Linux Distributions
January 15, 2005 7:50 PM   Subscribe

Hope I'm not opening a can of worms here. I'm jumping into the Linux ring for the very first time. There are a ton of distributions and I was wondering if there were any that the community would recommend for a noob like myself. So far, I've downloaded Mandrake and RedHat images but there are a ton of other out there and I wonder if I'm missing something better? I'll be dual booting on a WinXP pro box (Intel) so I'm looking for something that is relatively easy to install in this situation.
posted by KevinSkomsvold to Computers & Internet (28 answers total)
You'll do fine with any distribution. But if you want really easy to use and powerful, you may want to check out Knoppix. It's Debian, my favourite core Linux distro, it runs off CD, and it's got some customization that makes it newbie friendly. Gentle way to start.
posted by Nelson at 7:56 PM on January 15, 2005

Ubuntu. It's Debian, has a LiveCD that can run off the CD, and is incredibly newbie friendly. Also check out the useful Ubuntu Guide. ;)

I'd try that along with Knoppix as Nelson recommended.
posted by brettcar at 8:06 PM on January 15, 2005

All good choices so far, but I am absolutely enjoying Ubuntu. Easiest install I've ever hard, "just works", Debian-based for when you want something more hardcore.

Ubuntu comes as two CDs, an installer and a "live" CD like Knoppix so you can try it out. If you fill out a form at their website, they'll send you some packs snailmail for free.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 8:06 PM on January 15, 2005

brettcar, that was damned quick! how'd you do that? ;-)
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 8:09 PM on January 15, 2005

The best distro is the one your friends use. That way, you can get good support easily.

Or, if your friends don't use Linux yet, I like Libranet for new folks. [Disclaimer - I'm a Libranet beta tester]. The user list is very friendly, and usually not too off topic. The beta testers include brand new Linux users, and I've seen changes made in the last couple versions based on their feedback. It is Debian based, so you don't get stuck in rpm dependency hell.

There is tons of information on different distros, links to reviews and links to download sites over at Distrowatch. That is a very good place to get a feel for what is out there.

Knoppix is a painless way to start, if you run it off the CD. It is difficult to upgrade, and can be touchy to install to a hard drive, however.

Ubuntu isn't bad. I'm sticking with Libranet, though. It has an easier install.
posted by QIbHom at 8:12 PM on January 15, 2005

I've had a lot of luck with Fedora Core (the free Redhat). In my experience, the install is flawless and it's pretty stable and updates are timely. So far, I have not found too much hardware that it doesn't support. The only real 'gotcha' with it is the missing MP3 and DVD support that the Redhat people won't include for legal reasons. But you can install those without too much hastle.

That said though, you can't go wrong with just running Knoppix off the CD. If nothing else, it will tell you if your hardware is supported by Linux and give you some flavor of how it works. You can setup a home directory on a memory key so that it remembers your settings and bookmarks and the like.
posted by octothorpe at 8:22 PM on January 15, 2005

Ubuntu works better out-of-the-box than any other distro I've used. Also, it didn't screw up my MBR when setting up for dual-boot.
posted by Jairus at 8:25 PM on January 15, 2005

I dearly love RedHat. Don't use RedHat. (Unless you mean Fedora Core, which I consider to be different than RedHat.) Try the Mandrake distro you downloaded. If you don't like it, try some of the other suggested above.
posted by achmorrison at 8:37 PM on January 15, 2005

Response by poster: Wow, thanks for the responses so far. I'm downloading the Fedora Core for DVD right now but also Ubuntu's live CD. Can't wait to try these. I'll probably try Knoppix too since that got a couple of mentions. I appreciate your recommendations!
posted by KevinSkomsvold at 8:45 PM on January 15, 2005

Response by poster: Thanks Skallas. I do have the Mandrake distro and will certainly be giving that a try as well.
posted by KevinSkomsvold at 8:47 PM on January 15, 2005

In order from easiest to hardest to setup and use properly: SuSE, debian, Gentoo. I have yet to try Ubuntu however, and I hear very, very good things about it from everyone who has tried it.

To be frank, though, I'm a BSD man. I find the cleanliness and solidity of the *BSDs to be far beyond anything that exists in the Linux world, but this is purely based on my personal bias that *nix makes for a superior server OS and Windows 2000/XP makes for a superior clientside OS. If I was using Linux clientside I'd go with SuSE or Gentoo. Consider your needs and usage patterns carefully, and choose accordingly.
posted by Ryvar at 8:51 PM on January 15, 2005

the best lunix is the one you like, or, failing that, the one that (as mentioned) your friends use.

things like slak and gentoo are for masochists. which of course is why I love them...
posted by dorian at 8:55 PM on January 15, 2005

I'll throw in a vote for Ubuntu. I used Mandrake and SuSE before Ubuntu, and I enjoy Ubuntu the most.
posted by callicles at 8:59 PM on January 15, 2005

Ubuntu here. I've had good success with the community forums when I run across an issue. With any distribution you may want to google your hardware with the name of a distribution you are considering to make sure you are supported out of the box.
posted by quam at 9:03 PM on January 15, 2005

Another voice for Ubuntu.
posted by dmd at 9:24 PM on January 15, 2005

I'm partial to Mandrake, SuSE and Redhat myself. I've never used Ubuntu though so I may take a look at that now based on the recommendatiosn here.
posted by vacapinta at 9:28 PM on January 15, 2005

I use Debian, and grew to love it, but for someone new to *nix, it involves a steep learning curve. Ironically, once you understand how a unix filesystem works and why dependencies are important, Debian starts to seem much *easier* to use than some other distributions.

If I had it to do over again, I would probably go with Mandrake.
posted by bingo at 9:47 PM on January 15, 2005

I used several distros of Linux before settling on FreeBSD, and I never looked back. I still use Linux occasionally, but it's not my first choice anymore. I like open source *nix OSes because you can tinker with them, but I also like the architecture of *BSD better because it puts everything right in front of you and simplifies many administrative tasks. Linux has its strengths. Right now it supports more hardware and is generally more bleeding edge than FreeBSD (plus many Linux distributions are geared to new users), but I know my way around now and prefer stability, and I keep Windows around for games requiring bleeding edge hardware. If you're a gamer, you'll probably want to keep Win around on a separate partition or HDD. Of course, if you just want something easy to use, that's relatively secure, and that is quite nice to look at and does multimedia very well, and if you have the money, get a Mac. I don't even have one, but aside from all the hype they're very nice machines for home users.
posted by krinklyfig at 10:36 PM on January 15, 2005

Oh, btw, if you're going with Linux, I agree that Mandrake or SuSE would be good choices for a newbie. FreeBSD is probably too hardcore for most newbies, but if you want to check it out, FreeSBIE is a live system CD running FreeBSD, much like the Knoppix idea.
posted by krinklyfig at 10:39 PM on January 15, 2005

I use Fedora Core on my spare box, and I've found it to be good. And I know very little about Linux, people in #mefi can attest to that.
posted by Steve_at_Linnwood at 10:57 PM on January 15, 2005

I just spent 30 minutes writing a raving review full of links for Gentoo (summary, undeserved bad rep, good LiveCDs, great package manager to help you install bleeding edge software updates and kernel patches for weird (and new) hardware). Unfortunately, I managed to close the tab because I am an utter buffoon. If you or anyone else in this thread wants to know how Gentoo can make life easier in ways no other *nix can, shoot me an email (onthelark at gmail) and I'll explain what makes it different.
posted by onalark at 12:39 AM on January 16, 2005

I forgot to mention that although I believe Gentoo is appropriate for 'casual' use, there are much simpler distributions out there to install. However, if you think you will be using new/weird hardware or software on your system for some reason, it should be the first one you consider.
posted by onalark at 12:44 AM on January 16, 2005

I wanted to thank KevinS and everyone who posted in this thread - I'm in the same boat (going to get a new PC in a couple days, taking the plunge into dual-bootinghood). I was planning on installing Mandrake 10.1 but I'll also check out Ubuntu, which I hadn't even seen in the various Linux flavour-pages I consulted.

Further question if I may - I understand that I need to make a partition for the Linux OS. How big should this partition be - is it just for the OS or should it be big enough for any apps I may want to install in the future as well?
posted by Gortuk at 6:58 AM on January 16, 2005

Gortuk: It's a partition for the whole Linux filesystem, and everything that that filesystem should contain. Unless, of course, you install multiple Linux partitions.
posted by bingo at 7:53 AM on January 16, 2005

Knoppix (and I assume other live CD distros but I've only used Knoppix) is great to see if your system has any Linux compatibility issues and to familiarize yourself with Linux in ways that you can't by just reading about it. I wouldn't recommend installing Knoppix on your hard drive, however. I found it difficult to update, at least with an earlier version.
posted by TimeFactor at 8:46 AM on January 16, 2005

p.s. Gortuk and Kevin: if at all possible, on dual-boot machines, install Windows first.
posted by bingo at 8:47 AM on January 16, 2005

You need to set aside a partition of space for 'Linux'. You don't need to format it (alternatively, Linux installations can delete a formatted partition), and depending on what distro you install, how many exact partitions this space will be split into will vary, though you can usually let your Linux installer decide how to do this for you. Depending on the size of your hard disk, I recommend you reserve 5-10 gb for Linux. This will be big enough for almost all the GNU operating system, the Linux kernel (which have a footprint of a couple 100 mb fully installed), all the goody applications you install afterwards like OpenOffice, the GIMP, FireFox, and Wine, and also your Linux user data (i.e. /home).

You'll still be able to listen to mp3s off your Windows partition, though any kind of video/document editing will require the FAT file system on the Windows side.

Oh, and when you pick your Linux file system, ReiserFS is awesome if available in your distro.
posted by onalark at 9:34 AM on January 16, 2005

Slackware or gentoo if you want to learn linux.

Mandrake or lindows (if that still exists) if you want to use linux.

Redhat if you are making linux for others to use professionally.

Fedora core if you are making linux for others to learn on.

Debian if your intention of using linux is to purify your soul of closed source software.

SuSE if you come from a novell background.

Knoppix for emergency repairs.

It all depends on your goal, really. I use slackware and I'm probably done with learning it. But, like me with shoes, I'll use 'em 'til the soles fall off.
posted by shepd at 5:26 PM on January 16, 2005

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