Linux newb checking out distros and general info

Skull_Angel

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Hello all. Finally looking into moving onto Linux for my primary build and trying to sponge up all the info I can about different distributions. I'm trying to find something simple and stable to get started with and thought Debian or Ubuntu Mate would be top choices. Current Pros for Debian are stability and relatively bloat free, while the main Pro for Ubuntu is up-to-date software/applications (rolling updates?). Can Debian's software/apps be manually updated to "current stable builds" with little hassle?

I've looked into Arch, and while it is very tempting, I don't believe I will chose it at this time because of the necessary involvement it seems to need. I have no issue putting in the time learning, but would like to keep time troubleshooting low. I enjoy tweaking and tinkering, but in the end I want things to work when I want them to since I don't have the free time that I use to.

I've taken a look into some of the different DEs that are available as well and really enjoy how Mate is setup. I've heard that trying to get a particular DE to work with a distro that doesn't come packaged with it can be a hassle, so I'm putting that option aside for now (doesn't mean I'm not open to other DEs).

Currently, I use my main rig for media/streaming, web browsing and gaming. Moving to Linux, I plan to add a bit of dabbling into development and/or playing with servers; likely use VMs for gaming (preferred) or have a secondary drive.
 

BulletDust

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VM's for gaming? Not as easy as you may think and still requires a copy of Windows.

However, there's no doubt some of your titles would be available natively on Steam under Linux and everything else you care to achieve is perfectly possible, as you would expect with any OS.

MATE, there's one distro that's my favourite that I always recommend. Approach things with the attitude that there's no reason why any other OS needs to mimic Windows, be open to learning new things, be patient and don't be afraid to ask questions before flying off the handle claiming that 'Linux is shit after 20 years' only to find that it's something you're doing wrong and you'll be fine.

Here to help where possible my friend.
 

Zuul

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I went for Ubuntu with XFCE. I am still a total noob after running Linux for only a couple of months, but the uphill battle of just learning all the basics is finally levelling out (ofcourse that depends on how much time you put in). That said I felt that I was ready to try another distro altogether so I installed Antergos (Arch). What the actual FUCK? Yaourt? pacman?! etc. etc. lol what a humbling experience.

My recommendation for all noobs: Pick a well documented, well supported distro and stick with it until you feel confident enough to try something else (and set your google-fu skills to 11.)
 

ChadD

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There are a handful of actual core distros... the type of distros that others end up based on.

Debian is one of the major core type distros... Ubuntu is based on Debian and everything based on Ubuntu is also debian based.
Red Hat is also one the largest and perhaps the most commercially successful distros. They sell the RHEL (Red hat enterprise linux) they support the Fedora project which is their test bed for newer Linux code.
Suse is another large commercial Linux provider... they support Opensuse as their free and up to date testing type distros.

When trying out Linux a few things to consider... Software is easy to get with all the majors. The idea that ubuntu has more software or debian or any other distro isn't to much of a consideration imo. Some smaller off shoot distros though will have fewer packages ready to easily be installed via their package managers.

Anyway you will find a lot of information just reading up on the subject... so here are a few of my suggestions if you are brand new and want to get a good feel for Linux. Most people that come over end up trying out more then a few distros before they find one that fits. So don't be discouraged if you decide a few aren't right... and don't beat yourself up if after a bit of distro hoping you end up back at one of the first few you tried. lol

When you pick a distro remember that the desktop environment is not Linux... its just software. Gnome is in many ways the defacto standard these days, it is the default desktop for pretty much all the major commercial distros, and there is good reason. They all spend a lot of money improving it and without a doubt its the best supported desktop right now. Having said that you can use any desktop, and every other desktop has its proponents and advantages. So I suggest trying out Gnome, but if its not your cup of tea its ok there are lots of other good options. KDE is the only other major (as in funded) desktop that isn't based on Gnome code. Desktops like Mate, and cinnamon are good desktops that are forks of Gnome. There are a few other DEs that are not Gnome or KDE based but they have smaller teams, XFCE is the biggest of the "other" projects and gets lots of love from users with good reason. There are also more niche windows managers like Open box... I would steer clear of those at first, they tend to be stripped down as far as possible and take a lot more tweaking to setup properly. Again at some point in your life with Linux they are worth looking into to understand and hey perhaps even use, but they are the equivalent of an advanced scouting badge... don't start there.

My main suggestion.
Manjaro -
Advantages:
- Arch based. Arch is its own distro of Linux, it is powerful and fast. Native arch is not the most user friendly of distros... however if you want to really understand Linux at some point (not your first install) get a Arch distro up and running, you will learn a few things about Linux. Don't however make Arch your first distro unless you are the type that won't get frustrated if things don't go perfectly or even well right away. :) So to Manjaro... is one of the most user friendly distros going right now. It has its own package manager with its own software package manager and database, however it still allows you to install ANYTHING from the Arch AUR. The AUR will build the software from code... the Manjaro package manager will take care of all of that for you, while still giving you the Option to get your hands dirty with build flags ect if you choose.

- Install using "non-free" drivers. ok let me just tell you something you won't hear at first from a lot of Linux users. Support for 3D GPU cards in Linux can be a pain in the ass. The free drivers for both AMD and Nvidia cards are fine for 2d stuff but lacking in terms of game performance. If you want to play games in Linux you will have to install Non-Free drivers from Nvidia or AMD. Depending on the distro this can be pretty easy... or a complete nightmare. In general the Ubuntu based distros require you to use a unofficial PPA (personal package archive) to install the latest GPU drivers. Some other distros can get down right ugly installing them... and some distros like say OpenSUSE Tumbleweed (suses rolling release) make it very painful having to recompile the kernel by hand with every driver update. Manjaro is one of only 2 distros I know of (the other being Mint) that allows you to install using the actual Nvidia or AMD driver right from the start... which saves you having to sometimes jump through hoops stopping and blacklisting the free drivers(which is going to require booting to a command prompt) to install the manufacturers drivers.

- Non free software... Manjaro is one distro that doesn't feel they have to install with nothing but free stuff. Lots of distros will not install with things like MP3 Support out of the box. They are not hard to find of course... but still Manjaro removes all of that, they will install pretty much all the codecs you may need. There isn't much extra to install when you first boot. One tip if you are planning to run Libre Office at all... almost every distro that installs it will install the hunspell spell checking libraries... but not an actual language file. So one of the first things I do in any distro is go to the package manager and type "hunspel" into the search. Likely you want a package that reads something like "hunspell-en_US 2017.01.22-2" (that is the current English one in Manjaro I just looked lol) if you want a different or additional languages the search should pull up lots of options in any of the distros.

- Rolling release. (with a small buffer) Ok rolling release means all the latest software is up for download. This will mean you have access to all the newest software the day changes get sent through. I mention a small buffer as Manjaro which is arch based does maintain its own package manager database... sometimes they will delay a patch here and there if they Know it will cause issues with something. I am not saying you will never have a brand new patch type issue... still the manjaro team does keep a few show stoppers from popping up. (and again you can always bypass that if you Choose too by simply installing the arch package instead).

- Newest kernel right away. You won't have to jump through any hoops starting up if you want to switch to the latest kernel. The current Manjaro is running kernel 4.9.22 from install which is the current LTS which is only a month old or so... upgrading the kernel later is easily taken care of from a GUI, being a rolling release you never have much of an issue upgrading kernels... and manjaro will even keep your old kernel around and allow you to boot from it as a backup. With manjaros setup you have no issues having 5 different kernels installed if you wish... although most people remove older kernels. (I suggest keeping the newest LTS kernel always installed just in case you ever need a fall back)

Manjaro is fast, new user friendly... and still advanced enough to keep even pros very happy. (I can't think of any reason to run Arch over manjaro even for a pro).

Outside of Manjaro... I would consider Fedora. Fedora is backed by Red Hat... and is a testing ground really for what will end up in the RHEL which is in my experience the most popular commercial version of Linux. OpenSuse has 2 free branches Leap and Tumbleweed. Leap is solid reliable and pretty popular if not as mainstream as distros like Fedora and Ubuntu. Tumbleweed is their rolling release... I did mention tumbleweed can be a pain with GPU drivers, so if you are looking to game and you are newer to Linux it wouldn't be my first choice. Still I mention suse cause as it really is a solid distro, rock steady and IMO perhaps a bit faster then the other commercial bent distros.
You will hear Mint mentioned a lot.. if you are thinking about running an Ubuntu based distro mint isn't a bad first install option. They also have an option to install using non-free drivers.

One last suggestion I will make... a bunch of these distros have live media downloads. So if you have 3-4 older 4gb or better USB sticks.... download a few and try them out that way. Of course they run better installed, still you should get a good feel for them.... if they boot no issues off a USB and find all your hardware and run with no issues you should be good to go.
 
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BulletDust

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One hell of a post ChadD! Well done!

May I add that any new user considering binary NVIDIA drivers and I believe AMD drivers should really consider an Ubuntu derived distribution due to the ease of installing the latest drivers via PPA. It's so much easier and trouble free compared to the old method of installing drivers by blacklisting Noveau, running the install script and restarting X.

I can't imagine installing drivers the old way anymore.
 
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ChadD

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One hell of a post ChadD! Well done!

May I add that any new user considering binary NVIDIA drivers and I believe AMD drivers should really consider an Ubuntu derived distribution due to the ease of installing the latest drivers via PPA. It's so much easier and trouble free compared to the old method of installing drivers by blacklisting Noveau, running the install script and restarting X.

I can't imagine installing drivers the old way anymore.

Also why I like to suggest Manjaro. It will install with those drivers already up and running... if your using an Nvidia card the Noveau (free) driver won't ever be installed, so there is never a need to blacklist it. :)

If you do go the Ubunutu way though Bullet is 100% correct... the PPA most people use isn't really official, but its darn close and is painless, compared to doing the same on the RPM (redhat / Suse) based distros.
 

BulletDust

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Also why I like to suggest Manjaro. It will install with those drivers already up and running... if your using an Nvidia card the Noveau (free) driver won't ever be installed, so there is never a need to blacklist it. :)

If you do go the Ubunutu way though Bullet is 100% correct... the PPA most people use isn't really official, but its darn close and is painless, compared to doing the same on the RPM (redhat / Suse) based distros.

Very good point my friend. Another thing I've noticed as late is that gdebi isn't installed under vanilla Ubuntu, instead relying on the Ubuntu Store to install .deb packages which seems to be resulting in issues at times. If anyone chooses vanilla Ubuntu, I recommend installing gdebi first thing by opening a terminal window [ctrl] & [T] and typing sudo apt install gdebi followed by your administrator password.
 
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Doward

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Don't install anything.

If you have a couple of distros in mind, pull down the LiveCD - You can boot an entire Linux distro from that LiveCD, to ensure that it will work with all of your hardware, out of the box.

Setting up hardware is the single biggest pain point in Linux (if it doesn't 'just work'), even today.

Distros I'll recommend for someone's first time in the Linux pool (welcome, btw!):

1. Linux Mint
2. Fedora (this was my first)
3. Ubuntu

Then you choose your DE (Desktop Environment) - KEEP IN MIND, any of these can be installed on *any* Linux Distro :)

1. MATE
2. Gnome
3. KDE (my first, and still my favorite, but you have a TON of options. That's the 'KDE Way' - give the user ALL THE OPTIONS

If you want to LEARN how Linux works:

1. LFS (Linux From Scratch)
2. Gentoo
3. Arch

Please, ask away with any questions you may have :)
 

Chuklr

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https://distrowatch.com/ is worth being aware of. If a new distro gets released then you'll find a news item about it on distro watch. Great for broadening your horizons :)
I am new to Linux and have found distrowatch.com to be a benefit and recommend it.

I agree with the suggestion to "test run" any candidate via the Live CD route.

I'm running Debian based RoboLinux on an older Dell Vostro 3700. RoboLinux has a built-in tool to move your Windows install to the built-in Virtual Machine. I made a conscious decision to not do this so I can't speak to specifics, but there is a video that takes you through the process on the RoboLinux.com site. The only "issue" I have is getting the onboard wireless to work, but I never intended to use wireless with this laptop.

With PCLinuxOS, a fork of Mandriva which is a fork of Red Hat, the wireless works.

So, to reduce "headaches", review all your hardware to determine if it supports Linux AND then do some digging to see how much "elbow grease" is required to actually get the hardware item up and functioning.

Hope this helps.
 

Vermillion

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Pick a DE and find the correct Ubuntu flavor or pick the appropriate flavor of Solus. Gnome (just released last nigt), Budgie, or MATE.
 

NoOther

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Hello all. Finally looking into moving onto Linux for my primary build and trying to sponge up all the info I can about different distributions. I'm trying to find something simple and stable to get started with and thought Debian or Ubuntu Mate would be top choices. Current Pros for Debian are stability and relatively bloat free, while the main Pro for Ubuntu is up-to-date software/applications (rolling updates?). Can Debian's software/apps be manually updated to "current stable builds" with little hassle?

Many builds today integrate the software into their package manager. You then have the choice to manually check for updates and install them, and/or set it up to do automatic update check. You can also configure certain things not to look for updates if you wish. For both Ubuntu and Debian (or any Debian derivative really), you can use command line to check and perform updates with the following commands:

sudo apt-get update # Fetches the list of available updates
sudo apt-get upgrade # Strictly upgrades the current packages
sudo apt-get dist-upgrade # Installs updates (new ones)


I've taken a look into some of the different DEs that are available as well and really enjoy how Mate is setup. I've heard that trying to get a particular DE to work with a distro that doesn't come packaged with it can be a hassle, so I'm putting that option aside for now (doesn't mean I'm not open to other DEs).

These are all personal choices really. It depends if you want something simple to use and familiar, or you want something infinitely customize-able. Personally I am a fan of KDE Plasma, but there are many out there, each with their own benefits and drawbacks. I would probably try a few different LIVECDs as others have mentioned that may use different DEs and see which one you prefer best. This will allow you to learn Linux and find the DE/Distro you are most comfortable with. Then you can install that and start pursuing your other goals with a full install.

I've looked into Arch, and while it is very tempting, I don't believe I will chose it at this time because of the necessary involvement it seems to need. I have no issue putting in the time learning, but would like to keep time troubleshooting low. I enjoy tweaking and tinkering, but in the end I want things to work when I want them to since I don't have the free time that I use to.

I would generally not recommend starting with Arch if you aren't looking to get your hands dirty and troubleshoot early on. There are some great distros with Arch though that you may want to look at once you start getting a good feel for general Linux commands.


Currently, I use my main rig for media/streaming, web browsing and gaming. Moving to Linux, I plan to add a bit of dabbling into development and/or playing with servers; likely use VMs for gaming (preferred) or have a secondary drive.

There are tons of options for all of those things in Linux. But if you want to start working with VMs, the best early options are probably VirtualBox and VMWare Player for their support and options. There are more options as you move more into virtualized systems, like KVM/Docker, Xen, etc.
 

Skull_Angel

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Wow! Thank you everyone for the information provided! I didn't expect such a wide response and it's a welcomed change from many "enthusiast" communities.

I'm currently checking out Manjaro on ChadD's suggestion and it's the most interesting to myself so far. Thanks for the heads up!

Again, I'm not against putting the time into getting it down, I just enjoy a bit of QOL ease-of-access a little more as I age, haha. But, Google-fu kicked into overdrive again!

Thanks for the suggestions about running a few live CDs as well. This should help decide, even if I am beginning to become set in what I'd like to get running.

I understand that getting VMs to run stable isn't going to be simple, but reading about a user in another forum experimenting with it to run windows based games with very little performance hit gave me the kick in the butt needed to finally move from considering Linux to jumping into it. I don't plan to do this off-the-bat, but it's like a safety blanket ensuring that I won't lose anything with a full move to a better OS.
 

Chuklr

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When you run the LiveCD/DVD option you might want to consider doing so on a USB flash drive. Sure saves on disks! :D
 

BulletDust

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I understand that getting VMs to run stable isn't going to be simple, but reading about a user in another forum experimenting with it to run windows based games with very little performance hit gave me the kick in the butt needed to finally move from considering Linux to jumping into it. I don't plan to do this off-the-bat, but it's like a safety blanket ensuring that I won't lose anything with a full move to a better OS.

Getting VM's to run stable isn't the problem, it's GPU passthrough that's the real problem. I'd actually recommend a separate drive dedicated to Windows and selected using the UEFI boot manager primarily for gaming under Windows where ports aren't available under Linux before I'd recommend GPU passthrough. Without GPU passthrough on a vanilla VM, performance is going to be woeful at best.
 

ChadD

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Getting VM's to run stable isn't the problem, it's GPU passthrough that's the real problem. I'd actually recommend a separate drive dedicated to Windows and selected using the UEFI boot manager primarily for gaming under Windows where ports aren't available under Linux before I'd recommend GPU passthrough. Without GPU passthrough on a vanilla VM, performance is going to be woeful at best.

I would second this. GPU pass through is possible but requires you have 2 GPUs and monitors. I agree completely with Bullet better to take an old HD and make it your dedicated windows drive. Yes rebootin isn't ideal... but its a great way to wean yourself off windows gaming. I still keep a win 7 drive myself for a couple MMOs that are I just can't get to run well enough in Linux. I can make them run and to be honest they don't run terrible but if I play those games its mainly just for PvP and hey 9-10 FPS and a bit better latency is worth the reboot and keeping an old drive dedicated to windows.

A few years back I rebooted for almost every game I played.... now days I really only reboot for GW2 and sometimes MarvelH and STO. Pretty much everything else I play is Linux native or wine gets the job done. I'm also an older gamer and still have the odd Dos gaming night. Dosbox runs great in Linux, if your into old classic dos games. (not that you can't run dosbox in windows) In Linux though create a /dos folder in your home and edit your dosbox cfg to use OpenGL, set res and have it auto mount , adding mount c ~/dos to the end of the conf file. Anyway not trying to off topic. If you have an integrated card by all means mess with GPU pass through if you want for fun... just be prepared for it to be a massive pain.
 

Skull_Angel

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ChadD - Ah ha, I was about to ask about integrated graphics before I got to the last line. I figured it wouldn't be easy for one reason or another; the user experimenting with VM gaming is planning on making a tutorial, so I plan to check it out and mess with it once I'm comfortable.

At the moment I've been playing Tera (lol) and a few other random F2P MMOs along with the Star Citizen alpha. While SC is supposed to eventually support other OSs, currently it's Windows only along with the other games. Nature of the games allows for lots of down-time so tabbing out to mess around is normal, but who really wants to tab-out to Windows? Haha. Another option for now is using an inexpensive laptop or second system to run Linux builds while getting comfortable, I think this may be the better option with the amount of empty desk space I currently have.

Chuklr - Thanks for the tip, that was the plan! :D
 

BulletDust

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ChadD - Ah ha, I was about to ask about integrated graphics before I got to the last line. I figured it wouldn't be easy for one reason or another; the user experimenting with VM gaming is planning on making a tutorial, so I plan to check it out and mess with it once I'm comfortable.

At the moment I've been playing Tera (lol) and a few other random F2P MMOs along with the Star Citizen alpha. While SC is supposed to eventually support other OSs, currently it's Windows only along with the other games. Nature of the games allows for lots of down-time so tabbing out to mess around is normal, but who really wants to tab-out to Windows? Haha. Another option for now is using an inexpensive laptop or second system to run Linux builds while getting comfortable, I think this may be the better option with the amount of empty desk space I currently have.

Chuklr - Thanks for the tip, that was the plan! :D

My Linux transition started with a second hand Dell Core 2 Optiplex. Nvidia GT610 and a 1366 x 768 monitor from a swap meet - All up $120.00 worth. You'd be surprised at how well a GT610 games at 1366 x 768 with Nvidia binary drivers. If you can set up a second machine purely to adapt and learn Linux, I recommend it.
 

Chuklr

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... Another option for now is using an inexpensive laptop or second system to run Linux builds while getting comfortable, I think this may be the better option with the amount of empty desk space I currently have...
I bought a couple of cheap 17" laptops (a Dell Vostro 3700 and a Toshiba) on Ebay and those are my Linux "machines". The Toshiba has a weak AMD processor and it has no problems running 64-Bit Linux Lite. I upgraded both to 8GB of RAM and replaced the HDDs with 128GB SSDs. Hope this helps.
 

Skull_Angel

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I ended up going with Antergos and loading it up on a secondary drive for now. Real easy setup and I'm loving how snappy it is. Getting things working isn't too rough, so I might try building Arch when I can comfortably run the console.

Thanks again for the advice all!
 

NoOther

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I ended up going with Antergos and loading it up on a secondary drive for now. Real easy setup and I'm loving how snappy it is. Getting things working isn't too rough, so I might try building Arch when I can comfortably run the console.

Thanks again for the advice all!

Awesome! Glad you found something you enjoy that works for you. That is what the OS experience should be all about.
 

ChadD

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I ended up going with Antergos and loading it up on a secondary drive for now. Real easy setup and I'm loving how snappy it is. Getting things working isn't too rough, so I might try building Arch when I can comfortably run the console.

Thanks again for the advice all!

Fantastic, glad you found something to start with. Antregos is a good distro.... pretty much just arch with a GUI installer. I ran it once long enough to see how it worked. Have fun with it. Arch is a pretty solid distro with a good community. Remember if you ever need help Antergos is just arch so you can always ask in those parts for help as well if you ever need. I have always loved how snappy the Arch base is.
 
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