Which Linux Distribution?

I am making the assumption that you are new to Linux and would like a few pointers as to which Linux variant would be good for you. To clarify Linux is just a kernel, a clever bit of code which draws together the resources of your hardware. A Linux distribution has a linux kernel and oodles of software which does what you want. With Linux you have choice, an unfamiliar concept to most.

The key items you need in a Linux distribution are:

Ease of use. It should not assume you are a Linux guru and that you know your way around all the intricacies of the system.

It should look good.

Easy system management

Oodles of software to choose from.

A nice community which will help you if you get stuck.

There are roughly 500 different Linux distributions out there, of which I will draw your attention to half a dozen for you to evaluate. Remember you have choice and therefore it is your selection which matters. You can try any Linux distribution on your system without installing it. It will not harm your system or alter it, as long as it is a “live” system.

The reason there is so much choice for Linux is simply that people can adapt software to their needs without restriction. You can legally do this and will not end up in court, and it is actively encouraged. Linux distributions are complex and so groups get together to draw on what they see as being right. Specialists develop individual parts of software as they wish. For example Linus Torvalds is the chief kernel developer, and that is all he does. He chooses to use Linux on his desktop, and chooses his personal favorite on which to do his work.

I will highlight some Linux distributions for you to try, together with pointers where you can download them from and get more information.

Your first port of call is www.distrowatch.com where you will find links to all Linux distributions and reviews. Note on the right side a ranking of most looked up Linux distributions. To download any use the links to go to the main site of a distribution, and then to the download page. More on this later.

For a good general purpose Linux distribution which will run on a fairly modern machine (say with 2GB of RAM or memory) try Mint or PClinuxOS. Both of these are excellent and easy to use.

For a machine with less memory, say 500MB of RAM, try the LXDE or XFCE desktop variants which are less demanding on hardware. These desktops still look good and use the same software.

For very old machines with tiny amounts of memory (old XP machine?) try AntiX or Puppy. Those distributions look good and work well on old computers.

Other distributions of note albeit more specialised are:

Centos or Scientific Linux – These are Red Hat clones and are for “enterprise” users. If you want to try them go ahead. (Note if you want Red Hat it will cost you at least £1,500 per annum for support. You can use a clone for free if you wish.)

Knoppix (or Adriane) – Special mention to Knoppix which is the original “live” linux distribution. Klaus Knopper is now focusing on Linux for the blind, yes you read that right. Adriane (his wife) is chief tester for this distribution which speaks back what it “sees”. Worth trying out just to “see” this one.

How to try a Linux “live” distribution

To run a Linux distribution as a “live” system is easy when you know how.

1. Download the .iso image from the distributions download site. (go to www.distrowatch.com)
2. Verify that you have a good image downloaded. You need to check the md5 or sha1 checksums are correct. Your file manager may bring up the long line of numbers for you to check against.
3. a) Burn the .iso image to a dvd slowly, and let the software check it has done so correctly.
b) Use something like unetbootin to put the .iso onto a usb thumb drive.
4. Look very carefully for the first screen which pops up when you start your machine. Blink and you will miss it. If you can press the Pause key try that to stop it. Look for something which may say F12=Boot. The key to press will vary for each computer. Hit the right key at the right time and you will see a screen giving you the choice of where to boot your computer from. Select cd/dvd if you are using that, or USB drive if you have that. Make sure the cd/dvd or usb are in place before you get to the boot options screen. Once selected and you press Enter the Linux system will boot (and as long as it is a “live” system it will not touch your existing system).
5. Once the Linux “live” system is up explore it and test out things such as wireless and printer. Evaluate it on your own terms.

Note – If you have a Windows8 Metro system you will need to disable UEFI before most Linux distributions will run or can be installed. Sometime this is not possible. Hello European Monopolies Commission, please note this egregious abuse by Microsoft and fine them some more.

Remember Linux is simple although if you are new to it it will be unfamiliar. There are many self help groups scattered around the world so you can easily reach out for help if needed. Enjoy your journey.



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