Linux Recommendations at the Department of Earth & Planetary Sciences
There are now just too many Linux distributions to count, but we pretty much recommend two these days. Many years ago we used to recommend RedHat to everyone since it was the standard for both desktops and servers. Here are our two favorite distributions with links to where you can download them. For fast downloading of both Ubuntu or CentOS use the University of Illinois which has a large comprehensive download mirror site. Most distributions must be downloaded as a ISO image to burn onto a DVD or CD using Nero or one of many freeware CD burners like Ashampoo Burning Studio Free for Windows, or gnomebaker, brasero, cdrecord or K3B on a Linux machine.
- Ubuntu Linux The most popular Linux distribution in the last several years has been Ubuntu which hails from South Africa. Ubuntu or one of its variants is probably the best pick for a laptop or desktop client. Being an Earth & Planetary Sciences department we must mention Ubuntu is the only distribution led by an individual who has actually travelled in outer space, Mark Shuttleworth. Based on Debian, Ubuntu has grown incredibly quickly in popularity and we found it to be one of the most stable distros for supporting modern hardware. It uses Unity by default, gnome is also available and also a KDE version called kubuntu. Plus its versions have cool names like "Wily Werewolf", "Warty Warthog" and "Breezy Badger" which sounds a lot less geeky than just some numbers with a decimal point. It has now become my distribution of choice. For a server type system, make sure you use a long term support (LTS) version like the Precise Pangolin (12.04) or the Trusty Tahr (14.04) which will be supported for 3 full years (5 years for server packages). The latest LTS version is the Xenial Xerus (16.04). Most people with newer machines should use the amd64 version, but if you are trying it on an ancient system with less than 4GB of RAM or that does not support a 64-bit architecture, use the i386 version.
- CentOS is an open distribution based on Red Hat Enterprise Linux, which provides an enterprise class distribution 100% compatible with the commercial product from Red Hat. It is what we run on most of our servers. It tries to stay current with the latest Red Hat releases, yet offers free support via their community and web site. It is not be as cutting edge as Ubuntu or other distros, but makes up for that with more stability and reliability. A similar open distro compiled from Red Hat Enterprise source code is Scientific Linux which is maintained by several prominent scientific institutions.
For more information on the various distributions, you should visit DistroWatch which tracks all of the major and not so major distributions as well. Anyone who wants to borrow a Linux DVD to test on their system can stop by my office and I will gladly give one to them. Yes, mine is the office with the giant penguin poster on the wall, penguin stickers on my door and a large stuffed penguin sitting on my microwave oven (not to be confused with Patrick's office whose penguin is inflatable.) We truly do not want to know what Patrick does to that inflatable penguin late at night in his office!
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