Where to get linux: How to get started beginner guide

The purpose of this tutorial is to serve as an introduction to the Linux operating system by showing prospective users where they can download Linux distributions, and help them choose which one would best fit their needs.

Keep reading to learn about the principle differences between major Linux distros, and figure out which one will serve as your first foray into Linux operating systems.

When people say “Linux,” what are they actually referring to? Linux isn’t technically an operating system itself, but a kernel that serves as the foundation for a fully packaged operating system.

In this tutorial you will learn:

  • How different package managers work
  • What is the difference between various GUIs
  • How to weigh new features vs stability of a distro
  • What hardware requirements are needed for Linux
  • How to test Linux as a live environment
  • Where to download Linux
Where to get linux: How to get started beginner guide
Where to get linux: How to get started beginner guide
Software Requirements and Linux Command Line Conventions
Category Requirements, Conventions or Software Version Used
System Any Linux system
Software N/A
Other Privileged access to your Linux system as root or via the sudo command.
Conventions # – requires given linux commands to be executed with root privileges either directly as a root user or by use of sudo command
$ – requires given linux commands to be executed as a regular non-privileged user

Package management

Before we get into downloading Linux, we need to understand one of the main differences between all Linux distributions. Nearly all of the most popular Linux operating system belongs to one of the following three groups:

  • RPM (Red Hat Package Mangement) mainly used by dnf
  • DEB (Debian Package Management) mainly used by apt
  • libalpm (Arch Linux Package Management) mainly used by pacman

Package management defines the rules on how the software (packages) will be installed on any particular system. Beyond this, all Linux systems are very similar and if a user can get comfortable with a command line administration and usage of Linux distribution with RPM, he would feel very much at home when using DEB or libalpm based Linux distribution.

See more about this topic in our companion guide on the Comparison of major Linux package management systems.

Graphical user interface

The Graphical User Interface, or GUI for short, is where you use your mouse and different types of windows to interact with the operating system. And it will often differ from distribution to distribution. Once again, the differences between various GUIs is mostly negligible, and mastering one will give you a lot of overlap with others.

Here are some of the main GUIs you will run across on various distributions:

  • KDE Plasma
  • Xfce
  • Cinnamon
  • MATE

Most of the Linux distributions will allow you to install and use multiple GUI interfaces, so when answering your question on which Linux to get, do not let the GUI decide for you which distro to choose. For example there is Ubuntu which has a default GNOME GUI and then there is a Kubuntu which has a default KDE GUI. Nevertheless, Ubuntu allows you to install KDE and vice versa.

New features vs Stability

One of the slowest growing Linux distributions in terms of new hardware support and GUI innovation is Debian Linux (a personal favorite of mine). Debian Linux is for conservative users where reliability and stability is a number one priority.

On the other hand, take a distribution such as Ubuntu Linux, which implements new hardware support with very fast pace and GUI interface changes rapidly with every new version. However, the drawback is that Ubuntu can be more buggy, which may make life difficult for the affected users.

There are also distros that implement changes even faster than Ubuntu. Rolling release distros such as Arch Linux, Manjaro, OpenSUSE Tumbleweed, Fedora, etc. sit close to the “bleeding edge” where the newest software is constantly added, but you are more likely to get “cut.”

Despite some drawbacks as mentioned above, distros like Ubuntu and Fedora are very user friendly and often recommended as first time distros for Linux newcomers.

Hardware requirements

Linux usually has very low hardware requirements. Any distribution will usually have no problem recognizing most or all of your hardware, so no additional driver (module) installation is required. You do not need a special hardware to run Linux. As a matter of fact, computers have a much easier time running Linux than they do Microsoft Windows.

Just in case you have a particularly old PC that you would like to install Linux on, you can check out our guide on 10 Best Lightweight Linux Distributions For Older Computers.

Live Linux

There is no need to install Linux if you want to just try it. Linux is able to boot and run in a live environment, either from CD/DVD or flash drive. The main Live Linux distribution and the mother of all Live Linux distribution is Knoppix Linux. All you need is to get the Knoppix Linux ISO image, install it to your flash drive, and boot to the flash drive when you start your PC.

Check out our other guide on Live CD/DVD Linux Download to learn more about distros that can be used as a live environment.

Where to get Linux

You will find download links to more than 20 of the most popular and recommended Linux distributions, as well as a short summary of each one, on our Linux download page.

Closing Thoughts

This tutorial has served as an introduction to some of the most basic concepts and differences between major Linux distributions. Hopefully, as a new or prospective Linux user, this article has helped answer some questions that you had before downloading the operating system.

Although many Linux distribtions exist, there is no “best distribution.” The best one will simply be the one that you enjoy working with the most. And there are many things you can do to maximize the usefulness of your system, such as trying out different desktop environments and other settings. Welcome to the world of Linux.

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