best linux distro for parents computer?
May 11, 2004 2:11 PM   Subscribe

Fill in the blank: The best linux distro to install on an old laptop your parents want to use as a surfing/email station is __________.

My parents have an old Compaq Presario running Windows ME that they want to use as a terminal for checking email and doing online banking. The networking is acting up and I thought: "Why not just install linux?" I'm from the Mac side of things, but I've installed Yellow Dog on an old G3, so I'm not uncomfortable with terminals, chmod-ing, etc. But I need something relatively bombproof that won't need any tweaking after it's installed. (Oh, and I'm hoping this machine will be their first step out of the Evil Empire.) Thanks!
posted by lupus_yonderboy to Computers & Internet (16 answers total)
Yellow Dog's PPC version of Linux uses RedHat's kernel variant.
Installing x86 RH-based builds should be okay.

Linux Online has a list of personal distros based on RedHat and Debian's kernels. A groups search on Google should help with any arcane driver issues/network settings involving the Presario model.
Best of luck on hot-rodding your parents' ride! ;)
posted by Smart Dalek at 2:31 PM on May 11, 2004

"Fill in the blank: The best linux distro to install on an old laptop your parents want to use as a surfing/email station" is a wonderful way to start a flamewar.

What do I win?

It's really a matter of taste, I'd say considering your comment you don't want slackware or gentoo, but apart from that I doubt there's any real consensus to be found. I personally like debian (usually), but the only way to find out what distribution works for you (assuming you'll be the one stuck maintaining it) is to try them out. Ofcourse you don't have to try them all out now, just pick one from the suggestions offered here and next time it comes up and you didn't like your choice try something else. My point is that you can't really expect much of a concrete answer here, and people (including me) probably won't type up long essays defending their choice as volumes have already been written on the subject matter.
posted by fvw at 2:52 PM on May 11, 2004

If you're just looking for something to do web surfing and email, I think you'll find that all the major distributions (Fedora, Debian, Suse, etc.) will be roughly equivalent. They all have Mozilla (and probably Firefox), and they all offer both KDE and GNOME. You really can't go wrong.
posted by Galvatron at 4:20 PM on May 11, 2004

Knoppix and a webmail account. fastmail or gmail. That way, when they break everything, it'll only take you 20 minues or so to reinstall.
posted by seanyboy at 4:25 PM on May 11, 2004

Mandrake or Suse. That's what I say whenever someone is looking for a good install-it-and-forget-it Linux. Both distros strike a nice balance between ease of installation, hardware support, feature set, and ease of use.

I love Debian and Gentoo, but they are both markedly harder to install. They're rock solid, though they're not built with the novice in mind.

Oh, and I'd be remiss if I didn't also give a shout out to Knoppix, which has zero installation. Just put the disc in your drive and you're off.

If I were you I'd give each of these sites a quick read and see which you think best fits your parents' needs. This thread is good for getting you a list of sites to check, but as fvw says you'll get a much better idea what you're getting into with a quick read of the distros' sites.
posted by amery at 4:33 PM on May 11, 2004

Look for linux on laptops resources (eg tuxmobil) and check out what distributions people have successfully used with your model.

seanyboy's idea is good too.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 5:06 PM on May 11, 2004

Here you go. The install reports should give you a good headsup on what you're in for.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 5:07 PM on May 11, 2004

I use Debian, but I have to agree that learning it for a novice is an uphill battle. On the other hand, you pretty much never have to worry about dependencies. Stable doesn't support Firefox, though; at least not officially.
posted by bingo at 5:48 PM on May 11, 2004

doing online banking.

Verify before starting that the bank's site works with one of the Mozilla-based browsers!
posted by Mo Nickels at 5:59 PM on May 11, 2004

at the risk of derailing into the finer points of debian, a mixed testing/unstable should be fine for a desktop machine. stable is very behind the times as far as desktops go.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 7:24 PM on May 11, 2004

Here's a good article on Linux for gran.

(I think SUSe is easy and nice looking, but YMMV.)
posted by milovoo at 7:31 PM on May 11, 2004

Libranet is a friendly Debian-based distro that solves the two biggest pains of Debian. It has an uncomplicated graphical installer that autodetected everything on my laptop. Update, by default, links to their own package list that is a mix of Sarge and Sid - up to date, but not unstable. Much easier than picking and choosing yourself. It's not free, as in beer, but is well worth the money.
posted by sardonista at 8:12 PM on May 11, 2004

It sounds like anything that can run Firefox with Yahoo mail bookmarked is a winner. If that laptop is more than a few years old most recent "consumer friendly" distros will need serious tweaking to run fast on it. A slightly older Debian might be a good call. I love SuSE 9 but I run it on 2GHz systems with 512mb of RAM at home and at work and I can tell it needs it!
posted by Voivod at 10:30 PM on May 11, 2004

I second the vote for LibraNet, The other plus with it is that it seems to be less of a memory hog than RedHat and Mandrake and Suse (with default configs)
posted by Space Coyote at 11:00 PM on May 11, 2004

While I do think linux on the desktop is ready to go for the average user, keep in mind that laptops have a lot of weird proprietary drivers, especially in regards to power management.
posted by ph00dz at 8:12 AM on May 12, 2004

i might suggest (given personal experience with my father-in-law) that you use a build you're familiar with, so when something goes wrong, or they forget how to do something specific, and you're not there to fix it you can talk your parents through steps over the phone. knowing what exactly ought to be on-screen at any given step is a big plus, especially for someone who isn't familiar with the interface and won't immediately know what to do if the exact button/file/checkbox/etc. you mention is actually there in a different spot or with a different name, and so on.

this of course depends on your parent's tech skills and familiarity with the interface. if they're pretty savvy you may be OK with a different build.
posted by caution live frogs at 8:47 AM on May 12, 2004

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