Linux ... Where to start? Recommended reading ...

Discussion in 'all things UNIX' started by Mrkvonic, Dec 15, 2008.

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  1. Mrkvonic

    Mrkvonic Linux Systems Expert

    May 9, 2005
    Hi all,

    One of the most difficult things about Linux is too much choice. The abundance of distributions, packages, versions etc simply confuse the new users. It's like driving one brand of a car your entire life and then being employed as a host on Top Gear Extra.

    So, in this thread, I'll list several valuable sources of Linux information that should help you get your bearings. These are neither holy nor a must, but I think they can help you get started with Linux in a painless and fun fashion.

    Start at the top and slowly move down.
    Distrowatch is the de-facto Linux portal. Anything you need about Linux is there. But I what I mostly think you should use are:

    1) The popularity meter, aka Page Hit Ranking, which tells the most popular distros for the last six months - an excellent starting point. Choose one of the leading distros and then go from there. Don't forget to read the reviews.

    2) Reviews. Yup. Read them. They'll tell you a lot about the distro. Many of the reviews also offer tips on how to install and configure the distros, saving you time and effort and teaching you new things along the way.
    Tuxmachines is another great site. It's a sort of news portal for the NIX world, with lots of great articles featured, almost on an hourly basis. If you want to read and learn new things, including cool applications, blog rants, tutorials, reviews, it's there.
    An excellent place to learn the command line and Bash shell scripting.
    Excellent tutorials on many different subjects.

    For anything about Ubuntu ... one of the better and faster Linux forums.
    Lots and lots about Ubuntu, many great tutorials and howtos.

    You may have noticed I did not list specific items, like how to configure this or how to configure that, because that's something you should try only after you have selected your distro and started working with it.

    The above links will lead you to many such tutorials and how-tos. Besides, if you invest time reading and learning new stuff, the above repertoire will keep you busy for quite a bit.

    Additionally, some fairly advanced, impressive stuff:
    The Linux Documentation Project ... THE source of all info.
    Your best online source for manual pages for Linux commands.
    Anything you want to know about the Linux firewall ...
    Lots of very detailed, very advanced tutorials about lots of stuff, including mainly dual boot stuff.

    I've noticed Longboard created another similar thread:

    Should we merge them?

    Lastly, you may want to visit my own website. I have reviewed some 20 distros and written some 60-70 Linux tutorials on a range of things, from basic command line tips to server configurations.

  2. Mrkvonic

    Mrkvonic Linux Systems Expert

    May 9, 2005
    OK, now let us expand a little.

    If you have successfully installed Linux and decided to keep it, you will definitely want to customize the system. This means drivers for your hardware, codecs, file and printer sharing, games, and other stuff people normally use in their day-to-day computing.

    Another thing to take into consideration is the fact that almost 100% new Linux users have already used Windows to some extent, which means they already have a notion how things should look and work.

    It is important to understand that Linux is different from Windows. Not harder or easier. Just different. Just like driving a car does not make you an expert on motorbikes.


    Unlike Windows, where each application is a separate entity, Linux treats the entire install base as a part of the distro. Thus, when you're updating your operating system, you're also updating every single installed application, which makes the maintenance much simpler. It also saves time.

    Furthermore, Linux distributions use centralized repositories for software installations. This means you do not need to go around the Internet, looking for packages. You use the built-in menus to search for desired software. The installations are entirely transparent to the user - click to select and off you go.

    This entire process is governed by a tool called package manager. Different distros use different package managers. For example, Ubuntu uses Synaptic (with apt-get), openSUSE uses YaST (with zypper), Fedora uses YUM, and so forth.

    It is also possible to install software manually from sources. But then, they
    will not a part of the installed base and you will have to manually update them. Therefore, it is best to use the package manager whenever possible.


    You will want drivers for your hardware. In general, the Linux kernel supports much more hardware than most (Windows) users think. For most people, using Linux will be a plug-and play experience.

    Some things to consider when choosing a distribution and installing drivers:

    1) Linux is usually free and contains mostly open-source software. This means that third-party code, like Nvidia or ATI drivers cannot be included in the distro by default. This means that you will have to download these and install them by yourself. Most distros offer an automated method for properietary drivers installation.

    2) Almost every single Linux distro ships as a live CD. This allows you to boot from the CD and see how well the distro supports your hardware. Even if some things do not work in the live environment, it does not mean they won't after the installation. But if they do, then they definitely will work after the installation.

    3) Installations are sometimes distro-specific, mainly when it comes to configuration files. Therefore, posting generic howtos / tutorials for this kind of task is rather difficult. But if you want an example how this is done in openSUSE 11.0, using the GUI only, then please check my openSUSE 11.0 tutorial, on page 5 (see link in the signature).


    Most codecs are proprietary. Due to licensing issues in some countries, plus the fact that certain distros stick to only free and only open-source software, codecs may not be included in the distro. In fact, quite a few distros do not ship with proprietary codecs installed, although this changes all the time. The installation of codecs is also a very simple affair. When you try to play files for which your system does not have the codecs, it will inform you and offer to install them for you.

    To see some examples, you may want to check a few of my multimedia tutorials, including the openSUSE tutorial, installing Flash in Linux, Playing MP3 in Linux etc. You can also look for other web sources, too, including the links in the first post.

    Some distros that offer impeccable multimedia support out of the box:
    Dreamlinux, Puppy, NimbleX, Mepis, LinuxMint.


    Games support in Linux is not as good as Windows. There are many fine titles for Linux, but there are many more for Windows. This is the reality today; it may change.

    Still, there are quite a few games available for Linux. A great place to learn more about the games:

    Most if not all of these games are available through the repositories, so manual downloads are, once again, not needed.

    Network file and printer sharing

    You will be able to access Windows shares immediately. To export Linux shares, you will have to do a few configurations, although they are quite simple. You do not need to use the command line to be able to share your resources between Linux and other machines. I have demonstrated the sharing on three different occasions, including the PCLinuxOS and Wolvix articles, where this is done entirely using GUI.

    Furthermore, you can always restort to the command line, which is not a bad exercise, but you do not need or have to. Again, please check the suggested links in the first post to get more information.


    Wilders people will definitely want to learn about this one. Well, the way Linux is designed makes it more difficult for exploitation. One, the centralized and frequent update system. Two, the fact the user runs with reduced privileges in day-to-day tasks and only elevates them when needed.

    Thus, you do not need an anti-virus in Linux. Most distributions come with a firewall already activated. Ubuntu, for instance, does not have any services listening, so the firewall is not needed.

    The rest of the Windows stuff pretty much does not exist for Linux. Browsers threats are identical: including phishing, social engineering etc, but the treatment is the same.

    You may also want to visit here:

    Imaging software

    Quite a few Wilders users also like to clone their operating systems, so they can easily restore to an earlier state if and when something bad happens. In Linux, the chances for something like this are much lower, especially security-wise, but it does not hurt to have a contingency plan ready.

    Imaging software for Linux includes excellent, free PartImage and CloneZilla. Users of Ubuntu-based distros can also use Remastersys to make bootable clones of their installed distributions. I have covered all there, so feel free to check them out. Threads about these programs already exist in this sub-forum.

    I realize that this post contains relatively few links to external sources, but that's exactly the beauty of Linux. You do not need external sources to fully and richly manage your operating systems. Programs, drivers, codecs, games - they are all contained in the repositories.

    Now, if you need help configuring this or that, we have the forum and lots of good people to help :) Furthermore, you should read the sources listed in the first post. I'm not trying to advertise either the other sources or my own website, but people have spent hundreds of hours writing detailed instructions means to help new Linux users. Use them!

    That would be it for now. In the third post, I will talk about migrating Windows-specific software to Linux.

    I'd like to thank nickr for some very valuable suggestions.

    Last edited: Dec 17, 2008
  3. Mrkvonic

    Mrkvonic Linux Systems Expert

    May 9, 2005
    Hi again,

    Let us talk about migrating to Linux from Windows.

    Windows users moving to Linux will face a dilemma. What programs to use? What Linux programs are equivalent to their Windows favorites? And if something is missing, what to do?

    In general, Linux distributions are different from Windows in that they ship with lots of applications already included by default, whereas Windows comes with a basic set of Microsoft-only programs. On average, a Linux distro will contain 100+ programs preinstalled and ready for use - others can be added if needed.

    In most distros, you will find the following: office suite, browser, several multimedia players, several graphics editing tools. These tools will differ from one distro to another. This is because different distros use different desktops. Most distros that use the KDE desktop will have the KDE based applications included, with funny names beginning with K. Most distros that use the Gnome desktop will have the Gnome based applications included, with funny names beginning with G. Of course, most of the time, you will be able to use any which program on any which distro, so you should not be worried about the initial selection.

    The Linux tools will behave pretty much like your Windows tools. Naturally, there will be some differences in GUI, layout of buttons, the syntax and language, but the principles will be the same. For example, how much different can two media players be?

    If you are using open-source applications on Windows, there's a fair chance many of them also exist in the Linux flavor.

    I've written two interesting articles, which should be a good starting point for choosing applications. The lists also have user contributions, quite a few of them from Wilders members:

    Comparable applications

    Here's a nice list showing you the similar/equivalent/alternative applications for Linux that should match your Windows choices:

    What about Windows only applications?

    If you must use your Windows-only applications on Linux, there are several options:


    WINE is a framework that allows you to run Windows application on Linux. It is not the simplest or the most optmized method of doing things, but it works most of the time. For example, you can run MS Office of Adobe Photoshop using WINE.


    Virtualization refers to running entire operating systems on top of existing installations, one inside another, live. In other words, you run a guest, virtual machine on top of a physical host. The two share resources, including RAM, hard disk space and CPU. However, the guest operating system sees a virtualized layer of hardware, which makes it, for all practical purposes, a completely separate machine, inside your real one.

    This allows you to run Windows on top of Linux - and thus overcome any issues of program compatibility, alternatives etc. Popular desktop virtualization programs include VMware Player/Server, VirtualBox. I have several tutorials (with more on the way), if you're interested.


    IEs4Linux is an application that allows you to run IE on top of Linux. This is praticularly useful if you have certain websites that won't open using Linux browsers, no matter what, and you don't want or have the resources to use full virtualization.

    Other solutions

    Other solutions include live CDs and dual booting, but they are not strictly Linux.

  4. Mrkvonic

    Mrkvonic Linux Systems Expert

    May 9, 2005
    Hi all,

    A small update on the topic of recommended Linux software ...

    The new, up-to-date list builds on the 2007 article and contains approx. 50 most popular Linux applications, each presented with a screenshot and quite a few linked to a separate review/tutorial explaining the use of the application.

    I believe you will find the list useful, especially if you're new to Linux and have not yet figured out what to do. It also has a users' recommendation section, some contributed by fellow Wilders members.

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