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If you’re really interested in learning about Linux, there are some distributions that are better than others at helping you out. Depending on how deep you want to go, there are different distros that are ideal for you. Just be sure that you know what level you’re really at.

Packaged Distributions

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Packaged distros like Ubuntu, the most popular Linux desktop Why Windows XP Users Should Switch To Ubuntu 14.04 LTS "Trusty Tahr" Why Windows XP Users Should Switch To Ubuntu 14.04 LTS "Trusty Tahr" If you're still trying to dump Windows XP but haven't found an alternative yet, Ubuntu 14.04 is a great choice. Read More , and Fedora, a more advanced and purely open source Linux desktop Fedora 20: What's New In This "Heisenbug" Linux Release? Fedora 20: What's New In This "Heisenbug" Linux Release? Fedora recently celebrated their 10 years of existence with their 20th release – appropriately codenamed "Heisenbug". Read More , are the best distributions to use if you consider yourself to be a beginner or slightly experienced at using Linux. Out of the two, Fedora may be a bit more for slightly experienced users while Ubuntu and Ubuntu-based distributions are for beginners.

I recommend these distributions for the starting Linux users because they are the easiest to master. I’m not saying that you can’t dig really deep in these distributions because you can, but you’re not forced to so you’re a lot less likely to learn new things. But these are also the easiest to install, so if you have a bit of self-discipline to make yourself learn new things besides the “basics”, then these should still be fine choices for more advanced users.

Arch Linux

Once you’ve gotten experienced enough, I’d recommend that you move on to Arch Linux. In all honesty, Arch Linux isn’t terribly difficult to set up and use Arch Linux: Letting You Build Your Linux System From Scratch Arch Linux: Letting You Build Your Linux System From Scratch For Linux power users, it's highly desirable to be able to completely customize your system. Sometimes, that can be best achieved from the start -- by piecing together the components that you'd like to include... Read More , and there’s loads of documentation to help you along the way. If you really are experienced enough, then none of this should be a problem; otherwise, maybe you’re not yet as experienced as you might think.

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The reason why Arch Linux is the next step is because you can still install software with packages, or compile software via scripts provided by the Arch User Repository (AUR). However, when setting up an Arch Linux installation, you only start out with a base system and nothing else. You’ll need to install other software on top of that base, as well as make changes to various configuration files along the way. Again, the documentation (as provided by Arch Linux’s wiki) is very thorough and should easily walk you through anything you want to do.

Gentoo

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While I’m sure a handful of people may disagree with me about this, I believe that Gentoo is the next step after Arch Linux. With Gentoo, you’ll have to do the same things as Arch Linux, but installation is more difficult and you have to compile all of the software Gentoo: A Linux Distribution Where You Compile Your Own Optimized Software Gentoo: A Linux Distribution Where You Compile Your Own Optimized Software The sheer number of different ways in which Linux can be run is astounding, as there are plenty of choices to go around. While there are plenty of distributions which rely on either the .deb... Read More you want to use yourself. You’ll even need to concern yourself with things like compiler flags. This is all stuff that isn’t needed under Arch Linux, although you can do all of this in any distribution (even Ubuntu!) if you really wanted to. But Gentoo forces you to do so.

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While you learn a lot this way, you also get some theoretical performance increases because you’re compiling software yourself and you can change the compiler flags according to your system and personal preferences.

Linux From Scratch

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Once you feel very comfortable with using Gentoo, you’re pretty much a super expert already. But, there is still one more step that you could take: Linux From Scratch. What better way to learn about Linux than to build your own operating system from scratch? This isn’t even a real distribution or anything, but rather just a guide which you can follow along to build your own operating system based on the Linux kernel Create Your Very Own Operating System With Linux From Scratch [Linux] Create Your Very Own Operating System With Linux From Scratch [Linux] Do you know how customizable Linux really is? Well you should if you've even heard of Linux or dabbled in it a bit. If not, try taking a look at a list of over 1,000... Read More .

But once you’ve done this, you can literally say that you know the ins and outs of Linux. Godspeed on your journey, but it’ll be well worth it in the end.

Learning Linux Is Useful & Fun

Learning more about Linux is fun and increasingly important. Even if you aren’t yet sold on using Linux as your daily driver, learning the open-source operating system can be a personal achievement, as well as be a skill that you can put on your résumé. Putting something like “I made my own Linux operating system from scratch” on a resume can be extremely valuable in a job market where Linux skills are becoming increasingly important and marketable. So now there’s two reasons to climb this ladder — personal achievement and job opportunities.

What other Linux distributions could you recommend for any of these expertise levels? What about some Linux education material you find valuable? Let us know in the comments!

  1. eb0t
    March 30, 2015 at 6:26 pm

    ive been battling with gentoo for a couple years now...and still im a total beginner

  2. Jon
    August 12, 2014 at 1:43 pm

    IMO, there's another option you haven't mentioned. I found it most educational, as well as very rewarding to start with a command line installation of Ubuntu, and add in specific packages that gave me a very light installation, that ran quite comfortably on an older 233Mhz Pentium computer with only 256 meg of RAM. It was rewarding both in the sense of accomplishment, but also in having a computer comfortably running an OS that wasn't outdated very comfortably. It takes time to work out what you will want, etc. but is simplified by using the debs from Ubuntu, etc. So it is somewhere between the hardcore, compile-it-yourself, and the ease of Ubuntu, and all within Ubuntu. I don't know if it's still possible to download install ISOs of the bare-bones system, but if it is, that is another option.

  3. KT
    July 21, 2014 at 11:53 pm

    Pretty accurate assessment. You could argue this order as well:

    1. Mint or Zorin. Both look and feel more like classic Windows and have easy software repositories for updates.
    2. The Debian stuff like Pclinuxos. Still has the classic look (except full Monty) and repositories. I like the mate version.
    3. Arch Linux. Getting more advanced.
    4. Gentoo is definitely the toughest.

    • Bob
      July 22, 2014 at 7:16 am

      I agree, but would add Linux Mint DE (Debian Edition). Has rolling updates and supports older non-PAE H/W (fairly common with Intel Series M processors). I think the MATE desktop environment is better than Cinnamon.

    • Bob
      July 22, 2014 at 7:24 am

      Telling an XP user to go to Ubuntu/Unity is worse than telling them to go to Windows 8. There is absolutely nothing about Unity that would make a long standing XP user feel comfortable. Please "techies", you are not the typical users - especially if you are already using Linux distros (and probably have for long time). A person who knows their way around PCs and OSes can usually adapt to any new OS with a lot of patience, a few choice words that your mother would have washed your mouth out with soap and your favorite adult beverage. But the average "grandpa/grandma" or other non-technical type, who uses e-mail and social media on a desktop/laptop would be lost with Unity - its not icons on a desktop!

      • Kraft
        November 20, 2015 at 1:28 pm

        Do not insult techies, we don't like complexity or unproductive interface and we surely are not averse to beauty, unfortunately Unity is neither productive nor beautiful. So I speak for 90% techies when I say "We hate Unity"

        for beginners Mint/Opensuse
        when you get a little more advanced switch to Fedrora/Opensuse. They are the industry standards and thats what you will find in the corporate world. Case in point Redhat (Fedora parent/sponsor) has a turn over of $1.5 Billion, Suse 400 million and profit making while Ubuntu struggles at 30 million trying to break even.

    • dragonmouth
      July 26, 2014 at 12:24 pm

      @KT:
      Sorry but PCLinuxOS is Mandriva based, not Debian.
      The toughest Linux distro is Linux From Scratch.

  4. Guy M
    July 18, 2014 at 11:14 am

    When people ask me how to learn more about Linux, I'm going to point them to this article.

  5. Hugo
    July 18, 2014 at 12:29 am

    I learned the basis with ubuntu, but when ubuntu was not that user friendly, now i only have a openwrt machine to keep myself fresh in linux.

  6. Simon
    July 17, 2014 at 9:37 pm

    imho (based on my own experience)
    Between Ubuntu and Arch should be Debian.

    • Danny S
      July 31, 2014 at 9:08 pm

      I see your point, but I don't think that it's really all that much different from Ubuntu. That's just my interpretation. Otherwise, I'd have to include Fedora in that too, but instead I put them all together into one category.

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