Linux? What Linux?

(This post is geared towards musicians who are not yet familiar with using Linux for music production - or Linux in general for that matter.)
If you want to start working with Linux, it is important to realise that in most cases you don't install Linux itself. Instead you install a Linux distribution. A distribution is a 'package' containing a Linux kernel (the core of the system), device drivers, an installation utility, a graphical user interface, resources for installing applications, etc. Basically the creators of the distribution have made a lot of choices for you to make your life easier. And there are quite a few different distributions, hence the title of the article, which you can now read as: "Linux? Which distribution?" Here's how to go about selecting a distribution...

distro logosThe different distributions have different approaches regarding kernel features, hardware support, security, stability, the number of applications available, etc. In all cases it is possible to add and/or modify the default choices, but this requires some more in-depth knowledge, so I wouldn't recommend this if you're just starting out. Anyway, there are many mature distributions available that handle the basic requirements very well. Most distributions are created with a specific target or audience in mind, or are created from a certain philosophy. Many (like Ubuntu) are general purpose operating systems. Some are for very specific purposes. You can find a comparison of distributions on Wikipedia that you could use as a starting point.

In selecting your distribution of choice, I'd suggest you also investigate the various desktop environments (or graphical user interfaces), since this has a profound impact on the way you work with Linux. Working with KDE is different from working with Gnome for example and you need to find out which way you like best. The major desktop environments come with a number of utilities for things like file management, disc burning, mail, etc., although again you can always choose a different application. Fortunately, choosing a desktop environment doesn't have much effect on the applications you can use. Personally I used KDE at first, but eventually switched to Gnome since I found it to be more "elegant" and liked the way the basic applications worked better (even though this is simply my personal impression). The major GUIs (Gnome, KDE and Xfce) are all capable, so this is for a large part a matter of personal preference. You can find more background information on Wikipedia.

I suggest trying out Linux on an older computer first and experimenting a bit with various distributions before settling on one. Since Linux is very efficient with resources, an older computer is no problem. For example, I first experimented with Linux on my laptop (that I don't use for music), eventually settling on Ubuntu. And now, as part of this project, I installed a dual-boot on my music PC, so I can keep working in Windows like I used to while having the option to boot Ubuntu for my research in Linux music production (well actually, Ubuntu is the default boot option already....). For most users, switching to Linux is not difficult, and neither is working with it, as long as you are willing to keep a bit of an open mind. The desktop environments for example operate along the same lines as you might be used to in Windows, but don't expect any of them to be exactly like Windows. The current Windows version is different from the older ones as well remember!

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