Installing Linux can be done in a few ways, such as burning an image of the OS onto a disc, writing it to a USB, ordering a Live CD from online, formatting an SD card, or trying one out via Virtual Box. Ultimately though you cannot just install “Linux” and have a usable OS. Because Linux is just the kernel, you will need the other software as well that gives you graphical user interfaces, Internet access, etc… As previously mentioned, “distributions” of Linux exist. Distributions are versions of Linux containing preinstalled programs and a distinctive style and focus. A distribution takes the core of Linux and makes it into an entire operating system fit for daily use.
There are a mind-boggling amount of distributions. Some have specific purposes, such as Kali Linux for hacking, Sugar Linux for education, or Arch Linux for customization. Others are more general purpose, such as Ubuntu and Debian. Getting the most out of installing Linux means you will need to understand about different distributions and make a choice as to which will work best for you. Read the following sections to understand what a few of the most popular distributions are used for.
Ubuntu is the most widely known distribution at the time of writing. Throughout the 2000’s it gained popularity for being user friendly and intuitive. Based off of the earlier Debian distro, Ubuntu is very similar to Windows computers in use, meaning it is an excellent choice for the Linux newbie. Because of this, we will be installing an Ubuntu variant later in the book. Canonical Ltd is the company that actively develops Ubuntu- yearly versions updates mean that the OS is always up to date and usable with emerging technology. Despite this, Ubuntu still work on many older devices at a reasonable speed. Applications can be installed from a “store” of sorts, meaning that the beginning user does not need to understand the often complicated command line. Conclusively, the Ubuntu distro is a great choice for the first time Linux user, and you should install it to learn how Linux works without diving into the harder distros.
For more specific cases of computing, Ubuntu has various sub-distributions or “flavors”. These are distros that use Ubuntu as a base but have a different focus, such as Lubuntu’s emphasis on lightweight applications. Here are a few:
• Lubuntu – A version of Ubuntu designed to run on older hardware or computers with limited resources. The install file is less than 1GB, and the hardware requirements are much lower than standard Ubuntu. Use this distro for revitalizing older computers but while retaining the usability of Ubuntu.
• Ubuntu Studio – Ubuntu for artists including digital painters, sound producers, and video editors. Ubuntu studio is Ubuntu but with editing tools installed already.
• Kubuntu – Ubuntu reskinned with the KDE desktop environment. The look and feel of Kubuntu differs from the classic Ubuntu feel by providing a desktop environment that is more traditional to other operating systems.
• Xubuntu is another lightweight distro that is not as quite as bare bones as Lubuntu. Xubuntu sacrifices size and hardware requirements to provide an OS that works on old, but not too old computers. It certainly is more aesthetic than other minimal Linux distributions, and it also uses Ubuntu as a base for user-friendliness and familiarity.
• Ubuntu Server – A Ubuntu variant more suited to industrial and corporate needs, Ubuntu server can be run headless and provide functionality for other Linux systems in a network.
• Mythbuntu – A variant with TV streaming and live television programs preinstalled. This is a great distro for converting old computers into “smart TV” devices via Kodi.
In conclusion, the wide range of Ubuntu distributions mean that there is a beginner OS for everybody. It is highly recommended that you take advantage of the ease of use features and general familiarity contained within Ubuntu. It serves as a stepping stone OS, one that will gradually introduce you to Linux. Definitely install it as your first Linux experience.
Linux Mint is a highly used OS in the Linux world. “Powerful and easy to use”, Mint contains FOSS and proprietary software as well with the purpose of being a complete experience for Linux beginners. While not totally Linux-like, Mint is an excellent choice for a first-time alternate operating system. It consistently ranks among the most used operating systems ever, and its default layout is very similar to Windows facilitating a smooth transition into the Linux world.
Debian is one of the oldest Linux distributions, being created in 1993. Combining with the Linux philosophy, Debian keeps stability and solidity as the guiding development principal. Certainly the amount of time Debian has been around is an indicator of refinement, so those seeking an experience free of bugs and glitches can turn to Debian. Free and open source software also has a home in Debian, because most of the software contained within is FOSS. This does not mean that you are limited, though, because there is an official repository of non-free software for proprietary programs such as Adobe Flash. Debian is a decent choice for beginners, but Ubuntu still stands as the best introductory OS. Install Debian for stability, FOSS, and a wholly Linux experience.
Slackware is an OS that goes back even further than Debian. It stays close to the original Linux intent, meaning that you will have to install your own GUI and program dependencies. Because of that fact, Slackware is mostly for intermediate Linux users, as beginners will be confused at the unfamiliar methods. However, if you want to experience a Linux distribution that is closer to the UNIX roots, Slackware can provide for you.
Fedora is an OS more oriented towards workstations and business uses. Even Linus Torvalds himself is a user of Fedora, attributing to the operating system’s popularity and use. Fedora is updated very often, meaning that it is always up-to-date and on the cutting edge of Linux technology. Security and FOSS are also a focus within the OS, which is why it is commonly used on endpoint computers in small businesses. There could be a challenge with working with Fedora, though, so consider it as an intermediate OS.
Arch Linux is another distribution, but one that is mostly designed for experienced users. The OS comes as a shell of a system that the user can customize to their liking, by adding only the programs and services that they want. Because of this, Arch is difficult to set up, but a rewarding and learning experience as well. By building your own personal system, you will understand the deeper Linux concepts that are hidden from you on the higher level distributions. Install this advanced OS after becoming very comfortable with the basics.
And finally, there is an abundance of other unique distributions that are worth mentioning. In the following list, we will talk about a few of them. Just note that there are so many distributions, this entire book could be filled describing each and every niche use.
• CrunchBang – A Debian-based distribution that aims to be less resource intensive. It is simple and without some of the bloatware that some distributions include by default. CrunchBang can run fast and be efficient at computing.
• Android – The popular phone OS is actually a Linux variant. Since many phones have lower specifications than full desktop PCs, the OS is a great choice for laptops, touchscreen devices, or home media computers. Furthermore, you can use many of the Google Apps from the Play store, meaning that thousands of apps, games, and utilities are available to be used on your phone and computer. While it is not recommended as your first Linux OS, it is definitely a neat choice for experimenting with older computers or children’s PCs.
• Chrome OS – Another mobile-type OS developed by Google, Chrome OS is essentially a lightweight Linux browser meant for online use. Google has this OS preinstalled on their ChromeBooks, which have lower specifications than other laptops. But the OS is really only a full screen Chrome browser, so the OS is perfect for users wanting an uncomplicated experience or a dedicated Internet machine.
• Tiny Core – An OS measured in megabytes, Tiny Core is for antique computers or embedded devices. This OS is mostly for intermediate users that have a hobby project or dedicated purpose in mind.
• Damn Small Linux – Another minimal Linux variant, this OS is best for quick access to a Linux command line.
• openSUSE – This is a distribution for experienced computer users. With many tools for administrators and program developers, openSUSE is the best OS for users confident in their skills.
Positively the number of operating systems based off of the Linux kernel is astounding. With a huge amount of choices, you might be confused as to where to start and how to install it. When in doubt (and as we will demonstrate shortly), install Ubuntu or one of its variants. The OS is great for beginners and makes the Linux transition smoother. But as you increase in skill and wish to learn more about Linux, you can always install another operating system.