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Operating Systems Linux

Ask Slashdot: New To Linux; Which Distro? 573

Posted by timothy
from the pick-and-choose dept.
An anonymous reader writes "I'm a very new user to Linux looking for a distro that allows me to control and customize, but I'm not sure where to start. I had a friend install Ubuntu 12.04 on my computer, with the E17 window manager and somehow I managed to crash it during the copying of some non-important files and now my computer won't boot (the hardware's fine though). I've found descriptions of Arch Linux to be spot on to what I'm looking for and want (Slashdot user serviscope_minor mentioned Arch a couple weeks ago and it caught my attention), but my experience in the terminal is literally about an hour. That said, I really want to learn more, don't mind hard work, enjoy challenges, and am perfectly willing to spend hours and hours for months on end to learn command line. Any suggestions, projects to start with, books to read, or tutorials to do to try would be appreciated."
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Ask Slashdot: New To Linux; Which Distro?

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  • Reinstall Ubuntu. (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday March 24, 2013 @12:50PM (#43263877)

    Don't go looking for trouble. If you couldn't handle Ubuntu, Arch will drive you insane.

  • Xubuntu (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday March 24, 2013 @12:51PM (#43263885)

    Xubuntu. Customization + hardware support + debian repo. :-)

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday March 24, 2013 @12:54PM (#43263921)

    CentOS might be the best; it's a clone of Red Hat Enterprise Linux, without paid support. (Red Hat's stated position is that it doesn't mind CentOS's existence). So if you learn that, you'd be able to leverage that for job opportunities based on RHEL, which is the industry leader on the server side.

    One drawback: RHEL (and by extension CentOS) is oriented towards the enterprise rather than the consumer desktop; and towards the tried and true, rather than the latest and greatest. This is response to what its customers (IT administrators who have serious work to accomplish) have told them they're interested in. So it's probably not going to be a great platform for running games, for example - well it could be, but you'll have to be spend a lot of time downloading RPMs and trying to get things to work.

  • Linux Mint (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday March 24, 2013 @12:59PM (#43263967)

    If you're new to Linux, don't use Arch. Arch requires far too much hacking to get work and although I myself am a fan, a newbie will likely rage right back to Windows. The best casual distro right now is Linux Mint (With Cinnamon as a display manager) IMO. Linux Mint fixes what Ubuntu got wrong (Unity) and Cinnamon is a beautiful display manager with intuitive and familiar design.

    As for working with the terminal, you need some motivation to keep you revisiting. Personally, my motivation was coding in C using gcc as a compiler, and vim as an editor. If you are up for a 'fun' time learning, use Vim exclusively as your text editor.

  • Mint. (Score:5, Informative)

    by jedidiah (1196) on Sunday March 24, 2013 @01:04PM (#43264031) Homepage

    Mint is the new Ubuntu. They have been tweaking Ubuntu for years adding things that got left out by Canonical. Now that Canoncial has gone bat-shit crazy, they are in the perfect position to accomodate users that would otherwise be good candidates for Ubuntu.

    Or you could just go old school and just use Debian.

  • Re:Mint. (Score:5, Informative)

    by RudyHartmann (1032120) on Sunday March 24, 2013 @01:12PM (#43264085)

    The latest Mint is a Debian based distro too. Much better than that crazy Ubuntu distro.

  • Re:Reinstall Ubuntu. (Score:5, Informative)

    by Noughmad (1044096) <miha.cancula@gmail.com> on Sunday March 24, 2013 @01:52PM (#43264393) Homepage

    Arch leaves most of their packages as vanilla as possible.

    This the second best thing about arch, the best one being the first to get updates. See http://oswatershed.org/ [oswatershed.org] for comparison. I agree that it's the best experience I've seen, and I run it on all my computers.

    Unfortunately, Arch does want constant updates. And by that I mean constant. Many times I ran "pacman -Syu" immediately after a large update, and a few new packages showed up. As we probably all know, normal users don't want updates. They hate Windows update (well, who doesn't), and so they hate Linux updates as well.

  • Re:Debian (Score:5, Informative)

    by toygeek (473120) on Sunday March 24, 2013 @02:20PM (#43264555) Homepage Journal

    I came here to say this. Debian is a good OS and is as mainstream as you can get without lots of fluff and it Just Works. I like that its not a "flavor of the week" distro, its what "flavor of the week" is *based on*.

    The only other option in my book is CentOS, although I don't like it as much as Debian esp on the desktop. But, its the free version of RedHat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) which Fedora at least used to be based on.

    I answer these two distros because you mentioned that you want to learn- and these are, in my opinion, the best ones to learn on. Understand them, and inherently understand their derivatives.

  • Re:Reinstall Ubuntu. (Score:5, Informative)

    by chmod a+x mojo (965286) on Sunday March 24, 2013 @02:34PM (#43264629)

    It's Ubuntu. Don't take my bashing it the wrong way, it is a good thing to have an intro level distro for new users as well as pushing to make Linux more mainstream user friendly, but....

    The way Ubuntu does things is, in my opinion, insane. They track Debian unstable snapshots which is only minimally tested and then introduce their own bugs on top of the existing bugs in unstable, then try to iron out the worst of the bugs before the next point in the 6 month release cycle comes due. This does not lend itself all that well to making a truly stable user experience. You can even see that at work by tracking users reactions to releases, there have been flop releases that pushed users to jump ship to pure Debian ( seem look / feel / package management experience, just less general hand holding) or rolling back to previous releases and refusing to update.

      I know they can't really track stable since Debian has a much longer release cycle, but at the very least they should track testing. Testing generally has the worst of the major bugs worked out ( or the packages wouldn't have been able to move out of unstable ) while still remaining "fresh" enough with updated packages when not in release freeze.

    Secondly, it depends. With bug free code you shouldn't be able to crash an OS beyond repair un-intentionally, unfortunately Ubuntu, like every other piece of software out there, is not bug free. It is also possible to be updating sensitive files when doing something else causes a full blown kernel panic instead of a recoverable oops leaving said sensitive files in an unstable / un-bootable state. Not knowing exactly what the OP was doing at the time means we can't only point and say "it was this".

  • Re:Reinstall Ubuntu. (Score:5, Informative)

    by anagama (611277) <obamaisaneocon@nothingchanged.org> on Sunday March 24, 2013 @02:42PM (#43264681) Homepage

    As a long time Linux user, I agree wholeheartedly. ... For my main work computer (at home), I don't want drama, and I'm not intent on making any ideological points.

    This is totally valid after you've put in your dues. Let's face it though, even the most noob friendly distro occasionally requires mucking around with the command line and some other basic knowledge. For example, if you need to enable extended attributes in your fstab file, you'll get that done in no time flat because you know what fstab is, you know where to find it, and you know how to edit it either locally or by sshing in from another machine and using nano or vi or X forwarding a graphical text editor. These types of simple skills and many others are ones you built up years ago and rely on now probably without even noticing, which is why a fancy distro seems so foolproof. Secondly, when you run into a command you need to learn, you know how to go about learning what you need to know. These things seem obvious and easy once you "get it" but before you get it, they're major roadblocks.

    I'm using Fedora 17 on my desktop right now and subjectively, it feels totally easy -- like everything works out of the box -- except to install the nVidia drivers directly from nVidia there's this whole process involving changing runlevels and running nVidia's install script (even "./" can be a major learning hurdle for a newbie). Or getting multimedia to run -- it isn't hard if you know what you're looking for. So to me, Fedora 17 feels brain dead easy because I only had to do a few things manually, and I compare that to first time I tried to get X going on a 486DX (vague recollection of having to open my computer to figure out what stuff was in there so I could get it configured). Anyway, I install a modern distro and I'm blown away. Just boot up from a USB stick and wow -- "it just works." In reality, that is comparatively true, but not actually totally true.

    So, I can see some value in this guy who is just starting out, learning to do things the hard way. Eventually he'll get sick of the hard way like everyone does, but by that time, the noob distros he'll be using will feel totally easy because he won't even notice the one or two things he needs to do manually that don't automagically come out right.

  • Re:Install Gentoo (Score:3, Informative)

    by vargad (1948686) on Sunday March 24, 2013 @03:03PM (#43264807)
    My first Linux distro was Gentoo, after I failed with SUSE and Debian. I installed Gentoo more than 7 years ago. I still use Gentoo, moreover I still use _the same_ Gentoo, I never had a reinstall, just coping/moving the hard drive the system to the new computer. However it is important to note that Gentoo isn't the easy way to have a linux desktop. As far as I know Gentoo does not have _any_ installer you have to install it by hand in command line. After installing you get a command line, and You have to install and setup everything. It took me 2 days to get a desktop back then. Compiling is quite time consuming but it wasn't a problem at all back then, as I had to read a bunch of howts/tutorials/documentation. All in all it is a nice system, and easy to use if you know what are you doing. Nowdays Arch may have better documentation. The easiest option is using Ubuntu, but please do not use E17 if you don't know what are you doing. Ubuntu is quite similar to Windows, if something broke down you have to google for fix. On Gentoo if something broke down blame yourself, you did it, and probably you also know how to fix it.
  • Re:Reinstall Ubuntu. (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday March 24, 2013 @03:08PM (#43264833)

    This!

    Is quickly becoming a pet peeve of mine.

    First, why post if all you want to say is "I agree"?
    Second, why not take the extra effort of typing "I agree"?

    Though I suppose there is an internal consistency in your post. If you're lazy enough to limit your contribution to the discussion to essentially nodding your head, you're probably the kind of person who wants to blurt opinions with as little typing as possible.

    But just keep in mind that 'This!' by itself is meaningless, and you annoy me.

  • Debian (Score:4, Informative)

    by Tenebrousedge (1226584) <tenebrousedge AT gmail DOT com> on Sunday March 24, 2013 @04:25PM (#43265259)

    I like Debian. Linux Mint Debian Edition is a good option, although I am using Crunchbang on my netbook. The latter is based on Debian stable.

    Stability is the kind of virtue that you appreciate most in its absence. After an enthusiastic period of Fedora and Ubuntu use, I from time to time experienced issues with packages and drivers breaking on updates. These were usually resolvable, and forced a certain amount of CLI-foo on me, but there's only so many times one wants to wrangle with things that worked just fine yesterday.

    Stability means having outdated versions of packages; you miss out on the new features as well as the new bugs. However, it's also pretty trivial to install packages from unstable if you really need them, and if all else fails you can compile from source (which is usually a painless process).

    Ubuntu was certainly far less buggy than Fedora, and I certainly don't mind all you guys being Debian beta testers ;) but my choice of OS is going to be heavily informed by whichever one has the longest testing cycle.

  • How To Pick A Linux (Score:5, Informative)

    by Tenebrousedge (1226584) <tenebrousedge AT gmail DOT com> on Sunday March 24, 2013 @06:17PM (#43265917)

    It's much easier for you to specify your needs as there are hundreds of distros and packages that can be combined. To a first approximation pretty much all linux packages are available for all distributions.

    Beyond that, most linux distributions are based off some other distribution. The description of Kubuntu as "Ubuntu, but with the KDE desktop environment" is perfectly descriptive.

    So what distinguishes one distro from another? Besides what comes installed by default, the most significant difference is how those packages got there.

    Debian is probably the distribution that the greatest number of other distributions are based on. It has a very very long testing cycle; it takes packages years to get into Debian's stable branch. Ubuntu is based on Debian unstable, and a shit-ton of things are based on Ubuntu, including Linux Mint.

    Red Hat produces the next biggest family of linuxes. Fedora and Red Hat Enterprise Linux are more or less analogous to Debian unstable and stable, respectively, but I don't think very many people are dumb enough to try and base a distro on Fedora. CentOS is RHEL with the logo removed, and Scientific Linux is also based on RHEL.

    Next up we have Gentoo, Arch, Slackware, and Suse.

    I was going to put a joke about Gentoo here, but it's taking a while to compile. Gentoo is a rolling-release [wikipedia.org] distro where most of the packages that you use are compiled on and for your machine. You mention gcc, this is related, but you will probably not ever use it directly. Compiling packages yourself can make them run faster, but it can take a long time.

    Arch is a well-documented, rolling release distribution. I'm not sure what else to say about them honestly, but "well-documented" is one of the highest compliments I'm aware of.

    Slackware is the oldest and most "unixy" of the distributions. It uses an old bootloader, old unix-style boot scripts, and by default boots to a text terminal. You should use Slackware if you want to retreat into a cave for five years, to emerge with a profound knowledge of unix, a full beard, and a solid opinion on whether emacs or vi(m) is the best text editor. I'm pretty sure these things are highly marketable. No, really.

    Suse hasn't failed yet. The last time I checked, they had a wonderful, polished experience, and great admin/configuration tools. I have no idea why they don't have more users, except that there's already a shit-ton of options.

    It's probably fair to say that Debian stable, RHEL, and any derivatives will have the longest testing cycle, and fewest updates in any given span of time. There are many more distributions for more specialized purposes, such as BackTrack for pen testing, Puppy for small installations, Bodhi for those seeking Enlightenment. You may have to figure out what you need on your own there.

    Whew! Let's take a break for a minute.

    All right. So with all that in mind, you can install, as previously mentioned, pretty much all the same stuff on any and every distro.

    Here [engadget.com] is a guide on desktop environments. If you're a n00b, you're probably going to want one of those.

    We also have another guide [engadget.com] for more experienced users, or those on resource-constrained systems, that covers some of the more popular window managers. Because sometimes 2GB of gnome libraries gets a bit old. For the truly adventurous, this post covers 30 Window Managers in 30 Days. [crunchbang.org]

    Honestly, there's really a pretty limited amount of advice that one can give about using any particular distro. They're all substantially similar. Without any specific information about what you want to use, a recommendation becomes, well, exactly what you were complaining about. "Use XYZ bec

  • by Tenebrousedge (1226584) <tenebrousedge AT gmail DOT com> on Sunday March 24, 2013 @08:06PM (#43266589)

    To expand on a couple points:

    Some distros make it more or less easy to install rights-restricted software, like the stuff you need to play mp3s or DVDs. Neither Fedora/RHEL nor Debian allow nonfree software in their repos, but it's generally a fairly painless process to add a repo that does.

    Ubuntu will, IIRC, ask you during the install process if you want to install such things, and Linux Mint comes with the media codecs by default. For other distributions you should research this issue.

    Fedora and Ubuntu are the "big" distros, more or less, although Mageia seems to be climbing up DistroWatch lately. I had written off that project as dead when its Corporate Overlord bit the dust, but it's probably worth checking out. I hope I may say with enough accuracy that it is of similar quality to OpenSuse.

    Fedora and Ubuntu have the biggest corporate backing and are likely to represent the most polished experiences. Ubuntu has its own way of doing things, most notably they have implemented at least two desktop environments (Unity and UNR) and their own startup process. Startup tends to be one of those big differences between distributions, but it's something you can safely ignore as a n00b user.

    Fedora and Ubuntu use incompatible packaging systems, which tends to be irrelevant for a couple of reasons that aren't worth going over here. Generally you should figure that [a] any distro that is described as being derived from any other distro is package-compatible, and [b] it's very uncommon to need to install a package outside of your distribution's package management tools. We don't download software off websites, pretty much everything that you would ever want to install comes in the box.

    It's hard to come up with too many more big important differences between these things, really. Desktop environments make a pretty big difference. Distros, not so much, especially among the big players.

    Oh, and I forgot to mention. If you ever want to give yourself a real education in Linux, try Linux From Scratch. You'll probably even survive the experience. By contrast, slackware will be a friendly and trivial introduction, and Gentoo... ...sorry, my Gentoo joke is still compiling :(

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