The 5 Best Linux Distributions for Science

While most Linux distributions are general-purpose, some specialized distributions come bundled with certain types of research software. After all, Linux’s history began in research labs, and today Linux powers the servers and workstations of the world’s largest research organizations.

You can transform your regular Linux system into a scientific distro by installing the same apps, but the purpose of such distributions is to avoid looking for individual applications.

Instead, they provide a quick way to deploy Linux in research facilities, educational institutions, on the computers of students and scientifically curious users. If you’re one of the latter, here are five great science distros to consider.

The clue is in the name: CAE stands for Computer-Aided Engineering, and this science distro is perfect for anyone working with CAD, modeling, prototyping, 3D printing, and physics simulations. Developed in Switzerland, maintained by Joël Cugnoni and last updated in 2020.

Even though there are no new releases for this distro, the developers wholeheartedly support the existing releases.

The latest version of CAELinux is based on Xubuntu 18.04 LTS and requires a 64-bit system along with 4 GB of RAM. If you want to use it for professional use, you will need 8 GB of RAM or more to get the most out of this distro.

It doesn’t offer any desktop flavors other than Xfce, but the software selection is impressive. Rest assured, it comes along with the specific applications with the usual pre-installed applications, which are native to Xfce. Since this is a scientific distro, it’s best to install some extra apps that you’ll be using regularly.

Related: Reasons Why You Should Try the Lightweight Xfce Desktop

Some excellent uses are:

  • salomea: 3D CAD and meshing
  • gmsh: Geometric modeling
  • scilab: Mathematical programming
  • ParaView: 3D visualization
  • ImageJ: Image processing and analysis
  • Elmer: Complex physical models

CAELinux is available for free as a live ISO image. You can also order a physical copy at an affordable price.

To download: CAELinux

This Fedora spider represents the middle ground between a highly specialized and a regular Linux distribution. As such, it is great for researchers and students of all scientific backgrounds, although it leans slightly towards numerical research.

The default desktop environment is KDE and Fedora Scientific is available for both 32-bit and 64-bit architectures. It was developed by Amit Saha with the support of Fedora Science and Technology SIG. the detailed online documentation will introduce you to Fedora Scientific and guide you through its software selection.

Some notable software is:

  • maximum: A complete algebra suite
  • Latex: Create documents and presentations
  • Mayavi: 3D data visualization and version management
  • trifecta: git, Mercurial and Subversion

You can download Fedora Scientific Live DVD via direct download or as a torrent.

To download: Fedora Scientific

Lin4Neuro (L4N) is the open-source answer to advanced biotech computations. This Ubuntu-based distro gives you access to a diverse suite of neuroimaging analysis software. Kiyotaka Nemoto created this distro; he is a member of the Faculty of Medicine in Tsukuba, Japan.

The main advantage of Lin4Neuro is that you have access to a completely open source toolchain. 3D Slicer helps with image analysis algorithms for functional magnetic resonance, tensor imaging, visually guided therapy, etc.

Some other applications include AFNI, which helps in processing and displaying MRI data. Connectome analyzer and viewer helps with DSI, while DTI and QBall connectomes are useful for multimodal, multi-scale neuroimaging and Python-based visualization.

Some of Lin4Neuro’s tools, such as Virtual MRI and MITK, make L4N ideal for studying and researching neuroscience. The distro helps to scale up and convert medical images with MRIConvert.

On Lin4Neuro, MRIConvert is available in the NeuroDebian repository. The distro has recently gained massive traction as a free platform for data analysis and image processing in medical science.

Lin4Neuro is distributed as a neuroscience oriented framework with its BSD license. It acts as a portable live distribution and you can use it via USB to set up a neuroscience forensic center anywhere.

To download: Lin4Neuro

Learn more: Why is Python popular for data science?

Did you know that stargazing has become open source? The Fedora Astronomy Suite is suitable for both professionals and amateurs, especially for meeting their astronomical computing needs. The distro provides a Python-based KDE ecosystem. Fedora Astronomy Suite puts a variety of powerful astronomical data analysis and visualization tools at your disposal.

You can use Python’s community libraries like AstroPy, powerful graphics editing apps like Siril and GIMP, astro simulation software like Celestia, astronomical instrument automation, and controller software like INDI. Astronomy Suite’s substantial documentation makes it easy for budding astronomers to study any location on Earth and beyond.

Controlling instruments such as telescopes and cameras with automation ensures that you can capture high-resolution astrophotography at any time.

Nevertheless, the highlight of the bundled software packages is the AsrOmatic repository for advanced astronomical software development. Simplify the color correction of even the most advanced cosmic images with tools such as Redshift in the Astronomy Suite.

To download: Fedora Astronomy Suite

Fedora Robotics Suite gives you a fully stocked development environment for software and hardware programming. It identifies as a spider on the Fedora Linux distro and comes loaded with software packages to support robot simulation environments.

Fedora Robotics Suite is a live, portable distro that you can use as a custom framework for robotics projects. Users can look forward to some of the most notable upstream programming applications and frameworks, including Fawkes, Player/Stage, RoboCup 3D Soccer Server, Gazebo, SimSpark and more. Fedora even packs the Eclipse IDE for multilingual robotics script development.

Practice streamlined programming, simulation, and operations with the Robotics Suite’s integrated libraries, such as the MRPT, PCL, OpenCV, and more. Hardware accessory libraries are bundled with the Robotics Suite for popular robotics devices, such as the Hokuyo laser scanners and the Katana Robotic Arm.

Robotics Suite comes with extensive documentation that speeds up the onboarding time for robotics novices.

To download: Fedora Robotics Suite

Related: What You Need to Build Your Own Autonomous Robot

Choosing the best scientific Linux distro for yourself

Regardless of which scientific field you are interested in, you should be able to choose a suitable distribution from this list. Each of the distros mentioned above is at the top of its category and offers unparalleled software, applications and services to the end users.

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