Getting Started with GNU/Linux


Pinoy Techie
In the beginning was the system... and system was GNU/Linux. And it was LIVE!

So, you're a complete noob and looking to try a GNU/Linux operating system for the first time. However, you've encountered a small bump on the road. You've got questions, and probably a lot of them. But your first question probably would be, "Which one should I use" and "What's the best distribution for a beginner like me?"

It would be difficult to answer these questions because, for one, we really don't know you that well to determine how much of a beginner you are, despite the neophyte nature of your inquiry. And two, you may have a specific reason for wanting to use GNU/Linux, and it would be hard to know exactly which one would best suit your needs; you may want to use GNU/Linux for general or system administrative/programming purposes.

However, chances are, you're looking for a distribution that would allow you to test the system without much configuration; a system that would work "out-of-the-box," and maybe allow you to learn the system overtime as needed. Also, you would like to know how the system looks and run without having to uninstall your existing operating system (which would most likely be Windows ;) ).

Well, there is one sure way you can be able to test a GNU/Linux system for your desktop or laptop without worrying about messing up your current system and data. It's called the Live CD! It's a CD-ROM or DVD-ROM that has a working GNU/Linux system installed so that all you have to do is insert it into your CD/DVD drive, restart your computer, and then your computer will boot from the disk and launch the system.

Sounds great, doesn't it?! Wait, there's still a little problem: which distribution can you choose? Fortunately, because you're a noob, we've compiled a brief list of distributions (distro for short) that provide a Live CD to test and even install GNU/Linux if you really like it.

But first you need to know that when you select a distro to download, you'll actually be downloading a special type of file called a CD image file (.iso). This file needs to be burned onto a CD (or DVD, depending on its size), and for that you'll need a few blank CDs and a special software called a CD burner.

A popular for Windows is called ImgBurn:

Now that you have everything you need, check out the list of popular GNU/Linux distros below:

Ubuntu is a complete desktop GNU/Linux operating system, freely available with both community and professional support. "Ubuntu" is an ancient African word (Bantu, specifically speaking), meaning "humanity to others."

(Hint: whenever you go to a download page of a distro, you may not see where it would say, "Download Live CD." Some distros, like Ubuntu, provide a Live CD and Installation CD all in one.)


Linux Mint

Linux Mint is an Ubuntu-based distribution whose goal is to provide a more complete out-of-the-box experience by including browser plugins, media codecs, support for DVD playback, Java and other components. It also adds a custom desktop and menus, several unique configuration tools, and a web-based package installation interface. Linux Mint is compatible with Ubuntu software repositories.



Fedora is GNU/Linux system that basically picked up where Red Hat Linux 9 left. The Fedora Project is an openly-developed project designed by Red Hat, open for general participation, led by a meritocracy, following a set of project objectives. The goal of The Fedora Project is to work with the Linux community to build a complete, general purpose operating system exclusively from open source software.



Meet the mother of Ubuntu and the grandmother of Linux Mint and other Ubuntu-based (see below). In fact, don't be surprise to find a lot of distros based on it. Debian GNU/Linux was first announced in 1993. Its founder, Ian Murdock, envisaged the creation of a completely non-commercial project developed by hundreds of volunteer developers in their spare time. With skeptics far outnumbering optimists at the time, it was destined to disintegrate and collapse, but the reality was very different. Debian not only survived, it thrived and, in less than a decade, it became the largest Linux distribution and possibly the largest collaborative software project ever created!



openSUSE is a GNU/Linux system whose origins to back to 1992, when it was called SuSE, "Software und System Entwicklung." (Yes, it was developed by Germans, so get over it, lol). openSUSE has a large following of satisfied users. The principal reason for openSUSE getting high marks from its users are pleasant and polished desktop environments (KDE and GNOME), excellent system administration utility (YaST), and, for those who buy the boxed edition, some of the best printed documentation available with any distribution.



PCLinuxOS is a user-friendly Linux distribution with out-of-the-box support for many popular graphics and sound cards, as well as other peripheral devices. The bootable live CD provides an easy-to-use graphical installer and the distribution sports a wide range of popular applications for the typical desktop user, including browser plugins and full multimedia playback.



Launched in late 2003, CentOS is a community project with the goals of rebuilding the source code for Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) into an installable Linux distribution and to provide timely security updates for all included software packages. To put in more bluntly, CentOS is a RHEL clone. The only technical difference between the two distributions is branding - CentOS replaces all Red Hat trademarks and logos with its own. But the connection between RHEL and CentOS is not immediately visible on the CentOS web site; due to trademark laws, Red Hat is referred to as a "Prominent North American Enterprise Linux Vendor", instead of its proper name. Nevertheless, the relations between Red Hat and CentOS remain amicable and many CentOS developers are in active contact with Red Hat engineers.



Mageia might be the newest distribution on this list, but its roots go back to July 1998 when Gaël Duval launched Mandrake Linux. Mageia is a fork of Mandriva Linux formed in September 2010 by former employees and contributors to the popular French Linux distribution. Unlike Mandriva, which is a commercial entity, the Mageia project is a community project and a non-profit organization whose goal is to develop a free Linux-based operating system.



Kubuntu is a free, user-friendly Linux distribution based on KDE's (K Desktop Environment) desktop software (which is why it's Ubuntu spelled with a "K") and on the award-winning Ubuntu operating system. It has a biannual release cycle and at least 18 months of free security updates for each release. Besides providing an up-to-date version of the KDE desktop at the time of the release, the project also releases updated KDE packages throughout the lifetime of each release.



Xubuntu is a Linux distribution based on Ubuntu. Unlike its parent, however, Xubuntu uses the light-weight Xfce desktop environment (which is why it's Ubuntu spelled with an "X") and is optimized for lower-end machines. The distribution includes only GTK+ applications where possible.



Lubuntu is a fast, lightweight and energy-saving variant of Ubuntu using the LXDE (Lightweight X11 Desktop Environment) desktop (I think you get the idea behind its spelling). It is intended to have low-resource system requirements and is designed primarily for netbooks, mobile devices and older PCs.



Fuduntu, originally Fedora-based, but later forked, is a Linux distribution that earns its name by its ambition to fit somewhere in-between Fedora and Ubuntu. It is designed to be aesthetically pleasing, and is optimized for netbook and other portable computers, as well as general-purpose desktop machines.


Puppy Linux

Puppy Linux is yet another Linux distribution. What's different here is that Puppy is extraordinarily small, yet quite full-featured. Puppy boots into a ramdisk and, unlike live CD distributions that have to keep pulling stuff off the CD, it loads into RAM. This means that all applications start in the blink of an eye and respond to user input instantly. Puppy Linux has the ability to boot off a flash card or any USB memory device, CDROM, Zip disk or LS/120/240 Superdisk, floppy disks, internal hard drive. It can even use a multisession formatted CD-RW/DVD-RW to save everything back to the CD/DVD with no hard drive required at all.


ArchBang Linux

ArchBang Linux is a lightweight distribution based on Arch Linux. Using the Openbox window manager, it is fast, up-to-date and suitable for both desktop and portable systems.


A Live CD is a great way to test several different distros out to find which one, or more, suits your needs the best. Keep in mind that this list is very short, for there are a lot of distros out there, and unfortunately, not many of them provide Live CDs.

The links to the screenshots provided are images of "desktop environments." A Desktop Environment (DE) is software that provides a Graphical User Interface (GUI) to control a computer system by providing common tools such as windows, icons, menus, and pointers. There are several desktop environments, the most popular are:





Some of the distros mentioned may provide one of the DE's as a default.

However, what's important to note is to never judge a distro simply by looking at whatever DE it provides in a Live CD or upon installation (similar to the old saying, "Never judge a book by its cover"). Although distros like Xubuntu and Lubuntu provide Xfce and LXDE, respectively, as a default, a DE is not hard-wired to a system, and thus can be changed. Distros, such as Debian and CentOS, provide many of the popular DE's in their repository, allowing you to try different DE's.

We suggest that you take a little time to research as many of the various distros as you can to find the one that's right for you. Below are links to a comprehensive list of distros with Live CDs: OR Desktop type:name Linux OR Desktop
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