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Which version of Linux to familiarize myself with?

  1. Apr 13, 2013 #1
    I have used Windows pretty much since its inception, but have never touched Linux yet (excluding in lab for my chemistry course, but it was brief). Being a physics major, I'm looking to familiarize myself with Linux. As I'm learning more about Linux, I found out about the different versions of it. Now, is the Scientific Linux the version I want to go for, or is there a different version I would be better off with for some reason?
  2. jcsd
  3. Apr 13, 2013 #2


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    I don't think it matters much
  4. Apr 13, 2013 #3
    I think it's best to start out with Ubuntu or Linux Mint like most people. They all are pretty much the same except for the preloaded software they come with. Ubuntu/Mint is the most compatible distribution with the most free software that you can download. It is really easy to install, just download the .iso, burn it to disk, boot up computer and select boot from DVD/cd. This probably goes in the computer forum.
  5. Apr 13, 2013 #4
    Well, as far as Ubuntu, when I was reading an introduction to Linux, I saw something about Ubuntu not using command lines? Maybe I misread it, as it was mentioning something about Canonical as well. Anyway, I want something where I do need to use command lines so I can familiarize myself with them, so I'm not sure Ubuntu would be best?

    Also, how much hard drive space should I use for Linux? I have a second hard drive that I plan to partition and install it to, but I am currently using that drive for torrents, and it is only a 111GB hard drive. The only thing I plan to use Linux for is for physics and learning in general, but I don't know what else I might need? I'd hate to have to reformat and repartition all over again later on down the road.
  6. Apr 13, 2013 #5
    Ubuntu doesn't "need" comamand lines but you can use them if you want too, IMO ubuntu is great for any purpose.
  7. Apr 13, 2013 #6
    I would highly suggest starting with Ubuntu. The resources available, and community can't be beat for new users.

    However, don't use the Windows installer as there is major issues with the NFTS driver (still), do a cd-install.
  8. Apr 13, 2013 #7
    I would suggest Ubuntu. Some distributions are definitely easier to get started with than others. For example, I wouldn't suggest that you touch Slackware or Arch unless you truly care about the operating system internals (some people really care about configuration and optimization). Some distributions demand that you use the terminal exclusively at times.

    The different families of distributions tend to all be similar. What differs is how you download external software, what software is available, how your directories are arranged (what goes where), file naming/format convention, their communities, and the release cycle. I'm sure there's more. I don't think there is a significant architectural difference. I could be wrong though.

    Ubuntu definitely has a beginner friendly community. There's also lots of documentation online. Whenever you have a problem, you can just search the error and you will most likely find some solution. With Ubuntu, your software would be more up-to-date and you will experience less problems with newer hardware (this is an advantage over Debian) . Ubuntu has also been around for longer than Mint. The only downside is that the default distribution now comes with ads. You can easily remove them though.
    Last edited: Apr 13, 2013
  9. Apr 14, 2013 #8
    I actually suggest Mint over Ubuntu, it's based on Ubuntu but it's much nicer. Ubuntu don't include any proprietary software with their distribution, so if you want to play DVD, MP3 and stuff like that, you have to jump through a few hoops. Mint include all that stuff by default. They offer two different window managers, MATE and Cinnamon, I prefer MATE it's very simple and feels a lot like Windows. Cinnamon has some newer, flashier features but I find it a bit cumbersome.


    And contrary to what was mentioned earlier in the thread, you can use the terminal in Ubuntu, and Mint, and any other Linux you are likely to try. You should learn some terminal commands, you will be a much more productive ninja with that up your sleeve.

    I run Linux in a virtual machine because I use resource hungry Windows software on a daily basis and I hate rebooting. VMware (not free) and Virtualbox (free) are good options. Worth checking out, although it's pretty easy to install Linux on a fresh hard drive too. Suit yourself. It's a nice way of checking out distributions, you could install 5 or 6 and check them all out. :)
  10. Apr 14, 2013 #9
    I use VLC and I haven't had any problems whatsoever:

    sudo apt-get install vlc
    Last edited: Apr 14, 2013
  11. Apr 14, 2013 #10


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    Ubuntu is basically just Linux made to look like Windows XP. Under the hood its quite nonstandard and the solutions offered on its forums almost invariably use graphical UIs.

    While the learning curve is a tad steeper, I wholeheartedly recommend using a distro where you will to some extent have to learn how Linux actually works; this was afterall your goal, right? I recommend Arch Linux, which I personally use, or Gentoo. These are very both big, mature, bleeding edge distros with great documentation and large communities.
  12. Apr 14, 2013 #11
    Thanks for the info, but like I already said, I only plan to use Linux for programming and learning for college. I already have Windows for all my other needs, and have absolutely no interest in changing my OS for everyday use, so I have no worries about not having an MP3 or DVD player in Linux. Besides, I would rather have the challenge of having to jump through hoops, as my whole intention is to learn. I just have way too much Windows software I have collected over the years to change up. I just want something to experiment with.

    As far as running on a virtual machine, I am still debating that. I am leaning more towards a regular install than a virtual machine just because I'm thinking with a virtual machine, that's more software I'll have in Windows, and I already feel like my system is cluttered with everything I'm always running on it as it is. I do, however, like the idea of not having to reboot to load up Linux, so we will see. At this point, I'm still taking my time looking into all of it. I don't think I'm really going to get serious with it until the semester is over and I have time to do so.
  13. Apr 14, 2013 #12
    I like this idea, thank you. You hit the nail right on the head with my intentions here.
  14. Apr 14, 2013 #13
    I do appreciate all the information here, but I do have to say I am a bit surprised. I was expecting more people to talk about having used Scientific Linux with what the website for it said, especially considering it was put together by Fermilab and CERN. Anyway, like I already said in direct responses to feedback above, I am taking everything you all say into consideration, and am not rushing into anything at this point. In about 3 more weeks, I will have a lot more time to try and toy with all of this, so I appreciate all the feedback to let me make a well-informed decision.
  15. Apr 14, 2013 #14
    You can change nearly everything about the operating system (this is true of every linux flavor), including the appearance (windows manager).

    Depends on the problem. I almost always find myself using the terminal when I'm trying to fix or configure something.

    1. There are different levels of "knowing linux". There's "I know how to use the command line interface and have some idea about the organization of the system". There's "I have a great deal of knowledge about the linux programming interface". And then there's "I know how some part of the linux kernel is implemented". Unless you intend to do systems programming, the second and third types are completely unnecessary. You can attain the first type with any linux distribution. All of them give you access to a terminal.

    To give you some perspective: even among people majoring in computer science today, few go beyond the first type (most are very strong with that first type).

    2. You better have some idea of what you're learning when somebody tells you you're going to be "learning linux". Some distributions, like Arch, differ significantly enough from the rest, that some of your knowledge may not even transfer. This is definitely not true for something like Ubuntu because it is part of the Debian family, which is enormous. Some distributions ask you to build up the operating system or its packages (like Gentoo). So it may be the case that "learning linux" really means that you get to learn software dependencies and how to specify arguments to gcc. I would claim that's pretty useless knowledge.

    3. This is analogous to the "C++ or python as my first language?" topic that continuously crops up. I get the feeling that the allure of "more knowledge" completely blinds people from all of the things standing in the way of attaining that knowledge. Or perhaps it's the perception of being "hardcore". Yeah, you might learn more about the computer with C++, but if you want to be productive in automating certain (most?) tasks, then it's completely unnecessary to know C++. Similarly, you might learn more about linux by using Arch, but I assume you also want to be productive using the operating system. I think that knowing how to use it is a big part of "knowing it". Simple things, that have catastrophic effects, can break if you don't know what you're doing. Then what do you do?

    With something like an OS, it's a good idea to use what people around you are using. It becomes less difficult to find solutions to relevant problems.

    The variability across distributions also comes from prepackaged software. There are probably more "scientific tools" available in a default installation of Scientific Linux than in, say, Ubuntu. These identical tools are available in all of the other distributions, provided you work to make it happen (again: some distributions make this easier or harder to do).
    Last edited: Apr 14, 2013
  16. Apr 14, 2013 #15
    ^ Good post. :)

    I know Linux well enough that I can get things done. I'm not super interested in kernel hacking, and I get to wade though enough configuration files in my day to day that I don't really care to do it for fun. Ubuntu/Mint is the kind of OS you can install and forget which is why I use it. I'd love to check out Arch one day, but that one day will be when I have a little more free time than I currently do!
  17. Apr 14, 2013 #16
    I wish I had more free time as well. Between a family (including a 3 week old newborn), having to work part-time, and having to go to college full-time (so I graduate before I'm 46), I have to be very efficient with my time. That is why I'm just trying to find out what would be beneficial to learn and what would be a waste of time that I will never use. Seems like I already got the answer to that though, which is to gain a solid understanding of using command line interface.

    I really appreciate everyone's feedback here. You all really help me to save a lot of time and frustration. Hopefully as I learn more, I'll be able to do the same for others here in the forums down the road.
  18. Apr 14, 2013 #17


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    I've never used Scientific Linux myself, but having looked at this distro, I have to say it's just a free version of Red Hat Enterprise Linux. I'd expect that something calling itself "Scientific" Linux would have some (in fact, many) built-in open source scientific and mathematical tools but it doesn't appear to have this advantage. So, unless someone is actually working in one of those labs where the default OS is SL, why would they go out of their way to install it?

    Yes, time is important. Learning to become a power/advanced user of Linux doesn't mean you have to suffer from the outset. I'd recommend Ubuntu as a very good starting point. It's designed for ease of use. Contrary to what someone posted, it is NOT meant to be a Windows clone (that dubious honour belongs to some other distros, including the short-lived Lindows). Rather, it's based on Debian, which is characterised by the apt package management system. This basically means that software installation is usually (not always) a doddle. Package management is not unique to Ubuntu/Debian, other distros like Redhat (and Mandrake/Mandriva) have had "RPM" (RedHat Package Manager). Even an "advanced" distro like Gentoo has the Portage system based on ebuild and emerge (as does Arch with pacman). Basically, all these package management systems help to make your life a little easier because they resolve software dependencies when you try to install something new in your system.

    If you don't wish to use one of these package management systems and decide to do all your installs from source, then:

    a) you won't really learn anything new other than commands like tar -zxvf whatver.tgz, ./configure, make, make install. After a couple of times, it becomes completely rote - when it works as it should, that is.

    b) and when it *doesn't* work as it should, you will be wasting most of your day(s) [yes, it can be in the plural] wading through dependency hell, reading support documentation, trying (and failing) to locate compatible libraries, and desperately trawling through and finally, working up the nerve to actually post your query on a linux forum. In the old days, they'd have derided your noobishness, told you to RTFM, cast aspersions on your intelligence and told you to go back to "Wind0ze, yo!". But now, at least, they tend to be more helpful - the hardcore "l337 g33ks, y0!" have become more subdued. So you can expect some meaningful help online.

    Anyway, I strongly advise you to go with a more noob-friendly distro, and Ubuntu is the most popular choice. You can, of course, delve deep into the guts of Linux using this distro, because you still have access to a command line interface. And if you really insist (or packages for that software are lacking), you can still install things from source.

    Good luck! :biggrin:
  19. Apr 15, 2013 #18
    Like a lot of people, I'd recommend Ubuntu. But, with a few notes:
    Get used to using the command line as much as possible.
    Once you've gotten comfortable with Ubuntu and installing programs, try to not use the "sudo apt-get" command to install a program, instead, learn to install from source. sudo apt-get is only for certain distributions of Linux, so you can't always use it. This is actually how I learned a lot about using the command line.

    After you get used to Ubuntu, gradually build up to more "challenging" distributions, maybe to open SUSE, and then finally to Slackware if you want a real challenge, but want to really learn how to use Linux.

    Hope that helps!
  20. Apr 23, 2013 #19
    From this and other threads one could get the impression that there were other systems than Debian.
    Totally absurd assumption...
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