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Ask Slashdot: New To Linux; Which Distro? 573

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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  • SuSE (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Rydia ( 556444 ) on Sunday March 24, 2013 @01:52PM (#43263891)

    SuSE has the best installation and configuration utility and has a ton of helpful user-run repos for packages. It also has builds for basically every windowing system, so you can pick your preference without any hacking, and when you do want to get down to brass tacks, the system will get out of your way (now that suseconfig is gone) and let you tinker as much as you please.

    And when you screw everything up (half the fun, right?), it ships with a fantastic system repair tool to get you back on your feet. You can also use SuSE Studio to make a custom image if you have weird hardware.

    It's a really great linux experience.

  • by arekin ( 2605525 ) on Sunday March 24, 2013 @01:56PM (#43263947)

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

    1000 times this.

  • Debian (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday March 24, 2013 @01:58PM (#43263959)

    Most other distros copy it anyway, might as well get the real McCoy.

    If you're concerned about software freedom, consider is gNewSense, a Free-only debian derivative.

  • Start slow (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday March 24, 2013 @01:59PM (#43263965)

    I would suggest - Install Ubuntu with unity (or kde or gnome ..) for starters ... install Virtualbox and do full Archlinux installation there (up to desktop manager etc, so that everything is running and working and you know how you got there).
    Then you will be able to use terminal a bit and can install Archlinux on the system itself. Day to day usage of Arch normally does not involve much work on terminal.

  • Grenade!! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by RedHat Rocky ( 94208 ) on Sunday March 24, 2013 @02:00PM (#43263975)

    Very touchy topic, which distro to run.

    I think Ubuntu is an okay start for you, mostly because it will mostly work and there's plenty of help (including various levels of help) for you to use.

    Problem one for you:
    1. You caused the boot issue. How?

    2. Fix it.

    This will start the learning process, a large part of Linux for me is it leads to learning. It's all there for one to figure out, eventually.

  • by Gordonjcp ( 186804 ) on Sunday March 24, 2013 @02:01PM (#43263991) Homepage

    And a bunch more times, and I *like* Arch. I still switched back to Ubuntu for my primary desktop and laptop though, because Arch seems to spend half its time broken in some weird and mysterious way because of an inadequately-tested package somewhere.

  • Re:Seriously. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by pijokela ( 462279 ) on Sunday March 24, 2013 @02:03PM (#43264007)

    Somebody has to actually answer the question for there to be good pages for google to find. This sort of thing also ages pretty quickly, so I think it's worth reanswering at least yearly. Finally, this guy seems to want something that will teach him interesting stuff - not just something that has working flash etc.

    So I definately think that this is a good question for SlashDot.

    And personally I would recommend reinstalling Ubuntu. If you only have an hour of experience with the command line you probably haven't noticed that underneath Ubuntu is just about as "Linux" as any other Linux. Reinstall it and this time create a separate /home partition so that reinstalling the next time will not be painful. And then, learn to program - that's a nice 10 year project. :)

  • by AliasMarlowe ( 1042386 ) on Sunday March 24, 2013 @02:07PM (#43264051) Journal
    And, as pointed out in the Firehose: if you crashed an OS (be it Windows or OSX or Linux or BSD or anything) by moving some files around, then either (i) they were not unimportant files and you must have been running with privilege escalated, or (ii) you have some kind of hardware problem, which could be intermittent.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday March 24, 2013 @02:08PM (#43264053)

    Oh, nonsense. If you are moderately technically competent, the distros which try to be "user-friendly" are usually the worst, as you have to get used to all their complex quirks and custom methods.

    Something simple like Slackware or Debian stable is a much healthier and less frustrating learning experience.

  • by kawabago ( 551139 ) on Sunday March 24, 2013 @02:10PM (#43264067)
    Test the different distros live disks to see which works best in your situation. Then install it.
  • Live distribution (Score:3, Insightful)

    by zoefff ( 61970 ) on Sunday March 24, 2013 @02:10PM (#43264075)

    Since you're good at breaking stuff :-), try out one of the live distributions: put it on a flash disk, boot it and play around. [].

    And enlightenment is best to be obtained via bodhi linux.

  • by ZeroPly ( 881915 ) on Sunday March 24, 2013 @02:11PM (#43264081)
    As a long time Linux user, I agree wholeheartedly. I started with Slackware before version 2.0 came out, in the early 90's. I used Slackware for years, then Red Hat, and nowadays Ubuntu. If you want to be cool and different, yeah, there's plenty of niche distros out there. For my main work computer (at home), I don't want drama, and I'm not intent on making any ideological points. I just want Gnucash, LibreOffice, etc. to run reliably, updates to be easy, and maintenance time to be a small fraction of usage time. Ubuntu works great for that. If you want to experiment, throw a distro on a VM, or on a spare test machine.

    Yes, there's lots of discussion about GUI and the direction Canonical is heading in. I don't care. I have an Ubuntu Server 12.04 box as a firewall in my basement, another Ubuntu Server 12.04 box right next to it for DNS/DHCP/file shares, and Ubuntu Desktop 12.04 on the computer I'm posting this through. Works great, excellent uptime, and upgrades/installs are fairly fool-proof.
  • by 1u3hr ( 530656 ) on Sunday March 24, 2013 @02:12PM (#43264087)

    Ubuntu has a command line, as many as you want.
    Every distro does.Just open a terminal.

    It just has a lot of glossy tools as well.

    It's hard to get a more hands-on Linux installed and working correctly for a newbie. Ubuntu is pretty foolproof to install. Then you have an environment you can learn in.

  • Re:Seriously. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Internal Modem ( 1281796 ) on Sunday March 24, 2013 @02:21PM (#43264167)

    I hate following a link from a search engine, just to see a snarky "go to a search engine" reply for the question I searched.
  • Re:SuSE (Score:2, Insightful)

    by sl4shd0rk ( 755837 ) on Sunday March 24, 2013 @02:22PM (#43264177)

    SuSE has the best installation and configuration utility

    Not to be a dick, but SuSE is the last distro any Linux enthusiast should be suggesting. Their microsoft pact f#cked the rest of the community[0]

    Everyone who was using Ubuntu switched to Linux Mint[1] after Shuttleworth decided Amazon needed to know what you do online.

    [0] - []
    [1] - []

  • by fermion ( 181285 ) on Sunday March 24, 2013 @02:22PM (#43264183) Homepage Journal
    Seriously. Walk before you run. Use Ubuntu to learn, and then move on. If you want to play with lots of different *nix just to lean, install Ubuntu, intall Virtualbox, then install anything else as a virtual machine. That way you can play and learn and if something borks just reload the backup image.

    The thing is that *nix, unlike say MS WIndows, is set up to do useful work, so some of the vanity customization is not there are is other OS. Also, although there are many managers, some are more useful than others.

  • by XaXXon ( 202882 ) <> on Sunday March 24, 2013 @02:23PM (#43264187) Homepage

    you probably didn't crash it copying some unimportant files. Linux doesn't play that game.

    The best way to learn is to fix what you've broken. That's how I learned linux.

  • by rsk ( 119464 ) on Sunday March 24, 2013 @02:31PM (#43264253)

    I haven't posted to SD in years, but felt compelled to brush the cobwebs off and reply to your question...

    1. This is a semi-religious question, so you are going to get a lot of vitriol in some of the responses; ignore it.

    2. Gentoo is the "dive in the deep end, with weights tied to my feet and battle my way back to the surface" answer to your question. You build everything. You won't just learn the command line, you'll learn build tools, config scripts, environment vars, libraries, manual dependency management and more. I DO NOT think this is the right choice for you right now given how new you are to all of this. This will be the "death by a thousand paper cuts" experience that runs the risk of driving you crazy after 3 days of work and you still don't have a GUI running because of some esoteric error that you don't understand.

    That said, if you insist that this is how you like to learn, go for it. The community/forums are very helpful and PACKED with information. If you do this, mentally prepare yourself for days and days of an unbootable machine. Reformatting and reinstalling over and over again. Getting a boot loader wrong, not installing Grub right, killing your install that was almost working perfectly because you changed a VGA boot option and now everything hangs... just prepare for these KINDS of things. Don't go in thinking "Awesome, I'll get this done in a day and have GNOME running" -- you won't, and if you do, something weird will break it out of no where and you won't have any idea what to do so you'll need to start over again.

    I am not trying to scare you, just setting the expectation. If that sounds like heart-burn city, move onto my next suggestion.

    3. Arch Linux -- You already mentioned this in your post and I just want to confirm that I believe THIS is the right choice for you. It is the perfect middle ground between Gentoo and something like Ubuntu -- you do get to know the ins and outs of the system, without the compiling/building/dependency pitfalls of Gentoo. This is an EXCELLENT place to start, get really familiar with everything and grow from (either down to Gentoo, or out of system management entirely into something like Ubuntu).

    4. Ubuntu / Fedora -- Use these if you want a working computer, want to "try" Linux with a nice GUI and slowly become familiar with the underlying system through SOME GUI tools, mostly command line and have tons of support for your hardware. This is the "Mac"-esque experience you can get in Linux, in that you can live in the GUI all day if you want, but there is an underlying CLI/Unix world there under the surface if you want to mess with it.

    5. Mint / SUSE / Kubuntu / Slackware / Whatever -- I have always seen these as different flavors of the same things listed above. I'd start with the primaries first and go from there.

    Have fun!

  • Re:Seriously. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by aoteoroa ( 596031 ) on Sunday March 24, 2013 @02:35PM (#43264283)

    Somebody has to actually answer the question for there to be good pages for google to find. This sort of thing also ages pretty quickly, so I think it's worth reanswering at least yearly. Finally, this guy seems to want something that will teach him interesting stuff - not just something that has working flash etc.

    I'm not sure the question has a straight answer. It reminds me a little of when I asked my dad about how to evaluate a good wine (about 20 years ago) I expected him to educate me about legs, tanin, body and other quantifiable methods for evaluating a wine. Instead he said it's quite simple drink a lot of them and after a while you start to develop preferences.

    In the late '90s and early 2000's I took the same approach to Linux and installed nearly every distribution I could get my hands on. Back in the day they were varietes of Red Hat, Mandrake, Corel, Slackware, Gentoo, Debian...after a while you develop preferences and one distro doesn't fit all needs. To this day I prefere slackware servers, ubuntu desktops, and ipcop for routers/firewalls. But everybody will have their own preferences./P

  • Re:slackware (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymice ( 1400397 ) on Sunday March 24, 2013 @02:52PM (#43264397)

    You jest, but what's the old adage? "If you want to learn Debain, use Debian. If you want to learn Linux, us Slackware."
    (replace "Debian" with your packaged distro of choice)

    It really depends on what your aim is. Is this for personal use, or career/study? If the former, then go the Ubuntu/Mint route as most people are is suggesting, but if the latter, then throw yourself in the deep end & learn to swim.
    The major desktop distros are so stable now that you will rarely, if ever, need to delve under the hood. This won't teach you "Linux". If someone sat you down at a terminal, or with a distribution you had never used before, you'd be completely lost. But if you go for a system that requires you to get your hands dirty, then you will learn very quickly.

    The lessons you learn with Slackware will be transferable to every Linux/POSIX environment you find yourself in.
    The lessons you learn with Ubuntu/CentOS/$distro will only teach you how to use that particular distro.

  • by Jane Q. Public ( 1010737 ) on Sunday March 24, 2013 @02:53PM (#43264409)
    This. BUT personally I go with Kubuntu. KDE is the interface with "least surprise", and you don't have to worry about what direction vanilla Ubuntu is going with Canonical's frankly bizarre ideas about window management.
  • Re:SuSE (Score:0, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday March 24, 2013 @03:13PM (#43264511)

    You couldn't sound any more like a frothing, idiotic zealot if you tried. People such as yourself destroy your own community with stupid ranting like this.

  • Re:SuSE (Score:4, Insightful)

    by volkerdi ( 9854 ) on Sunday March 24, 2013 @03:17PM (#43264533)

    Not to be a dick, but SuSE is the last distro any Linux enthusiast should be suggesting. Their microsoft pact f#cked the rest of the community[0]

    What were the terrible effects of that agreement? I'm having trouble remembering any. Everyone ran around screaming that the sky was falling, but it didn't fall. Just sayin'.*

    * it is necessary to end with "just sayin" when replying to any statement that begins with "not to be a dick"

  • by dn15 ( 735502 ) on Sunday March 24, 2013 @03:23PM (#43264575)

    You could save a lot of time by trying different distributions via Live CD/DVD. (Many distros install discs actually double as an installer and a live CD.) Obviously you don't want to do this long-term but it would be an easy way to test drive and see which stock interface appeals to you before jumping in.

    I'd definitely go with a major distro so that it's easy to find setup/troubleshooting instructions online. Different distros may store files in different locations so even though all Linux flavors are largely similar, it can be really frustrating trying to look for a certain config file and realizing it's not in the same place as the directions say it should be. Once you're more experienced you'll know where to look but it can be a deal breaker when you're just getting started.

    Some to look at are Ubuntu, Mint, and Fedora. Personally I prefer Debian-based distros but that choice is probably not very relevant until you start diving deeper into things.

  • Re:Xubuntu (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday March 24, 2013 @03:33PM (#43264627)

    This is my problem, and perhaps the article submitter's as well: people here say "flavor X" or "flavor Y" cos "Z repo" or "W window manager" but nobody says why Z repo is good and F repo isn't. I understand, this is slashdot and you all want to look l337 and act like the whys are obvious to everyone, so....

    Is there some website out there that spells out the pros and cons of each different package and window manager, wtf are updates important or not, wth is a gcc, etc.? Not for you guys who know everything of course, but for us noobs who don't have time to try out every single package mentioned on slashdot and would like to narrow down our choices to a few based on our specific needs.

  • by Runaway1956 ( 1322357 ) on Sunday March 24, 2013 @04:08PM (#43264831) Homepage Journal

    The anonymous submitter implies that he has time to play around, and to learn. He suggests that he is aware of the concept of learning curves, and that he is willing to study, and to work.

    Such a person might benefit from Arch or Gentoo. Such a person will be more competent than I am at the end of a year of such serious work. More competent than some other folk on here who think they know it all, I suspect. Some of us just don't have the time to invest to be that good. Others of us just aren't that smart. And, face it, some of us just don't think the right way, no matter how smart we are.

    Personally, I started on Suse, because that was the first distro that I managed to find all the drivers for, and made it actually work on my hardware. The learning curve was only moderately steep, and I managed. Had the curve been steeper, I may well have failed.

    I'm also a distro hopper. I really suggest that people install a dozen or more distros, and make note of what they like about each, make note of what they do not like about each. I was on Ubuntu for awhile, and I might have stayed on it longer, if they hadn't moved to Unity.

    Presently, I'm running Linux Mint Debian. I think it offers the best of all worlds. It's pretty simple, and doesn't require a lot of customization. But, it is quite customizable - I can change anything I want, anything, to work the way I want it to. It's not-quite cutting edge, but rolling release keeps it close to the cutting edge - or close enough for me. There are several desktops to choose from, of course - and Mate is my choice. It's very much like the first desktop I worked with on Suse, years ago. Sometimes, familiarity is a good thing.

    But, until a guy has fooled around, at least passingly, with several distros, he can't even know what it is that he wants from a distro. The things that I think are great about LMDE may mean absolutely nothing to someone else. Real gurus often tell us that they have no use for the "fancy" desktop environment which I prefer.

    Install something, anything, and drive it for a few days, even a week or two. Nuke from orbit, and try another distro. Repeat until you think you actually know what you expect from a distro, then shop around for the distro that offers what you expect.

    I'll mention Sabayon Linux here. It's a very user-friendly Gentoo derivative. I ran it for a couple years on one machine, until the hardware crapped out. I just haven't reinstalled it on anything since.

  • by s1d3track3D ( 1504503 ) on Sunday March 24, 2013 @05:11PM (#43265167)
    I disagree.
    Since you have stated you have time and want to learn, now is the perfect time. I think you should install the smallest possible linux GUI-less and just run in terminal mode for a while. Learn to do everything without a GUI.

    Set up an email client (Mutt), use a web browser, (Lynx or links), set up an IM client, etc, there are GUI-less apps in linux for everything. (also, set up Apache, MySQL, etc)

    Yes, it will suck for a while but you will really learn this way, then you can run any distro you want and you'll probably have decent sys admin chops once your done. (I'd go for debian, I think you can still get a single CD ISO base system. (then, right off the bat this will teach you to use apt.

    Good luck and enjoy!
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday March 24, 2013 @06:53PM (#43265785)

    Agree wholeheartedly. I selected Ubuntu Linux because I wanted to focus on accomplishing tasks as a normal person despite years of experience with GNU/Linux.

  • by higuita ( 129722 ) on Sunday March 24, 2013 @11:14PM (#43267203) Homepage

    If the user really want to learn and don't mind reading and experimenting, slackware is a perfect distro!

    unlike ubuntu, where you have almost everything configured and hidden in GUIs and several mysterious layers of "user-friendliness", slackware is simple and direct.
    there is no hidden config and the few user-friendly menus are just plain bash scripts, easy to read and understand. for a user that wants to learn, this is precious, as the KISS principle makes things isolated and easier to learn, step by step
    Even the package manager is just a script to execute tar, you only have standard unix tools, and so, you will learn the unix way: do one thing, do it well

    slackware is ready to use after install, but everytime you need something, you have simple scripts, good and commented config files and a great community.
    missing a program? great, grab the sources and compile... you dont know how? great, you will learn (usually its just wget url/program.tar.gz; tar zvfx program.tar.gz; cd program; less README; less INSTALL; ./configure --any-option-you-may-need-or-like && make ; su ; make install).
    in slackware there is no -dev packages, everything is there, ready to compile everything.

    yes, one apt-get install program is faster, but you dont learn anything with that, and you learn a lot by installing a program by hand.

    Everytime you hit a problem, stop and research, learn about it and you will understand why are you doing it instead of "copy&paste" a new ubuntu PPA repo

    After learning slackware, you will do well in all other distros... learning ubuntu, you still dont know anything when using other distros

    you have a working system, just like you want? fine, start thinking in new things, like web server, database, firewall, proxy, etc
    in each idea, you will learn more.

    After playing with slackware, you can jump forward to debian or arch (or using sbopkg on slackware) to have a easier system for day to day usage, or jump to LFS (Linux from Scratch) to learn the lower level of a linux system.

    Documentation, you have the slackware book: [] and the foca linux (Portuguese, but is very complete and you can use the translator): []

    After playing with slackware, you not only will understand how many things work, but also learn how to think about and solve a linux problem, how to search for logs and errors messages and read man pages and howto's

    This is a difference between a desktop user (ubuntu) and advanced user or linux administrator (slackware, but also gentoo and arch).

    but hey, take the test: []

  • by adolf ( 21054 ) <> on Sunday March 24, 2013 @11:16PM (#43267215) Journal

    You still install Windows updates on a new install the old fashioned way? [] and don't look back: Push the button, come back later. It self-reboots and just sorta gets it done.

  • by rubycodez ( 864176 ) on Sunday March 24, 2013 @11:18PM (#43267231)

    Debian is my favorite distro - for servers. it is absolutely not suitable for a desktop for a novice. in fact, I have decades of Unix administration and systems programming experience and *I* don't even use Debian for my desktop. Debian has too many rough edges in the desktop realm, and as of 2013 A.D. there are still useful non-free wares for which free software doesn't exist. sorry, but that's the real world. Don't tell a novice he must suffer and waste hours of time and have incomplete functionality for getting stuff done because it's against your RMS-religion. That non-free software of which you have so much contempt will help the novice (as it does me) get stuff done. I wish there were free alternatives, but there are not. The real world is not as nice as we'd like.

  • by Lotana ( 842533 ) on Monday March 25, 2013 @04:01AM (#43268321)

    Since you have stated you have time and want to learn, now is the perfect time. I think you should install the smallest possible linux GUI-less and just run in terminal mode for a while. Learn to do everything without a GUI.

    While I do agree that this is a guaranteed way to learn all the aspects of the new system, for a completely new user this borders on masochism.

    My recommendation would be to get something simple and stable (Debian Stable is a perfect example). Have the system up and running with XFCE GUI and a familiar browser like Firefox (Since you will be searching Google A LOT, you better be comfortable with the browser).

    After that is done, have the terminal window up at all times and try to do as much as possible using it. If he gets frustrated, alt-tab to Firefox/Iceweasel/Konqueror and get help or fall back to using the GUI. Being stuck on minimal version of Linux with terminal only is a very good way to run into an issue and give up in frustration.

"What the scientists have in their briefcases is terrifying." -- Nikita Khrushchev