Linux distros, including more than 200 Ubuntu-related howtos; the remainder cover all sorts of open-source applications and sub-topics. Everything is available for free, although paid subscribers get access to some often-useful premium services.

    Pros: Site editors approve content before it is published; the tutorials tend to be focused, well-written, and technically competent. The site is also very well-organized by distro, application type, and functional category (e.g. security or virtualization).

    Cons: There is a lot of material here, but since it tends to focus on very specific topics, there is also a lot of territory that doesn't get covered here. You'll be happy if you find what you need here, but that won't always happen.

  • The Linux Tutorial. Author and IT expert James Mohr has assembled an impressive set of resources for Linux users. This includes over 300 articles on Linux-related topics, a glossary, a huge collection of links to other useful Web sites and a rapidly-growing forum. Everything is available for free, and donations are accepted.

    Pros: The site takes a thorough, systematic approach to the topics it covers, and the material is extremely well-written. Most of it is appropriate for beginner Linux users, although some topics will be more relevant to advanced users.

    Cons: The author uses a specific distro (SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop) as a reference point for much of the content. While most of the tutorials are still applicable to users running other distros, this does make the content less useful at times.

  • The Linux Documentation Project. The LDP is a community-based effort to deliver quality documentation for Linux users at every point on the learning curve. The available content runs the gamut from book-length guides that cover fairly broad topics (scripting, Linux for portable devices) to FAQs and howtos that focus on very specific tasks. Although the quality of the material can vary quite a bit, especially in terms of its clarity and accessibility, most of it still beats the pants off the gobbledygook that too many developers try to pass off as "documentation."

    Pros: You'll find documentation here that you won't find anywhere else. Even if you have to dig a bit, chances are good that you'll find something applicable to whatever you need to learn more about. And some of the free content available here is better, both in terms of quantity and quality, than books that will cost you $50 or more from a commercial bookseller.

    Cons: Some of the material is dated, some of it is very dated, and some of the authors aren't exactly master wordsmiths. This also isn't the best place to begin if you need a clear, methodical, step-by-step beginners guide to Linux or other open-source tools.

  • LinuxForums and LinuxQuestions. These sites aren't actually related to one another (at least I don't think they are). They do, however, share a defining characteristic: Mountains of useful, often extremely well-written instructional content. A lot of the material deals with Linux, of course, but a lot of it extends to deal with application software, networking, hardware-related issues, and other topics.

    My favorite resource here is the LinuxQuestions Linux Wiki. It's not complete by any means, but a lot of the material here does a wonderful job of tackling complex technical topics.

    Pros: If you have a problem, you will almost certainly find help, or at least a pointer to someplace else that can help, on one of these sites.

    Cons: Finding what you need can be about as daunting as a trip to one of those Enormo-Dome sized Home Depot stores -- sans employees.

  • Linux Command Cheat Sheet Collection. Blogger and IT instruction Vivet Gite recently posted a list of cheat sheets and tutorials for Linux and Unix users. Some of the sites mentioned here are strictly for IT professionals or advanced users; others are ideal for newbies who want to start poking around under the hood. All of them are top-quality resources for their intended audiences.

    Pros: If you need help working at a Linux or Unix command line, this is probably a better place to get started than any of the general-purpose Linux tutorial or documentation sites mentioned above.

    Cons: Absolute beginners who break into a cold sweat when they even see a Linux command line need not apply.

    Got a favorite Linux support site that I didn't mention here? Feel free to pass it along by email or simply include it here as a comment, and I'll save the best of the bunch for mention in a future blog post.

  • Editor's Choice
    Mary E. Shacklett, President of Transworld Data
    James M. Connolly, Contributing Editor and Writer