UCLA Linux User Group. Free as in Freedom.

Posted at — Jan 1, 0001

So what’s this Linux thing all about? What does Linux look like? What software runs on Linux?

What is Linux about?

You can find a good introduction to Linux here, here, and here.

What does Linux look like?

Over the last few years, Linux graphic user interfaces (GUI) have greatly improved. Click to view screenshots of the current desktop environments offered by the Gnome and KDE Project.

How about software?

There is a large selection of software for Linux. For quick selection and comparison, see the fossfor.us site.

According to freshmeat.net (a large index of software for Linux and other Unices), there are currently over 23,000 projects in development. Many of these programs are Open Source and/or free.

Getting Linux

Interested in trying out Linux? Our Getting started page will step you though the process of finding, installing, and tweaking Linux on your computer.

Installing Linux can sometimes be difficult, but the LUG is here to help!

  1. back up all your data (see page on backups)
  2. pick a distribution
  3. decide if you want to dual boot with Windows/Mac or just overwrite everything
  4. install it:
    • come to quarterly installfest
    • stop by the lounge any time and somebody might help
    • do it yourself!


Choosing a distribution can be challenging! (Though it actually matters less than you think.)

Here’s a short and incomplete list to help you choose:

Debian-based (easiest):

  1. MX Linux

  2. Mint

  3. Ubuntu

  4. Debian

  5. Pop! OS

  6. Elementary OS

  7. Zorin OS

  8. Kali (for hackers)

Arch-based (harder):

  1. EndeavourOS

  2. Manjaro

  3. Garuda

  4. Arch (hard)

  5. Artix

Red Hat based:

  1. Fedora

  2. Red Hat (usually used on servers, including the UCLA lnxsrvs)

  3. CentOS (Red Hat but without the tech support)

  4. OpenSUSE


  1. Void Linux

  2. Gentoo (hard)

  3. OpenBSD

  4. FreeBSD (we run this on some of our servers)

Tips for selecting a distro

If you are a beginner and you don’t want to mess with the terminal that much, choose a Debian based one like Mint. Most of the Debian ones just work straight out of the box. There’s also tons of support.

If you have some experience (or you’re a beginner who is fine with using the terminal), you can try one of the Arch-based distributions. Installing Arch takes a while, but it’s actually not too hard. If you’re too lazy to install Arch, choose a distribution with a graphical installer (like EndeavourOS).

Here’s a quiz you can try: https://distrochooser.de/en/

Comparing Arch and Debian

Choose Arch-based distributions if you want a minimal distribution. Choose Debian based distributions if you want stability or ease of use.

Desktop Environment

The desktop environment (DE) is what makes up most of the user interface. It may include system panels, docks, window borders, backgrounds, and desktop widgets, among other things. GNU/Linux has a wide variety of DEs avaliableā€”this page will outline some of the most popular ones.

It is important to note that no DE is tied to a particular GNU/Linux distribution, or vice versa. Thus, if your distribution of choice is Debian, you may use GNOME, or KDE, or both GNOME and KDE (if you installed both). You can install as many different DEs as you want and try them all!

The three main desktop environments are XFCE, KDE, and GNOME.


XFCE is designed to be fast and minimalist


GNOME is simpler to use, and looks nicer. Of course, this comes at the cost of performance (the difference isn’t that much though).


KDE is in between GNOME and XFCE in terms of performance and features. If you are unsure, KDE is a good choice.

Tiling windows managers:

Tiling window managers are a lot more difficult to use, and aren’t for beginners. Navigation is usually done using the keyboard as opposed to the mouse.

FOSS Software

Below is an overview of some popular software for Linux. For more software and downloads, check out our Software Downloads section.

Web Browser - Firefox, Chromium

Firefox is a standards-compliant open source web browser developed by the free software community with the cooperation and support of Mozilla Corporation. Firefox provides all essential features of a browser for the modern web, and also a wide variety of add-ons that will undoubtedly satisfy anybody’s needs and wants.

Chromium is the open source web browser project from which Google Chrome draws its source code.

Office Suite - LibreOffice

LibreOffice is a free and open source office suite. It includes key office applications such as a word processor, spreadsheet, presentation manager, and drawing program, all with a user interface and feature set similar to other office suites.

Sophisticated and flexible, LibreOffice also works transparently with a variety of file formats, including those of Microsoft Office. It primarily supports the Open Document Formats (ODF), such as .odt (documents), .ods (spreadsheets), and .odp (presentations). Here at the LUG, these are the formats we primarily use. Also, many European governments are adopting ODF as the official format for electronic documents. ODF and LibreOffice promotes total interoperability and information integrity.

Instant Messaging - Pidgin, Empathy

Pidgin is a messaging program that supports multiple protocols, including XMPP/Jabber (e.g. Google Talk), IRC, MSN, AIM, ICQ, amd Yahoo!. It features many plugins and has a large community surrounding it.

Empathy is a messaging program that supports XMPP/Jabber (e.g. Google Talk), SIP, IRC, MSN, AIM, ICQ, and Yahoo!. It supports voice and video calls (only for XMPP and SIP), and has excellent integration with the GNOME desktop.

Audio Player - VLC, MPlayer, Clementine

VLC is famously known as the player that “plays everything.” It can handle DVDs, (S)VCDs, Audio CDs, web streams, TV cards and much more. You don’t need to keep track of a dozen codec packs you need to have installed. VLC has nearly all codecs built-in. It can even play the file or media if it is damaged!

Movie Player - MPlayer, VLC

MPlayer is a movie player for Linux. It plays most MPEG, VOB, AVI, VIVO, ASF/WMV, QT/MOV, FLI, NuppelVideo, yuv4mpeg, FILM, RoQ, and OGG files, and some files for RealMedia. You can watch VideoCD, SVCD, DVD, 3ivx, FLI, and even DivX movies too.

Another big feature of MPlayer is the wide range of supported output drivers. MPlayer supports displaying through a number of hardware MPEG decoder boards such as the DVB and DXR3/Hollywood+ . And what about nice, big anti-aliased shaded subtitles (9 supported types!!!) with european/ISO 8859-1,2 (hungarian, english, czech, etc), cyrillic, korean fonts, and OSD.

Graphics Software - GIMP, Inkscape

GIMP is a professional raster image manipulation program, and part of the GNU project. It is suitable for tasks such as photo retouching, image composition, image authoring, or any other task that requires manipulation of raster images.

Inkscape is a professional vector image manipulation/creation program.

Programming - Gcc, Eclipse, Qt

The GNU Compiler Collection contains frontends for C, C++, Objective C, Chill, Fortran, and Java, as well as libraries for these languages. It is a full-featured ANSI C compiler, with support for K&R C as well.

GCC provides many levels of source code error checking traditionally provided by other tools (such as lint), produces debugging information, and can perform many different optimizations to the resulting object code.


A quick list of popular games that have been ported to Linux:

Here are some fun open source games: