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2.1 Choosing a Linux Distro for Web Design

There are hundreds of distributions of Linux (distros) to choose from—it’s like being in a tech candy store! In this lesson, we’ll cover what distros actually are, and how best to select one with web design in mind.

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Debian-based distros:

RPM-based distros:

Arch-based distros:

2.1 Choosing a Linux Distro for Web Design

Hey, welcome back to Linux for Web Designers. In the last lesson, we went over the basics of what a distro is and what the differences are between one distro and the next. And we also went over what a desktop environment is. In this video, we are gonna have a look at the things you should keep in mind when choosing a distribution that's gonna be suitable for you as a web designer. Now, some of these considerations are gonna be specific to web design and others are gonna be just considerations that you wanna bear in mind in general while you're peeking out which distro is gonna become your favorite. As I mentioned earlier in another video, switching to Linux is not like switching between Mac or Windows where you have to think really hard about it and you have to make sure that the switch is gonna work for you the first time perfectly because it's such a big commitment. With Linux, there are hundreds of different versions that you can choose, different distros. So it's actually in your best interest to try a few of them before you settle in on the one that you wanna use as your daily driver. I'm gonna share with you the information that I have picked up while I've been working with Linux, but it's entirely possible that when you start trying distros you might have a completely different viewpoint on everything. So as much as I will try to give you information to help you out, don't take my word for a thing that you hear, definitely get in and try everything for yourself. And the process of trying out a distro is basically you download an ISO image of that distribution, you burn it onto a USB using a program like Rufus for example, if you're in Windows. You boot your computer from the USB and then in the case of most distributions, you'll be able to play around with that operating system without actually installing it onto your computer. So after you do that with a few distros that you're interested in, then ideally it's good if you have a spare laptop that you're not using anymore, or a spare computer that you can then go through the installation process on and try it out even further. Spend a couple of days just browsing the web with it, and getting familiar with it, and just narrowing down that shortlist of distributions that you think you're gonna go with. When I first started testing out distros, I made the mistake of having all of my data on the same partition as I had my operating systems. And that meant that when I wanted to try a new distro, I had to back up all data somewhere else, change operating system, and then bring the data back in. It's much easier when you're going through this process if you can have your data on a separate partition. Have your operating system on its own partition, then you can very easily replace it and then just have access to all of your files and folders and projects and what have you on this storage partition. Now as I mentioned there are hundreds of distros, but we're gonna focus on the ones that have the largest community surrounding them. There are some distros that are sort of enthusiast distros and they're only maintained by a couple people. But then there are other distributions that have a massive team of contributors working on them, and they have a massive community around them. So that means that you've got more people pitching in to keep that distribution fresh, and updated, and bug-free. And it also means that you've got more people who are ready to answer your questions as you're getting familiar with that distribution through forums, and subreddits, and what have you. And the way you can get a rough idea of what type of community size surrounds particular distro, is by heading to And if you scroll down a little but here, you can see on the right we have a list of distributions and these are rating of how much traffic. A page on this side has had for that distribution in the last six months. You can change the data span if you prefer. But this gives you a rough idea of the community sizes right now. So all of the distributions that I'm gonna suggest to you, shortlist initially, are at the top of this list here. So you've got a lot of people around those projects. Now this shortlist of distributions that I'm recommending you start by looking at, you can loosely group them according to how they manage software. So under the hood, everything's pretty much the same from one Linux distribution to the next in terms of how software is executed. But in a nutshell, the way that you get the correct program files into the correct place varies a little bit from one distro to another. So those loose groupings of software management are Debian based systems, RPM based systems, and Arch based systems. A Debian is kind of considered in a sense the father of many of the operating systems that we have today. Debian is the system that Ubuntu, which is probably the most well known Linux operating system, is based on and then in turn other operating systems like Linux Mint and ElementaryOS are based on Ubuntu. Two most well known RPM based distributions are OpenSUSE and Fedora and then you also have Arch based distributions. Arch itself is a distribution, but when you're first coming into Linux it's definitely too advanced to try to sink your teeth in to from the beginning. Unless you're really, really wanting to sit down and go through a pretty steep learning curve right away. I would recommend that if you're interested in this type of operating system, and we'll go into why that may be a little later, that you look at Manjaro or Antergos. So that's our shortlist, Ubuntu, Mint, Elementary, OpenSUSE, Fedora, Manjaro and Antergos. Now a little bit about those distributions. Three of them are corporate backed distributions and that's Ubuntu, OpenSUSE and Fedora. So Ubuntu is backed by the company Canonical. OpenSUSE is basically the community version of the enterprising operating system SUSE. And in the same way, Fedora is the community version of Red Hat, Enterprise, Linux. ElementaryOS, on the other hand, rather than being corporate backed, is a small business. And this is an operating system that still free and open source, but it's funded by a pay what you want model. So when you're downloading the operating system, you can elect to pay whatever amount you would like to download it. That includes free, but if you want, you can put some money towards keeping the operating system going. I think one of Fedora's standout characteristics to consider when you're choosing a distribution is that it only includes free and open source software. So, other distributions when you're installing them, for example, may give you the option to install non-free software. So things like flash, or some proprietary graphics drivers rather than the open source graphics drivers, for example. Fedora doesn't do that. If software is not open then it's not gonna go into that distro. So of this shortlist, if free software as in freedom, is important to you, then you're probably gonna wanna look at Fedora. Mint is basically a community maintained version of Ubuntu. And that's sort of a reductive way to describe it, but in a nutshell that's what it is. There was a portion of the community that wanted to have an Ubuntu-based project that went in different direction to main Ubuntu distro, so they forked that distro and created Mint. And a feature of Mint that you'll probably want to know about when you're getting started in Linux is it has a lot of graphical tools. So if you really, really do not want to touch the command line at, then Mint is probably what you want. It has very good, very stable tools for installing software. It has graphical tools for installing drivers, graphical tools for installing community based software and even for installing and switching to different kernels. So Mint, Manjaro, and Antergos are all completely community maintained, so the decisions on these operating systems ar not made by any particular business. Those whole projects are a community controlled endeavor. And then finally another standout consideration is that three of our operating systems on our shortlist here are rolling releases. And then finally another thing to consider with these distributions is those that have a rolling release model. So a rolling release model is different to a normal major upgrade model. So for example, on MacOS or OS X as it was. At one point you had to upgrade from the Yosemite version to the El Capitan version. But with a rolling release model, that type of an upgrade never happens. Instead, as soon as anything is available for upgrade, it's given to you. And because you're getting the latest things, it's a bit of a double-edged blade. On the one hand, you get all the latest and greatest stuff as soon as it's available, and if there are any long-standing bugs, they can get sorted promptly. But on the flip side, because you're living on the bleeding edge, it's always possible that problems could be introduced in brand new software. So it's just something you have to weigh out. If you are interested in that rolling release model, then you can look at OpenSUSE Tumbleweed version, Manjaro, or Antergos. So that's a little background on distributions and now we can start getting into things that are specifically relevant to you as a designer. And in my opinion, probably the most relevant thing to you as a web designer is how software is installed. And the reason I say that is because each software developer that puts out a Linux version decides what format they're gonna provide that Linux version to you with. If they don't provide it to you in the format that your distro needs then you're gonna have a hard time getting it installed. And this factor in working with Linux software is the reason that I have shortlisted these three distro families because pretty much any software that you're gonna need for web design you will be able to install using these operating systems. Now every distro has its own official repositories. And a lot of software if it's open source, you'll be able to just install directly out of that main repository. However not all Linux software is in official repositories of distros. And when that's the case, you need to know how to access software that is outside those official repose. In the case of Debian based systems, you'll typically be able to download a .deb file. You can compare this to something like an xe file. Know when you're on Windows and you run an executable and an installer, goes through, and puts all the files in the right place. Well, a deb file works in pretty much the same way. An RPM base system is very similar but instead of deb files, you have rpm files. Now with Arch based systems, what you have is the Arch user repository or the AUR for short. And this is a community maintained repository of software that's not in the official Arch repositories. You pretty much have two main pathways to installing software and Arch. The first is just straight out of the official repositories. And the second is at off the Arch User Repository. And if the software isn't in those two and you can't still install but it's a bit of a pain, especially if you're relatively new to Linux. So, let's not boiling all of this down in to what you should actually do. So, if you wanna make sure you have got the absolute widest range of software installers then you should go with a Debian by system like Ubuntu, Mint, or Elementary, or go with an IBM based system. I've never come across a version of Linux software that can't be installed easily on Debian based system. Almost everything that I've used has been available in an IBM format as well, but not absolutely everything. On the other hand, if you start exploring the Arch User Repository and you find that between it and the main Arch repositories it has all the software that you need, then you might like to consider using one of these Arch based distros. One of the big perks of these. That you can use one graphical tool to manage every single piece of software that you have. So with the Debian base system there are a couple of different ways that you can install software and that can feel a little messy. But with Arch base distros, everything is in one place. It's a very neat and tidy, and very easy to keep track of. However, just bear in mind that an Arch base distro can be a bit more of a culture shock when you're coming straight from Mac or Windows, so it might not be the first distro that you wanna try. I just wanna give you a quick example of what I'm talking about with deb and RPM software, as well as the Arch User Repository. So this page to download the Atom editor, which most web designers will have at least heard about, if not be familiar with from using it personally. You can see here that they provide a deb file and an rpm file. So now that dev file you'll be able to install that just by double clicking it on any Debium based system. So Ubuntu, Mint, Elemtaro Os, no problem. And then the same thing applies with this rpm file that they're offering. That's easy to install on openSUSE or Fedora. Now Atom is not in the official Arch repositories, so that means if you want to install on Arch, you'd look in the Arch user repository. You'd normally do this through your software management tool on your actual operating system but this is the homepage for the AUR where you can also do searches to see if packages are available. We'll just search for atom, And right here you can see that we have the binaries for the atom editor. So the name of that software is available for any of these three families of operating systems. With ElementaryOS, I would recommend choosing that if a strong design aesthetic is really important to you. For example, if something you love about Mac is the way that it looks and the polish of the interface, and you really need that in an alternative operating system, then ElementaryOS may have a lot of appeal for you. Out of the box ElemetaryOS is probably the most Mac-like of all of these operating systems. Now it's also one of the youngest ones, so you may find that it has a couple of growing pains, but overall it's a really beautiful operating system. If you want the latest of everything, you want to be on that cutting, or perhaps bleeding edge of a rolling release distro. Then go with Manjaro, Antergos or openSUSE Tumbleweed. Now if free, as in freedom software, is really strongly appealing to you, then Fedora is gonna be the best pick out of this bunch. And if you're not sure yet what you really wanna use and you just wanna try to ease the transition into Linux as much as possible, then definitely go with Mint. In my opinion, no matter which distribution ends up being your favorite, Mint is a great operating system to start with, because it has these graphical tools that allow you to skip using the command line if you don't want to and it's performance is rock solid. I've never had a bug on Linux Mint, everything just works really well. So those are the most relevant points specific to the actual distribution itself that you should consider when choosing a distro for web design, but another major factor is how you work with the desktop environment. And you may find that there is a distro environment you like so much that having an operating system that implements that desktop environment well, becomes one of your major reasons for choosing a distro. So in the next video, we are gonna take a little closer look at some of the main desktop environments that you'll probably be choosing from, and then we'll look at which operating systems to choose to go with particular desktop environments. So I'll see you in the next video.

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