I found a spare hard drive and want to install Linux on it for fun. I want to use python, arduino, 3D modeling, maybe more math stuff. I’m a newbie. Where do I even start?

@ejk I'd probably recommend ElementaryOS. Based off Ubuntu, looks great and reasonably straightforward to setup :)


Start with something like Pop! OS

Everywhere I look someone is saying POP is awesome for anyone from beginners to advanced.

@ejk will it be in a computer that also needs to booth into another operating system, like Windows?

@jerry Yes! It’s a self-built machine that I last upgraded ~3 years ago (forget the stats, but I think they’re still pretty sporty)

@jerry also, it’s windows and was mostly set up for games

@ejk all good. You’ll need to set up dual booting, which admittedly is more complicated these days than the last time I did it. Windows 10 or 11?

@jerry 10, I can’t upgrade to 11 because of silly hardware requirements

@jerry @ejk
I think it's not the way. Elizabeth wrote "I found a spare hard drive and want to install Linux on it for fun.". So as I understand it, Linux must be installed without touching windows at all. That's very easy, just install Linux on the second drive and in BIOS select it as first in boot priority. In GRUB there should be an option to boot windows from the first disk.

@ejk Are you planning to put it in a Windows machine and dual boot, or use a dedicated Linux machine? I recommend the latter, so you don't have to deal with dual-booting or any anxiety about affecting your windows install.
As for a distro, I recommend Linux Mint which is good for new users since the interface will feel pretty familiar, but can still do anything you want to do with it.

@leadore unfortunately, I just have the spare hard drive. What’s the difficulty/risk with dual booting?

@ejk IMO it's a pain to set up, but I haven't done it in years, so I don't know how hard or easy it is these days. But I'm sure if you have any problems there are people on here who can help.

@ejk @leadore Every update of linux or Windows can (in practice most don't but some will) cause the boot loader (grub) to be overwritten/need a config change. Recovery tends to not be hard, but it's a pain.

Also some complications about Windows having redefined 'shutdown' in a way that can cause issues.

@ejk Python will almost certainly be installed by default.

The arduino IDE is available.

For 3D modeling, I like FreeCAD. It's a fairly steep learning curve if you try to figure it out on your own, but there are plenty of videos on youtube so you needn't go it alone.

@ejk if you want to just give it a try before you install, look for live images. For example, Debian has them here:

Just put it on a thumb drive and you should be able to boot into it. Or you can put the installer on a thumb drive and just install it to your hard drive right away.

@adam @ejk

For a version with a smaller footprint, try booting from a CD with Slitaz

It can run in RAM on most older machines.

@ejk I need to know a good CAD package myself. (Not Blender)

Python and Arduino "just work".

@gudenau @ejk

For 2D CAD, try LibreCAD

Excellent software that exports to almost every professional file-format. :D

@gudenau @ejk

For £D CAD, have you looked at FreeCAD yet?

It's still a little clunky compared with Rhino of Fusion360, but it'll catch up. :D

( Also, while Blender can sort-of work for CAD, it;s primary focus is animation, rather than CAD-modelling, so the work-flow is not that great. Model in something else, then export for import to Blender. :D )

@ejk try a LiveUSB first if you haven’t. There’s many distros to choose from, I prefer the simple no-configuration ones. Other than that, not much to it

@ejk Just about any of the *buntu variants should hold you in good stead.

Second vote for just throw Ubuntu on there and dive in!

You need to pick a distro and a graphical shell. To help with that I'd ask you a few questions.
What other hardware do you have? Rather old or new? Are you a fan of windows-like graphical experience or maybe you like OS X-ish GUI or you want to try something new perhaps?
Do you prefer stability over getting your hands on the latest software or conversely? Do you like tinkering and configuring or rather to have everything setup out of the box? And the last but not the least: are you scared of terminal or love to work with?

@deBroglie working with windows 10 and ~3-year old hardware with decent specs - the hard drive in question is a spare SSD.
I’d prefer a windows-like GUI. I’m not afraid of terminal, but it’s not intuitive for me. I like the ability to tinker, but not the necessity of it.

@ejk though from my (not enourmous tbh) experience I'd recommend you Zorin OS with GNOME (the normal zorin, not the lite one) or Fedora with GNOME/KDE Plasma or Linux Mint with Cinamon/KDE Plasma.

Zorin OS looks great and is tailored to provide windows like experience - it's often recommended for windows users. I've installed it on my sixty years old mum's PC and it works for her (she has been using Windows for 15 years before). Also it is ubuntu based so almost every software is easily installable there.
Fedora is also a good choice because it's stable and full of the latest stuff, so you won't be left behind if it comes to features. On default it's shipped with GNOME but I believe KDE Plasma is as much usable. I'd describe main difference between them later. I've not used fedora much on my own, but I've heard some positive opinions. Not Ubuntu based, but also almost every software should be achievable - either via dnf (package manager) or flatpak.
Linux Mint is also a good choice - it's stable and many things just works out of the box. Cinamon is pretty good looking if you like its vibe. You can have GNOME and KDE Plasma on Mint as well, but their not officially supported AFAIK. Also Ubuntu based.

KDE Plasma is lighter than GNOME and offers many customization out of the box. I was able to recreate windows-like++ experience with it easily. But with all those options it might be overhelming.
GNOME is heavier and offers not so many customization ootb. However with addons you can do with it whatever you want. For some people GNOME looks more modern and elegant than KDE Plasma.
Cinnamon however is ... different. It looks a bit old fashioned, if you ask me, but I like it. Take a look yourself I can't describe it with just words.

That's all for the start. Hope it'll help you :).

@deBroglie ok, newbie question: what’s the difference between or benefit of using something “Ubuntu based” vs just using Ubuntu

@ejk a benefit of basing on Ubuntu is that (almost)everything that works on Ubuntu works on an Ubuntu based distro and there is a ton of software that works on Ubuntu. Also if something doesn't work on the Ubuntu based distro it easy to find help, because solutions for Ubuntu often are solutions for the distro (and Ubuntu community is huge).
However the distro isn't Ubuntu some some things are different there - e.g. in Zorin you have different looking GUI and in Linux Mint you have Cinnamon (Ubuntu has GNOME) and more drivers.
Also if it comes to Ubuntu there are some people don't like some parts of it - like Snap Store (which has some serious issues, but is heavily utilized in Ubuntu - however not in Zorin OS or Mint) or the fact that GNOME version in Ubuntu isn't up to date (it is half year behind all the time), but some apps available on Ubuntu use the newest version of it which has a bit Frankensteinish effect.

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