An easy to install Linux distribution?
February 27, 2004 5:33 PM   Subscribe

Liinux, yes, but which Linux? [more inside]

I have an old (PII, 266Mhx 2Gb) computer lying around that I want to install Linux on. I have never used Linux before, but am reasonably proficient in the Windows environment.
What's a straightfoward, easy to install (especially driver-wise), downloadable Linux distribution? I don't need it to do any heavy lifting, but want to run Apache, PHP, Lynx, MySql, etc., and being able to connect to a windows network would be a big plus.
posted by signal to Computers & Internet (13 answers total)
Response by poster: Mhx = Mhz, of course.
posted by signal at 5:33 PM on February 27, 2004

Response by poster: And Lynx = Python, obviously
posted by signal at 5:37 PM on February 27, 2004

Down a few posts...
posted by Danelope at 5:52 PM on February 27, 2004

Not to needlessly rehash a previous discussion, but the correct Linux really depends on two factors:

1) What you want to do with your machine; and
2) How much time you're willing to invest.

Debian is a fantastic server OS. It's installer, however, is terrible. If you're used to Windows, I would not recommend starting with Debian (or Slackware or any of the other numerous great-but-tricky distros). I'd start with a distro that places an emphasis on usability. Start with an "easy" Linux (RedHat, SuSe, or Mandrake). Based on what you've said I'd go SuSe with an eye toward eventually ending up with Debian.

Disclaimer: I only used Debian variants in the past few years, so my information on non-Debian Linuxes is out of date. If it helps you, I started with RedHat, moved to Debian once I got my feet wet, and never looked back.

A final caveat. Linux is not Windows. I'm not trying to patronize, nor am I trying to discourage you -- I just want to save you some pain. While some distros put Windows-ish dressing on their GUIs, Linux is fundamentally a Unix. Currently most Linuxes are created for programmers, sysadmins, and dyed-in-the-wool dorks. Windows is built for end users. Windows knowledge only takes you so far in Linux land. People think differently there. It took me an embarrassingly long time to really get this.

Best of luck, and my email's in my profile.
posted by amery at 9:48 PM on February 27, 2004

If you want Debian with a decent installer, try Knoppix. Boots off CD, auto-detects all your hardware, if you like it you can basically just type "knx-hdinstall" and follow the prompts.

If you'd rather have a RedHat-based distro, I've heard good things about Mandrake, but haven't tried it myself.
posted by arto at 11:32 PM on February 27, 2004

be aware that red hat is kind-of-weird at the moment. they're messing with the development/support/licencing balance. a few months ago there were all kinds of theories about suse becoming the new "default" supported officially by hardware/software companies. it all seems to have been a bit of a storm in a teacup, in that there has been no sudden shift, but it might be something to bear in mind in the long term. probably of no relevance, but worth bearing in mind if you were thinking of redhat because it's so widely known.

incidentally, suse is the "european" linux, so probably has slightly better multi language support (inc spanish), which might be useful.

to connect to a windows network you want to be running samba (iirc). i presume it works on any distro (i have it working fine with debian, although it took a fair bit of effort at first).

it's probably worth paying for boxed software for your first linux - nice to have the paper documentation for the first install.
posted by andrew cooke at 4:12 AM on February 28, 2004

Or, your local bookstore should have a whack of 600+ page How-to-run-Linux books with included distro CDs. Maybe pick one of those up? Should be easier to find than a boxed distro these days...
posted by arto at 10:13 PM on February 28, 2004

Don't forget the BSDs. You get a bit more security, but the installers tend to be in the Debian/Slackware realm of difficulty. OpenBSD is my personal favorite, VERY well-documented, quite probably the most secure OS on the x86 platorm, and on the machine you described you can make a great small server/firewall.

Be warned that while the BSDs offer GUIs, if you actually need or want one, you're missing the point - go to Linux if you need a free GUI.
posted by Ryvar at 10:46 PM on February 28, 2004

Mandrake, Mandrake, Mandrake! I love that distro. Been using it since version 6.2 or 7.0, I think, several years back. Good stuff, easy to use, snazzy graphics, and worked on everything from my dad's old P200 (which I turned into a router and firewall for my off-campus house in college) to my IBM ThinkPad.
posted by Asparagirl at 11:43 PM on February 28, 2004

I found the FreeBSD installer dead easy to use. It was awful easy to install additional software, too, and the settings files are, on the whole, all gathered together quite nicely and logically. I've been playing with KDE3.2 on FreeBSD, too, and have found it to be very nice.

I've tried a half-dozen Linuxes and always found them hopeless: too much to learn too fast, and can't use it usefully until then. FreeBSD was nowhere near as insurmountable: I got it up and running productively very quickly.

I never have quite grokked the BSD variations. I thought FreeBSD was the ultra-secure one...
posted by five fresh fish at 11:46 PM on February 28, 2004

fff: nope, that's OpenBSD
posted by cheaily at 12:31 AM on February 29, 2004

Response by poster: Just in case anybody's still reading, I'm gonna try Knoppix, see if I get the hang of it.
Sorry for the sort-of-double post, but clueless as I am I hadn't realised the previous post was about Linux at all (from the post, hadn't read the thread). Amery, thanks for the advice and the offer for help. Andrew, we should really get together at Liguria one of these days.
posted by signal at 7:05 AM on February 29, 2004

I agree that you should start with an easy-to-install distro like Red Hat or Mandrake and then move forward from there.

Forget buying a book. Go here if you want to learn Linux the right way.

It's called Rute and is an e-book based on a South African professor's Linux course. It starts you out at a bash prompt and shows you how to shell script and do just about anything you need to without running a GUI shell.

It's a great, free way to learn how the internals of Linux work without becoming horribly reliant on a GUI. Highly recommended.
posted by hawkman at 12:25 PM on February 29, 2004

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