Best Linux Distros For Computer Science Students!

This article is for computer science students looking to switch to Linux and are in the process of selecting the best distro to install in their machines.
Let’s go ahead and explore what choices we have and analyze their differences in an attempt to choose the best Linux Distro for Computer Science Students.

Let us start by look at the short version of the answer for those of you in a hurry to start your Linux quest!

The Short Version Of The Answer

Overall best distro for Computer Science Students: Ubuntu

Best distro for Operating System majors: Gentoo

Best distro for Students who want to get into Academic Research: NixOS

Best distro for Students who want to get into Linux field as Specialists: Fedora

That is just the short version of the answer, let’s go ahead and look at the longer and more informative version and learn what were the factors considered, what other choices you have and see why the above distros are chosen as the best for Computer Science Students along with some valuable resources for getting started with your Linux quest!

The Analysis

If you have done some research on finding the best Linux distro for Computer Science Students, you will find that most answers around the internet will say go for Ubuntu. While this is true for some students, this is not true for all the computer science students with different goals and majors!

That is because a distro that is the best for programming might not be the best for learning about operating systems. Hence, we need to choose a distro based on the end goal of the student. Our goal of this analysis is to find out what factors are important for different categories of computer science students and find the best distro that can fulfil these needs.

Linux & The Desktop Arena

Linux has already captured a huge percentage of the server market and it is the most dominant player there. As Linux is getting more and more famous lots of distros are being developed to enhance the desktop support for Linux.

The setup programmers would need for coding will be radically different than the setup artists and video editors would need for content creation and editing! Hence some factors that are considered important for using Linux as a workstation depends upon the kind of work that you are planning to do with it.

But some factors are common across all types of work. These include

  • stability
  • performance
  • support &
  • security

If you plan to do all of your productive activities over on your next Linux distro then I suggest reading the article I wrote recently given in the link below where I have analyzed and compared several options in order to figure out what is the best distro for workstation purposes.

Best Linux Distro For Workstation: Analysis and Comparison!!

Reasons Linux is The Best for Computer Science Students

It is no secret that programmers love Linux. This is despite the fact that many better IDEs for software development are available for use exclusively in other operating systems like Windows and Mac’s OSX. I myself have recently switched to Linux and have moved all my software development work to Linux from Windows. In this section let us explore some of the reasons which push Software engineers to Linux.

The Top 7 reasons that make programmers love Linux are the following!

  • Reason#1: There are more devices running Linux than Windows and OSX running devices combined!
  • Reason#2: Freedom that comes with Open-Source free software
  • Reason#3: Lack of options on the other operating systems
  • Reason#4: Ability to automate tasks using GNU Tools
  • Reason#5: Sophisticated tools
  • Reason#6: Easy of installing and updating software
  • Reason#7: Efficient usage of resources

If you wish to read more about the above reasons I recommend reading this article below where I have described the above 7 reasons in detail!

7 Reasons That Make Programmers Love Linux!

Next let us look at the 4 main categories of computer science students, who are usually interested in switching to Linux.

Categories of Computer Science students

The below are the 4 main categories of computer science students who would like to switch to Linux

  • Majors in application software development
  • Majors in Operating System development
  • Students who want to get into Academic Research
  • Students who aspire to become Linux Specialists

Let us go ahead and look at each of these categories individually and have a look at the needs of each category and figure out the best distros that can match those needs!

Category#1: Application Software Development

The majority of software developers belong to this category and they build apps that run on the web, smartphones, and computers. Application software development is a huge arena filled with various technologies targeted at various sectors. There are several types of software engineers like the ones who develop web applications (front end, backend or Full-Stack), Java developers, Python developers, Android developers, Firmware developers, Machine Learning and AI developers etc.

But all these developers have the following basic needs in common

Basic Needs of All Programmers

The following needs are the common ones among all programmers

  • A good code editor: VS Code, Atom, Sublime Text, or Brackets.
  • Virtualization software to test your apps on several operating systems: On Linux, you have support for VirtualBox and GNOME Boxes
  • Source code management software like Git
  • DevOps tools like GitLab
  • Good community support for solving any issues that might come up

These needs are common no matter which technology you are developing on, be it web development or android development everyone is going to need all of the above-mentioned tools for their development activities. But that is not all you are going to need, as platform-specific tools are a must since the entire industry is very competitive and you are going to need all the resources you can get to help you stay on top of your performance and productivity!

Programming Language-specific needs

These are the 4 main platform-specific tools that you are going to need!

  • Support for your programming language/technology
  • Support for the favourite IDE that is best for your programming language
  • Support for frameworks, libraries, and software development kits for your programming language
  • Support for special tools that you might need

I have already written another article where I have analysed and compared distros to choose the best for Application software developers that can be found on the link below.

Best Distro For Programmers/Software developers: Comparison & Analysis!

I suggest you read that article if you belong to this category of Students because the needs of professional software developers are the same as computer science students and hence that analysis and conclusions will be a good fit for this category of students.

Category#2: Operating System Majors

If you are interested in operating systems and would like to study Linux, then your needs are different from those of application developers. They include the following

  • Understanding how Linux works through good documentation
  • Ability to build a distro from scratch so that you can understand from an end-user’s perspective of the different components that make up an operating system and how one is different from another.
  • Access to kernel’s internals for experimentation

These needs can be matched by the below 2 distros

  • Arch Linux
  • Gentoo Linux &
  • LFS

Arch Linux is considered the best distro out there in terms of documentation via The Arch Wiki and hence operating system majors can learn a lot using this distro. Also, you get to put together your own machine starting from scratch through which you can learn a lot about Operating systems and their components. But a beginner user will be overwhelmed if he/she suddenly switches over from Mac or Windows directly to these hard distributions and hence it is a good idea to make the move in stages, like levels in games!

I have written another article where I have explained how to play this game by moving from beginner distros to the advanced ones as a fun way of learning Linux that you can find in the link below.

Best Distro For Learning Linux: A Complete Guide to Choose!

Category#3: Academic Research Aspirers

This category is for students who wish to get into academic research in the computer science field. For those students, I would recommend taking a look at NixOS, a Linux distro born from the Academic field!

NixOS is a distro build around a package manager named “the Nix package manager”, which was developed by Eelco Dolstra in 2003 as a part of his PhD research. Later a student named Armijn Hemel developed a distro around it as a part of his master thesis and thus NixOS was born!

What makes this OS unique is the fact that the Nix Package manager is so unique in terms of how it manages software installation and removal processes and is considered to be the best implementation to date.

If you wish to learn about what package managers are and how they fit into a Linux distro, I suggest reading this other article I wrote on package managers.

A Beginners Introduction To Linux Package managers: apt, yum, dpkg & rpm

Along with the modern age package manager, many other features in NixOS have a solid theoretical background. As a project started in academia and research this distro has a promising future!

This distro also provides the opportunity for academic researchers to get to know the latest innovations and to develop on top of them!

Category#4: Students who wish to get employed as Linux Specialists

This category is for the students who wish to become Linux specialists like system admins, network admins, security specialists etc. If you wish to get into this category, you need to get the distro by RHEL named Fedora!

Fedora is from the RedHat family, it is used as a testing ground by RedHat to test their latest features before releasing them in their RHEL enterprise edition. Hence Fedora is the most popular distro in terms of support for the latest advancements in the field of Linux. It also has a big user base, especially in the industry! They also provide a bunch of professional certifications for Linux professionals which tests your knowledge of Linux and these tests will be conducted on RHEL distro. Since Fedora and RHEL are basically the same distros, Fedora is the distro you need to get familiar with if you wish to join the Linux industry as a specialist!

And with that, I will conclude this article!

I hope you guys enjoyed this article and learned something useful.

If you liked the post, feel free to share this post with your friends and colleagues!

Related Articles

Here are some of my other articles that might interest you!

A Step By Step Plan To Learn Linux..!

Best Linux Distro For Workstation: Analysis and Comparison!!

A Complete Guide For Choosing A Distro For Your Computer’s Specs..!!

Best Distro For Software And Hardware Support: An Analysis.!!

Distro-Hopping, What, Why & How Explained!

Reasons Behind The Existence of SO MANY Linux Distros: An Analysis!

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Balaji Gunasekaran
Balaji Gunasekaran is a Senior Software Engineer with a Master of Science degree in Mechatronics and a bachelor’s degree in Electrical and Electronics Engineering. He loves to write about tech and has written more than 300 articles. He has also published the book “Cracking the Embedded Software Engineering Interview”. You can follow him on LinkedIn