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OFF-TOPIC Beginner's guide to setting up a Linux machine

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The-J

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I've been on Linux since Nov 2018.

Currently running Ubuntu (KDE Plasma) 18.04 LTS on a Thinkpad T580, likely going to upgrade to 20.04 very soon. I've tried Mint (super slow booting from NVMe drives, maybe this problem has been fixed I don't know), Debian (blazing fast but more work than I wanted to do, particularly for security) and Arch (something I played with on a virtual machine, WAY too much work but if you're into that sort of thing then it's awesome)

My tips:

- Don't put a Linux distro on your main machine if you're not completely comfortable setting it up. I don't dual boot to Windows. I haven't needed a Windows machine in a long time.
- Don't install Linux on a laptop that isn't a Thinkpad, Macbook, or a Dell XPS. You will hate trying to set it up. Maybe avoid newer Macbooks as well (2016 on). There are a million reasons for this but most of them have to do with UEFI, SecureBoot and hardware drivers
- If you're going to build a PC, build it with Linux in mind. Make sure that each part has a driver that is easily compatible with Linux. Bonus points if the driver is free/open source.
- AMD > Intel and Nvidia for Linux.
- Everyone's got their own opinion about this stuff: find your own truth. I'm sure @Cyberthal and I disagree on a lot of points when it comes to setting up one of these, but that doesn't mean that either of us are wrong.

Most people in the Linux world are either sysadmins or software developers. Their perspective is going to be very different from someone who runs businesses and is mainly concerned about having a secure machine that can do what they want with as little hiccup as possible. All Linux users can generally agree that we don't want government backdoors in our software or firmware and we're willing to spend additional time and energy with our tech to make sure to minimize this as much as possible.
 

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Cyberthal

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Sounds good to me. Great way to learn Linux is to use it to rescue your obsolete hardware that can no longer run the secure version of Windows or MacOS. Linux performance breathes new life, and CLI-centric usage is resource cheap. Plus someone's already figured out the driver issues.
 

BrianLateStart

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I've been using Linux since the late 90's and Ubuntu since warty warthog back in 2004. Most of that has been running servers, but I always keep a Linux virtual machine on my computers.

Linux is great for 2 types of users. Those that are system administrators that are running servers or those that just use a web browser and email (chromebook users). I'm not going to discuss the first group since the people here aren't looking to be system administrators.

There's a lot of comments here on getting it installed. Getting it installed is the easy part.

I'm trying to run a very small FastLane business where I invented and manufactured my own product out of my garage. There's no way I could have done it using Linux, and I'm very familiar with it. It's when you try to do things outside of web browsing it trips you up. There's free opensource software for everything you could possibly want to do. The software works but it just isn't up to par with with higher end software from Adobe and Apple and Microsoft. The more software you install, the more times you find out that Linux app needs a different version of an obscure library that's not installed on your system and you spend days figuring out a work around instead of getting work done.

I'm not a professional video editor, but I tried a lot of video editing software for my YouTube channel. Final Cut Pro saves me so much time that I couldn't afford not to use it. Another benefit from using professional software is the tutorials on Youtube for learning it are done by other professionals and I find them to be much better than the average instructional video on how to learn iMovie.

There's some amazing free CAD software (Fusion 360) that I designed my product on. Fusion 360 doesn't run on Linux. There are some CAD applications that run on Linux, but once again, you're always trying to find something that might do the job, not do a great job.

Bought a new digital camera? It probably came with some nice software for editing RAW images and many other cool features. Most likely it doesn't run on Linux. You will find something for Linux, but it won't be near as nice or have the level of support that something from Canon or Nikon has.

Need one of your Kindle books open while your working on something. No kindle app for Linux, but you might get it working with wine.

My house has been automated for years, but the software that controls it doesn't run on Linux.

I use Notion as my tool of choice for knowledge capture and tracking everything. I could use the web interface on Linux, but it isn't as nice as using the actual App. You always feel like a second class citizen on Linux

I could go on and on. The more you do with a computer, the less likely Linux is going to work well for you. I haven't really touched on getting new innovative hardware with specialized drivers that require interaction with computers working.

Now don't think I hate Linux, because I don't. I think every computer should have a virtual machine running Linux on it. I think it's perfect when your surfing on public wifi at the local coffee shop It's a much more secure environment and better isolates and protects your host operating system. This is one of the things Linux does amazingly well. Want even more protection? Install Linux on a thumb drive and boot your computer from that when you're on public wifi.
 

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Interesting stuff here guys... While, as it stands, the PC is NOT ready for primetime and I am kind of at an impasse... The Macbook is another story. I could use the speed that a light OS has. Working on a dual boot Mint setup on the MB now.
 

beswaax

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Considering a switch to Linux for my computers... Every time in the past that I have ever tried this... It has been a project of epic proportions. Does it ever just get to a place where you are using it like an actual computer?

With my security, browsing anonymity and privacy becoming of greater concern... I'd like to try again.

Is Ubuntu the best ticket in town for a newbie? I know it will take some getting used to, but screw Amazon, Microsoft, Apple and Google. All four have earned as much distance as I can get away from them.
Ubuntu has the best driver support if you use nvidia. I suggest you use KDE Neon or Mint. Don't use arch based distros at the start, or ever, it will be buggy and if you don't know what you are doing or are not interested in spending a lot of time fixing your OS, just use ubuntu.
 

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As for your Mac, you can install Linux on a Mac...is it a viable option? I don't know, but the possibility exists.
Doesn’t Mac run on some sort of *NIX? I’ve never used one, but the command line appeals to me.

I seem to be doing more and more in the cloud now-a-days. Google Sheets are pretty good for small spreadsheets. I still need Excel for the more hardcore stuff. And I use Camtasia for recording and editing videos.

Hmmm... I’ll just stick with Cygwin for the occasional foray into shell scripting and stay on Windows. I suspect I’d be asking my wife to shoot me if I started down the Linux route...
 

ragnarcallan

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Considering a switch to Linux for my computers... Every time in the past that I have ever tried this... It has been a project of epic proportions. Does it ever just get to a place where you are using it like an actual computer?

With my security, browsing anonymity and privacy becoming of greater concern... I'd like to try again.

Is Ubuntu the best ticket in town for a newbie? I know it will take some getting used to, but screw Amazon, Microsoft, Apple and Google. All four have earned as much distance as I can get away from them.
I assume by 'actual computer' you mean something similar to Windows/MacOS and not a terminal? Whilst there are machines out there that provide this functionality, to start with your probably better off running a few different flavours or linux from a VM or Docker container to see what you prefer and what works best for you before you go ahead and invest in a physical machine.
 

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At least part of the spirit of this thread is the increased privacy Linux brings. In that spirit, I think this article helps with private messaging on Linux.

 

Daniel.

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With my security, browsing anonymity and privacy becoming of greater concern... I'd like to try again.

Considering the above statement, it seems like your main concern is simply online privacy. If that's the case, then I suggest a paid VPN. What is the use of running a Linux machine if you're browsing unencrypted and having all your queries logged?

There's no doubt that running Linux is much more secure and less of a resource-hog over Windows, that's not up for debate but for me personally, Windows is just too convenient since I run Adobe products as well as other software that requires Windows. I run Linux on a VM as well as a few Docker images running PiHole DNS and other crap.

If you really want security at home, set up your own firewall - all ISP provided hardware is crap, when's the last time those things have had an update? I run pfSense and have setup separate VLANs for device groups - such as IOT stuff that I don't want communicating out but that gets a bit more technical.

The point of my post is to get a bit of clarification as to what exactly you're trying to resolve since it's a bit vague.

TL;DR If your main concern is online privacy, use a paid VPN

EDIT:
This is the equivalent to replacing your entire car 'cause there's a street full of salesmen that you don't like, billboards, etc so everyone is suggesting what car/features to get that'll deter these people when y'know, you can simply take a different street and tint your windows.
 
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Fersko

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Not really following why you would switch to Ubuntu, for security / privacy reasons... I mean these are things you can easily avoid by just switching to another browser and search engine. It isn't very hard to turn off data sharing with Microsoft either.

A search engine you could go with is:
I've used that one for quite sometime, doesn't beat Google but that's something you'll have to accept as their creepy data obtainment ironically makes them the best one out there.

A VPN that the other guys suggest, is also a good recommendation.
 

Daniel.

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VPN should be his main concern here, why is this even a Linux Flavor thread? Always step back and look at the root issue and OPs concern is Online Privacy.
 

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Daniel.

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I think every computer should have a virtual machine running Linux on it. I think it's perfect when your surfing on public wifi at the local coffee shop It's a much more secure environment and better isolates and protects your host operating system. This is one of the things Linux does amazingly well. Want even more protection? Install Linux on a thumb drive and boot your computer from that when you're on public wifi.

Just saw this but protection from what? Yes, intruders trying to penetrate your computer but what about the unencrypted packets flowing through the pipe? How will running Linux on a public WiFi protect from someone intercepting data? I hope I'm not coming off the wrong way, just trying to address a common misconception that some less tech-savvy people might think that running Linux is the ultimate secure machine.

Never connect to a public WiFi without a VPN.
 

BrianLateStart

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VPN should be his main concern here, why is this even a Linux Flavor thread? Always step back and look at the root issue and OPs concern is Online Privacy.

It's a Linux thread because OP also stated he wanted to get away from Microsoft, Apple and Google.

Is Ubuntu the best ticket in town for a newbie? I know it will take some getting used to, but screw Amazon, Microsoft, Apple and Google. All four have earned as much distance as I can get away from them.
 

Cyberthal

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Linux is great for 2 types of users. Those that are system administrators that are running servers or those that just use a web browser and email (chromebook users). I'm not going to discuss the first group since the people here aren't looking to be system administrators.
My thought is that power users should eventually become home sysadmins to run backups at minimum and probably media server etc. Linux is good for that. It relieves much strain from desktop computers running consumer OSs.

I'm surprised you're not doing that.
 

BrianLateStart

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I'm surprised you're not doing that.
Back in the late 90's (probably using Windows 95 on the company I worked for computer), I also started a doing some system admin at the same company and used Linux on our servers. I fell in love with Unix operating systems. I also had a G3 powermac running the old MacOS that I used for a photography business. In 2000, Apple introduced the first public beta of their new Unix based operating system OS X!

Once Apple came out with their own version of UNIX, it far exceeded the capabilities of any of the Linux distros I was using. I do have a media server, it's a very old mac mini. It serves media, controls my home automation system, controls/ records and plays back video from my security cameras.

Going from mac OS X to Linux would feel like a huge step backwards. The functionality and integration Apple has with it's products is second to none. And it's compatible with most new hardware.

I still had a VM running Linux on my company's work computer right up until I retired Mid 2020. I prefered using it to running the Windows host operating system.

It wasn't until the last few years (7 or 8 maybe) that Apple hasn't felt like a second class citizen. The home automation software I use (been using it for about 10 years) was the only choice that ran on OS X back then. It's only the last few years where the selection of hardware and software available makes using OS X feel like a first class OS. I think a lot of that was do to the success of the iPhone.
 

Cyberthal

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Huh. Maybe Apple hardware is competitive enough for home server needs, and anything heavier is best bought from the cloud, with its infinite racks of Linux boxes.

But if one has old Windows hardware, THEN Linux is the way to rescue it. And Windows needs a Linux VM to be more than a toy.

Apple cheats by poaching all the Linux software and adding consumer value.
 

Daniel.

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Back in the late 90's (probably using Windows 95 on the company I worked for computer), I also started a doing some system admin at the same company and used Linux on our servers. I fell in love with Unix operating systems. I also had a G3 powermac running the old MacOS that I used for a photography business. In 2000, Apple introduced the first public beta of their new Unix based operating system OS X!

Once Apple came out with their own version of UNIX, it far exceeded the capabilities of any of the Linux distros I was using. I do have a media server, it's a very old mac mini. It serves media, controls my home automation system, controls/ records and plays back video from my security cameras.

Going from mac OS X to Linux would feel like a huge step backwards. The functionality and integration Apple has with it's products is second to none. And it's compatible with most new hardware.

I still had a VM running Linux on my company's work computer right up until I retired Mid 2020. I prefered using it to running the Windows host operating system.

It wasn't until the last few years (7 or 8 maybe) that Apple hasn't felt like a second class citizen. The home automation software I use (been using it for about 10 years) was the only choice that ran on OS X back then. It's only the last few years where the selection of hardware and software available makes using OS X feel like a first class OS. I think a lot of that was do to the success of the iPhone.

Awesome post!

Not trying to go off-topic here but Brian is using software that SOLVES the issue he needs, he doesn't get into an argument as to why his choice is better than others. Not saying anyone here is arguing but you see this all the time, Windows vs MacOS, Android vs iOS, etc.

I use Windows as my main rig because it's convenient and it works for me. Some people prefer Mac and that's totally fine, if that works for them then that's all that matters - there are many people that hate the sight of Apple or vice versa; weird stuff.

Apples' Marketing is top-notch, salute to their team.

There's no perfect solution but they're all good in their own way, use what makes you happy.
 

BrianLateStart

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To get this thread back on track as a beginners guide, here's my recommendation for someone wanting try out Linux (or other operating system).

Summary of what's involved and how I would recommend getting started with Linux
  • Install free virtual machine software (VM) on your computer. VirtualBox or VM Player are good choices .
    • What's a VM? It's software that simulates the hardware of another computer . It allows you to install another OS that's completely contained within your VM. It's not just about running Linux. It's a blank computer that can run almost any OS as long you have the installation files. Have an old program that only runs on Windows 95 or Windows 7? If you have the Windows installation files, you can install it and run in your VM! VirtualBox or VM Player can control multipul OS. You can have Windows 95, Ubuntu, Mint Linux all controlled by the same VM. You would need enough free diskspace to store all the necessary files for multiple OSs. Common terms are Host and Guest OS. The Host OS is the OS the you are running your Vitrual Machine on. The Guest OS is the OS(s) you want to run inside the VM.
    • Why install in a VM instead of directly onto your computer? A VM is probably the least destructive and easiest way to try out an OS. Installing directly on your computer typically requires creating a separate space (partition) on your drive or completely overwriting what's on your computer. Partitioning isn't for the faint at heart if you care about keeping what's currently on you're computer. It's easy to break your working computer.
    • Disadvantages of using a VM instead of directly installing on your computer. As mentioned, a VM is software that simulates a complete, additional computer. It's just a program. But, it's a program that's running a complete additional computer. It needs all the resources that an additional computer needs. It needs to meet the minimum disk space and memory requirements. Your computer is now running two complete operating systems at the same time. You're probably not going to be able to run CPU intensive applications at very fast speeds if you're running it on lower spec hardware with out a lot of available memory.
  • How to get Linux (or other OS) installed in your VM. Looking at the complete picture, a working VM consistent of your VM software (VirtualBox or VM Player) and the installed OS(s). The installed OS will typically be in a .VDI file in a folder ithat it creates at the time you install the OS. It usually puts them in a folder called something like 'My Virtual Machines' on Windows. If you install multiple OSs in your VM, each OS will have it's own .VDI file. The .VDI file is the complete OS, applications, user settings, preferences, etc for that computer. It is the complete computer. Since this .VDI file is complete, it's also portable. Want to have your linux installation on your laptop and desktop? Install VirtualBox on both computers and copy the .VDI to each machine.
    • Get your Linux version by downloading an already created .VDI file. This is the fastest and safest way to try a Linux. It doesn't require any installation because .VDI file are an installed instance. Just download the .VDI and point VirtualBox to it and run your new OS(s). f you google for virtual machine images there are many sites that have prebuilt machines. Pretty much any flavor of Linux can be found. Many are customized with applications for creative users, games, servers, etc. One site for example is: VirtualBox Images (I'm not saying I recommend this site, just googled it as an example, have never used it). Common drawback to using a .VDI is the image is exactly as it looked the last time it was saved. Maybe that was 5 years ago and is out of date.
    • Get your linux version by downloading an .iso file. This is the 'traditional' way to install Linux. An .iso file is another form of disk image. it is how most Linux distributions are downloaded and installed. Visit, your linux of choice, like ubuntu.com and you'll see a download section. Even within Ubuntu, you'll see many different versions. Some for desktops, some for servers, LTS versions (Long Term Support, recommended), non LTS, etc. When you run VitrualBox you can choose the install from .iso option. This is more complex than using .VDI method. Installing from .iso on VM is almost identical to installing on the physical machine. It will need to create a partition and set up its other requirements. These steps can be a little cryptic, but you'll end up with a more up to date system then a .VDI. You'll also know how to install it on your physical machine if you decide you need the added speed.
  • Run your downloaded image(s) and see how well it works with your computer hardware. Now that you have your VM setup, give them a try. You can easily delete ones you don't like and install others. There's a lot of flexibility with VMs.
    • Made a lot of customization to your VM and you really like it, but now you want the speed of it running directly on your computer instead of inside a VM? There's tools that will allow you to convert your .VDI file to an .iso. Now you can install that .iso directly on your computer and it will be exactly like it was in the VM, but now you won't be running two operating systems.
    • Like your VM, but wish it was a little faster? If your not needing to your Host OS that's already running Windows, you can install a very lightweight version of Linux as the Host OS. Install the Linux version of VirtualBox on it. Then add your preferred Linux Guest OS. You're still running Two OSs at the same time, but the lightweight version of Linux as the Host should use much less resources than Windows leaving more resources for the guest OS.
There's thousands of ways to try Linux. This is an approach that I've used and found easy to do. I don't recommend spending a lot of time (unless you're committed to using Linux) learning Linux just for trial purposes. I've mentioned in an earlier post that the more heavy of a computer user you are, I think the less likely Linux will work for you. This approach will at least let you see for yourself without a lot of extra work. Kind of the MVP for Linux trials.
 

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