Tips for the Fresh-born Linux Newbie

Discussion in 'Linux Basics' started by DevynCJohnson, Mar 3, 2014.

  1. DevynCJohnson

    DevynCJohnson Well-Known Member Staff Member Staff Writer

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    Many of you newbies may want or need to use and understand GNU/Linux, but you may have no clue where to start. You probably have dozens of questions. Well, this article will hopefully give you some guidance when using GNU/Linux for the first time.

    One set of information that will help you is understanding some terms and definitions. First, you may be wondering "what is the difference between GNU/Linux and Linux?". Simple, "Linux" refers to the kernel while "GNU" refers to the applications above the kernel. So, "GNU/Linux" is the whole system. Next, it is helpful to know that GNU/Linux comes in many flavors/types called "distros" or "distributions" which differ at the userland level (they come with different software). Some distros include Ubuntu, Linux Mint, Fedora, AnitaOS, Slackware, Gentoo, Arch, and I could keep going on. By the way, the kernel is the core part of the system that controls the hardware and the user applications running on the kernel. Feel free to ask more questions about the kernel if this is too confusing.

    It also helps to understand a filesystem and a partition. A filesystem is a special format for a storage device or a portion of the device. For example, many memory cards and flash drives use the FAT32 filesystem, MS-Windows hard-drives use NTFS, GNU/Linux usually uses ext3 or ext4, and so on. A partition is a portion of a storage device. A hard-drive, flash drive, etc. can be divided in to multiple parts. For illustration, instead of your system seeing one 16GB storage device, you could partition it. Then, the system would see the single storage device as two 8GB storage units (you can partition it multiple times in varying sizes. The two 8GB is just an example). To manage filesystems and partitions, users may use Gparted.

    Now, you may be wondering how to select a distro and get it. Well, in general, newbies may like/need/want Fedora, Ubuntu, CentOS, or Linux Mint. Try each one (yes, GNU/Linux is free) or watch Youtube reviews on these distros to assist you in choosing the one you like the best. Once you are ready to download the distro, search for it on Google by typing something like "download DISTRO-NAME-HERE iso". Near the top you should see a link to the distro's website. Go there and download the ISO for your system. Obviously, get the distro that works with your processor because a distro image (ISO) for AMD64 will not work on an x86 processor. Once the free download is done, use your preferred disc burning software to burn the image to the disc (a CD or DVD depending on the distro).

    Many Linux distros vary in their specific installation instructions. In general, read online documentation first and/or watch Youtube videos about the installation of the chosen distro. Usually, users can place a disc in the disc-drive and the BIOS will boot off of the disc (after rebooting the computer), or go into your BIOS and choose to boot from disc or however your BIOS may phrase it (CD-ROM, DVD-ROM, etc.). Answer the installation questions and choose the settings you need. Also, make sure you know the timezone and keyboard layout/type; knowing these beforehand will make the process easier. When it comes time to partition and prepare the storage unit(s), here are some helpful hints. On a bare metal install without multi-booting, create five partitions -

    #1 - The partition for the distro should be at least 20-25GB (unless the installation instructions state otherwise). Format this partition as ext4 and set the mount-point to "/". The partition maker's interface is simple, so using the program is self-explanatory. If you are installing an older distro, then use ext3 instead of ext4.


    #2 - Make a partition for /home/ which is where your personal application settings and files are stored. Format this partition as ext4 (ext3 for older distros). Making /home/ its own mount-point

    #3 - Make a partition for storing files you either do not wish to store in your home folder or want to share with other users who use that computer. Format this as you wish. Most likely, you will choose FAT32 (case-sensitive file names; no file permissions) or ext4 (case-insensitive).

    #4 & 5 - Make two swap partitions that each have a size equal to the system's memory. Most users make one swap partition twice the size of the memory. Splitting the swap space into two parts increase performance for some systems.

    #6+ - Some advanced users divide the storage device into six or more partitions with a separate mount-point for various parts of the system (like /var/, /tmp/, /boot/, etc...). However, this is usually used on servers.

    At the very least, make two partitions - one for SWAP and another for the system.

    For the rest of the installation process, users may have very few or many questions to answer and settings to set. As long as the user read the documentation, this should be an easy process.

    You may have many other questions that you want answered. Well, many GNU/Linux users will strongly suggest you read the documentation or read forums. Linux.org is a great website for getting help (hmmm, maybe we are a little bias :rolleyes:). The wiki and forum sites specific to your distro or the piece of software in question should provide the help and answers needed. As you continue to read the documentation and use GNU/Linux, you will get closer to becoming a Linux Guru.

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  2. Kovax

    Kovax Member

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    Nicely done
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  3. Neb

    Neb New Member

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    Very nice statement, however, I do have a question about that. What are the benefits of having two swap partitions? And as somewhat a noob, what does the swap space do? What gets stored there?
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  4. Yesyesloud

    Yesyesloud Active Member

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    Oversimplifying: swapping involves writing RAM to disk when the system "feels" it's necessary. When it happens, you can't say it's a very fast process.

    Benefits: SWAP improves system stability, but I don't think it consistently affects resourceful desktops/notebooks. I have run swapless systems flawlessly (6-18GB RAM). Servers and low ram computers can benefit better from SWAP.

    But it's a sensitive topic, take a look at: http://askubuntu.com/questions/184217/why-most-people-recommend-to-reduce-swappiness-to-10-20
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  5. DevynCJohnson

    DevynCJohnson Well-Known Member Staff Member Staff Writer

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    It is like having two paging files. It can help speed up the system. However, I have seen some systems not gain performance with two swap partitions.
  6. Pedro Caza

    Pedro Caza New Member

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    Not sure if this is the best thread but I'm busting my brain and wasting my time trying to find a distro that installs easy, automatically handles grub, but allow sme to select a partition to install alongside windows XP. I've used ubuntu 10 for ages but when I upgraded to 12 or later to 14 the desktop goes awol, I guess it's an issue with the graphics card or xorg but I haven't the time to mess about. Then I tried fedora, mint but wouldn't allow me to choose partitions and had to install ubunto 10 again to restore grub, access XP and all. Any suggestions for a quick install would be appreciated. thanks
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  7. DevynCJohnson

    DevynCJohnson Well-Known Member Staff Member Staff Writer

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    Arch or Slackware might allow you to have more control over the installation.
  8. Yesyesloud

    Yesyesloud Active Member

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    Slackware rather than Arch, as you're looking for an easy install.
    Or Manjaro (user-friendly Arch-based).
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  9. Eric Z. Ma

    Eric Z. Ma New Member

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    Fedora allows you to select partitions during installation. There usually is a button there with a name like "customize the partition" or similar. But it may not be the best distro for Linux newbies. Fedora is famous for being cutting edge and at the mean time requires some problem fixing technique. For a newbie, it is better to install a previous version of Fedora (19 for now, 20 is the latest one) and run `yum update` just after the installation. Usually, bugs are fixed and it runs well. After around half a year, upgrade (fedup) to the the next release and it is should be already quite stable.
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