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  • Thinking About Linux? Then Read Here!
2010/10/19 18:40:42
If you're new to Linux familiarize yourself with all the different versions, aka "Distros", which you can find at Distrowatch, http://distrowatch.com/
If you consider yourself the average, or below average computer user, looking for the simplest path to Linux, then you'll want one of the Top Five Distros on Distrowatch, http://distrowatch.com/
You can't always get away from learning, even with the simplest of Linux distros there's still a learning curve. Sooner or later with any operating system you're going to run across problems, because software isn't perfect, and you'll need some knowledge.
If you're not sure about your hardware, and the software support you need with the ease of use, again pick one of the top five distros listed on Distrowatch. They are the top picks simply because they support the widest range of hardware and software no matter what your needs are.
If you don't read on, you're going to miss out on some cool stuff to help you make life easier in Linux!
To begin, I'm not here to tell you one is better then the other, because the truth is there are many great distros. Linux is about making choices for yourself, rather than someone else telling you which one is the best.
In all Linux distros there are many different desktops out there to choose from, but Gnome, KDE, and Xfce are the most popular.
New Edition(s) that started becoming popular:
Next we have Window Managers. This means something that "Manages Windows". Gnome, KDE, and other desktops have their own, but these can be replaced by other managers to give a new look, feel, and functionality. Many window managers can also be run by themselves as a "Stand Alone" desktop.
What does all this mean regarding desktops, and window managers? It's called productivity, the ways in which you want to handle your tasks. These choices will help you to bring out, find your best efficiency.
Here is some Information on Wikipedia about X Window Managers:
There are several window managers out there. These are only a few of the more popular ones.
Window Maker:
Xwinman is the most complete list of desktops, and window managers for Linux:
Windows management in Linux has never looked better since OpenGL acceleration came along. This provides different ways and looks in managing these windows with new enhancements, and visual effects. Compiz provides Linux this new direction in window management.
Here you can watch Videos of Compiz in action:
Moving on to packages, distros all incorporate their own ways of managing them. Besides the basic functions of installs, updates, and removal, these programs also handle other tasks dealing with packages. Some of these programs are more varied then others depending on the developers intentions, flexibility, and the ease of use intended. These programs are called "Package Managers".
These are a few of the common types of extensions you'll find with the different versions for package management, along with various spin offs from these.
.deb (Debian GNU/Linux package manager):
.rpm (originally Redhat Package Management):
.tar (Tarball Files):
.tar.gz (Tarball Files):
.tgz (Tarball Files):
Here are some popular package managers:
Rpmdrake and URPMI:
Synaptic Package Manager:
Yumex (Yum Extender):
Package management in each distro allows you flexibility to work with the packages to a degree, and some more then others. How flexible you want to be is up to you, the system you choose, and what your needs are. Just because a certain distro comes with it's own default manager doesn't mean you can't install another one to meet your needs better, but this isn't typically done. Some distros actually incorporate a few package managers to work with, or their default manager will run from either a GUI (Graphical User Interface), or a command terminal, where you can type commands, both allowing you different levels of flexibility by the choices you need.
So what does all of this package management mean, and how is it really going to help? Simply put, it means, "Management", the way in which you'll be able to manage them. What you really have to ask yourself here is, what kind of management would you really like to have?
Here's a look at the common command terminals:
Gnome Terminal:
Moving on to another subject, Linux like Windows during the start up, and shutdown goes through what are known as runlevels. Different functions of the startup, or shutdown processes are accessed, known in Windows as, Normal, Safe-mode and Command prompt, etc. In Linux these are known as the User Modes, different ways in which to access the system. Besides the different modes in Linux, Services, and Daemons also come into play in these runlevels, basically in the same way as Windows does. The advantage Linux runlevels have over Windows’ boot modes is that Linux runlevels can be changed on the fly.
Here is some information on runlevels, services, and daemons:
Linux Services, Devices, and Daemons:
The runlevels most distros make use of are either the, "System V" init style, or the "BSD" init style, or a slight variation of them.
Runlevel Init Information - Init Runlevels:
What this runlevel system means to you is the flexibility to change the way in which a part of Linux behaves, and how you manage certain parts of it. No matter what you use Linux for, this is an important aspect of system administration, helping you to manage, and customize Linux to your needs.
Runlevel information:
Run levels on Wikipedia:
Run levels on Linux.com:
With everything that has been mentioned, basically what separates most Linux distros is package management, runlevel operations, and various tools for system management.
Linux means not only choices, it's also about personal tastes, yes your own personal tastes, and that is another great quality of Linux, the ability to make it your own. That is why it's generally never wise to decide based on someone's own belief. After all we all have our own likes, and dislikes, and that is what makes Linux so attractive, customization to satisfy the needs of everyone.
I touched on a few of the differences, but there are even more. There are many cool things each one has to offer, but when it gets right down to it, no matter what all the differences are, "Linux is Linux", and you just have to decide what works for you.
Basically what you'll see as an inexperienced user until you get familiar with Linux is that hardware out the box is working in some distros and in others it's not working. This isn't correct then in assuming that one distro over the other is better because one works and the other doesn't, it's simply that the developers have configured things for you, something that can be done in any distro. This means some things have already been setup, and some have not. Distros that are not so setup are considered more hands on distros, designed for those that want to do it them self. In the end this means what one can do so can all the others, it's just a matter of what the goal of that distro was built for, new users, ease of use, or for more experienced users for a more hands on approach.
Now if you're really saying here at this point in time that this is for you, and you consider yourself to be a power user, or quite an enthusiast, then the sky's the limit, but go slow, or you might frustrate yourself with some of the more hands on distros that require more user intervention, setting up, tuning, and tweaking.
For the power user, or enthusiast that wants to jump right in then I'd suggest these distros listed below in this order, afterwards just use Distrowatch as a guide, meaning the farther they fall down the list, the less popular they become for many reasons.
Linux is a Unix http://www.unix.org/ based operating system, and if want to start out using the purest form of this, then start out with Slackware.
If you find yourself after trying any of these distros falling flat on your face in disgust, then don't worry, we've all been there. Go back to the "Top Five" picks, and get comfortable with one of them for awhile. Once you've gotten comfortable, and somewhat use to this new world, then try your luck again. Don't give up, because if you think Linux is your thing, then go for it, and have fun, but if the learning is going to be in frustration, then the journey is going to be even more painful. Just remember a good attitude learns more.
Once you've made a go of it with Debian, Slackware, and Gentoo, then after Gentoo just have at. Go where you want to go next, and have fun, but remember go slow. Linux has a lot to offer, but there is also a lot to learn.
For the hardcore that wants to learn it all, and do it all, and really take the leap off the deep end, this is the direction for you. Linux From Scratch (LFS), http://www.linuxfromscratch.org/
For those that would like to read a comparison of Linux, and Windows, Wikipedia provides some excellent information.
Comparison of Windows and Linux:
Here is a comparison of Windows programs with their equal counterparts for Linux to help you with your transition.
Alternatives to Windows software:
Equivalent Windows applications:
Linux software equivalent to Windows software:
Programs to help you run Windows applications and games in Linux.
CodeWeavers CrossOver Linux:
TransGaming (Cedega Games Database)
Wine HQ:
Here are a few Linux sites with a wealth of information to help point you on your new way.
The Linux Foundation: (Where The Man Linus Works!)
Learning Linux.com:
Linux Central:
Linux Devices:
Linux Online:
Linux Pro Magazine:
Linux Format:
Linux For You:
Linux HQ:
Linux Journal Magazine:
Linux on Laptops:
Linux Magazine:
Linux Planet:
Linux for Playstation 2:
Linux for Playstation 3:
Linux Slashdot:
Linux Today:
Linux USB:
Linux User and Developer:
The Linux Documentation Project:
Wii Linux:
Xbox Linux:
Down the road awhile, and after all the reading, and brain absorbing, you still find you need help, IRC (Internet Relay Chat) is one of the best ways to get live real time help.
The best OpenSource server in the world is Freenode, http://freenode.net/ On freenode's site is a list for the servers to join, but the most commonly used one in North America is, irc.freenode.net.
Xchat, http://xchat.org/ is the tool of choice for IRC, and the most popular GUI (Graphical User Interface), IRC client that you can use. Most Linux distros either come with Xchat installed, or available to install.
There are 320 distros listed on Distrowatch. The HOME page lists the Top 100 and this link, http://distrowatch.com/stats.php?section=popularity lists the other 220. So use Distrowatch as your guide, first starting at the top, and then going from there as I have outlined in this post.
Here's what you've learned. You're going to pick a distro, it will have it's choice of desktops, window managers, package managers, runlevels, and other various tools, and overall a look, feel, and functionality that you'll either love, or hate. You'll find what you're comfortable with and that is what you're going to stick to. The key here is, YOU, what you find that suits your needs, no one else's. Through trial and error you'll find the best Linux distro, the one you like. Everyone will have their own idea of what's best, and you need to figure out yours, it's a personal choice.
Learn what the name Linux really means. Linux is the kernel, not the complete system as some believe.
Now go have fun! :)
2010/10/21 04:50:27
^^^Very informative writeup!!
2010/10/24 17:49:47
Very nice DasFox.
There are many reasons to try Linux.  It's free,  secure, has a great community, easy to use, and so on, and so forth, etc,etc.
But the best reason to use Linux is because it's fun.
For those that like to tinker, and get to know an operating system inside out, and make it stand up on it's hind legs and do tricks,
then maybe give Linux a try.
2012/03/31 09:13:11
would be nice to know what is a good over all resource for geting basics done...
most guides take too long to advance, many guides start out advance....i hate it.
good resources tho
2012/07/20 21:55:37
After cleaning up My Future GrandDaughter-In-Laws Win 7 machine that had so much malware it took days to clean up.  After that, I congratulated myself on using Linux as my primary OS, on Laptops and Desktops alike.  I have never had the struggle with Linux, that I had on her machine.
If you get tired of malware consider Linux.
2013/04/01 16:25:40
Looking really hard at Linux for folding to start with. By partitioning one of the drives in my main folding rig. Then looking at some quad g34 craziness. Just wading through the material now. Lots to learn
2015/03/17 21:15:27
I have recently switched to Linux for full-time development.  And let me say, the advances since the 90s (when I last used it) has been HUGE!
I'll have to say the idea of switching to Linux spawned from my Bitcoin mining first back around November of 2013.  I knew just enough to be dangerous to install BAMT (based off of Debian) and tinker with stuff to get it up and running.
Coming from a .NET/Windows development background for 14 years, I've recently been developing in Go the last year.  This has required some Python and Ruby tinkering, which is a horrible experience on Windows.  After a few weeks of hands on with pre-built Linux installs for mining, I decided to setup a new VM and installed Debian first.  I read up about ArchLinux and really wanted to go this route; but, Windows Azure and Amazon EC2 had Ubuntu (aka Debian) images - no Arch - and the learning curve was pretty steep on Arch for newbies.  I wanted my workstation to stay as close to the server OS I'd be running on as well.
Side note: I have been doing all development in a virtual machine ever since Sandy Bridge came out for laptops - it was finally fast enough that I could develop on Windows 7/8 and not see much of a different in speed (and we are talking about Visual Studio here).  The portability of VMware's vmdk file across Windows (VMware Workstation) and OSX (VMware Fusion) was perfect on a external SSD drive over USB3.
The Debian 7, released many years ago, seemed very very bland - but extremely stable.  Everything was old and out of date though.  The windows and look of the default Gnome install was just ugly and plain.
I read about the latest wave of "Tiling Window Managers", which maximize productivity by using all available space on your monitors.  I started out with Awesome but found its configuration file daunting.  I then switched to i3wm, and have never looked back!
Then, I found out about the "Debian Testing" branch which keeps most packages updated.  This was a night-and-day difference!  Just FYI, they now have Jessie (codename for Debian 8) stable and in Release Candidate now as of Nov 2014.  So after some "issues", I decided to stand up a new VM.
By now, I was afraid of loosing all of my "hacks" and "settings."  So I evaluated and setup Dropbox to sync quite a few files (Documents, Sublime, Emacs, etc) using symlinks.  But mostly my config files are all inside of a ~/.scripts/ folder I created.  This folder I check into GitHub, to revision my scripts so I could revert.  Feel free to poke around: https://github.com/eduncan911/env-scripts/ 
The main thing that bugged me with these installs were the fonts - they were missing the fonts we all take for granted on Windows and OSX: Arial, Helvetica, etc.  It took a lot of searching around; but, I found that Microsoft releases a PPA (package) for all of their fonts for Linux (core fonts).  Helvetica - not available for free so you are SOL there unless you want to pay.  Once I got all the fonts loaded up, I then found out about a package called fontconfig-infinality. This sucker combined with the "osx" setting made all fonts rendering nearly perfect, compared to my Macbook's Retina!  
I hadn't rebooted my VM for close to a month, installing many packages for development, and one day decided to reboot... From that point, I lost anything resembling a graphical interface.  I later found out, after installing a new VM, that somehow my Launcher got corrupted.  I had already switched to a new VM when I found out how to fix my old one, so no big deal - I just used the new one.  Getting fairly easy to setup a new Linux for development now, keeping all scripts and packages in a "setup.sh" file I created.  And I have a separate one I created for work.
Anyhoot, I decided to give Ubuntu a try this time.  Took me a while after reading up on all versions to decide on Ubuntu 14.04 LTS - Long Term Support.  Wow, they had most of the "free" fonts I installed previously; their font rendering was pretty good out of the box; but mostly, their "Unity" graphical interface (built from Gnome roots) almost made me switch from my i3wm back to using floating windows.  Browsing the web still looked like crap; so, I had to install the Microsoft core fonts and that took care of the web (Arial handles 97% of the web, as it is a backup to Helvetica).  Unity was just different enough from Microsoft Windows to be ANNOYING, very annoying.  Specifically the menu bar placement (top of the screen, instead of ON the actual Window) and not always have closed/max/min buttons - they didn't always show up.  So, back to installing i3wm it was!
Along the way, I screwed up my font rendering somehow when coping my settings over from my Github account.  fontconfig-infinality didn't really fix it either, until I realized only "osx" and "osx2" options were working.  Odd.
If you have been keeping count by now, I am now on my 4th install of Linux.  Only now am I feeling comfortable about Linux, having been hacking on it for about a year for work.  
Something to keep in mind: this has been "for work" and for side projects, meaning I have to keep the machine up and running and productive.  This has proposed some interesting challenges to keep "productive" in Linux, opposed to say a home desktop you just want to have around to browse the web and read emails.  It forces you to get down and inside of your install to fix things, and fix them fast.  This urgency creates a high priority to find solutions to problems and configurations issues immediately, instead of letting them fester like you would on a home computer.  Take this into account if considering Linux for your home computer, as you normally won't be spending an entire day trying to fix a font rendering problem - you'd most likely just ignore it and consider Linux looks like crap (though Ubuntu seems to have fixed that with 14.04, and looks pretty dang good - you just need to install some Microsoft fonts from the Software Updater and be done).  
^- I think that paragraph speaks the best about Linux users: if for work, you have to find solutions.  But if for home, be ready to "learn" hacking on Linux.  If you have no time to invest to get the best out of your pretty Linux install, then Linux may not be for you.
Touchscreen (e.g. tablets) is nowhere near as nice as Windows 8/8.1 is on a tablet.  Ubuntu's "Android" Touch build is aweful on my Nexus 10.  Just FYI, I really like Debian's Jessie (Debian version 8 being released soon with the latest Gnome and GDM login screen) on a touchscreen device (my Thinkpad Helix).  Ubuntu's Unity tried to do too much and I found it really annoying on a touchscreen (more taps).  So there's a lot of ground there to make up.  I ended up going back to Windows 8.1 Pro on the Thinkpad as it was much nicer to me (trying to type all of those shell commands with an onscreen keyboard, eh...).
Summing up...
I'll end by saying that it takes some time to install, multiple times, to switch from Windows to Linux.  It's still a hacker's OS in that you're going to live in the command shell entering commands to get it the way you want.  They now have great hardware support for most devices, USB3, etc.  Graphics drivers work ok; but, it takes some hacking.
If it wasn't for sharing my VM between my Macbook Pro Retina and my kickass desktop (see sig) for work and side projects, and for my games (mostly just BF4 lately, but all other old games!), I would have formatted my desktop for Linux long ago.  I am still looking for an excuse to install Linux on everything I got (Lenovo Helix Tablet, Windows Media Center laptop, etc). 
As a matter of fact, with the latest Macbook Pro I got from work (late 2014), I only installed two things: VMware Fusion (for my Linux VM development image mentioned above), and Skype.  That's it!  Seriously, I don't use OSX at all except for some Safari testing now and again.  I would format it straight for Linux if it wasn't for company policies.
The next computer I build for my parents will be Linux.
Touchscreen needs vast improvements in Linux; so, we'll have to stick to Windows 8/9/10 for that for a while.
Now, it's just if more games would switch to Linux, that would round out my desktop.
After I get bored of Ubuntu, or if Ubuntu dies on me with me screwing up some config, I will be switching to ArchLinux next as I have been down in the bowels of my Linux kernel, compiling a custom kernel and dealing with partitions and such.  The ArchLinux install I tried previously had me doing all of that, and I wasn't familiar enough - well, now I am.
2015/06/12 10:12:22
Thanks for really explaining linux! :)
2015/06/13 05:04:24
I guess i's time for an update...

Ubuntu 15.04 came out and I was thinking of upgrading. I snapshotted the VM and upgrades... Everything broke. Restored the snapshot and tried again. Broke. Installed 15.04 fresh in another VM and started bringing over my tooling and hacks and just realized there was so much to hack around Ubuntu that I wasn't really using Ubuntu.

So... I decided to finally take the plunge into Arch Linux. Wow...

Let me start by saying if you take the next 2 to 4 weeks to read all about the install guide and what each component does, install Arxh Linux multiple times to finally get it "right", you will have core Linux and machine knowlegde you never thought you needed to know. For example, it will make u an expert of UEFI by the time you are done with the installation - because you got to know how to recompile your bootstrap when enabling that special kernel module.

At this point, here's what I recommend for newbies to Linux:

* if you don't care about Linux and just want it up and running, go with Ubuntu. You'll be set in a few hours without any knowledge.

Tech support though is all forums and community driven. Get ready for a few 1000 Google searches.

* If you really want to know Linux works, and how to maintenance your own machine for life, want to know how to fix Linux problems when they come up, want to understand why Linux is built the way it is (because YOU built it that way), then take several weeks and read the Arch Linux Installation guide for Beginners and research every component it tells you you need to configure. Then, install it.

At the end if an Arch install, you will know every piece of your Linux install inside and out and every config file and what is in that config file.

I'm now completely Arch and will never go back.
2015/09/09 03:51:52
I was thinking about this for my very, very old Dell GX620 since it doesn't have enough RAM for Windows 7 but I got a headache just looking at the search results. Ubuntu it is!

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