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I'm a CS undergraduate, and I'm a newbie to the Unix-like OSs. We used Fedora in our labs, but I've not mastered it. I've installed Windows 7 on my laptop and I want to install this Unix-based OS.

These are my laptop capabilities:

  • Processor : Intel i3
  • Memory : 4GB DDR3
  • Storage : 320GB

I think other details are not needed. Are those capabilities is enough? If so, which distribution should I use?

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Since you've used Fedora before, go ahead and download and install it fedoraproject.org/en/get-fedora. –  Tshepang May 4 '11 at 16:21
    
@Tshepang - Echoing what you and @Caleb say below, I'd go with Fedora in this case. It doesn't have the easiest package management system to grasp (RPM), but this will presumably be explained in detail in the lab. –  boehj May 5 '11 at 4:18
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7 Answers

up vote 4 down vote accepted

That machine is more than capable of running a Linux-based OS.

You will get a hundred different distribution recommendations. Look for something geared towards a desktop: Ubuntu or Debian or Fedora perhaps.

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If you're new to UNIX-like OS's, then you should consider a virtualization solution, as David Mackintosh suggests. Why? Well, you can use this to learn the good and the bad about the OS. You can make mistakes and break the VM as often as you want without affecting the host Windows machine; this type of practice is essential as it gives you the practical experience you would need for using the OS for real work. For a first educational example, install a basic OS in the VM then, in the root directory, can run a recursive force delete:

cd /

sudo rm -fr /

Why do this? When you've done it once, and you see what effect it has, you'll understand why you would never want to do it again. Of course, this is just a simple, but illustrative example. Be prepared to delete the VM and re-install after this.

Which OS? For a GNU/Linux system I usually recommend Debian because it's stable and the installer is straightforward to use. If you've used Fedora, you could choose that for its familiarity. These systems have many users so finding help when you have a problem will be easy.

What next? Work out what you want to learn or try out. The command line is a good starting point, to understand the basics of what they offer and where to find different parts of the OS. Installing a graphical interface isn't essential, but means you'll already be familiar with the interaction model. Don't worry about performance at this stage, you're still learning and that should take precedence. Here are some suggestions for topics to investigate and put into practice on your new OS.

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In your first example, most VM's also provide snapshot abilities so instead of having to delete and re-install the os when you bork it playing around with rm, you can just roll back to the last snapshot and be back in a few seconds hacking where you left off right before that stupid command. –  Caleb May 4 '11 at 20:32
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You can run Linux on MUCH lower grade hardware than any current version of windows, so don't even worry about that. It's sometimes the really new hardware that people haven't gotten driver bugs ironed out yet that sometimes cause issues.

As for picking a distro, you will get a million answers and since there isn't really a right one, Stack Exchange is not even there right place to be asking that question. However I would like to suggest how to answer your own question rather than jumping straight to an answer.

You should choose whatever distro the people around you are most familiar with. You mention your lab uses Fedora. If you interact with those guys and other people are learning the linux ropes on Fedora go with that. If the guys next door are Ubuntu geeks go with that. If you hung out with me and my friends you would be strongly advised to go with PLD-Linux. If you lived in İstanbul you would be best off with Pardus.

Linux is best learned and used in some kind of community and you will be able to get over some of the early learning curve problems more easily if you are doing it together with people who hit the same problems. Every distro will have a different set of issues, different rough patches, different strengths.

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Having a great site like this reduces the need to use whatever your friends use. –  Tshepang May 5 '11 at 9:10
    
You might be surprised how much you can learn if somebody is at the next desk over :) –  Caleb May 5 '11 at 10:40
    
Yeah, I do agree. –  Tshepang May 5 '11 at 11:32
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As a learner you want to look out at something you can adjust to easily and also give you the same user experience as you would get in windows, i would suggest you install OpenSUSE 11.x or 10.x , its a neat OS and it shouldn't give you too much grief learning the ropes.

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I would say go for Ubuntu. It's the easiest to administer in my experience (all our servers are Ubuntu), is faster on updates than other distros, and apt-get (package manager) is quite friendly. The online community is fantastic as well, and I've rarely run into a situation that it hasn't already solved.

Good luck in your Linux/*nix Journey!

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There are a number of good responses here already, but one suggestion I'll add is to consider using LiveCDs/LiveUSB as a first step. This will allow you to boot directly off removable media, so you can fiddle with a distribution without having to install it first. It's a relatively painless way to get your feet wet with various distributions.

Many distributions have LiveCDs available, and some LiveCDs double as installation media should you choose to commit to a particular Linux flavor. Some links:

Fedora LiveUSB HowTo

Ubuntu LiveCD

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Personally I would recommend that you look at a virtualization solution like VMware Workstation (if you have money for such a thing) or VirtualBox (if you don't).

Going this way will give you a couple of capabilities that you don't otherwise have -- for example, you can run a couple of (small) instances at the same time, and you can quickly clone VMs.

The other advantage is that your laptop will almost certainly run more efficiently with its windows-based drivers, probably giving you longer battery life. Some hardware in the laptop might not be natively supported with Linux. If you don't care about the unsupported hardware then this isn't an issue for you.

The downside to doing it this way is that linux run in virtualization like this will be slower than if it ran directly on the hardware.

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-1, I have never seen a windows system performing more efficient than a Linux system.It's funny. +1, virtualization is a good idea.then nothing –  Behrooz May 4 '11 at 18:11
    
@Behrooz When it comes to driving hardware, crappy Windows drivers can provide a result better than that provided by total lack of support in Linux. On a platform that is well supported by both Linux and Windows, I agree -- Linux usually wins hands down. But laptops, especially current, high-power laptops, have been known to be poorly supported by Linux. –  David Mackintosh May 4 '11 at 18:22
    
yes, but assuming you overcome that problem, it works really faster.i have already had this problem.(read my answer) –  Behrooz May 4 '11 at 18:30
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