Starting with Linux can be quite a puzzle. There is so much to choose from that new users might get lost. Here I want to help choosing the right sort of Linux so that you actually can start using and appreciating it. I won’t get into the discussion about what distribution (Mint, Ubuntu, Fedora, OpenSuse, etc, see distrowatch.com) is best because that is a matter of taste.
Deciding what sort of Linux you can use depends on your hardware and the things you want to do with your computer. Doing resource demanding graphical stuff on a somewhat aged computer will get you frustrated. Even on Linux, hardware will set limitations, even when Linux will perform much better on the same machine than with Windows.
Now Linux comes with different types of desktops. Compare it to the different look and feel of Windows XP, 7, 3.11 or Mac OS. These different desktops — the look and feel — share basic functionality but differ in needed hardware resources. Linux basically comes with four types of desktops that you can choose from depending on your hardware:
- LXDE — bare basic desktop for computers with limited hardware, or limited needed hardware for speeding up the user environment;
- XFCE — basic desktop for computers with standard but modest hardware;
- MATE — extended desktop for regular computers;
- Gnome3, KDE, Unity — desktop for more powerful computers, mainly on the graphical side to to offer a modern, visual attractive working environment.
The beautiful thing about Linux is that you can add almost any software to any of these desktops. So choosing a light desktop like LXDE still makes it possible to use a more demanding graphical program like GIMP. Every mainstream Linux distribution comes with a program to add and remove software that will install all needed resources.
Now hardware requirements differ between desktops and distributions. distrowatch.com is a good starting point browse do the site of a specific distribution and find some requirements.
A different way to see if your computer can run the Linux desktop of your choice is using a Live image of Linux. Most distributions offer downloading a .iso file that you easily can put on a CD or — more practical — a USB stick. This way you can test drive Linux, see how it performs and what it’s like before installing. The great thing is that it will not change anything on your hard disk when only using the Live image.
With unetbootin you can make such a LiveUSB on the fly. Unetbootin comes with pre installed links to several Linux distributions, but it isn’t possible to choose a different desktop with each distro. Luckily unetbootin enables you to select a downloaded .iso file on your harddisk. Instructions for the use of unetbootin and starting Linux from it are given on the site.
After using the LiveUSB Linux version you can choose to install it on your computer. Some distributions ask if you want a dual boot system so you can choose which operating system you want to use on your computer. You also can choose to wipe out all and start using Linux in future. The choice is up to you, but don’t forget to back-up your data before installing Linux on your computer!
I also wrote an article on choosing the right Linux desktop for OpenSource.com. You can read it here.