With all the people out there willing to offer help on Linux, getting started should be pretty easy. But with many options in introductory books and easy-to-install distributions, choosing a place to start can be the hard part.
Where to Find Support
Picking a distribution gets a lot less challenging when you remember to choose based on where you plan to go for help. Your local user group mailing list will be a lot more useful when other members know the locations and utilities you're talking about. Just subscribe to your local user group mailing list, and lurk for a while to find out what distribution the most helpful people there use. Then pick up a copy of a good Linux book, burn an install CD, and jump in.
There is lots of useful online documentation for specific tasks. But so far, books offer the best introductions to basic concepts such as file permissions or working with the shell. And looking for the distribution's name in the title of your first Linux book can be a time and frustration saver for new users. Instead of telling you to do things this way on one distribution, that way on another, or worse, telling you to find things for yourself, a book that concentrates on one distribution can point you straight to the file, tool or feature you need.
Lately, though, there's been a catch. The most helpful introductory books for beginners, Mark G. Sobell's "Practical Guide..." series, cover Red Hat Linux and its descendants Fedora and Red Hat Enterprise Linux, but many of the participants in user groups and mailing lists that offer the best help for new users are running Ubuntu. Sobell's new "A Practical Guide to Ubuntu Linux" closes the gap.
Part of Ubuntu's popularity among user group members is because it nails down and documents many of the best system adminstration practices. For example, many administrators recommend that you never log in as root. Just log in as yourself, and use a properly configured sudo to run individual commands as root when needed. Ubuntu actually disables the root account, and forces you to use sudo.
A new user who installs Ubuntu and does things the Ubuntu way will find himself or herself acting in many ways like a cautious, experienced sysadmin without realizing it. Now, in A Practical Guide to Ubuntu Linux, you can get a thorough Linux intro book that works the Ubuntu way, while still drawing on the author's long experience with old-school Unix and older Linux environments to cover the basics that haven't changed.