Complete newbie to Linux needing advice

For years, I have been immersed in the Apple ecosystem and have recently decided to shift to PC.

To that end, I have purchased a refurbished Dell Lattitude 7940 laptop and expect delivery today. It is shipping with Windows 11 Pro, but I hoped to use a Linux distro instead.

As a complete normie, are there any distros for beginners that would work with the 7940? If so, are there any limitations or elements that will not work correctly that I need to be aware of?

As with any PC, I presume that one still requires anti-virus software. Are there any brands that work better with Linux than others?

Are there any other issues I need to be aware of as a complete novice?

Many thanks

Jay

Hi Jay, welcome to the Forum!

Most flavours of Linux run similar recent versions of the Linux Kernel, so fundamentally choice of distribution tends to be driven by hardware capability and user preference. Some desktops for example tend to use more memory than others, some have better support for third party graphics drivers, etc. Probably the best approach is to get hold of Linux removable media, and try out some different options without actually installing Linux on your machine. (i.e. run Linux directly off that removable media - say a USB key)

This will give you a feel for what your preference might be, and whether it has any issues detecting all of your hardware. You might like to take a quick look at this page; Multiboot USB Key 1.0 is Here!

Anti-virus is an interesting one. Some people will tell you “yes” and point you at the software they use. From my perspective, I don’t think anti-virus software on Linux is useful. The “why” of this is probably a very long-winded 1000 page essay, but to try to summarise;

  1. The attack vectors for Windows are different to those for Linux. Many simply do not exist under Linux so many of the checks done on Windows systems just don’t apply under Linux.
  2. Linux was designed differently to Windows. Security was a fundamental feature in the original Linux design so again, many issues have just never existed under Linux.
  3. The current security threats that face Linux systems aren’t ones that traditional anti-virus systems do or can address (afaik) so there is a risk of introducing a potential false sense of security into the equation which may not be helpful.

Arguably a “better” approach is to simply adopt more secure behaviours. So for example;

  • Don’t install any software that doesn’t come from a known reputable source (typically your distribution provider via their software installer)
  • Where possible install snap or docker based packages so any installed software is sandboxed within a “container”
  • Don’t install browser extensions or anything else that could interfere with your network communications (3rd party VPN’s, Proxies etc)

So a vanilla Ubuntu Desktop installation for example, should be usable and fairly secure “out of the box” without any additional configuration.

My personal choice, if a system has less then 8Gb of RAM I will typically use XUbuntu and the XFCE desktop. (which is a low memory usage desktop). For more than 8Gb, I prefer KUbuntu (KDE Desktop). Whereas I like Vanilla Ubuntu and the GNome desktop, I don’t like to log out or indeed reboot. Unfortunately my experience of Gnome over the years has been that it has seemed to have a tendency to leak memory. Maybe it’s better now, I’ve not tried it recently.

hth

Would you discuss those comments in a bit more detail, please? Especially the first bit.
Thank you.

Sure. So for context, I run a bunch of containers on my machine which provide live services on the Internet, so when I reboot they go offline (which is undesirable).

Once I’m logged in and working, I typically run 5 virtual desktops with 20-30 windows, all logged into various machines and containers. Typically getting set up again after a logout or reboot can take 30+ minutes, so “needing” to logout or reboot to me is a significant problem. My last reboot was 57 days (which will have been for a kernel upgrade) as far as I can remember, that was my last login.

So, that’s how stable KDE is. Not only has it not crashed for 57 days, it typically doesn’t crash, nor does it’s memory usage increase to the extent that I would ultimately log out and back it to regain lost memory. (i.e. the Gnome shell is a program, if it leaks memory, the only way to get that memory back is to restart the program, which means logging out)

When using Gnome (historically) I found that over time, the memory usage would bloat to the point of requiring a logout, typically within hours. After much experimentation I found one of the causes of this memory bloat to be optional desktop apps / plugins, some of which were very useful, but ultimately terminal in terms of leaks. After trying with no plugins, it was better but over time the net result was the same.

Had it been a linear / long-time accumulation, at the time I probably could have stood for an overnight logout, however if frequently took far less time than this to bloat - depending on what I was doing. I was unable to nail down “exactly” which operations caused problems and ultimately I tried other desktops. If you google something like “gnome memory bloat” you will find lots of other people with possibly similar experiences.

Things may be better now, however we’re still subject to lightweight vs heavyweight desktops in terms of memory usage with XFCE in the lightweight category and KDE + Gnome in the heavyweight camp.

Hi Keith,

Thank you very much for your informative and instructive comments.

Some of it is above my head - I am a normie, after all - but you have given me some great advice and material to consider.

Wishing you all the best

J

Hi Jay.

Actually it was the Mad Penguin who provided the advice - and like you, much of it is above my pay grade. But I shall add a post or two to help expand the explanations. Please do keep referring to this site to improve your knowledge of Linux, and continue to ask questions - no matter how simple they might feel.

Keith

@ Mad Penguin
Many thanks for your explanation which I found very useful.

The difference between operating systems and desktops (with so many of them) has always been a source of confusion to me. I use Ubuntu as my default operating system but have never liked its default “Unity Desktop” that it comes with. I installed the Classic View “gnome-session-flashback”, a menu-driven desktop which is very intuitive, easy to use and doesn’t use much memory, but is never discussed anywhere - which is strange.

Your comments re bloat in Gnome compared with KDE gives me pause for thought, especially as even light usage (FF+Thunderbird+Nautilus) occupies 50% of my 8GB memory, and I have been experiencing the occasional freeze in Firefox (but we’ve been here before!). That said, I have fiddled about so much with my system that I suspect that I am the source of much of my problems. So no change there, then.
Is it easy to use KDE desktop with Ubuntu? And is it worth a try, if so?

Keith

Erm, yes … essentially the different flavours of Ubuntu are very similar, they just have a different selection of applications installed by default. (the desktop being one such application) You should find (don’t shoot me if I’m wrong, but last time I tried …) you can switch by with “apt install kde-plasma-desktop”, albeit you may need to do a few mode apt-get’s to get all of the default KDE applications.

Once you have multiple desktops installed, you should be able to choose the one you want at login via the login screen / session chooser menu …

That sounds like worth trying. That is. of course, how I used Metacity (Classic View) but had forgotten about the choosing option. The Ubuntu login screen doesn’t make it obvious that one can switch between desktops.

I’ll have a go and report back.

Keith

Just installed KDE on my Ubuntu system. I was surprised by the amount of downloading but it looks good so far.

Heh, I didn’t mention download volume … :wink:

Given the kernel + initrd usually come in at under 150Mb, that 3-4Gb installation ISO needs to contain something … :wink:

Hi MadPenguin,

Thanks for all your help so far. It is proving invaluable.

J

1 Like

Hi J, welcome to the forum and the wonderful world of Linux! You will find that the environment here is radically different to what you are used to - but not in a bad way!

Unlike other (proprietary) systems, Linux belongs to you completely. What I mean is that you are free to choose absolutely anything that you fancy, to try out, adopt or discard, configure or adapt. Your choice will be as you want it. You do not have to settle for what you are given. Oh, and it won’t cost you anything either!

Linux is inherently secure and, to echo previous comments, installing security software is basically a waste of time. The biggest security risk is the operator. As said, if software from unverified sources is installed then one is asking for trouble. Linux distributions maintain software repositories where said software has been tested and passed as safe to install. Of course, some things will work better or look better than others. No problem - uninstall it and try something else - the choice is vast.

As is the number of distributions! I tried out all sorts when I first came to Linux but finally settled for a ‘mainstream’ one - Linux Mint with the Mate desktop environment - version 21 currently. It’s very stable, is well maintained and has a look that will be familiar to those who migrate.

But the choice is yours! Try as many distro’s as you want via USB stick - just bear in mind that they will run slower than when installed - not the fault of the distro, btw!

Good hunting!

Rich

I know I’m a little late to this discussion but I was just reading through this thread and was interested in the comments regarding KDE because after more than a decade avoiding it I am now a committed user, although I’ve always avoided using it I’ve always been drawn to it and on a few occasions installed it but always hit hurdles I couldn’t get over or understand and also found it heavy, sluggish & unintuitive , but having tried it again recently it seems like a different animal altogether, it’s insanely fast (at least on my machine) & everything just works and so far I haven’t been able to completely screw it up which is quite an achievement for me considering my tinkering addiction which throughout my Linux life has caused me every emotion from uncontainable joy to suicidal despair but that’s the beauty of Linux and that’s how we learn (at least that’s how I learn).
All of that said I probably wouldn’t recommend KDE for a new user not because I don’t think they could use it but because it can be a little overwhelming due mainly to the plethora of configurability options and there are simpler desktops such as xfce that would make the transition from Windows to Linux a bit easier

Mmm, I find KDE a bit of a love-hate relationship. On the one hand I prefer the smooth edges of Gnome and find KDE a little “hard” to look at. Also, the number of options your average KDE application offers can be mind-boggling.

On the other hand, it tends to “just work” and not consume too much memory.

That said in terms of options, I’ve found in the past more advanced features on Gnome can require the installation of potentially unstable or bleeding edge plugins, which can perform poorly. Conversely, KDE seems to include many of these options as stable ‘standard features’.

Then there’s performance. Gnome “seems” to orientated towards people with powerful graphics cards, whereas I tend to prefer lower power (fan-less / quiet) graphics cards …

I run KDE on my main machine, XFCE on my laptop (only 6Gb RAM), and XFCE for non-technical users I support. (XFCE IMHO seems to be the easiest for new users)

I’ve been a Gnome user from the start, although I have sampled other desktops. In particular I have recently installed KDE Plasma and was amazed at how much memory was downloaded for it. In use, I found KDE had far more options than I would ever use and although it looked pretty I found the large typeface of the menu selection lists inconvenient (having to scroll or do a search for a particular item).

In addition, the installation of KDE bled through into my Gnome desktop, with slight differences in colours and formats - and added applications.

My preference is still for Gnome with the Metacity desktop (rather than the awful default Unity) as I find it more intuitive and the smaller menu font allows easier selection.

Horses for courses, I guess.

Interesting, is the metacity desktop the one Debian use? (I must admit in recent years I’ve only really used the stock Ubuntu Gnome)

I haven’t yet tried Debian, so I can’t answer that one, but I guess since Ubuntu is based on Debian(?) it might be.
To a large extent, familiarity is the key as one tends to stick with what one is used to. But of the several desktops I have tried (using try-before-buy ISOs) I still prefer Metacity for ease of use, clarity and intuitiveness.

Ok, so I’ve just plugged in and am playing with what will be a “Mad Penguin Computer” … running stock Ubuntu 23.10 on a 27" screen at 2560 x 1440 with HDMI sound. (so this is a Raspberry Pi5)

Blown away.

I am becoming more tempted each time you mention the Raspberry Pi. HDMI from such a small machine is impressive.
How much memory does your have?