Linux - How to get started

Not sure if it’s okay to ask questions like this. Guess I’ll find out.

I’ve heard @Leo extol the virtues of Linux for so long that I’m thinking of giving it a shot. I’ve got an older computer that I could throw it on. It would be a clean install, not dual boot. Here’s the rub: I HAVE NO IDEA WHERE TO START.

Any and all suggestions would be greatly appreciated.

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Its harder to figure out what disto you want than using any of them. there are a few debian based systems like Debian(of course) Ubuntu, mint, elementary OS, popOS (Leo seems to like it) and others. Ubuntu being the biggest install base and lots of howto’s and help, and remember just cause it might be help for ubuntu it will probaly hold true for mint or debian.
Then there is Fendora, a redhat based system thats as old (about the same) as debian, and there are a few other that are based of this, that is a nice system with lots of help scatted across that world wide web thing.
in reality any system that stays up to date will be good, the biggest difference between them is package management, and a few different tweaks they do, but the basic file system is the same, all configuration is in text files so it easy to customize to your liking.
look at distro watch https://distrowatch.com they list all the distros and give details about them.

Actually your biggest choice will be the desktop environment, there are a few to chose from and the above distro support them all, but the nice thing is you can install them all and try them to see what one fits best. You have Gnome, KDE, XFCE (if your system is really old 10 plus years go for this) mate, cinnamon, are the popular ones.

Now most all distro have a live cd (or you can use usb) to try it out before installing with good documentation to get you going. this way you can test drive and see if your hardware supports it, like network, wifi and other devices you may have.
Dont be afraid to make mistakes or installing lots of stuff to test out (as long as you have room) and linux does not take up alot of space. So once you see what you want and need you can easily do a fresh install to make it your own.

Have fun, and the Linux community is out here to help. If you have questions chance’s are they have been answered so a quick search is your starting point.

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My answer to this question has changed dramatically over the years. What was once a tricky and advanced subject. has become much easier. As easy as installing Windows, in most cases.

If you have a PC made in the last five years, try POP_OS from System 76. These guys sell PCs running Linux, so they have lots of experience getting Linux running on hardware originally intended to run Windows. POP_OS use the Gnome desktop which is a good place to start, especially if you’re coming from Windows.

Follow the instructions on making a bootable USB key, then boot to it. You can play with the OS running off the USB device to make sure everything works ok. Once you know you want to pull the trigger, click Install. It’s best to do this with a machine you can fully erase - dual booting Linux adds complexity and can cause problems. The install process is automated - choose the defaults - and you’ll have a machine running Linux in minutes.

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I’ve been running Zorin OS which is perfect for a new comer. Give it a look. zorinos.com

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I don’t want you to take this as a recommendation as I have never personally tried it, but I have been curious to take a look. (To be honest, I just have never gotten around to it.) I believe they used to charge for it, but now it is donation ware, I think, and you can choose $0 if you want to try it out, and go back later if you decide you want to donate.

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Well, let me give you some ideas. I have mentioned some of this elsewhere, and I will try and link back to it later. It’s hard to know where to start giving advice when you don’t know the skill level and gear of the person you’re giving advice to, but I’ll make some assumptions and hope for the best.

The first thing you need is a PC you want to put Linux on. Linux is supported by people donating their time and so that means drivers and support are not always 100%, or that they lag more commercial endeavours, but these days you can have pretty good luck if your PC is fairly commodity. (If you have weird WiFi/network cards you might have problems, but you’ll have to try and find out, I guess.) If you just want to play, to see how Linux would feel, without “sacrificing” your PC, you can possibly use a virtual machine if your PC is powerful enough. Check out VirtualBox from Oracle for a good, free, virtual machine host.

If you’re going to install it onto a spare PC, make sure you backup anything on it, just in case. There are some installers for Linux out there that will set up dual boot so you can keep your current OS, but that can lead to tricky problems with updating the other OS (Windows 10 has had issues with this, for example.) If you have the hardware, better to dedicate it to the effort to have one less thing to go wrong.

So now you need to figure out how to get that Linux installed on the PC. To do that, you’re going to need to be able to boot from a Linux image. Now is the time to see how that works. If you’re cool poking around in your BIOS/UEFI then you can look there for boot order or boot utilities. Many machines show a message when they’re booting about pressing a key for the boot manager… like F12 or F8 or something. This is also the point where you can look to see if you can boot from a USB stick if you don’t have a DVDROM drive to boot off of.

Most distributions come in a ISO format… which is basically an image of a CD or DVD. If you have a machine that can boot off a DVD, then you can download the ISO and burn it onto a CD or DVD (depending on size) and boot from it. If you are on Windows and need a tool to burn an ISO, I would recommend ImgBurn https://www.imgburn.com/ as a nice light tool.

If you don’t have the drive or the media, you’re going to need to use a USB stick. Most PCs of recent vintages can boot off a USB stick… but now would be the time to confirm that before moving on. Assuming that’s a go, get a USB stick you can dedicate to this purpose–8G or 16G sticks are cheap and plentiful. Now you need a tool to put the image onto that USB stick. For this, I would recommend Rufus https://rufus.ie/ (note this site does language detection and needs Javascript to work, but you can jump directly here if you prefer: https://rufus.ie/en_IE.html )

And this is about as much as I can offer. At this point you have chosen your distribution, and downloaded the ISO and burned it to a bootable media. Now you boot it, and hopefully follow simple instructions to install it. Some of them may ask you to set a password for “root”.

In Unix root is the admin account. It is all powerful. Make sure you choose a good secure password, and don’t forget it… write down if you have to. In general you should not run day to day as root. You should be in a user account, and you will elevate to the root user when it is necessary. (Mostly for maintenance and installing programs.)

Many other Linux distros have disabled the root account for direct logins. In that case, it will ask for your user account name and password, and it will make this user account able to do admin. It does this by putting your account in a list known as the sudoers list. The sudo command is a command that lets you “set user and do” commands from the command line. So if you needed to run command “foo” as root, you would do “sudo foo”. It will prompt you for YOUR password (to confirm you’re still at the keyboard, and some hacker hasn’t just sat down when you got up to get coffee) and change to user root and run the foo command.

That should be enough to get you going. Have fun learning and exploring. I bet you’ll feel pretty comfortable pretty quick, and you can always ask back here if you get stuck.

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Almost every distro has a liveCD that you can trial without making any permanent changes to your computer.

I used to be a Windows only person, but I’ve transitioned to Linux. The Desktop Environment basically is the look/feel of the OS. Personally I like KDE (Plasma) via Kubuntu. I’ve used Cinnamon (via Mint distro) in the past. It’s very “Windows” like as well. If you have a powerful enough machine, and still need to run Windows, you can just run it inside Linux with something like VirtualBox or create a dual boot system and run both (that’s what I’ve done).

You really do learn a lot as you go. I’m to the point I’m running a headless (no desktop environment, controlled via SSH on my laptop) Ubuntu server for my home automation software (Home Assistant running on Docker). It’s been running stable for months without a reboot. It’s all about what your needs are.

Start with live distros and see which ones you like best. Good luck!

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When I first started I was told (once you pick/install your distro of course) to just start using it and when you come across something you can’t figure out, Google it.

This is fine if you’re independent and motivated but it did come across as a “stack overflow” type of answer. As in pompous and not very helpful.

The first thing I wanted to learn was how to use the command line. I’m sorry for this but I actually cannot find the link I was going to post but there are some “command line games” you can either download or play in browser. This was a GREAT way to learn commands and how the terminal works. It’s like a text based game that teaches you terminal commands, file system structure and how to do things you’d typically use your mouse for. For me, it was a very natural and easy way to learn the terminal.

I suggest googling “Command line tutorial games” or some variant. I wanted to post the specific one I used but I’m having difficulty finding it. I dislike telling people to just Google it but for now that’s the best I can do.

Hope this helps!!

Thanks for all the input everyone…my head is spinning…a little. :crazy_face:

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No problem! It’s a lot of fun to learn. Not a bad idea to google the system you are using and see what the best type of Distro would be best for your hardware. But as Leo said System 76 does a great job with Pop OS and Ubuntu will run a ton of stuff. Both are very easy to set up and get going.

Best of luck and feel free to ask more questions!

I think getting an easy to use Linux distro such as Ubuntu, installing it, and then just playing is the best place to begin. There are loads of videos on YouTube that will show you how to get started and solve common problems and tasks.

I also find that when learning anything, it is handy to have a project in mind. For example, if you are a developer, build your first web app. This will provide an opportunity to set up the right toolchain, run a local server, etc.

Pick a project and have fun figuring out the different pieces. There are also lots of Linux communities out there such as:

https://reddit.com/r/Linux

Be careful with the Reddit /r/Linux crowd though, they can be crotchety. :wink:

Good luck!

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Very helpful…thanks!

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even for novice i would add an arch distro. Manjaro does a great job of making the ach linux flavor accessible and their dark theming is great for ppl with low vision.

Maybe have a look at Linux Lite https://www.linuxliteos.com/ . The user interface has been designed to be as familiar as possible for people making the transition from Windows, so it might make a good transition. Still allows access to all the nuts-and-bolts elements of Linux, but for most of the things you need to do there’s also a graphical interface which could be less intimidating. It will also run well on low-spec hardware, so is good on old PCs.

Additional tip: quite a few distros are Ubuntu-based, and Ubuntu has I believe moved to concentrating solely on 64-bit code. If your old PC can’t run 64-bit code, perhaps because the CPU doesn’t support it, the distro installation will tell you. In that case go back and look for the most recent 32-bit release that’s marked as LTS (long term support), as it will probably be getting updates far enough ahead to be fine for your evaluation project. In the case of Linux Lite version 3.8 32-bit will be getting updates through to April 2021.

You sir, must be a sadomasochist! :stuck_out_tongue: The Arch folks are notorious for treating newbies like scum! To install the base Arch Linux you have to do it all manually from the command line and follow 20 pages of instructions that already expect you to know what you’re doing. And Arch is a bleeding edge sort of place, stuff breaks all the time and when you can’t fix it on your own, prepare to be belittled if you dare ask for help. I would consider Arch to be the opposite of new user friendly.

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He did point to an arch BASED distro, manjaro and that has a graphical install like many other’s so anyone can. yes arch users are more purists, but arch does have the best wiki and great how-to’s.
But its going to be updated daily and can be unstable at times if you stay on the bleeding edge.

Linux Academy has a free community edition. There is a course to introduce you to Linux. The name of the course is “Linux Operating System Fundamentals”

Linux Operating System Fundamentals

Have you heard of Linux, but don’t really know anything about it? Are you a non-technical person just wanting to know what this ‘Linux’ thing is? Then this course is for you. Eschewing any technical practices, this course takes a high-level view of the history of Linux, the open-source movement, and how this powerful software is used today. We will look at its many types of deployments, and the various incarnations of a Linux “distribution.”

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