What's a good Linux distro for a n00b?
August 26, 2004 1:31 PM   Subscribe

LinuxFilter: I'm going to delve into the world of Linux and dual-booting. What's a good distro for a n00b? Any tips, especially pertaining to partitioning and installation?
posted by keswick to Computers & Internet (25 answers total)
You'll probably get as many answers as there are distros, but I recommend SuSE 9.1. It's easy to install, will handle partitioning for you with ease and comes with a shedload of useful software.
posted by Nick Jordan at 1:47 PM on August 26, 2004

I also am doing this. I have winxp pro myself and I'm thinking of making THREE booting OS's. I would like some variant of user-friendly linux and also winxp 64!

posted by crazy finger at 1:48 PM on August 26, 2004

There are some good tips here, in a previous thread. Like I said in that thread, I recommend Mandrake, but Nick Jordan's suggestion of SuSE is also great. There are lots of easy-to-use distros that can help you do the partitioning, so fear not.
posted by vorfeed at 1:54 PM on August 26, 2004

oh, yeah, and once you choose your distro, their homepage will probably have a guide that'll walk you through installing and partitioning using that particular distro, so you may as well go ahead and pick one before you start thinking too much about that.
posted by vorfeed at 1:56 PM on August 26, 2004

crazy finger: BeOS. Best OS ever.
posted by cmonkey at 2:01 PM on August 26, 2004

I did this with Mandrake, which is probably the most widely cited "n00b" distro. With regards to partitioning, keep in mind that if your drive is NTFS you're probably going to lose everything. This is something where you'll definitely want to do a complete backup before attempting. If you have access to partition magic or a similar program use that, but the linux installer should help you repartition if you don't.

The typical setup for a dual boot is about 20g for the Windows partition in NTFS, 20g for linux in EXT3, 1/2 a gig also in EXT3 for a linux swap, and the rest FAT32. Linux cannot reliably write to NTFS partitions (although you could set up read only mounting) and Windows doesn't know what the hell EXT3 is, but they both speak FAT32 so you can put your shared files there.

Installation with Mandrake or SUSE will not be intimidating... so long as you're backed up everything, just pop the bootable CD in and give it a go. Any issues you have post installation can be cleared up with help from the many, many linux forums on the internet.

Good luck!
posted by moift at 2:08 PM on August 26, 2004

I've been rockin' Mandrake 10.1, and it's been truly excellent. Part of me kinda wishes I'd gone with SuSE -- which seems to have better support for commercial packages -- but I've been really happy with Mandrake. It's actually kinda remarkable how easy Linux has become to install and use...

For whatever it's worth, almost every major metro area these days has a local linux users group. You might not want to go to their meetings -- I've been to more than my share and they're usually very, very dorky -- but the nerds on the mailing list will gladly help you out if you have problems.
posted by ph00dz at 2:25 PM on August 26, 2004

a good alternative to wiping the current (xp/2000+) windows install is to purchase a second hard drive and use it for linux. you won't have to lose (or shrink) your ntfs partition.
posted by lescour at 2:40 PM on August 26, 2004

The easiest way to do this is to just buy a second hard drive. Create one partition of like 10GB for Linux, and format the rest FAT32. This way you don't have to worry about trashing your Windows install, or figuring out how to switch your NTFS parition to FAT32. And you can use most of the space on the new drive as shared storage you can access from either operating system for things like music.

Check out http://www.linuxiso.org/ if you've got broadband. You can download working CD install images and burn them onto CD-ROM on your Windows machine and reboot to try it out.

SuSE, Mandrake, Fedora are all good choices for newcomers. Lycoris may be a good call if you want braindead easy, but I've not tried it. Slackware is cool but it won't hold your hand as much as the others, especially in terms of future upgradability and package management. I run SuSE but am not particularly fanatical about the advantages of any particular distro. All the recent ones have been decent.
posted by Voivod at 2:48 PM on August 26, 2004

Response by poster: Here's my set up.. I have two drives, all formatted NTFS. My primary is 120 gigs, one partition. My second drive is 160 gigs, two partitions. I keep my photos in one partition and mp3s in the other. I was planning to use PartitionMagic to redo my primary drive.
posted by keswick at 2:50 PM on August 26, 2004

I have two drives, all formatted NTFS.

I recommend NTFSresize, as NTFS does not like to be messed with by conventional partitioning programs such as those in the linux installers. I haven't tried this particular program myself so I still recommend backing up, but if you just let Mandrake etc try to change your drives they're almost certain to break it.
posted by moift at 3:06 PM on August 26, 2004

Response by poster: PartitionMagic is the shizzle. It resized my secondary drive's partitions with nary a protest.
posted by keswick at 3:25 PM on August 26, 2004

keswick - Any previous experience with Linux or a *nix environment? How much computer experience do you have?

Let me give you a quick rundown of distros I've used.

Mandrake: I used version 7 several years ago. Stay away; it didn't include a lot of the C headers that I needed when I had to compile a weird driver and I had to go back and find the source code for them. :-P (Their C libraries aren't standard, in other words, or weren't at that time.)

RedHat: Now called Fedora, it was stable and easy to use and install. However, Fedora is an open-source project and is kinda broken most of the time these days.

SuSE: Probably the most complete distro I've run across. Everyone who's used it seems to like it. AFAIK, though, it isn't free...

Slackware: The 1960's american car of distros. Archiaic, but rock-solid. Slackware runs my servers right now. Very little assistance to users in the form of easy-to-use utilities and there isn't any package management like the fedora/redhat yum & rpm combo, but you could take a sledgehammer to this distro and still have it function. If you're really a techie, and you really want to learn how to manage a linux system at its lowest level, use this distro. Otherwise, don't use this distro.

Now, I haven't had experience with Gentoo or Debian, but other people have said good thins. I tried to install Gentoo (I think it was) once but the compile-from-scratch thing took too long on the feeble little box I was running it on (PII 233).
posted by SpecialK at 3:36 PM on August 26, 2004

Response by poster: SpecialK: I know a little bit. My first exposure to *nix was in 1992 to my uni's shell. I know how to navigate dirs, rename, delete, change permissions, copy... Not much else. But I want to learn command line Linux, hence the dual-booting.
posted by keswick at 3:42 PM on August 26, 2004

Mandrake is up to 10 and it's had most of what I need (I put it on a computer at home and one at work in the past month after very little Linux experience). Plus urpmi and rpm searches have saved me from too much hand compiling. Then again, I did just spend a day getting Bugzilla up and running, but I blame the bastards behind Perl for that. It's been pretty user friendly for me. Just plan out exactly what you need in advance and try to get as much of it as possible up front during the install (picking packages by hand). Overdo it, even.
posted by yerfatma at 5:15 PM on August 26, 2004

Can I suggest that you experiment with Knoppix first? Knoppix boots from a CD and does not write to your HD at all. That way you can have a play with Linux, and see how well your hardware is supported, without running the risk of doing any damage.

I'm way too far gone to remember newbiehood, but Mandrake, Libranet, Xandros and Suse all have good reps for a userfriendly install.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 5:27 PM on August 26, 2004

Also, for a desktop machine, I wouldn't bother creating more than one Linux partition.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 5:30 PM on August 26, 2004

SuSE: AFAIK, though, it isn't free..

Sure it is.
posted by the fire you left me at 5:53 PM on August 26, 2004

I use Debian, which has a cool package management system and is admirable in its purity. However, it is in many ways not exactly newbie-friendly.

Which leads to a more important point: don't ever call yourself a "n00b" in a Linux help forum, or you will instantly lose the respect of everyone there. (they'll also think you're 13, and retarded.)
posted by bingo at 7:35 PM on August 26, 2004

Response by poster: Oh noes! I'll 1053 teh r35p3ct of teh L1nux n3rd5!

It's pre-emptive strike / ironic. Thanks for the condescension, though.
posted by keswick at 8:09 PM on August 26, 2004

Fedora's not broken. In fact, it has a nice installer and a decent and fairly powerful (if woefully unorganized) GUI config utils.

The main thing with Fedora is that since it excludes many packages whose licenses it doesn't like, it's a bit dysfunctional out of the box. Which means you'll need to fish around the Internet for some RPMs, and instantly run into RPM dependency hell.
posted by azazello at 8:44 PM on August 26, 2004

The OS X of Linux would be OS X.
posted by Steve_at_Linnwood at 1:01 AM on August 27, 2004

Pretty much what molift said way up there: Go SuSe (my choice!) or Mandrake. Mandrake's support sounds better than SuSe's, as SuSe is produced by a German company and if you have problems that weren't seen before about six months ago, the relevant help files are going to be in German. But this doesn't usually cause too many problems. (And besides, they give you free installation support if you go out and buy the thing in a box.)

The thing I ALWAYS forget when installing dual-boots is that Windows will wipe out you MBR when you install it, wiping out whatever boot manager you're using. Then you have to go through some boot-disc chicanery to get at that Linux install you've been working so hard at... So install Windows FIRST, then Linux. It's like liquor before beer....
posted by kaibutsu at 7:34 AM on August 27, 2004

Azazelo: As I said, it's broken ... to newbies. You and I can make our own RPMs if we run into things that otherwise won't work because some safety-hat dev thinks you need the latest version of libFoo, even though the next older version works fine when you compile the software manually.

A new linux user wouldn't be able to. Therefore, it's broken.

And let me re-iterate: Mandrake sucks if you're trying to learn linux at the command-line. Go with Debian, SuSe, Slack, or if you like RPM dependency hell, Fedora. ;)

Oh, and honestly, support for *nix isn't worth the hill of squishy overcooked beans that it's built on. Your best bet is to find an IRC channel devoted to your distro. Chances are that the people that hang in there have seen every iteration of every possible problem that you could see, and they can link you directly to a resource (howto) on how to fix it.
posted by SpecialK at 9:50 AM on August 27, 2004

keswick, it's rather obvious that the condescension is fully deserved, and on your path into linux-land, you're in for a lot more of it.
posted by bingo at 6:23 PM on August 27, 2004

« Older What are some things that a french curve can be...   |   Feats of Strength Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.