I've had Linux on my laptops before but have never really messed with it much on my desktop other than using VirtualBox to do school work in Ubuntu (this is the distro my computer science program uses at university). What I really want to do is dual boot as I would like to still be able to play my games on Windows.
With that being said, what are a couple of distros that really give you that Linux feel. I obviously would like this to be somewhat of a learning experience so I am open to trying whatever. I'm not really concerned with trying to make the environment feel like Windows in any way.
All in all I really want to transition over to Linux in an attempt to make myself more productive as a computer science student and to better prepare myself for the "real world" when I go out looking for jobs in about year. Thanks!
I personally use Ubuntu Gnome, which I like. You should also wait for other people's suggestions.
Try a bunch of distros just for the experience. I also have a Pi that I made a home server, wrote some python scripts to read emails, wake my desktop, copy radio streams for my car, etc. Any distro will allow you to learn, you just have to play with them. Arch and Gentoo give you a better sense of the layers of software that goes into a distro. I'd recommend at least installing Arch in a VM with a tutorial next to it. It was fun to get the drivers going and start pulling desktop environments going all from Pacman.
Currently on my school laptop I got Linux Mint Cinnamon, it's easy and I don't have to work to make it work, but I'm still playing with kernel modules and undervolting my APU. You can really play around on any distro.
Might I suggest Fedora... 21 Workstation is very nice and very stable... They use it in the CS labs and as the main linux OS at BSU to the extent of my knowledge... it has a lot of educational tools too... and I find it to be the best distro for developers because of the lot of tools given
Your most important thing is if your running windows 7 on the other side of the dual boot. MAKE SURE you don't use UEFI when creating your linux partition, otherwise you'll have alot of problems with grub trying to find your windows install (as it's looking for a UEFI OS, which it cant find).
If that's what you use in uni then you may find yourself more at home there as a starting ground.
Remember, you can always change desktop environments in the login without needing to distrohop. Once you've found the DE you like your set.
Fedora is also a great starting ground. If you want Gnome then Fedora is where you want to be at the moment.
I have tried and tested a lot of distros. I find the "best" distro since you are in college would be the bigger ones like Ubuntu, mint, opensuse(never liked this one). Things seem to just work on those. My distro of choice is chakra, or Mageia
Like they said in the "The Linux Community Sucks" video, you can play around and learn in just about any distro. Some distros are better than others for specific things, but a lot of that is purely opinion (I, for example, like Linux Mint for a gaming PC because I find it plays nice with graphics card drivers easily, but Billy Bob down the road might could argue he likes Debian 7 because its more tested and stable. That's okay, its mostly opinion so just try some in VMs and see what you like)
For learning how underlying Linux stuff works, I'd investigate Debian 7 with no GUI. Run it in a VM so you can nuke it if need be. I learned a lot just fiddling around in a Debian install, trying to do things like set up a Minecraft server, set up a web server, etc. If you need a little help, Webmin is youe friend, but if you're learning I'd try to stay away from that since its so helpful it might keep you from learning :P
Bottom line: try a lot in virtualbox. Virtual box is MAGICAL.
Thanks for the replies guys! I guess the jist of what you all are saying is to try out a bunch of distros in VirtualBox, see how I like them, and then make a decision as to which one I want to use permanently. I'll try out a few as time allows over the next few days and leave an update post when I've made a decision.
I am going to recommend two distros.
Plain old vanilla arch, and fedora/openSUSE.
Arch is going to be the distro that teaches you the most. The OS will break a lot and you have to learn how to fix it.
Fedora or openSUSE would be a great distro for you to use on a daily driver.
I decided to make a similar jump for similar reasons. I started with arch and gnome, it has been working out very well. It's my daily driver and has been very reliable, minus a few quirks. I don't know that I necessarily agree with what most people are telling you, though. I feel that you would be better off choosing one distro and learning it as best as you can. I would compare it to learning programing, if you master one language you can pick up another if needed. Don't become a jack of all trades yet a master of none.
I use arch myself at uni, but my uni course isnt computer intensive at all and only requires writing documents.. But I digress..
For school/work especially considering you mentioned you havent messed much with linux you want something rock solid, being bleeding edge isnt necessary. In which case I recommend MINT or Xubuntu theyre both rock solid with sane Desktop Environments and are built on an ubuntu base so any familliarity you have is immediately useful.... There aren't many major differences between a lot of distros, but say you just learned all the apt-get commands it could be un-needed stress to learn all the pacman commands.
tldr Mint or xubuntu
VirtualBox on more visually intensive DEs (like Unity) chugs. Remember the distros will run faster on real hardware.
I've never had that problem. I'm on a laptop with a i7 4600 and integrated graphics. When I was on my older computer (Core Duo 32-bit), the whole OS would be slow, not just the graphics-related parts.
If you're just starting out in the experimentation and science of "How can I break this to work for me" that is linux, then I would say go install straight up debian and poke EVERYTHING. Even the installer. Use XFS though, good god will your machine speed up.
If you want the ultimate experience of "THIS IS MEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEHURR" then go grab an independant distro outside of what you know and learn some other stuff (sourcemage, gentoo, arch, something wierd like that) and build your own OS. Personally I love arch so that's what I would recommend but I would have to trust that you can put up with it and I won't see you in the IRC asking 5000 questions and that you'll use the wiki (only use IRC when something broke and you have no idea what broke).
If you just want an OS to work, ubuntu. Or something similar. Maybe elementary or I dunno... Crunchbang if you're feeling sexy. Nothing too hard and you install it and it just works. I've been lazy lately and I just install xubuntu and use that because I admittedly don't want to spend 2 hours setting up my laptop to play skyrim in wine on awesomeWM. Meh, screw that. However it is nice to have all of your controls be in terminator so you don't have to bother with annoying UI's :P (archmasterrace420blazeitsexywiminmomgetthecamera).
If you want something that you made, arch, if you want plug and play and for it to just go when you slam on the gasd, debian, if you want to just have it go when you install it and not be at all fiddle-ish, ubuntu.
As a linux user from all the way back in 2004 to now, that is my recommendation.
and whatever you do never make a vhd parrelel to your HDD.. that can muck things up quick sometimes :D
Try arch or ubuntu. Debian is good too
Get one of the bigger distros like others have mentioned. You don't want to go hunting for packages that you need for your assignments but your distro doesn't provide, or spend hours trying to get something to run that is enabled by default in the popular distros (this happened a few times with me and Arch, I'm still learning a lot of things).
At my University, Debian based is the most widely spread, I suggest you use something based on Debian. I also never had a problem with OpenSUSE or Fedora either.
You can get an idea which distros are on the way up, peeked or on the way down. I've used Linux Mint since version 10, now on version 17. It's very sable and very Window-ish. However, there isn't much to learn from an OS that a monkey could install and just does it all out the box.
I did try Mint Debian on an old laptop thinking it would be much the same to install as regular Mint, it wasn't. Before my brain exploded I gave up, but for you it might just be the place to start.