Where and how can I learn Linux

The right Linux distribution for beginners

Hermann Apfelböck

When Windows XP died out at the latest, many users began looking for a replacement. Taking into account both younger and older hardware, this article shows which Linux is suitable for those switching.

EnlargeUbuntu is easy to install, the interface is simple, and the included software is comprehensive.

The Linux kernel is freely available, and currently around 350 more or less narrowly specialized distributions use this basis. In addition to countless Debian systems, there are also the Slackware and Red Hat branches, as well as the smaller Arch and Gentoo branches. Many special and server systems are ruled out as end-user systems from the outset, many more are desktop-compatible, but unsuitable for those switching to Windows. Read in this article what we recommend to Linux beginners if they have current, older or very old hardware.

1. Linux live systems to try out

An important tip in advance: Many popular Linux distributions such as Ubuntu, Kubuntu, Xubuntu, Linux Mint, Open Suse and Debian are also available as so-called "live systems" that run directly from a DVD. You can usually find these live systems as a separate download on the developer's website.

You can therefore protect yourself in two ways before installing Linux: When you try it out on a live system, you can first see whether you like the system, and second - more importantly - whether it fits the hardware. A perfectly functioning live system will not cause any hardware problems, even if it is installed. Note that a system installed on hard drive will run significantly faster than a live system from DVD.

Install Linux next to Windows - that's how it works

Advantages and disadvantages of Linux

Advantages: Linux is free, portable, and clonable. Linux is also more secure because installed software comes from the distribution's trusted package sources. In general, Linux is a less attractive target due to its lower distribution and a difficult one on top of that because the various distributions differ more technically than Windows versions.

Disadvantage: In contrast to Windows, hardware manufacturers do not provide an optimized Linux driver for every device. Some exotic devices therefore do not work or do not work optimally. Energy-saving mechanisms on notebooks that have been optimized for Windows bring battery runtimes that cannot be achieved under Linux. There are also gaps in the software - especially in games and some high-quality Adobe and Microsoft products.

2. Pre-sorting for those switching to Windows

There must be a bit of Linux family history, because you can use it to roughly pre-sort: Gentoo- and Arch-based systems are islands for Linux connoisseurs and therefore definitely unsuitable for those who switch to Windows. With regard to the Red Hat systems, two distributions should be emphasized that are suitable for more technically experienced users:

Almost every new version of Fedora Linux is an eye-catcher and Linux trendsetter with innovative functions. However, Fedora is neither trimmed for frugality (in case you want to replace older Windows with newer Linux) nor for beginner-friendliness. The installation already poses a number of hurdles and should therefore overwhelm typical Windows users.

Mageia is also part of the Red Hat family. It is the only variant there that is clearly aimed at the end-user desktop. The installation wizard is one of the best that Linux has to offer. The only thing that speaks against Mageia at the moment is that the young distribution (since 2010) has no tradition and its sustainability is uncertain.

EnlargeKDE is the most sophisticated Linux desktop with unlimited customization potential. The Kubuntu system base is Ubuntu.

Open Suse is the only Slackware descendant to be mentioned here. For over a decade it was almost unchallenged the only Linux that aimed at the end-user desktop with comfortable graphical operation and configurability. The rock-solid, albeit complex, distribution has lost some of its importance in favor of the Ubuntu family in recent years. With avant-garde functions such as the young file system BTRFS, Open Suse is also actively moving away from the mainstream itself and is now more likely to serve the wishes of Linux enthusiasts.

Ubuntu is a Debian descendant and the first choice for beginners and those switching. Since the first version in 2004, Ubuntu has become the most popular distribution and the quasi-standard for end-user Linux. If you need a functioning and stable system quickly, without having to deal with the system itself and the administration, this is the right place for you. In contrast to many other Linux alternatives, every newcomer can get along with the exemplary graphical installer ("Ubiquity"). In addition, the Ubuntu family offers different equipment variants for every taste with an identical base. The differences between these variants are firstly in the individual user interface (desktop) and secondly in the software supplied.

EnlargeThe Linux Mint interface is based on conservative operating habits and is currently very successful.

3. The best "Ubuntus" for beginners

Ubuntu always has a current April or October version every six months and an LTS (Long Term Support) version. LTS versions do not have the very latest functions, but are preferred in companies as well as by many private users because they are provided with updates for five years. The intermediate versions only receive support for nine months. In any case, Ubuntu also allows a direct upgrade to the subsequent version. LTS versions get subversion numbers through larger update collections similar to the service packs under Windows.

Ubuntu: The main version of Ubuntu has good to very good software for all common everyday tasks. The in-house development Unity by the Ubuntu company Canonical serves as the desktop. This interface provides a system-level main bar at the top and a start bar for programs on the left. The concept is not only aesthetically convincing, it also makes sense immediately. The very simple but stylish Unity interface is ideal for Linux beginners who want to see little system and a lot of software. System settings and customization options are reduced to the bare minimum. Regardless of the simple interface, Ubuntu requires reasonably up-to-date hardware with 2 GB of RAM and a dual-core processor or better.

EnlargeXubuntu with XFCE desktop is an ideal system for netbooks that used to run Windows XP.

Xubuntu: The "X" in Xubuntu indicates to Linux connoisseurs the main difference to the main version, namely the user interface XFCE (instead of Unity). This mature desktop with a classic start menu looks conservative to dusty at first, but offers every scope for individual design - provided you have some (Windows) experience. Xubuntu offers an application menu that is always available (right-click on the desktop) and a drag & drop function with the right mouse button, as you would otherwise only find under Windows. The software is pretty much complete from the time it is installed, but is content with simpler programs. With this and the relatively lightweight desktop XFCE, Xubuntu is also suitable for older hardware or weaker netbooks. A GB memory and a CPU from Pentium IV are completely sufficient.

Lubuntu: The "L" in Lubuntu refers to the LXDE user interface - a spartan and economical desktop with a classic start menu, but without charm. Lubuntu rewards pragmatic users who only care about the result of the mouse click with very low hardware requirements: 512 MB RAM is sufficient, and a Pentium III or AMD Athlon is sufficient as a CPU. When it comes to software, Lubuntu only brings the bare essentials.