Easy Linux versions
June 11, 2008 2:35 PM   Subscribe

Which flavor of Linux is most likely to give the least trouble with hardware installations? See inside...

I've had very limited experience with Linux but I do recall going through some trouble to get a Linksys wireless card working, and through enormous trouble to get WPA drivers for wireless working (in fact I was unsuccessful). I Googled around and found all kinds of voodoo tricks for doing this configuration but none of them worked.

This was, I believe, Ubuntu, and soured me from continuing with Linux, and I went back to Windows for several months. I have a new computer now, though.

Are all Linux flavors like this? If not, which ones will do the best job shielding me from doing fingernail-biting configuration work? I don't mind getting under the hood... I just need a year or two of experience, and I can't get that if half my devices don't work.
posted by crapmatic to Computers & Internet (10 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Ubuntu is really the easiest to install. The latest version has a vastly improved wireless connection manager.
posted by phrontist at 2:41 PM on June 11, 2008

Ubuntu. Wireless used to be horrible on Linux, and is now tolerable. In Hardy, it's been much improved.
posted by chrisamiller at 2:46 PM on June 11, 2008

Wireless is always going to be troublesome because of lack of drivers. You either need to purchase a card with linux drivers or use a distribution that uses ndiswrapper.
posted by damn dirty ape at 2:54 PM on June 11, 2008

When I used Ubuntu 8.10 wireless worked OOTB. You may not be so lucky though.
posted by devlin at 3:19 PM on June 11, 2008

My laptop (HP Pavilion dv6000) had tons of problems getting set up when I installed Gusty Gibson and I ended up scraping it and waiting for Hardy. When Hardy came out I installed using Wubi and it found all of the drivers and everything for me including wireless and I didn't have to do anything.
posted by lilkeith07 at 4:06 PM on June 11, 2008

Fedora always worked for me right out of the box. But never messed with the wireless. Also try SUSE (or whatever Novell is calling it now). Supposed to be good.
posted by gjc at 4:41 PM on June 11, 2008

Your best bet is to look at the hardware you have and find a distro that supports that hardware.

Historically I've had the best luck with a purchased version of SuSE, as it includes non-free drivers, but it's been a few years. Currently I use Debian (on which Ubuntu and others are based) but I don't run wireless, and it's always been a headache to set up because most wireless drivers aren't available from the vendors in an open-source fashion. So note that the problem isn't Linux, but hardware manufacturers not writing drivers for Linux or providing the specs so that others can write those drivers.

Also, consider burning a live CD of knoppix and seeing if your current hardware is supported, so that you don't have to commit until you know.
posted by davejay at 5:42 PM on June 11, 2008

Nthing - wireless setup has long been bad, is getting much better.
If you want to test to see if it's worth the hassle, check if Linux distributions you're interested in have a boot CD or "LiveCD" of some kind. This allows you to start up any PC from the CD drive instead of the HD, which most are built to do anyway, using the linux OS on the liveCD. At that point the PC is essentially running Linux - but without making ANY changes to the Windows/Mac OS you have on the hard drive. (Ubuntu does this wonderfully, BTW, and the latest has a new Wubi install-but-as-a-Windows-app tool.) When done, shut down, remove CD, you're back to Windows or OSX.

You'll know pretty much right away what works and what doesn't in terms of hardware. Running the LiveCD and everything works but you can't get sound?= you're going to have problems (possibly solvable, possibly not) with your sound card.
Linux is open source software; the drivers that make hardware like wireless cards, sound, video, etc. function are not necessarily open source and/or aren't available for Linux. The most common hardware will likely work right away; some just never will. That's the hardware maker's fault, not Linux's.

Oh, and a tip for wireless setup, especially on older linux distros and hardware; ndiswrapper and madwifi are two software packages that will help translate wireless card drivers for Windows and make them work for Linux. My first experience was just like yours; had the windows drivers for the wifi card, but couldn't find anyhting for Linux; googling found me ndiswrapper; with that and the Windows drivers, I was wireless 10 minutes later.

That's another reason that Ubuntu's a good first-timer pick; if not for the great Ubuntu user Forums where I found that answer, I probably would've just given up on Linux right then.
It is also one-stop shopping to figure out whether you prefer the appearance and layout of the different desktop environments for Linux - Ubuntu for GNOME, Kubuntu for KDE, Xubuntu for Xfce - they're all Ubuntu, but look different; finding out if you like them or not via LiveCD is much better than by going through a whole install.
posted by bartleby at 5:59 PM on June 11, 2008 [1 favorite]

Fedora 9's wireless worked out of the box on my HP desktop and Dell laptop.
posted by lukemeister at 9:48 PM on June 11, 2008

Before installing anything, try the latest Ubuntu, Fedora, and openSUSE livecds.
posted by PueExMachina at 10:37 PM on June 11, 2008

« Older Tips for optimizing my Macbook Pro for work AND...   |   Redirecting subdomain to https Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.