Linux without pain?
June 27, 2005 8:30 PM   Subscribe

I know nothing about Linux but would like to try it on my spare laptop...

which is a Dell 266mHz Inspiron, circa 1999, currently running windows 98 (uck). This computer has been sitting unused for several years, and I would like to do word processing and email, etc., nothing fancy. I'm fine with Open Office, Firefox, etc.

Is there a simple, free version of Linux downloadable and installable by the near-clueless? I am particularly concerned about drivers.
posted by words1 to Computers & Internet (15 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
If it has a CD-ROM drive and you have access to a CD burner, then download Knoppix. You can boot a Linux image from the CD, and still access everything on the hard drive. You won't have to delete, repartition or anything.
posted by 5MeoCMP at 8:35 PM on June 27, 2005

suse is easy to install and big (so presumably many drivers). however, knoppix has the advantage of try before you install.
posted by andrew cooke at 8:50 PM on June 27, 2005

I third the Knoppix suggestion. It will probably be a bit slow on that system due mainly to its use of KDE, but think of it this way - the first thing you can teach yourself is how to make it run a more lean desktop environment :-) I believe Knoppix has a few others available that you can switch to.

Or, look for a Knoppix-based distro that is _designed_ to run on older hardware. There are some out there, though I don't know their names right offhand. Freshmeat has a Linux distro category that probably includes many options along those lines. Or, if you're familiar with IRC, get on and ask for tips in #knoppix.
posted by autojack at 8:56 PM on June 27, 2005

Ditto Knoppix.
posted by orthogonality at 8:56 PM on June 27, 2005

On postview:

autojack writes "I third the Knoppix suggestion. It will probably be a bit slow on that system due mainly to its use of KDE,"

I was running it the other day on my four year-old desktop, 866MHz Pentium III with 512 MB of RAM, and the GUI seemed fast enough for Firefox and Xchat and a (not graphics intensive) game or two.
posted by orthogonality at 8:59 PM on June 27, 2005

Here is a good location for explaining the differences. I have a Knoppix CD and it's fun to play with but there are many ways to expand from there.
posted by ptm at 9:33 PM on June 27, 2005

Be warned that even Linux experts often find it a pain in the butt to get all of a laptop's hardware working right. Here's the canonical source of people's accounts of getting particular distros running on particular laptops (with a big section on Dells.)

For an old machine, you probably want to go without Gnome or KDE and go with Fluxbox or another lightweight window manager. There are many to choose from. I like RatPoison, but it's not for everyone; in fact, it's for damn few.

In addition to Knoppix, you might want to check out Damn Small Linux, which you can boot from a LiveCD, like Knoppix, but is designed to be lightweight for old hardware. Don't know how good its drivers are, though.
posted by Zed_Lopez at 11:10 PM on June 27, 2005

RE Knoppix: Ubuntu's nice too. They'll actually cover shipping and media and send you a free CD.
posted by ori at 11:51 PM on June 27, 2005

I'll second Damn Small Linux. It's pretty neat and loads alot faster than Knoppix does.
posted by 6550 at 12:00 AM on June 28, 2005

I also like Knoppix. Knoppix and live-on-CD distros like it have probably done more for Linux than anything else. Since I've been playing around with Knoppix, I'm now considering Suse or another distro for a permanent or dual-boot desktop configuration.

I don't find Knoppix to be that slow at all, and I've run it on P3 machines with less than 500 mhz of speed and only 128 megs of ram. Considering that it's running mostly from CD, it's damn fast. It nearly boots as fast as a 2K/XP install on hard disk.
posted by loquacious at 12:53 AM on June 28, 2005

I'm not saying Knoppix is slow, just that DSL loads into RAM faster. Also DSL is a 50 MB download which makes it pretty nice just try a linux out.
posted by 6550 at 1:00 AM on June 28, 2005

I'd say Ubuntu for the same reason everyone else is saying Knoppix. Less intimidating too. I've had it going fine on a PII 400, 384Mb.
posted by pompomtom at 3:30 AM on June 28, 2005

Yeah... same with me, pompomtom -- I love knoppix and all, but ubuntu lives on my laptop. They have a very helpful laptop specific forum as well...

Welcome to linux, words1! I think you'll be impressed with how well this stuff works these days.
posted by ph00dz at 6:34 AM on June 28, 2005

Thanks for all the advice -- I now go forth to play.
posted by words1 at 7:35 AM on June 28, 2005

I'll add in with I hope you have a lot of spare time. I made the mistake of converting my laptop from w2k to RH linux last year during the school year while I was working. I somply didn't have the time to invest in how to get linux fully functionaly they way I wanted it and even mundane things like installing programs required ample time to figure out so I caved in and reverted back to windows. FWIW, I'm also fairly adept at figuring out computer problems so good luck!
posted by jmd82 at 10:03 AM on June 28, 2005

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