For those new to Linux I've put together this information to help you learn a little about it. You don't need to read all of this just to install Linux and start using it, but if you like, read all of it, or just look over and read what you want, it's your choice. If you really don't care to read anything and just want to start installing a Linux version, you can check out the many different versions, also known as a 'Distro' when referring to a single one, or Distros when referring to more than one, short for Distributions, at Distrowatch.com; http://distrowatch.com/ Remember, just read to learn and have fun! Linux is fun! To begin with I'm not going to tell you one version is better than the other, because the truth is there are many great distros and it really comes down to personal preferences and what you like. In the beginning, while you are still new to Linux, understanding what you really like won't happen until you try many different distros to get a feel for what is out there, along with many of the different things Linux has to offer, like different desktops, window managers, package managers, etc... After you've experimented with the many things Linux has to offer, then in time, you'll find what you like and settle on it. This is the beauty of Linux, choices, there are many to choose from and the only way you'll know what is out there is by exploring and trying the various distros and various applications, to find what suits your tastes. For myself in the beginning, Linux was a hobby, even today it's still a bit of a hobby and I've always enjoyed checking out the different things when the different versions come out, the geeks call this 'Distro Hopping', and boy I have done my share of hopping around over the past 11 years. So when you play like I've done and have fun checking them out, you're going to really find something that suits you and in this quest you're going to gain more knowledge and become a better Linux geek! So let us begin... In all Linux distros there are many different desktops out there to choose from. During the installation some have choices and some do not, some also offer choices after the installation is over, typically found in the 'Package Manager', I'll discuss more about the Package Managers later. Gnome, KDE, Xfce and LXDE are the most popular at the moment, but there are also a few others out there. EDE: http://equinox-project.org/ Gnome: http://www.gnome.org/gnome-3/ KDE: http://www.kde.org/screenshots/ LXDE: http://lxde.org/image_galleries/screenshots Razor-qt: http://razor-qt.org/ ROX Desktop: http://roscidus.com/desktop/home Xfce: http://www.xfce.org/about/screenshots Next we have Window Managers, the same can be said about them, the choices and what comes with the distro. A Window Manager means something that 'Manages Windows'. Gnome, KDE, and other desktops typically have their own, but these can be replaced by other managers to give a new look, feel and functionality. Many window managers can also be run by themselves, referred to as a, 'Stand Alone' desktop. What do all these choices mean regarding desktops and window managers? It's called productivity, the ways in which you want to handle your tasks. These choices will help you to bring out, find your best efficiency. Here are two sites that list desktops and window managers; Xwinman: http://xwinman.org/ The Comprehensive List of Window Managers for Unix: http://www.gilesorr.com/wm/table.html Here is some information on Wikipedia about X Window Managers: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/X_window_manager There are several window managers out there, these are only a few of the more popular ones. AfterStep: http://www.afterstep.org/look.php Blackbox: http://blackboxwm.sourceforge.net/ http://blackboxwm.sourceforge.net/BlackboxStyles Enlightenment: http://www.enlightenment.org/ http://exchange.enlightenment.org/theme Fluxbox: http://fluxbox.sourceforge.net/screenshots-dev.php FVWM: http://www.fvwm.org/screenshots/desktops/ Icewm: http://www.icewm.org/ http://box-look.org/index.php?xcontentmode=7311 Openbox: http://openbox.org/wiki/Openbox:Screenshots Pekwm: http://pekwm.org/projects/pekwm http://pekwm.org/projects/3/wikis/Screenshots Window Maker: http://windowmaker.org/ http://box-look.org/index.php?xcontentmode=7313 Windows management in Linux has never looked better since OpenGL acceleration came along. This provides different ways and looks in managing windows and desktops with new enhancements and visual effects, Compiz provides Linux this new direction. Compiz: http://compiz.org/ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Compiz Moving on to packages, distros all incorporate their own ways of managing them. You ask, what is a package? Good question, a package is the way in which the software that has been built for your system is packed into the various archive formats, which I list a few below, as the 'common types of extensions (archives)', so it can be managed, installed, updated and uninstalled in your system through the package management system called a 'Package Manager'. Some of these programs are more varied then others depending on the developers intentions, flexibility and the ease of use intended, simply put, a way in which to manage the software packages. Here is some more information on Package Management: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Package_management_system These are a few of the common types of extensions (archives) you'll find with the different types of package managers, along with various spin offs from these. .deb (Debian GNU/Linux package manager): http://www.debian.org/doc/FAQ/ch-pkg_basics.en.html .rpm (originally Redhat Package Management): http://www.rpm.org .tar - .tar.gz - .tgz (Tarball Files): http://www.gzip.org/ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/.tar Here are some popular package managers: Apt-Get: http://wiki.debian.org/Apt PackageKit: http://www.packagekit.org/ Pacman: https://wiki.archlinux.org/index.php/Pacman Portage: http://www.gentoo.org/doc/en/handbook/handbook-x86.xml?part=2&chap=1 Rpmdrake and URPMI: http://wiki.mandriva.com/en/Docs/Basic_tasks/Installing_and_removing_software Synaptic Package Manager - (graphical front-end for apt): http://www.nongnu.org/synaptic/action.html YaST: http://en.opensuse.org/YaST http://en.opensuse.org/YaST_Software_Management Yum: http://yum.baseurl.org/ Yumex (Yum Extender) - (graphical front-end for yum) https://fedorahosted.org/yumex/ Zypper: http://en.opensuse.org/Portal:Zypper Package management in each distro allows you flexibility to work with the packages to a degree and some more then others. How flexible you want to be is up to you, the system you choose and what your needs are. Just because a certain distro comes with it's own default package manager, it doesn't mean you can't install another one to meet your needs better, but this isn't typically done. Some distros actually incorporate a few package managers to work with, or their default manager will run from either a, GUI (Graphical User Interface), or a command terminal where you can type commands, both allowing you different levels of flexibility by the choices you need. So what does all of this package management mean and how is it really going to help? Simply put, it means, 'Management', the way in which you'll be able to manage them. What you really have to ask yourself here is, what kind of management would you really like to have? Here's a look at the common command terminals: Gnome Terminal: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/GNOME_Terminal Konsole: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Konsole Xterm: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Xterm Moving on to another subject, Linux like Windows during the start up and shutdown goes through what are known as runlevels. Different functions of the startup, or shutdown processes are accessed, known in Windows as, 'Normal', 'Safe-mode' and 'Command prompt', etc... In Linux these are known as the 'User Modes', different ways in which to access the system. Besides the different modes in Linux, Services and Daemons also come into play in these runlevels, basically in the same way as Windows does. The advantage Linux runlevels have over Windows' boot modes, is that Linux runlevels can be changed on the fly. Here is some information on runlevels, services, and daemons: Linux Services, Devices, and Daemons: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Daemon_%28computing%29 The runlevels most distros make use of are either the, 'System V' init style, or the 'BSD' init style, or a slight variation of them. Runlevel Init Information - Init Runlevels: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Init What this runlevel system means to you is the flexibility to change the way in which a part of Linux behaves and how you manage certain parts of it. No matter what you use Linux for, this is an important aspect of system administration, helping you to manage and customize Linux to your needs. Run levels on Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Runlevel Run levels on Linux.com: http://www.linux.com/news/enterprise/systems-management/8116-an-introduction-to-services-runlevels-and-rcd-scripts With everything that has been mentioned, basically what separates most Linux distros is package management, runlevel operations, and various tools for system management. Linux means not only choices, it's also about personal tastes, yes your own personal tastes and that is another great quality of Linux, the ability to make it your own. So even though you are new to Linux, when you're looking at the different distros, don't think that just what you are looking at it is all you get, this is not true. Even though the developers or community have not included something into a distro, as long as it exists, then you can go straight to the developer, grab it and install it, sometimes they even have the software compiled already for your distro, if not, with experience you can learn to compile and install software and customize the look in many different ways to suit your needs. I touched on a few of the differences, but there are even more. There are many cool things each one has to offer, but when it gets right down to it, no matter what all the differences are, 'Linux is Linux' and you just have to decide what works for you. Basically what you'll see as an inexperienced user until you get familiar with Linux is that hardware out the box is working in some distros and in others it's not working. It's not correct to assume that one distro over the other is better because one works and the other doesn't, it's simply that the developers have configured things for you, something that can be done in any distro. Distros that are not as set up are considered more hands on distros, designed for those that want to do it themself. In the end, this means, what one distro can do, so can all the others, it's just a matter of what the goal of that distro was built for, new users, ease of use, or for more experienced users, etc... Linux is a Unix based operating system: http://www.unix.org/ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Linux If you find yourself after trying any of these distros falling flat on your face in disgust, then don't worry, we've all been there. Maybe you've started out using a distro that was geared more towards the experienced user, so have a look at what you're using, ask around and if that is the case, then find something simpler and move on. Later when you've gotten comfortable and somewhat use to this new world, then try your luck again if you had your hopes set on another distro that you weren't having luck with the first time around, don't give up, because if you think Linux is your thing, then go for it and have fun, but if the learning is going to be in frustration, then the journey is going to be even more painful. Just remember, have a good attitude and you'll learn and enjoy it more! Since most of you reading this are probably using Windows or Apple, then you'll be glad to know that you can just as easily use Linux too. To do what you do in Windows and Apple at the same level of experience you have, or desire to have, can just as easily be obtained in Linux. It's not that Linux is necessarily any harder, it's just different and with different comes a learning curve is all. Comparison of Windows and Linux: http://www.diffen.com/difference/Linux_vs_Windows http://www.computerhope.com/issues/ch000575.htm Here is a comparison of Windows programs with their equal counterparts for Linux to help you with your transition. Alternatives to Windows software: http://www.linuxalt.com/ http://www.linux.ie/newusers/alternatives.php http://einstein.drexel.edu/liki/index.php/Equivalent_Windows_Applications http://wiki.linuxquestions.org/wiki/Linux_software_equivalent_to_Windows_software Programs to help you run Windows applications and games in Linux. CodeWeavers: http://www.codeweavers.com/ Gametree Linux: http://gametreelinux.com/ VirtualBox: http://www.virtualbox.org/ Vmware: http://www.vmware.com/ Wine HQ: http://www.winehq.org/ Here are a few Linux sites with a wealth of information to help point you on your new way. Linus Torvalds: (The Man!) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Linus_Torvalds The Linux Foundation: http://www.linuxfoundation.org DesktopLinux.com: http://www.desktoplinux.com/index.html Free Software Foundation: http://www.fsf.org/ GNU.org: http://www.gnu.org/ JustLinux: http://www.justlinux.com/ Kernel.org: http://www.kernel.org/ Linux Central: http://linuxcentral.com/_v3/ Linux.com: http://www.linux.com/ Linux Devices: http://www.linuxfordevices.com/ LinuxInsider: http://www.linuxinsider.com/ Linux Pro Magazine: http://linuxpromagazine.com/ Linux Format: http://www.linuxformat.com/ Linux For You: http://www.linuxforu.com/ Linuxhelp: http://www.linuxhelp.net Linux Journal Magazine: http://www.linuxjournal.com/ Linux Magazine: http://www.linux-mag.com/ Linux Planet: http://www.linuxplanet.com/ LinuxQuestions.org: http://www.linuxquestions.org/ LinuxSecurity.com: http://www.linuxsecurity.com/ Linux.sys-con.com: http://linux.sys-con.com/ Linux Slashdot: http://linux.slashdot.org/ Linux Today: http://www.linuxtoday.com/ Linux User and Developer: http://www.linuxuser.co.uk/ LWN: http://lwn.net/ The Linux Documentation Project: http://www.tldp.org/ Later on down the road when you are looking for help, IRC (Internet Relay Chat), is one of the best ways to get live, real time help. The best OpenSource server in the world is Freenode, http://freenode.net/ On freenode's site is a list for the servers to join, http://freenode.net/irc_servers.shtml Xchat, http://xchat.org/ is the most common tool of choice for IRC and the most popular, GUI (Graphical User Interface), IRC client that you can use. Most Linux distros either come with Xchat installed, or available to install and most of them also have Freenode listed already. There are a little over 300 distros listed on Distrowatch at the time of this publishing, http://distrowatch.com/ The home page lists the Top 100 and this link, http://distrowatch.com/stats.php?section=popularity lists all of them. The distros always go up and down in popularity, so use Distrowatch as a guide. Here's what you've learned, you're going to pick a distro, it will have it's choice of desktops, window managers, package managers, runlevels, and other various tools, and overall a look, feel, and functionality that you'll either love, or hate. In time, you'll find what you're comfortable with and that is what you're going to stick to. The key here is, YOU, what you find that suits your needs, no one else's. Through trial and error you'll find the best Linux distro, the one you like. Everyone will have their own idea of what's best, and you need to figure out what's best for you, it's a personal choice. Learn what the name Linux really means, it's not the complete system as some believe; http://www.gnu.org/gnu/linux-and-gnu.html Now go have fun!