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Do any of you use Linux? If so, which distribution?

  1. Nov 26, 2016 #1


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    Hi everyone. I've been considering switching out of using a Windows laptop in favour of Linux. What I'm curious of is do any of you here on PF use the Linux OS. If so, which distribution do you use (Ubuntu, Fedora, etc.)? What has been your experience using Linux?

    Appreciate any insights any of you may have.
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  3. Nov 26, 2016 #2


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    I have been using Linux for about 15 years now and since the Winter of 2005 I use it exclusively. For me, it is a delight because a lot of the software I use (e.g. ##\LaTeX##, compilers, shells and newer programming languages such as Julia) is easily installed, kept up-to-date and put to work in harmony. However, my dear mom (who knows nothing about computers) also uses Linux (although she is probably unaware of it) and it lets her do all her everyday computer tasks: surfing the web, typing email and documents, playing media, making a photo album etc.

    In the early 2000s Linux was a lot less user friendly than it is now, particularly because setting up devices required more work. I feel that presently installing and operating Linux is not more complicated than installing and using any of the other two mainstream systems. For this latter statement to hold, I assume that one installs one of the more user friendly distributions.

    A "distribution" is a smaller or larger collection of software built around a common core (essentially the Linux kernel, possibly augmented with some critical userland tools) with the purpose of providing the user with a well-balanced working environment suitable for the distribution's intended purpose. In fact, you could choose to start with merely the kernel and build your own distribution yourself, but I would not recommend this to a beginning user, or perhaps to any user for that matter, unless you study CS or you are otherwise motivated by technical curiosity.

    For the past decade, Debian has been my distribution of choice. It is very stable, well-maintained and it comes with a ton of easily installable software packages. There are many other distributions that often derive from one another. (For example, Ubuntu is a popular distribution for beginning Linux users that is based on Debian.)

    Others surely have other favorites. I would advise you look around on Distowatch a bit and choose one of the bigger distributions. These have an active user base that you can easily turn to for support, should you need it. (You can send me a message too, when you are stuck and the web does not help.)
    Last edited: Nov 26, 2016
  4. Nov 26, 2016 #3
    I experimented with Ubuntu 6.06 in 2006 and was intrigued mainly as a way to get life out of old hardware.

    Starting from 2011 I've kept a Ubuntu partition or as the main OS on a non-networked computer (10.04 LTS). Due to a personal preference over the Unity shell I started using Debian in 2014 (with MATE) and use it for most simple tasks: spreadsheets, word processing, and programming (c and Mathematica).

    The LibreOffice formatting is not as nice as Microsoft Office (which is still terrible in the 2016 version, in my opinion) so I have kept my Windows 7 partition for now. I have also intermittently used Arch, DSL, Lubuntu, CentOS, and Fedora. Also some of the browser plugins for Firefox (Iceweasel) and Chrome are not always the most reliable although they have been improved considerably in the past 3 years.

    I would not recommend starting with Debian unless you have a lot of time on your hands or you might become frustrated quickly. I would however recommend Ubuntu to beginners due to the larger userbase and the ease with which it is to get wifi peripherals working correctly.

    Regardless of what distro you choose I would recommend reading The Linux Command Line: http://linuxcommand.org/tlcl.php and following it command by command because inevitably you WILL need to look under the hood to diagnose package or library issues if you ever plan on updating your distro or installing software.
  5. Nov 26, 2016 #4


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    I've used Debian (32 and 64-bit) since it's early releases and have systems (with incremental hardware upgrades over that time period) with over a decade of total run-time. If you're looking for a simple plug&play experience then it's not the best of distributions but if you want years of stable operation for a server or critical development system it's what I would recommend for the long term user.
  6. Nov 26, 2016 #5
    I use Zorin today. It has options for a number of gui styles. eg, ubuntu, win7, mac with lots of configurations to set up including a preconfigured compiz cube. I like that. It's based on Ubuntu which is based on Debian.

    Basically it's Debian or Slackware OS's. Both have adherents with good reasons why one is better than the other.

    I'd like to try Arch linux in time. I've tried OpenSuse, Kali (interesting), Ubuntu, Red Hat (which was the first I tried back in the 90's and it convinced me Linux is the way to go but it took time for it to become the user friendly OS it can be today) and a few others. It's easy to try the various distros.

    They are readily available as downloads and torrents.

    edit add: I always keep an eye on Trisquel GNU/Linux. I like the idea. I came across it because of interest in Richard Stallman and the Free Software Foundation.
    Last edited: Nov 26, 2016
  7. Nov 26, 2016 #6


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    After some years dealing with Unix, I remember installing a commercial distribution of Red Hat 9 on my home PC. Several problems with hardware arose but that was mainly not related to Linux itself. Linux was in need of more testing and improvement, but it was early enough for vendors to take it into account for home users. After that I installed and played with Fedora Core 6. Because I was experimenting with multi - boot configurations back then, I had some very hard times with partition management and loading of OSs. Finally, with the use of commercial partition management software that handled the boot loaders of each OS (no easy task at all), I ended up having several distros on two PCs and I started to use Debian 4.0 for programming and some deep dives to the core. I also used Mandriva 2007.1 and later OpenSuse 11.1. One distro I found really great back in 2007, was PCLinuxOS. Great windows system, graphics, extremely simple even for the novice user and with great hardware support. Next, I worked with Debian 5 and Ubuntu.

    Today, Linux enjoys full vendor support thanks mainly to its great community as a whole and I agree that Ubuntu is a very user friendly distro, even for beginners. I use it along with some other distros in a virtualized environment (full operation), as there is no point for multi - boot configurations anymore. I currently don't use it in my work but I'll never stop using it for deep dives in programming. A very enjoyable task is also to get involved to the development of some Linux distribution and see what hard times means in programming first hand, but in a good sense for real lovers of programming. Recently, Microsoft has started making great leaps towards the Linux world, not only in cloud (Azure) but with several tools developed for Linux. That is definitely a good thing for Linux itself.

    One thing already mentioned in the thread, is the use of some command shell. That's the real interface of the "heart" for any Linux distro and sooner or later something that a beginner Linux user must master. In fact the whole thing of interaction with the system, is just a different - to Windows or other OSs, set of procedures and it just needs some time to getting used to.. And it gives back way more freedom regarding all aspects of computer use.
  8. Nov 26, 2016 #7
    I used Scientific Linux for 2 years, but for the past 2 years -- year 1 overlapped with my use of Scientific Linux -- I have been using OpenBSD. OpenBSD lacks the newest fashions in software -- like Julia -- but the packages and ports trees have most of the essentials. The packages and ports trees are managed excellently; I have yet to run into any problems adding or deleting any software from these trees. The system in general is easy to understand and designed to work. This is aided by the excellent documentation, which is second to none if we are only judging documentation by the manual pages. The answer to a question is usually only a command away. The base system doesn't enable much by default, so knowing what your system is doing is easier to grok from the start, since you have to configure it. Thankfully, configuration is easy, aided again by the excellent manual pages. Most if not all configuration files have a manual page in section 5.

    OpenBSD is probably the most secure general purpose operating system and what gives it fame, though I'm not sure how relevant that is to most scientists.

    OpenBSD has some weaknesses, besides having fewer packages and ports than some Linux-based operating systems: OpenBSD supports less hardware because of the developers' unwillingness to support hardware that is not documented and because OpenBSD has fewer developers than Linux. OpenBSD is usually slower because of the developers' goals of having an understandable and maintainable system. OpenBSD does not have patches for releases older than a year. OpenBSD has fewer users than the most popular Linux-based distributions, so there are fewer users that can help.

    The documentation is not aimed at newbies, so I'm hesitant to recommend it as an operating system for newbies who are studying by themselves. If you know a user that can teach you OpenBSD though, OpenBSD is probably a great learning tool due to its simplicity.

    EDIT: OpenBSD is not a Linux-based operating system if I didn't make that fact obvious, but OpenBSD is very similar and shares many of the same tools.
    Last edited: Nov 26, 2016
  9. Nov 27, 2016 #8


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    At the moment I have Raspbian on a "server" (basically for log backups and some automated remote site maintenance) and Debian as a fast VM (for things that take ages on the Raspberry, like grepping gigabytes of logs), but I spend 99% of my time under Windows. Linux is there just for some tasks that are easier to do from the command line (at least for me).

    Neither system is kept up to date, as it generally doesn't matter for things I am doing, I just check now and then if there are no reports about alarming security problems.
  10. Nov 27, 2016 #9


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    Nowadays I'm using Arch linux and Manjaro on my 2 laptops. I don't need Windows or any other OS for now, Linux does the job for me.
    Web browsing, some programming, writing Latex documents, Impress (the "power point" equivalent from LibreOffice) presentations and just having fun with Linux (err GNU/Linux, sorry RMS) itself.
    I've started with Ubuntu some years ago. Then I tried a few others but Lubuntu and Gentoo are the ones that I sticked to the longest as well as the ones I've mentioned I'm currently using.
  11. Nov 27, 2016 #10
    I use Linux Mint. I started with 17, then followed 17.1 and 17. 2 and finally, I upgraded to 18 this week.
    I tried Ubuntu, Fedora, Bodhi Linux, Kubuntu, Xubuntu in the past but I always returned to Mint Cinnamon.

    I'm very satisfied with the system and wouldn't go back to Windows. At first, it looks complicated and I had to ask for advice on the LM forum often (very friendly and helpful people!). But I set everything up quite fast and once I solved simple beginner's issues, everything's running great and I had no system problems for a very long time.

    One problem I often have after clean install is that wifi doesn't work for some reason. I did several clean installs of various distros on two computers, so I did a clean install maybe 10-15 times. I highly recommend that during the install, you have another device at home with a reliable internet connection. Don't rely on functional internet when you turn the machine on for the first time. But in most cases, I had a working machine in 30-60min including time for actual installation and googling for solutions.

    What I like about Linux is that it's stable, reliable and secure. In my experience it is also faster compared to Windows.
    Negatives include mainly that some programs and games only work on Windows. You can use Wine for linux or Windows Virtual machine to solve the problem. But sometimes it was quite hard or impossible for me to make certain software run on Linux. But for me, these were rare occasions and overall, I find Linux superior to Windows and I enjoy using it.

    Linux mint is very beginner friendly. It is meant to be the first distro you try after switching from Windows to Linux. It also has a cool option to set the level of risk you want to take with updates. You can choose to update only packages tried and approved by the LM team or you can be adventurous and accept all new packages. There are a few options between these extremes and they are color coded and numbered so that newbies understand what are they doing and what level of risk are they taking with the updates. This distro is used by newbies and elderly people because it's difficult to ruin the system unless you try hard :)
    Last edited: Nov 27, 2016
  12. Nov 27, 2016 #11

    Stephen Tashi

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    What advantage do you expect to get from switching? Do you like to "fool with computers" just for the sake of learning how to do it? (To some extent, I do.)

    A big consideration is whether you will be obligated to exchange "Windows compatible" information with people. It's usually possible to handle files designed for Windows in Linux, but you may have to learn a different procedure for each type of file.

    I use Fedora. The biggest disadvantage to Fedora is that support (in the form of updates) for a given version of Fedora is only available for a few years. So I either end up using an "unsupported" version or I have to upgrade or install a new version more frequently that I wish.

    To efficiently use Linux (and perhaps Windows too?) you must learn to do a certain amount of work using the command line. I tried Ubuntu many years ago and felt an aversion to using the obligatory (in Ubuntu) "sudo..." in front of administrative commands. I prefer the (naughty) practice of logging in as "root".

    Before you pick a version of Linux, see what forums and blogs are available that give information about that version. With Fedora, I find fedoraforums.org useful. The last time I looked at an Ubuntu forum, it was not well organized. There were many unanswered posts. Many of the posters weren't literate in English and many threads were not useful. Perhaps an Ubuntu user can direct you to good sources of information.

    There can be drastic changes between different versions of Fedora. If you look up information that is several years old, it may be obsolete. (e.g. the replacement of the update command "yum" by the newer command "dnf").
  13. Nov 28, 2016 #12
    I am using Linux Mint Debian. It has worked well for me. Maybe, for a newcomer the ordinary Linux Mint is more convenient. It has a larger amount of users. My experience is that when problems occur in Linux, you can solve them quickly by using Google or forum. Obviously, Linux is different from Windows. You will have to learn to use new software.
  14. Nov 28, 2016 #13
    I was a Mandrake user in high school, but it appears to have died :cry:
  15. Nov 29, 2016 #14
    I first tried Linux in 2009 (my handle here and on some other tech forums actually stands for 'New To Linux 2009'). At the time, I wanted a netbook for a trip. I don't like Windows, and the Apple versions were ~ $2,000 at the time. I found an ASUS PC901 from Amazon that came with linux, for ~ $280. I was initially super impressed with the built in linux (Xandros) - I was on my network, browsing, printing in no time, no troubles! But... I got stuck in a loop trying to make updates, ran out of memory, and it just got dragged down. There was a lot of locked down apps that I could not eliminate. After some reading, I worked up the nerve to install Ubuntu, (a variant for that machine I think), and that was great. I couldn't believe all the stuff I did on that little thing. OpenOffice, Sketchup, music programs, audio editing, browsers, email.

    I was easily able to configure it with as many virual desktops as I wanted (workspaces), which really helped the useability with a small screen (9").

    I was so happy with it, that when my iMac died, I decided to buy a windows laptop and install Ubuntu, and use it as my daily machine. I have not looked back. I now run Xubuntu (just didn't care for Unity), and I love it. It is so configurable (and the configurations are all done through GUI interfaces) - I have everything set up just as I like it. Like comfy shoes.

    When I need to do something on my wife's MacBook, I just go nuts. Only recently did they get multiple tabs for the Finder. It hides stuff from you w/o telling you (searches do not include the system files unless you jump through hoops). I find it easier to use for almost everything, and I came from the Mac world.

    I don't see it that way. I rarely get into the terminal (well, I'm currently writing some Python scripts for an external application, so that doesn't really count). The installer is GUI based, the set up is all GUI. I barely know my way around the command line, even after all this time. And I've installed on several different systems. It's easy.

    Now, when you discover some sort of problem, often times the fix will be described with a terminal command. At first I thought this was odd, often there was a GUI method to do it. But then I learned that a cut/paste of a command is easier than describing how to go through a dialog box, and that box may change over time - the commands are more stable.

    But I don't consider a cut/paste as 'mastering' the command line. It's just a pragmatic method for those sorts of fixes.

    I can toggle hide/show hidden files with Command-H in my file manager on Linux. On a Mac, I need to execute several commands in the terminal (hide or unhide, then restart the finder)!

    There is a lot you can do from the terminal, but you rarely actually need to (outside of copy/paste) very often at all.

    -New To Linux 2009
  16. Nov 29, 2016 #15


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    So, does this mean that there is no need for a user to learn the command shell? What about power users, programmers and developers in general? The whole thing depends on how you use your Linux system. Saying

    I mean that it will be advantageous in every use case, to learn the command shell. Even for someone who doesn't want to get a deep dive into the internals of Linux, command shell will help to do his/her work way faster in most cases. That was the meaning of "must" in my phrase. The first part of my quoted phrase tells why.
  17. Nov 29, 2016 #16
    OK, it was just the "must" that kind of threw me. No doubt it is advantageous, knowledge is always good. And once in a great while I wish I were more proficient when I'm interested in something out of the ordinary, but I don't see it as necessary to run/use Linux. But it depends on what 'work' you are talking about. I can install software w/o the terminal, I can use LibreOffice w/o the terminal. I just don't see it as a 'must' - more of a 'want' for those who want to dig into it.
    I just looked through the folder where I kept track of problems when I installed 14.04, and there are very few issues that required me to get into the terminal, and those were copy/paste solutions. I didn't need any proficiency with terminal commands for that.

    I fear that people that could benefit from Linux are scared of these statements about the terminal. Like I said, I rarely get in there out of any normal need, and when I do it is almost always a simple copy/paste from a trusted site with a solution. Lots of people could handle that, not just people interested in how things work 'under the hood'.

    There is a terminal (console think they call it) on my wife's MacBook. But I doubt that viewing Facebook could be done 'way faster' through the console. She gets along fine w/o the terminal (though I have used it on her Mac for some troubleshooting - again, copy/paste).
  18. Nov 30, 2016 #17
    I agree that there's little need to learn terminal commands if one is an average user.

    In the rare situations I do need it, I only copy paste from the solutions I find on the Internet. It's easy and fast. And actually installing a program is easier in the terminal than using gui.

    So if even I can use this system, everyone can! I have no education in IT or programming.
  19. Nov 30, 2016 #18


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    Scared of what? Learning command shell is just something that you get used to with time, provided that you like to do it. If anyone doesn't like it, is a whole different story. For me, as a developer, is a real have to but I fail to see how an average user would be scared with command shell.

    I didn't talk about Mac. Thing is that in Linux that I talk about, all are about the command shell. Now, if someone can do his work without using it it's just fine but there's no reason to demonize it.
    Last edited: Nov 30, 2016
  20. Nov 30, 2016 #19
    My separation with windows and a lean towards Linux started with win95. I liked the disk operating system being separate from the gui as in pre fat32 windows-dos. It's in dos I grew to like the command line. Linux keeps that. You can set up different gui's and not use any. From memory you could still boot into dos in xp. (?, maybe it was 98) after that to hack the windows gui (or dos) I boot into linux to look at a windows installation and make changes that appear impossible from a windows boot.

    I finally dropped windows some years ago ( except for a couple of specific purposes eg to easily access my iphone or use a specific program not in Linux, eg Meesofts ImageAnalyzer, and for that I have no reason to go beyond 7) when I became aware Linux had become the easy to use thing it can be.

    I don't use the command line/terminal much but it's nice to know it's there the way I like it to be and that there is plenty of help around to learn how to use it.
  21. Dec 3, 2016 #20

    Stephen Tashi

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    And learning the shell is a task different from learning commands. (It similar to the distinction between learning a programming language versus learning all the options and settings of a complicated program that someone has written in that language.) The main task in the terminal interface is understanding the syntax and meaning of various commands. Many command-line users don't master a large number of commands. Instead they master the art of using the "man" command to get documentation about how to use a command.

    You can use commands from the command line without appreciating the "shell" as programming language. If you want to read or write command "scripts" then you need to understand the shell as a programming language.

    I agree that people can use Linux (or Windows) without using a terminal interface very often. However, if you only use gui interfaces, you limit what level of detail you are exposed to and sometimes you need to get into the details to analyze why something isn't working.

    They better learn how to use the command line interface!
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