Getting started with Linux

If you are reading this it likely means that you are wanting to change your computer’s operating system to Linux and this may not be as hard as you think but first you need to choose a distribution out of the many available.

Choosing a distribution
With the hundreds of distributions available choosing which to use can be difficult distrowatch is a good place to start. If this is your first time using Linux you will want to use one of the major distributions. If you want a quick way of narrowing down your choices there is a Linux Distribution Chooser that will ask you some questions to evaluate your knowledge and find the Linux distribution the will be best for you. While it is good for getting an idea of which would be the best distribution some of the information on the site is a little out dated.

Things to consider are if you want a rolling release distribution or a distribution that gets updated on specific dates. A rolling release is when the distribution is constantly being updated with the latest software while this does have its benefits such as always having up to date software and not having to do a clean install twice a year it is possible for an update to break the operating system. While it is possible I have been using Arch Linux which is a rolling release distribution for several years on several computers and have not had any problems except for the odd configuration issue (mostly my fault). Also what desktop environment you want or if you want a full desktop environment at all. The main desktop environments that are available are Gnome 3, KDE, xfce, Unity (comes as default with Ubuntu) and Cinnamon (comes as default on Linux mint), there are also others but they are the main ones. I suggest that you try some live CDs to find the one you like but you can always change the desktop environment on Linux distributions and many distributions give you several options for desktop environments on the CD you can download so don’t just choose a distribution based on the desktop environment.

Linux distributions for beginners

Fedora

Is a community developed project that is backed by Red Hat. Fedora uses a 6 month release cycle. It is also used for testing packages before they are added to red hat linux which means that it’s  packages are the recent versions.

OpenSuSE

Has a 8 month release cycle but also has an opt-in rolling release option which can be enabled by enabling the tumbleweed repo.

Debian

Debian’s focus is on stability and security and has a 2 year release cycle.  This means that packages available are not the most recent but they have been thoroughly tested. It has also been used as the base for many other Linux distributions such as Ubuntu and others use its testing repository for their rolling release versions.

Ubuntu/Kubuntu

Both are based on Debian but have a different desktop environments Ubuntu has the unity desktop environment and Kubuntu has KDE they are the same distribution but some of the features in Ubuntu are missing in Kubuntu. One of these missing features is the software center which allow you to browse through all the available software that can be downloaded an installed from the repository. Ubuntu and Kubuntu both have a 6 month release cycle. There are also many other versions of the distribution for various different purposes.

Linux Mint (recommended for beginners)

Like  Ubuntu and Kubuntu it is easy to use and has a software center which makes the downloading and installation of software easy. it also has the Cinnamon desktop environment as well as the option for others. Linux Mint has a 6 month release cycle but also there is a rolling release version called Linux Mint Debian edition which is based on Debian not Ubuntu.

PCLinuxOS

Is a part rolling release this means that some parts of the operating system are continually updated and others are not. The core of the operating system is not continually updated this includes things such as the kernel.

Sabayon

Is based on Gentoo and is also a rolling release distribution. Sabayon gets its software from the Gentoo’s testing branch while not as easy to use as Linux mint it is a very good distribution and if you are looking for an easy to use rolling release distribution I recommend you take a look at Sabayon Linux. It comes with two package managers Gentoo’s portage which installs packages from source or another which uses binary packages which removes the long install times you can get with Gentoo.

Linux distributions for Experienced users

— these distributions do not have a graphical user interface for their installers but offer greater ability for customisation and are aimed more for power users–

Arch Linux (recommended for advanced users)

This rolling release distribution gives you very little to start with as they try to keep things simple. If you are going to install this distribution I recommend that you use the installation manual that is available on the wiki. This distribution is a lot more complicated to use than most of the other distributions that you will find this is because you have to change the configuration files yourself while this is difficult in the beginning it once you know what everything does it becomes much easier and the instructions for how to do most things are on their wiki. Arch Linux also has an Arch User Repository where as the name suggests users of the distribution can create make files to install software and share those with other users while this is more complicated to use than the standard repository it is easier than installing from source. If you are willing to give it a go try Arch Linux while it is hard to use at first I have found it to be one of the better Linux distributions.

Gentoo

While Arch Linux gives you very little to start with Gentoo gives you even less everything is compiled from source when installed through the package manager. It is also a rolling release distribution but not quite as up to date as arch. Due to everything being compiled from source it means that you can include support for only the things you want, this is done through the use variable which gives a lot of control but may not be easy for new users to use at first. while compiling everything from source gives you a faster operating system it also means that it takes much longer to install software, this can take the install from taking hours for other distributions to taking days depending on how powerful your computer is. Gentoo also unlike many other distributions has not switched to the controversial systemd but it is still available if you want it.

Slackware

Slackware is one of the oldest Linux distributions available. It similar to Arch Linux in that is tries to keep things simple but unlike Arch Slackware gives you more control over the operating system.  But unlike Arch Linux Slackware is not a rolling release distribution is has a feature based release cycle where it is released when all features have been added in other words when it is good and ready.

In the end

All the major Linux distributions are very similar while them may look slightly different or put their own spin on things they all run almost all the same software. it is once you start getting to the Linux distributions like Slackware, Gentoo, arch and the distributions that are aimed a specific purposes where the differences really start to show. So as I said at the start download a few live cd’s try them out you don’t have to install them and they are free so just have fun.

When you first start using Linux and have come from a vastly different operations system you will have a learning curve to contend with don’t let this discourage you, if people gave up just because something was hard very little would get done. but don’t try to run software that you used to use on another operating on Linux I make this mistake when I first started, while in some cases it is possible in others it is not but unless it has native support for Linux or there is no alternative, don’t even attempt it as it is more trouble than it is worth and it will only make the experience more difficult and for many less enjoyable, I recommend that you find Linux alternatives for the software you use you may be surprised at what is available and a lot of it is free thanks to the many individuals that give up their time to work on it.

good luck, have fun, this is only the beginning.

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