Which Linux Distro?

  • #1
I am starting my PhD soon, and I want to properly start learning linux.
I have mainly used windows for most of my life, but I have been apart of two research placements using linux mint, where I did simulations attaining to Nano-Photonics.

I am curious as to if you guys have any opinion on the "best" distro for me to use as an introduction to linux programming. I am a physicist and intend on writing code in python, and c++ as well as using the laptop to write reports, and the like. I am looking for one with a reasonably friendly hud, and one which is supported enough that i can find help should i need it. I intend to do every myself as to fully grasp as much as possible, as quick as possible.

Any comments are much appreciated.
 

Answers and Replies

  • #2
S.G. Janssens
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I think most mainstream distributions can do that. Have you looked at https://distrowatch.com/ for a comparison? Since 2005 I am a happy Debian user. It is very stable, well-supported and comes with a large software repository. (Mint is based on Ubuntu, which is in turn based on Debian.)

Since everyone has his own preference, be prepared for a parade of distributions below :wink: Good luck on the PhD, by the way, and enjoy!
 
  • #3
DrDu
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I have been an advocate of linux for a long time, but I am increasingly annoyed with it. Even plain vanilla instalations work only in at most 50% of the time and I have spent weeks in the last years to make sound cards, printers, wlans running. Programs rely increasingly on the graphical surface and there are two main diverging versions, namely gnome and kde. Why don't you consider to buy a Mac instead? You get a functional unixoid system where it is possible to run all of the applications you are interested in.
 
  • #4
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I use Ubuntu and get most of my help via internet searches. Ubuntu is regularly updated with security patches and is quite popular.

You should be able to do your work on it without any trouble. When software is missing Ubuntu will often suggest a package to download from its repository that provides the command you're looking for.

With respect to Python and numerical computing, a really popular package is the Anaconda distribution which uses the Jupyter editor/IDE.
It comes preloaded with all the modules needed to do numerical computing, charting and analysis.

https://www.continuum.io/anaconda-overview
 
  • #5
S.G. Janssens
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Why don't you consider to buy a Mac instead? You get a functional unixoid system where it is possible to run all of the applications you are interested in.
I find a Mac difficult to tailor to my needs, which is an option I like to keep open as a researcher interested in numerical computation (among other things). It is costly and makes me depend too much on the whims of Apple. Colleagues of mine are quite happy with it, though.
 
  • #6
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I find a Mac difficult to tailor to my needs, which is an option I like to keep open as a researcher interested in numerical computation (among other things). It is costly and makes me depend too much on the whims of Apple. Colleagues of mine are quite happy with it, though.

The whims of Apple don't really affect the mac-mini or macbooks. In all the years I've been using it. I've never seen a problem with it ever. Its true they are pricier but they work well in computational environments. There are more commercial packages that support Macos than do Linux. We do development on Mac in Java and then port the same code to Linux with no problems.

It sometimes happens with Linux when you switch to a new machine that some driver is missing that causes problems or in the case of Ubuntu where they don't have the latest release in their repository (there is a fair delay here).

MATLAB is available for it and for Linux so if you're needing it then either option is okay.

One thing I caution graduate students is that you shouldn't cheap on things when you're going for your PhD. You don't need the excitement of a refurbished machine breaking down or software underperforming while you're in the finishing stages of your thesis. There is no dog ate my homework excuse here.
 
  • #7
I am torn, Debian, Ubuntu, and Fedora all peaked my interest and are all highly commended to me.

I guess I will just start playing around with them, and see which I feel most comfortable with. Thank you for the comments!!
Very helpful.
 
  • #8
The whims of Apple don't really affect the mac-mini or macbooks. In all the years I've been using it. I've never seen a problem with it ever. Its true they are pricier but they work well in computational environments. There are more commercial packages that support Macos than do Linux. We do development on Mac in Java and then port the same code to Linux with no problems.

It sometimes happens with Linux when you switch to a new machine that some driver is missing that causes problems or in the case of Ubuntu where they don't have the latest release in their repository (there is a fair delay here).

MATLAB is available for it and for Linux so if you're needing it then either option is okay.

One thing I caution graduate students is that you shouldn't cheap on things when you're going for your PhD. You don't need the excitement of a refurbished machine breaking down or software underperforming while you're in the finishing stages of your thesis. There is no dog ate my homework excuse here.


In all honesty, I have never been a fan of Apple. The price to hardware ratio is far too ludicrous for me personally, and windows machines just have appeal. I prefer thinkpad keyboards in particular! But thank you for your comments
 
  • #10
phyzguy
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I recommend starting with Ubuntu also.
 
  • #11
Dr Transport
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MATLAB is available for it and for Linux so if you're needing it then either option is okay.

Octave is a free version of Matlab available on Linux, almost as good as the original when I used it.

Tried 3 or 4 distros, Ubuntu is the easiest to get going. My advisor had a Mac years ago, had nothing but problems with it.
 
  • #12
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I started playing with Linux about two-two and a half years ago. As with most people, I started off with Ubuntu. The package repository is large and it offers a lot of GUI packages for base functionality to help you ease into the environment. This is very helpful when transitioning from Windows to Linux.

Mint is another distribution I tried early on and it seemed closer to Windows and might offer an easier transition point for new users. Cinnamon and Mate desktops make life a lot simpler.

Over time, I moved away from Ubuntu and Mint for the following reasons. Mint, mainly because it didn't have a rolling release, each major update meant I had to reinstall. This isn't that big a deal if you partition your drive carefully and separate your home directories. Then you can simply reinstall without having to lose any data.

A big reason I left the windows environment was because of the bloatware. Ubuntu unfortunately also suffers from the same problem, it's heavily marketed and does a lot of the data collection that Microsoft does.

I ran fedora for a little bit but it was a little too bleeding edge for me. I never quite got it to do everything I wanted. That said, it has its ties to Red Hat, a lot of scientific software is built for Red Hat so you may have more joy because of that.

My current system is running on debian. I settled on debian for two reasons. It is fantastically stable and because of their Free Software guidelines. I get a clean system that does exactly what I want and nothing else. It is the base for both Ubuntu and Mint so there's a lot of documentation and help around the Web. I'm even built a computing cluster at work using debian.

My suggestion, follow the Mint/Ubuntu path to start, get your feet wet and see what it's like. Once you become familiar with the OS and get comfortable fixing issues and solving problems, then perhaps you can consider switching over to Arch or Debian. Or just stay with Ubuntu or Mint and be happily ever after lol
 
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  • #13
phyzguy
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Tried 3 or 4 distros, Ubuntu is the easiest to get going. My advisor had a Mac years ago, had nothing but problems with it.

I use Linux on my Mac every day. I use Homebrew to handle the package installation and everything works fine. Connectivity on the Mac (such things as printer installation, multimedia browsing, internet connectivity...) is much more robust than a native Linux distro like Ubuntu.
 
  • #14
Dr Transport
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I use Linux on my Mac every day. I use Homebrew to handle the package installation and everything works fine. Connectivity on the Mac (such things as printer installation, multimedia browsing, internet connectivity...) is much more robust than a native Linux distro like Ubuntu.
No, no, my advisor didn't run Linux on his Mac, he ran the native OS... He didn't have a mind for how a computer worked, so he dorked up the machine all the time. This was in the '90's and early '00's, I am sure it is much better now.
 
  • #15
phyzguy
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No, no, my advisor didn't run Linux on his Mac, he ran the native OS... He didn't have a mind for how a computer worked, so he dorked up the machine all the time. This was in the '90's and early '00's, I am sure it is much better now.

I didn't mean that I install a Linux distro on my Mac - I also am using the native Mac OS, which is based on Linux. There is no need to install a new OS, you just need to install a package manager like Homebrew to handle the software installations.
 
  • #16
Dr Transport
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I didn't mean that I install a Linux distro on my Mac - I also am using the native Mac OS, which is based on Linux. There is no need to install a new OS, you just need to install a package manager like Homebrew to handle the software installations.

He would not have been able to do that and keep his machine running. He had a tendency to drag the package to where ever he wanted on the drive then he would move it later, thus ruining all his links and paths that were set up. ultimately he just used it as a word processor, never did any code on it whatsoever. Didn't even want to learn PowerPoint, he just fought thru rotating the page in word and did his slides that way.
 
  • #17
vela
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I didn't mean that I install a Linux distro on my Mac - I also am using the native Mac OS, which is based on Linux. There is no need to install a new OS, you just need to install a package manager like Homebrew to handle the software installations.
Mac OS X isn't based on Linux. It's based on Darwin, which is a descendant of BSD Unix.
 
  • #20
fluidistic
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www.gentoo.org is the fastest linux but the hardest to install. If you want to learn about linux gentoo is the way to go
That is an overstatement. I've used gentoo for over a year. The installation process is just following a recipee (their wiki) and as soon as I ran into a problem I sought help on #gentoo. In the end it was very easy to maintain, install and use and I didn't learn that much about linux with it. If you want a harder linux than gentoo, try lfs (linux from scratch). I did not try myself but people claim that you "really" learn linux with it.
Also Gentoo speed is not necessarily the greatest, in fact Stockfish chess engine was running slower in Gentoo than on Manjaro (an arch linux fork) so I opened a thread in their forum, and finding a culprit was a hard task. In general the speed difference is almost nil, even with benchmarking. And as I said, it can even be slower.
I really liked gentoo, compiling every program with the flags you want is very pleasant. And the linux kernel compilation is extremely funny and pleasant too. Windows made a brick out of my laptop though, and I lost my gentoo OS in the process.
 
  • #21
nsaspook
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My current system is running on debian. I settled on debian for two reasons. It is fantastically stable and because of their Free Software guidelines. I get a clean system that does exactly what I want and nothing else. It is the base for both Ubuntu and Mint so there's a lot of documentation and help around the Web. I'm even built a computing cluster at work using debian.

My suggestion, follow the Mint/Ubuntu path to start, get your feet wet and see what it's like. Once you become familiar with the OS and get comfortable fixing issues and solving problems, then perhaps you can consider switching over to Arch or Debian. Or just stay with Ubuntu or Mint and be happily ever after lol

I use Debian (Raspbian for RPi) for just about everything. It runs great if you keep that SystemD monkey off your server machines.
 
  • #23
Thanks for all the input, in the end i trialed poseidon, scientific linux, fedora and ubuntu for a few hours each. In the end, I wound up going with ubuntu as it was aesthetically pleasing, really easy for me to customise and I was able to start running jobs which I need to very quickly. I feel as though I will move on to another distro in a few months, however I am happy enough to use ubuntu to get to grips with the os and learn some command line actions.

The one thing i will say is that ubuntu comes with a lot of bloatware, which took me a while to identify and remove.
 
  • #24
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For programming, i recommend you choose Ubuntu with more libraries and comunity
 
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