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I use a remote linux server to host websites (typically LAMP, although i'm beginning to branch out)

I'd like to install a very basic version of linux on a spare laptop i have so that i can try to learn the basics of how it works.

Can you suggest a distribution for me to use so that i can get a basic command line running, then that i can learn how to install packages, and generally play around in a 'safe' Linux environment.

I'd like (but don't need) to mimic my remote host's environment as much as possible, but i'm struggling to find out what Linux dist they're using. Any help with that would also be appreciated!

Thanks :)

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4 Answers 4

up vote 4 down vote accepted

I strongly recommend Arch Linux for beginners hoping to get into the nitty-gritty without the simplification of a GUI. You can certainly build Arch Linux into a desktop distribution, however what you do with it is entirely up to you. If you don't want any sort of GUI, you won't get one by default. You'll also be exposed to a lot of file editing for configuration changes.

Alternatively there's Gentoo, which will really throw you in at the deep end. Personally I think Arch Linux is sufficient, but if you'd like to take things a step further towards the arcane workings of Linux, Gentoo's your guy.

If you really, really want to understand Linux and have a lot of time to spare, you may also go the Linux From Scratch route.

If these options prove too much, you can't really go wrong with Ubuntu. It's a great distribution that, for the most part, allows you to side-step the whole CLI business if you so wish, but this has the possible side-effect of not teaching you much about Linux as a whole. As per BloodPhilia's recommendation, the server edition may suit you best.

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thanks - that was in the info i was after! how long does the LFS route take? –  significance Nov 2 '10 at 16:41
    
You're welcome! Not a clue, to be honest; I've never gone with LFS. It's a fair assumption that it would take longer than a distribution, however. –  Jamie Schembri Nov 2 '10 at 17:01

Ubuntu has a Server edition that can be installed to a bare minimum for you to play with... I'd recommend that. I always use Ubuntu Server because it is so clean and easy to work with. It's a debian based Linux distro that receives regular updates and has lots of available packages for you to work with.

As for finding out which distro you are using, try

cat /proc/version 

or

uname -a
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I'd like to install a very basic version of linux on a spare laptop i have so that i can try to learn the basics of how it works.

Can you suggest a distribution for me to use so that i can get a basic command line running, then that i can learn how to install packages, and generally play around in a 'safe' Linux environment.

That being said, I personally think Gentoo would be a horrible choice for someone trying to learn how to use Linux, install packages, etc. Not only does it take 2+ days to compile a basic system, it would require a fair bit of familiarity with Linux in order to get everything up and running.

I agree with the previous posters, Live CD's are the way to go if you do not have a few extra computers lying around that are just begging to have Linux installed on them. Alternatively, if you have a reasonably powered desktop or laptop (dual core at least with 2+GB of ram) another possibility is to install Virtual Box (available for Windows, Mac OS X, Linux, Solaris, etc) and install Linux into a virtual machine. As much as Live CD's are great for testing out various Linux distributions, the fact that any sort of package management or configuration is going to be gone after you reboot is a downside. Virtual Box is free, and will allow you to save your configuration, updates to packages, etc all without the fear of possibly messing your computer up.

http://www.virtualbox.org/

I would recommend Ubuntu for anyone wanting to get into using Linux, only because things just seem to work without having to do too much mucking around. If you really want to get a good handle on how package management works, try as many distributions as you can.

FreeBSD (which uses ports) Slackware( which uses slackpkg or pkgtool) Fedora (which uses yum to install RPMs to fill software dependencies) Ubuntu (which uses apt-get, dpkg, dselect, and many many other tools to manage software) Gentoo (which uses portage, very similar to BSD)

You might just find that you like how distribution X does things different than distribution Y for some reason. I find each package management system has advantages/disadvantages depending on what the purpose of the machine is.

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If you just want to play with a linux box, you can use a live CD so you can try different distribution quickly, and then difference software manager, etc.

Ubuntu comes with a live distribution.

And you can find a more complete list here: Live CD list

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