Which Linux Should I Use?¶
Unlike Windows or OS X, there are several different “flavors” of Linux you can use. We call them “Linux distributions”, or “distros” for short.
An operating system is made up of many different pieces that come together to form a whole. There’s the “kernel” (the core of the operating system), which is always Linux. But there are lots of other different parts, like the user interface, software for managing network connections, etc.
A Linux distribution simply chooses all of the pieces required to form a usable operating system. The distribution glues everything together, making sure everything works properly.
Linux distributions also provide ways for you to install software. On OS X or Windows, when you need software you probably search the web, download an installer, and run it. Linux distributions, on the other hand, make their own “installers” for most programs you might want to use. They usually have “package managers” that let you install these programs with a single command. This is typically easier, safer, and faster than installing (and updating) software on OS X or Windows.
There are tons of choices of distribution, with names like Ubuntu, Debian, Mint, Fedora, Arch Linux, and Gentoo (to name a few). With all these choices, how do you know which one to use?
If it’s your first time using Linux, use Ubuntu. It’s a fairly friendly place to start, and there’s tons of help available for it. Check it out here, or go straight to the downloads page (you don’t have to give them money to download).
Some people don’t like Ubuntu’s default user interface (called Unity). Thankfully, Ubuntu comes with a few different interfaces. These are the two most popular. These are just fine to use for your first time using Linux as well. You might want to Google for some screenshots to see which one you might like. - Ubuntu GNOME. - Kubuntu (that’s Ubuntu + KDE)
This ain’t my first rodeo¶
If you’ve used Ubuntu quite a bit and you’re familiar with the command line, you may want to try something new and exciting. Here are a few others:
Linux Mint is a distribution based on Ubuntu that tries to be even easier than regular Ubuntu. You probably won’t learn a ton by switching to Mint from Ubuntu, but it’s a new look and an easy to use distro.
For many who have familiarized themselves with Linux and want to learn more, Arch is a great next step. This distribution always has the latest, most up to date software. You can use nearly any desktop environment you’d like with it. The downside: you have to install it all manually and configure it all yourself!
However, this isn’t really a downside. Installing and configuring your own operating system is a great learning experience.
Other benefits of Arch include:
- Amazing documentation in the form of the Arch Wiki.
- Tons of software packaged in the Arch User Repository. No more messing with PPA’s for things like Spotify or Sublime Text!
- More than one HacSoc member uses it! (at the time of writing)
Arch is a pretty fantastic choice for somebody who is an intermediate Linux user and really wants to learn more. Make sure you leave yourself time to get lots of stuff set up, and probably debug a few problems. It’s wise to try installing it on a virtual machine or alternative computer first. Definitely don’t install it the day before you really need your computer for something! Also feel free to go to Glennan or Slack to ask for help about installing Arch (check out Hacker Society Communication Streams).
Debian is actually the distribution that Ubuntu is based on. You can learn a lot by simply using Debian instead of Ubuntu.
Do you love spending hours waiting for your web browser to compile? If so, Gentoo may be the distro for you!
Gentoo is a distribution similar to Arch Linux (you need to set up everything yourself). However, it has the added complexity that all your packages need to be compiled before they’re installed. This can take a very long time, but some people feel that it results in better optimized programs and a faster machine.
You should probably avoid Gentoo unless you’re really into Linux.