The 5 Best Linux Distributions for Science

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

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

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

CAELinux desktop interface

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

Even though there have been 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 4GB RAM. In case you intend to use it for professional uses, you would need 8GB RAM or more, to get the most out of this distro.

It doesn’t offer any desktop flavors apart from Xfce, but its software selection is impressive. Rest assured, along with the specific applications, it comes bundled with the usual pre-installed applications, which are native to Xfce. Since this is a science-related distro, it’s best to install some additional apps which you will use regularly.


Related: Reasons Why You Should Try the Lightweight Xfce Desktop

Some excellent applications include:

  • SALOME: 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 as a live ISO image for free. You can also order a physical copy at an affordable price.

Download: CAELinux

Fedora-Scientific desktop interface

This Fedora spin represents the middle ground between a highly specialized and an ordinary Linux distribution. As such, it’s great for researchers and students of all scientific backgrounds, although it slightly leans in favor of numerical-based 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 noteworthy software include:

  • Maxima: A complete algebra suite
  • LaTeX: Creating documents and presentations
  • Mayavi: 3D data visualization and the version control
  • Trifecta: git, Mercurial, and Subversion

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

Download: Fedora Scientific

Lin4Neuro desktop interface

Lin4Neuro (L4N) is the open-source answer to sophisticated biotechnological computation. 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 most significant advantage of Lin4Neuro is that you can avail yourself of a fully open-source toolchain. 3D Slicer helps with image analysis algorithms for functional magnetic resonance, tensor imaging, visually-guided therapy, etc.

Some other applications include the likes of AFNI, which helps with processing and displaying MRI data. Connectome analyzer and viewer assists with DSI, while DTI and QBall connectomes are useful for multi-modal, 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 neurosciences. The distro aids in medical imagery upscaling and conversion with MRIConvert.

On Lin4Neuro, MRIConvert is available within the NeuroDebian repository. The distro has recently gained tremendous traction as a free platform for data analytics and medical science imagery processing.

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

Download: Lin4Neuro

Learn More: Why Is Python Popular for Data Science?

Fedora Astronomy Suite desktop interface

Did you know that stargazing has gone open-source? The Fedora Astronomy Suite caters to professionals and amateurs alike, especially for meeting their astronomical computing needs. The distro sets you up with a Python-based KDE ecosystem. Fedora Astronomy Suite places a host of powerful astronomical data analytics and visualization tools at your disposal.

You can utilize Python’s community libraries like AstroPy, powerful graphical 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 like telescopes and cameras with automation ensures that you can capture high-resolution astrophotography at any time.

Nonetheless, the highlight of the bundled software packages is the AstrOmatic repository for advanced astronomical software development. Simplify even the most advanced cosmic imagery’s color correction with tools like Redshift on the Astronomy Suite.

Download: Fedora Astronomy Suite

Fedora Robotics desktop interface

Fedora Robotics Suite gives you a fully stocked development environment for software and hardware programming. It identifies as a spin on the Fedora Linux distro and comes replete with software packages to aid robotics 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 the likes of Fawkes, Player/Stage, RoboCup 3D Soccer Server, Gazebo, SimSpark, and more. Fedora even packs the Eclipse IDE for multi-language 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, like the Hokuyo Laser Scanners and Katana Robotic Arm.

Robotics Suite comes with extensive documentation that expedites onboarding time for robotics novices.

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’re interested in, you should be able to pick a suitable distribution from this list. Each of the distros listed above tops in its category and offers unparalleled software, applications, and services to the end-users.

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