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What's A Good Starter Linux distro? 573

Posted by Hemos
from the start-the-flame-wars-early dept.
alen writes "I've been working with NT for a year now, and I'm getting really tired of it. So I finally decided to learn Linux, after a year of putting it off. I've got an old P2 266 that I'm going to use. Now the next question is what distro do I get? What's a good starter version? I'm just looking to get the feel of it and to play around a little. " This question gets asked periodically - it's always good to hear have a lively discussion about it - I love my Debian but have heard that Mandrake is a good starter distro.
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What's A Good Starter Linux distro?

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  • I picked Red Hat because most of my Linux friends use Red Hat distribution. This way, I can always get help if I run into problems. I could have gotten Mandrake, but none of them use it. When I am ready, I will try other brands.

    I would try picking a distribution if you have friends who use a popular Linux distribution.

  • by DaSyonic (238637) <DaSyonic&yahoo,com> on Monday August 13, 2001 @01:21AM (#2111044) Homepage
    This question is asked often, yet there is no correct answer. Peoples preferred distributions are like assholes, everyone has one, and noone wants to listen to one. But when it comes down to it, there are 3 differant groups of Linux users, RedHat [redhat.com]/Mandrake [linux-mandrake.com], Debian [debian.org]/Slackware [slackware.org], and SuSE [suse.com]/others [linux.org].

    You're probably saying already, that doesnt make sense. Let me ellaborate.

    RedHat [redhat.com]/Mandrake [linux-mandrake.com] are both very similar. Often, one user of one hates the other. RedHat people will say 'RedHat is more powerful and stable' and Mandrake people will say 'Mandrakes easier and less buggy'. As you can see, these statements conflict. Overall however, there very similar, and either one is fine. They're both based on RPM, and they both can be used for virtually anything.

    Then there's the Slackware [slackware.org]/Debian [debian.org] crowd. They tend to stick together, but they have differant views none the less. They take pride in their 'elite feeling', in that only people with 'skill' can use and know these distributions. They're typically harder for the novice, yet easier for the seasoned Linux user. Debian has arguably the best package management, and Slackware has probably the most loyal user base ever formed. These are top choices for someone experienced in Linux. Additionally, their is Progney [progney.com], a commercial debian-based distribution that makes using Debian easier, and provides commercial support. This is quickly becoming a good alternative.

    Finally, there's the SuSE [suse.com] and other crowd. They are less known and used, and usually appeal to a specific crowd. SuSE for instance, is very popular among non-US users. These are also generally good, especially if you have really specific needs.

    Now, which crowd is right? None. Which is the best? None. It depends on what you want, what crowd you fit in. If you're very technical, You fall into the Slackware/Debian crowd. If you like what's popular, easy, and commercial, you'll like hanging out with the RedHat/Mandrake folks. And if you like something very specific, or a close community, you'll like SuSE or something else.

    But what is right for you? That's up to you. Research all of them, Try a few, Play with them. It's like shopping for a car. Some like Chevy, Some like Ford, and some are fine with a Honda. And some just dont care.

    What I use depends on the target machine. If it's a server, I'll go with either RedHat or Debian. If it's a workstation, RedHat. Firewall, I use OpenBSD or Debian. But like I said in the beginning, my opinion, or anyone else's, means nothing. Good luck.

  • by Zocalo (252965) on Monday August 13, 2001 @05:43AM (#2111157) Homepage
    You need to start by asking yourself the question "Why do I want to look at Linux?". I have been asked for recommendations several times and generally pick one of the following:

    If it's because of a moral/open source issue, then realistically you have to go with Debian, but you can expect to encounter an almost vertical learning curve at the start - it's not reknown as an "easy to install" distro. So much so in-fact that I would *never* recommend a user with no *nix experience install it until they had played with another distro for a while - that's the beauty of Linux of course, you can play around until you find what suits you best.

    If you are getting into Linux because you are going to be using it in a corporate environment, then you probably want Red Hat; it (or a derivative) is used on perhaps 90% of systems with "Linux Inside" and corporates seem to like Red Hat best, but check your intended first... Red Hat's installer has leapt forward recently and it's a very nice distro for support because it has the largest user base abd has generally given me the least grief.

    Finally, if you are coming from Windows and are just curious to see what the fuss is about, then checkout S.u.S.E. and/or Mandrake. The former has an "everything including several kitchen sinks" approach and the latter is perhaps the best at making Windows users feel at home and has a very nice installer.

    Finally. Play. There are lots of distros; the above are just the ones I know enough of the current specifics to support a new user on. Once you know your way around; install another distro. Play. Install another distro. Play...

  • best way to learn (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday August 13, 2001 @01:28AM (#2112015)
    When it comes down to it, all distros are basically the same with slightly different wrapping. I started off with slackware first, went to Redhat, tried Mandrake once, and now using Debian. I've found there are three major things that can affect your usage:
    • The installation
    • The management system (often related to the installer)
    • Room for going out of the management system
    Overall, I was most impressed by Redhat's installer. Of all the machines I installed on it caused the least amount of problems. Mandrake in some ways looked a little slicker, but when it had much less control, and ultimately annoyed me enough not to go further. Debian's installation lacks a lot. I beleive this is partly because the installation is less important with Debian (and I've gathered the same with Mandrake?)

    Although there is a certain amount of simplicity involved with distros based on tarballs (i.e. slackware) with the number of applications it can be rather time consuming after awhile. As I mentioned, I used redhat for a long time, and I found the RPM system to be rather frustrating at times. However, for a beginner you probably won't notice the some difficulties that might come up, as well as user friendlier front ends like ximian's installer.

    Overall, really the key to getting used to Linux is: (a) patience (b) an ethusiasm for some punishment for great reward later in life [sounds like a religion..] (c) you need to make sure you sit down and spend a lot of time on the linux box - its a matter of needing to do things, and having no choice but to research how they are done [for instance, you 'need' to burn a CD, and you have to figure out how to set up ATAPI cdrom writers up] (d) an O'Reilly book by your side (I still have not found a good substite) - yeah, its basically what you'll find online for free, but unless you have another computer around, certain things could be difficult to lookup, and paper is sometimes better.

  • by SkullOne (150150) on Monday August 13, 2001 @12:57AM (#2112047) Homepage
    Comparing a vast majority of Linux distros together is like comparing apples and oranges.
    Each distro has its major features, enhancements, and drawbacks.
    I suggest you get 2-5 distros together, for a new user, I suggest Mandrake, Redhat, Debian, Suse, and possibly Slackware as good comparisons.
    Try each for a period of time, then see which one you like best after you try them all.

    • I suggest you get 2-5 distros together, for a new user

      Linux System Labs [lsl.com] has a neat package like this specifically for this purpose ("tri-linux"), 11 CDs and four distros for 17.99 US$. I seem to remember they also had a 17-CD set but I don't see it now, so its possible I remember wrong.

  • to each their own (Score:2, Interesting)

    by cslide (126296)
    I think that when starting out with linux, you must ask yourself what you will be doing, be it, starting a server, or just keeping it as your desktop, you must look at everything.
    If you are an experienced computer user, that is comfertable with partitioning then, grab a distro like debian, or slakware, if you are new to the whole idea of resizing your HDD, then go with Redhat or Mandrake, they come with tools for setting up a loopback, come with graphical installs, and provide a good explanation of how and why you are doing certian things....

    on second thought just install OpenBSD..
  • by richard.kilgore (449400) on Monday August 13, 2001 @02:04AM (#2113778)
    I always hear the opinion "Debian is a great distro, but not for the beginner". I agree with the first part, and don't have an understanding of the second.

    I've been using Linux and Debian long enough that it is probably just a case of I forgot what I learned, but could those of you with more fresh memories of difficulties shed some light for me?

    There is one difficulty that has long been a problem with (I think) any Linux setup -- getting it to work with your hardware; although that is changing more and more. But I see that as a distribution-neutral problem.

    When it comes to having well integrated software, and convenience in upgrading packages when you want new features or bug fixes, I have had far better luck with Debian than I ever do with Red Hat or Mandrake. The one version of Mandrake that I tried (7.2) was laughably broken. KDE settings would be lost without warning, their upgrade utility was completely worthless, because it did no dependency tracking for me, and several of the packages the "friendly GUI" listed would fail to be on the servers when I tried to download them. It was all I could do to keep the thing from spontaneously combusting. I gave up and switched my wife to Debian 8)

    Maybe I'm just using my system differently than others? One suspicion I have is that maybe most newbies just install from CD, and then leave it alone most of the time. Therefore they don't expect to install new software they read about on slashdot or freshmeat, or upgrade to the latest version of qt for anti-aliased fonts, etc.

    Anyone have any input that could help me out here? I never know what to tell potential newbies, because I always want to recommend Debian, but I know I've heard lots of people say that's a bad idea.

    • Debian is an easy system to install/uninstall, including most apps. Its also not too hard to make a barebones system. This is why I'm playing with Debian (after installing RH for a friend for a very specific task - and no, its not connected to the network, I don't trust a 6.2 install for security especially when I don't know jack about it. I don't have problem's with the distro's security, I have a problem with my knowledge on how to impliment it.)

      So, why do I want a minimal install and the ability to add/remove stuff easily? Because, I feel that I learn better when I have to do everything myself. It may take longer, and I'll probably screw up bigtime, and get hacked/crash the system, but I'll be learning. Anyways, right now, the box is being used as a temporary file server that doesn't have anything over a week old on it, and nothing critical. (I dial up at home, at work I can use a T1, a box I can SSH into at work is rather useful).

      At the moment I'm running OpenSSH, proFTPd, and Apache, and looking at configuring TinyDNS, as well as setting up Tripwire. Slowly, I'll learn. Heck, later I'll probably add Gnome, but atm, I'm happy in the command line.

    • Well, the last release required you to know the structure of the install CD. This was a pain that required a newbie to pop the CD out and surf the web for debian specific terms like potato.

      This has been fixed, thank goodness, and other little things work better now too. Setting up your /etc/apt/sources.list file is just a matter of removing comment #s, but really knowing takes time. Program names, etc. Other distros used to be easier to install.

      Debian is a great system to install for someone you are willing to help out. Once they get it, it's much easier for them to move on with. I really like how stable their configuration files have been, and your friends will like that too. If you don't have that kind of time, throw Red Hat at them with a book like Linux Unleashed. That's what I did to myself, so it must have worked.

  • In my experience, Linux has quite a few little impasses that are incredibly difficult and time-consuming to figure out, but can by easily bypassed by someone who knows what they're doing.

    FAQs, HOWTOs, man pages and bulletin boards usually have the steps to do what you're trying to do, but in my experience you can't understand the answer until someone explains the source of your confusion.

    If you really want to save yourself some grief, find yourself someone who knows Linux reasonably well, invite them over for dinner regularly, and then get them to help you figure out the problems you've been stumped by.
  • Head over to http://www.linuxdoc.org/ and learn how it works.

    The new distributions try to hide what is really going on behind useless, extravagent, and confusing GUI's. If you read and understand the basics (runlevels, starting, shutting down, /etc/rc.d/init.d, etc) then you can clean up the mess your distro installs and have a fast, clean, fun to use system.

  • Sounds Interesting (Score:2, Interesting)

    by NetGyver (201322)
    I'm a windows user, always have been. It's not like i've turned my back on Linux since I have only tried it twice.

    I don't follow things out of blindness and loyalty either. But I remember when I first installed 95 OSR2 back in the day. It was EASY. I never used it before but i installed it without looking at a manual, without a crash, it detected my hardware. It was simple.

    I tried Corel Linux 1.0 and Caldara OpenDesktop 2.5 (I believe) Corel crashed on install, and Caldara didn't pick up my fairly good and 2-3 year old hardware.

    Why can't linux be just as simple? (I haven't tried the new distros yet, but i'm willing)

    It seems like there are alot of Linux elitists out there who what to keep linux to themselves. Now, There have been a small few of Linux users who have gone above and beyond the call of duty to help me out. I'm just saying, I cought alot of hell from those other asswipes becuase they were unwiling to help me solve my problems (which i tend to believe it was childsplay to them)

    You want linux to grow? You want linux to make money? You want Linux to thrive and become an OS power to be reckoned with?

    Personally I like the idea of an ordinary man being able to open the hood of his operating system and do some fixing if he feels the need to and has the compacity to do so. I like the idea of open source. Now, i don't know jack from shit about how linux works, but at least if i learned how to, familiarize myself with it, use and gain my own sense of pride by doing it myself in the process. This is actually what drew me to linux in the first place, it was the philosophy of it all. Not necessarlly becuase i hate MS. (which changes with the weather, and it's usually rainy.)

    I'm just tired of the cold shoulder.

    I found this particular article to be very helpful (along with alot of good comments). I also want a flavor of distro that feels and installs like windows to start off with. Not becuase i'm a wolf slipping into sheep's clothing, (or vice versa ;)) but because i want to acclimate myself to it, adjust to it without getting lost in the process.

    And when I feel i have hit the bounderies of that particular distro, move to something more flexable and challinging, or maybe not.

    Not everyone who drives a particular car has to become the sole mechanic of that car. Not everyone who wants to use linux nessessarly wants to hack and *really* get in the mechanics of it.

    Is there such a thing as a "dumb linux user" like a "dumb windows user"? What i mean by that is, A person can use windows without ever knowing how to change certian hardware settings, or without knowing how to change the startup + shutdown screens, tweak the registry and the OS. A person who doesn't use windows with a wrench but just knows how to drive it. Can't there be a linux user counterpart?

    Is that so bad? I mean christ, you hand the man a OS that is in essence free, give him the tools to fix and manipulate it, So you basically give the man the *Oppertunity* to put linux through the motions. He may never get that far, but at least if he has the desire to, he can do so and perhaps may even fix or create something great that he can then turn around and share with his fellow users.

    Isn't that what Linux is supposed to be about, or am i completely missing the target here.

    #Sig Goes here

  • Give Mandrake a go (Score:5, Informative)

    by Rockin' Az (315143) on Monday August 13, 2001 @12:57AM (#2122965)
    It tends to install okay.
    Gives you lots of GUI configuration help.
    All in all it is a nice beginner distro. As you learn more you can move away from the GUI configuration and do it by hand. Then latter on, if you want to keep learning more you can start setting up the more expert distos like Slackware, of Linux from Scratch.

    Whatever you decide to do, Mandrake is certainly nice - hell my sister and Mother in Law both manage to use it everyday, without problems.
    • lots of GUI configuration help

      Notably the drive partitioning utility. It works great and is *so* easy to use. I have actually booted off the Mandrake CD just to partition the drive when doing a Redhat install since Redhat's partitioning wasn't nearly as, uh, cooperative.

  • by hey! (33014) on Monday August 13, 2001 @09:28AM (#2123625) Homepage Journal
    I have a laptop which runs Windows 2000 for my Windows development work. I often also wish I had Linux installed on it too, but didn't want to partition the disk, and didn't want to trust my Windows data to an experimental NTFS driver.

    So I installed the Cygwin tools. Recently I upgraded them to the latest versions, including XFree86. Wow, do they ROCK. Most of the CLI tools I"m used to from Linux (BASH, SSH, man, info etc) where there. XFree86 defaulted to twm, but I downloaded the IceWM sources and compiled it with NO CHANGES WHATSOEVER and it works perfectly. Some configuration changes were necessary in some of the window manager files to get them working just so (in particular XTERM defaults to the current SHELL environment variable which normally under NT is set to cmd.com; changing the menus to xterm -e "/bin/bash" does the trick).

    So far all the Linux sources I've downloaded have configured and compiled without any fuss.

    If you aren't doing anything with the Linux kernel and you don't need a Linux desktop, then Cygwin on NT or 2000 may be a good way to get access to the user tools you get under Linux.

  • Try Several (Score:5, Informative)

    by rgmoore (133276) <glandauer@charter.net> on Monday August 13, 2001 @01:17AM (#2124135) Homepage

    Why restrict yourself to one distribution, particularly if you're going to start out by installing on an older computer? One of the best things about Linux is that you can get distributions dirt cheap. Go to a place like Linux Mall [linuxmall.com] and get a bunch. You can even get multi-disk sets containing several distributions packaged together specifically so you can try out different ones and pick your favorite. Of course if you have a fast network connection and a CD burner, you could even download the ISO images and burn them yourself instead of paying $2 per CD. If you want, you can set up your partition scheme with a separate /home directory that doesn't get reformatted with each new distribution so that your settings are preserved from one distribution to another.

    The big message, though, is not to take our word for which distro is best for you; find out for yourself. But don't forget to pay full price for the one you decide you like after you've made your decision. You'll get manuals, support, and help keep the maker of your chosen distro in business so that you can keep using it in the future.

    • Of course if you have a fast network connection and a CD burner, you could even download the ISO images and burn them yourself instead of paying $2 per CD.

      Actually, some of the CD vendors charge such low prices, it's cheaper to buy from them than to burn your own CD. Strange, but true. But they don't always have the distros you want.

      But you're right, it does make sense to download if you can, and experiment with different distros -- provided you have the patience to sit through all those installs! And you don't really need a burner, though it does make life easier. The better distros will install from network file system, or even an FTP server.

  • I have been using Linux for just over a month now, and have tried 3 different distros in the process. This is my experience: First of all, I installed Mandrake, which has a reputation for being the easiest to install, and supposedly has a rather large user base. However, upon installing it, I was immediately dissastisfied. Mandrake did not offer to me the control I wanted over my system, and seemed too "dumbed-down" for me.. everything was oversimplified, and I was unable to get help from the linux help channels on irc.openprojects.net since Mandrake had non-standard configurations for all of the major functions. Additionally, I ran in to some package incompatibility problems, and performance in Gnome was unusually sluggish (I had used Gnome before on a friend's PC of less spec.). So seeing as I was still in the experimentation stage.. i decided to try Red Hat first. Red Hat was the distro I had heard the most about, so I decided to install that. Everything went smoothly for at least a week and a half while I started to delve deeper in to the workings of the system. Everything was fine till I decided to test-drive the new version of KDE. Problems arose when I tried to change some configuration files required for KDE to start on boot. I discovered that RedHat had it's own distro-specific settings for a lot of things in it's /etc/sysconfig directory. This is a convention I was not very happy with, as once again I started running in to support problems... So on a whim, I decided to give Debian a try, I figured I should see what the "power user" distro has to offer. I downloaded Progeny 1.0, which is a mix of Debian Potato and Woody (the stable and testing versions). It took me a few tries to get the distro installed properly (mostly due to user error during configuration). Since I like to play with fairly new software, I upgraded my Progeny install to Woody almost right away once I finally installed the system properly. And that is where I have been ever since.. I am extremely happy with Debian as a distro. The packaging system is excellent, much better than what RedHat/Mandrake have to offer. A majority of the people in the Debian help channels and mailing lists are extremely helpful, and the community atmosphere is great. I have not run in to any problems I have not been able to resolve, and have learned a lot about how Linux works in the process. Overall, I would say if you are not too experienced/adventurous and don't mind having a whole boatload of software you will probably never use installed on your system, I would recommend RedHat and Mandrake, they are not bad, just not my thing. However if you like having a distro that is extremely configurable, has a great package managment system, and a good community, I would recommend Debian. If you don't want to brave the standard Debian installation, try Progeny, the installation is extremely simple (even easier than Mandrakes) and I hear it is possible to purchase printed installation manuals/users guides as well. I hope this has been helpful. Any feedback is appreciated.
  • by proxima (165692) on Monday August 13, 2001 @01:25AM (#2125930)
    When I started using Linux a few years ago, I began with Red Hat 5.1 on a 486 66 Mhz computer (it was my only spare computer to mess with). It didn't really have any difficult hardware, except for a proprietary cd-rom drive. This was my first real experience in a *nix, coming from a relatively long DOS and Windows background.

    From my experience the most frustrating part of learning Linux is getting all or most of a computer's hardware to work properly. For a long time I had no sound card that Linux supported. Fortunately, hardware support and automatic detection has improved tremendously. Now many ethernet cards, video cards, and sound cards are automatically detected by various Linux installs. CD-ROMS are almost always compatible with standard IDE and SCSI drivers. I believe that new users to Linux should be focusing on learning to install software, use popular software, and learn his/her way around a shell. Learning Linux shouldn't be mostly about learning how to install Linux, and this is where a few distributions have made great progress.

    As your first distribution, I would recommend Mandrake. I have been a Red Hat user since my first install (and administering Red Hat based Cobalt servers). Red Hat's install (both graphical and text based) are reasonable for a new user, but they don't explain things as thoroughly as Mandrake. I installed Mandrake a few times and was fairly impressed with the installer and explanation, but it's a little too annoying to non-newbies. However, a new user simply wanting to toy with Linux would probably be best served by starting out with Mandrake.

    Mandrake is nice that they are a download-friendly distribution. No other distribution is as easy to find in downloadable iso form. Yes, Red Hat offers it, but they promote their pay package far more than Mandrake does..companies like making it no-so-obvious that they can get it for free. I can't blame them. Also, Debian offers downloads, but their website isn't as easy to navigate and I'd hardly consider Debian a newbie-friendly install. Visit the mirror list [linux-mandrake.com] for mandrake to download the install isos. There are two iso images to burn to cd-rom using common software like Easy CD Creator. If interested in Redhat, the mirror list [redhat.com] offers a variety of sites to find both RPM files (for individual software install) and iso images.

    However, buying a boxed set may be worthwhile for a new user. No need for big downloads, a cd-writer, and figuring out how to install. These include support and an installation manual.

    I find computer books extremely helpful in learning a new operating system or programming language. Yes, website and forums are available, but a book is generally arranged quite well for new users. My first book was "Red Hat Linux Unleashed", that huge orange book. It included Red Hat 5.2 (though I already had 5.1 installed by that time), and had a few chapters on installation. Then, as I needed a reference or wanted to learn about setting up new services, I just read through the appropriate chapter. Though many disagree, I find it most helpful to have a large comprehensive book that covers all topics lightly to give a user a start. From there many websites provide the detailed information required to complete a task. I found the how-tos helpful in most cases.

    So, in short, get Mandrake (or possibly Red Hat), get a good book or two (buy from a bookstore to be able to flip through it and see if it seems right, while also looking online to find reviews). Once you get the feel of using Linux a bit - take a look at other distributions (Progeny is a nice entry into the Debian world, for example).

    Good luck.

  • If you want to learn about Linux as just a user, Mandrake and Debian are the easiest to put in setup, and off you go. I fyou want to learn about Linux with an eye on becoming a Guru, then I'd say Good would be something you had to do by hand, as it were.
    Go to a website, and do it FTP style, you'll need to get familiar with this, and really the best way to learn is to do it.
    note: You still might want to buy a distro, even if you do everything FTP style. Its good to have 'just in case', and its good to put a few bucks where your mouth is. really, whats 30 bucks for an OS compared to what you'd have to pay for your current OS type?
    IF you really want to get a 'Good' experiencs, get an older version, ten recompile it to the newer version. IMO your not a 'Linux guy' until you get a few of these under your belt.
  • WinLinux (Score:3, Interesting)

    by the_rev_matt (239420) <slashbot@revmCOWatt.com minus herbivore> on Monday August 13, 2001 @02:26AM (#2127548) Homepage
    If you REALLY want to start slow, check out WinLinux (which comes with several distros, including Mandrake). Get comfortable with the general concepts, and then (as many people have suggested already) try several versions.

    When I got started, I went with Debian (still a 1.x version; Slackware (a 6.x version) and Red Hat (a 5.x version). Having zero experience outside Windows these were fairly harrowing (esp deb and slack) but I got through it and read a LOT (sidenote: if your local library is any good, they'll have some decent books on linux in general, check out as many as you can and READ THEM ALL). Depending on the degree of technical competence and interest I recommmend different things. To my NT admin friends who want serious stuff and know their hardware back and forth, I tell them to go with deb, slack or a BSD. My wife, on the other hand, who just wants word processing, email, and web surfing on a box that doesn't blue screen every 20 minutes I went the Mandrake route, and my brother wanted more multimedia support so I pointed him to SuSE. I have changed "favorite" distros so many times I've lost count, all that matters is that you find one you're comfortable with, which only comes about by experimentation.

  • Here's what I did (Score:3, Interesting)

    by mbourgon (186257) on Monday August 13, 2001 @02:03AM (#2130692) Homepage
    I haven't been running Linux lately, but I had the perfect opportunity in May - I was going out of town with my Laptop, and as long as I could use email, I was set. So I downloaded all the distros I could remember offhand - Mandrake, Corel, Debian, and Red Hat.

    Debian - this was easily the toughest of them all. Text-based installer, questions I didn't know how to answer (why does it want me to become a USENET server?), etc, etc. But it finally ran, and being able to "apt-get" is amazingly cool.

    Corel - I know I'll get flamed for this, and it DOES have disads. But it installed flawlessly on my computer, and seemed to work pretty well. On the plus side it acts a lot like windows, and installing software uses a variant of apt-get (which Corel is based on). I use it at home. On the downside, it's not nearly as supported as, say, Red Hat, so you need a lot more hand-holding. But I heartily recommend it.

    Red Hat. I downloaded 7.1, and it had a great installer. The good side is that it's commonly considered the standard, so FAQs and programs are built specifically for it. On the down side, all the trojans and the like are built for it too. The problem I ran into is that applications stopped working for no apparent reason (even with re-installing from scratch) and Usenet didn't offer any solutions.

    Mandrake - amazingly well put together. The installer was smooth as silk, everything looked and acted great, pretty sweet. I believe it's based on Red Hat, so take the pluses and minuses from that.

    Overall - Any of them will work. Someone else suggested doing what I did, and I concur - buy or download all of them (and just go to linuxberg/linuxburg/linuxville and download the debian image- it took half an hour to figure out how to use debian's vaunted smart-installer, and then it didn't work. Get the ISO image), and try each one on your machine. I'd almost say to try installing them in this order - Corel, Debian, Red Hat, Mandrake. See how you like each one. Try installing a few programs. See what you think and once you're done, make sure to secure it. Keep it off the network until you have (if you can, since you'll be downloading stuff to patch it). In that part Debian has the advantage, due to "apt-get update", which will update all the packages, and I believe install all the security patches. But you still need to secure the thing, look at Bastille.

    And let Slashdot know what you went with, and why. If it gets posted, it'll make an interesting followup.

  • by Punto (100573)
    I'd recommend Debian.

    It doesn't have a nice graficall interface (not until you instal it anyway), but it's really cool to use the shell and all the command line stuff. You really learn.
    Since you have a separate computer to try linux on, you don't need it to be 'productive' right away. Once you get X and a window manager working, you are ready to do anything with linux (and replace NT for good).

  • I started out using SuSE and Turbo Linux. I eventually moved to Red Hat because that's what all my friends knew. By using my friends as a resource, not only did I get another resource beyond online faqs and man pages, but I also had them checking up on me to make sure that I was learning about it. I use debian now, but my learning process was made that much easier by using what they used.

    My advice is to use whatever distro your friends use. While you can definitely do it on your own, it just makes it easier to have that extra resource.
  • My 2 chips (Score:5, Informative)

    by MSG (12810) on Monday August 13, 2001 @02:16AM (#2132586)
    Well, if you want to *learn* Linux, then you want SlackWare. I recommend it without even hesitating. Use Slack for 6 months to a year, and you'll know far more than you would if you used anything else. There's not easy to use GUI config tools. If you need a kernel feature, you'll probably compile it. If you need to change the way the system boots, you'll edit the init scripts. If you need software you're going to compile it 80% of the time. Using Slack *forces* you to know how the system works. It's just you, a text editor, and the config files. It's old school.

    Using Slack will teach you how things are done, and it will teach you what not to do. You will spend a lot of time doing menial admin tasks. Slack doesn't even rotate your logs, so you'll have to do that yourself!

    After you've mastered Slack, move on to something that's well maintained and stable; i.e. Debian or Red Hat Linux. Forget Mandrake. All of my friends who've used it have found it to be less stable than Red Hat. Noticing that a Linux distro isn't stable is terrible, and frustrating. Red Hat or Debian will be blissful in comparison to Slack, and you will love them for the rest of your days. Plus, most all of the things you learned from Slack will still apply.
  • Most newbies we get at LinuxJunior [linuxjunior.org] use Redhat [redhat.com] or Mandrake. [mandrake.com], although Suse, Debian and smaller distros are also there.

    None of it matters though - as everyone needs help at somethings, and dont give me HOWTO's, It was over year before I understood most of them.

    Any distro is an upgrade rfom windows, but you'll need help - and sites like LinuxJunior [linuxjunior.org] amd linuxnewbie.org are where to go.
  • by Laven (102436) on Monday August 13, 2001 @12:58AM (#2133589)
    http://www.thedukeofurl.org/reviews/misc/distrorou ndup/ [thedukeofurl.org]

    DukeOfURL wrote this helpful article in choosing the best Linux distribution for your skill level, with comparisons of Beginner, Intermediate and Advanced distributions. They highly recommend Mandrake Linux for beginners, and I would tend to agree.

  • by Webz (210489)
    I'd just like to remind everyone before all the distro zealots start pouring in... This isn't about which distribution is the most hardcore or most powerful... It basically comes down to the one that can emulate Windows the most or hold the user's hand throughout the entire process. By that I mean at least documentation for everything, because users diving into Linux will only know that help doesn't always come from a talking paper clip... With that said, an auto install is a must. Sure, the guy asking the question was an NT user, and I'm sure the implies some technical merit above 9x users, but it still isn't much. Most people won't know the details of their hardware nor will they refer to the distro's website for compatibility listings. Why? Because Windows almost never required it... Hmm, the distro also has to be easy to use (tough, this usability thing isn't it) and easy to configure. People like making their computers look pretty and have nice wallpaper, so that's probably the first thing they'll dive for. Aside from a solid interface, a cutesy one would be nice too, complete with penguin or monkey or what have you, as to lessen the intimidation factor people have when using new technology. Oh and I really can't think of a solution for this, but it must be hard for GUI based users to get used to a command prompt. It's definately a necessary and powerful aspect of *NIX, but ya gotta admit, isn't it kinda cold and scary?

    So, all in all, it doesn't necessarily have to be Windows, it just has to do the same things Windows does.
  • by sjames (1099)

    I am a die hard Debian fan. However, for a beginner, Mandrake looks like the way to go. The install is somple, and there is a GUI config tool that ACTUALLY WORKS for everything. It's default security seetings also seem to be better than Redhat's.

    Let them have fun with that for a while, then migrate to Debian.

  • I've searched long and hard for a good book to recommend to newbies. This one [barnesandnoble.com] is EXCELLENT. It shows you how to do most of the things necessary to make Linux work for you, not just as a cool thing to brag to your nerd friends about. It also goes a step further and explains a few things that those people who learn best by "putting it to use" like install/config Apache and using BIND, etc. No, I'm not the author or affiliated, but if you're looking for a good book to get you from "just knowing how to install Linux", this is a good book.

    Anyone know of any other good starter books?
  • by khuber (5664) on Monday August 13, 2001 @01:08AM (#2136859)
    Make sure that your hardware is fully supported first! That includes your motherboard, graphics card, cdrom, sound card, and any accessories like printers, modems, etc. I can't emphasize this point enough. If you try installing on unsupported or poorly supported hardware you will be disappointed and frustrated.

    Once you have that down, then figure out which distribution to use and make sure that it has a kernel that supports your hardware.

    I have been using Mandrake for some time and it has been my favorite.

    -Kevin

  • by 1Oman (308666) <`jasonrstevens' `at' `gmail.com'> on Monday August 13, 2001 @01:21AM (#2138142) Homepage
    I have to say mandrake is definately the way to go. Mandrake 8 will get you started in about 30 minutes and it recognizes alot of hardware automaticly. This is a big help especially for getting your nic up and running. This really helps because you can get online for help setting up everything else. Especially if you are setting up to dual boot and can't get online from another box.

    I have tried redhat 7.1 and mandrake 7.2 and I had a sound card I was never able to get working. Mandrake 8 found and configured it the first time(I did'nt even know KDE had a startup sound before).

    I will admit that all the guis can make it a little to easy to set up services though. They can be a crutch and I try hard to learn to set stuff up by hand first using the gui as a last resort and trying to figure out what they did later when I can.

    I really do want to learn to compile the kernel by hand one of these days especially because mandrake 8 will not install on my laptop at all(even in text mode). mandrake 7.2 did but I was never able to get my cheap ass nic to work.

    But like I said I'm no expert and I use linux for work (SQl, perl, webdev) everyday.

  • other architectures. (Score:3, Interesting)

    by saintlupus (227599) on Monday August 13, 2001 @08:43AM (#2138150) Homepage

    I'm assuming, due to the NT postion of the submission, that you're looking for a decent distro for the x86 platform.

    However, if you have an extra PPC machine kicking around somewhere, i would suggest getting a copy of Yellow Dog Linux 2.0. I just can't say enough great things about this one; smooth install, good package tools, works great by default. Check it out if you get a chance.

    Anyone else have suggestions for good Sparc or Alpha distros?

    --saint
    • I run a lot of old SPARCs, mostly SPARCStation 5's. I run primarily Solaris and OpenBSD on them, depending on purpose... However, I ran two SPARCs on Linux for about 6 months as production servers. (shell, mail, dns, web, ftp, some sql)

      At the time, three main choices existed: RedHat, SuSE, and Debian. Redhat installed rather easily, but it completely sucked, and a lot of things were just broken. In fact, the machines locked after less than two days of testing. Lather, rinse, repeat - same results for 2 weeks.

      I tried for like 12 hours to get SuSE to install, and I just couldn't hack it. I'm _very_ familiar with both Sun hardware and Linux, so I was lead to believe that it was just bad packaging. I gave up on SuSE.

      I installed Debian... The first two installs weren't quite right (user error!)... but after I got things in order, I installed Debian on these machines, put them through testing hell for a week, and put 'em up. They ran pretty well for being 110mhz :) The Linux kernel itself isn't very mature for SPARCs, and its process creation time is AWFUL. These machines managed to handle about 200 users for 6 months, before the load just got too high. However, kernel-level resource problems required that I rebooted the machines about once every 60 days.

      As far as SPARCs go, Solaris has very little competition. NetBSD and OpenBSD both run a bit faster, but file I/O is noticeably slower. However, *BSD is insanely stable on SPARCs (I've got a server with over 280 days uptime on SPARC/OpenBSD). Linux doesn't really hack it yet. Perhaps I'll get bored in the next few months and try out Slackware's SPARC distro... If anyone can do it right, it's Slackware :)
  • by RelliK (4466) on Monday August 13, 2001 @01:01AM (#2138869)
    I've been using public transportation for over a year and I'm getting really tired of it. So finally I decided to get a car. The next question is which model do I get? What's a good starter version? I'm just looking to get the feel of it and to play around a little.
    • A good starter car would be something like a Chevy Malibu. One of the automatic-transmission Volkswagens would also do you wonders.
      [Mandrake, Suse]

      Once you crave a little bit more power, but still a friendly set of controls, you might want to look at something like a Chrysler (or Dodge).(Debian and Progeny)

      As you get better at driving, you may want more power and better handling, as well as a bigger engine [and you're probably going to want to rebuild the engine yourself, too]. A BMW or standard Volkswagen would cut it, as well as more powerful vehicles like a Corvette or a Camaro.
      [Suse, Debian Woody, Red Hat]

      Once you're a driving pro and you've learned lots about the internals of your car as well, grab a few manuals and a wrench and build yourself a hto rod from scratch with all the parts chosen and built specifically for your vehicle.
      [Linux from Scratch].
  • by Anthony Boyd (242971) on Monday August 13, 2001 @04:14AM (#2139554) Homepage

    I've been right in the thick of this lately, converting my 7-computer home (macs, linux, windows) into a 100% Linux home. My low-end computer is a 75 mhz 486 laptop with 4 megs of RAM, my high-end is a 750 mhz P3 with 192 megs of RAM. Here are my thoughts after getting into it with a lot of distros.

    Red Hat is the default most new users would pick. As BigBlockMopar said in another post, it's what most howtos and guides assume you're using. They have marketshare, they have a GUI installer, they're relatively stable. They also don't invoke a die-hard following much anymore, probably because of stunts like the non-compatible gcc compiler included in the most recent releases. I also agree with BigBlockMopar that the .0 releases suck. His suggestion to stick with 6.2 and patch it, or wait for 7.2, that's good advice. I loooooveed 6.2 and 5.2.

    Mandrake is clearly targeting the Windows-refugees. Their installer is slick, it detects even obscure hardware for you, it sets up a nice-looking GUI, lots of point-and-click tools. It also has a security setup which I love -- you can turn on a small firewall, set security to "paranoid" and really protect your machine. But Mandrake's 8.0 is like Red Hat's 7.0 -- buggy. Their graphical RPM tool will lock up if it can't do passive FTP -- it doesn't appear to time out or have any code to fail gracefully. The AbiWord fonts completely screwed up the 8.0 release, some text is almost unreadable. The TuxRacer game will die if you use KDE. But the community is great. It's the only place you can go, say "I love how Windows does this" and not get flamed. People are really friendly. 8.1 should be a delicious release if they squeeze in gcc 3.0 and X-Windows 4.1.

    Debian is great because of apt-get. It lets you install just a very core Linux setup, and then add bits & pieces safely, as needed. But the installer is painful -- one install literally took about 6 hours, because there is a whole LOT of detail in there. You can switch packages on and off at a very granular level. Didn't help that during the video card part of the install, it locked up. But I still like this distro for one big reason: it will install on my lame old 486 laptop with almost no RAM. It's a miracle I can shoehorn anything onto that machine, and Debian does it. Debian is usually only downloaded, they don't much sell CDs. Debian is run by volunteers, so the system really works well, people put TLC into the bits they help with. But that also means packages fall behind if the maintainer is busy or loses interest, and it isn't really a mainstream consumer product. Progeny is a commercial version of Debian that is more up to date.

    Small Linux is another good Linux for old old computers. It comes on 2 floppy disks for install, and you can run off a disk if you wish. I tried to copy it to my 486 hard drive, but it got too complicated and I bailed for Debian.

    Here are three that I don't use (although I used to play with Slackware). First, Slackware's package tool isn't really a package tool. It doesn't resolve dependencies. I'm fairly good at Linux, but I still consider Slackware too advanced for me. It is the most up-to-date Linux release right now though. Second, I haven't tried SuSe, although I've lusted after it a little in the stores. It's a good, big distribution, lots of apps. Nice and graphical. But it also needs a lot of RAM -- I think 64 megs was the recommended base. This will be best on modern, fast machines, I think. Third, I don't use Caldera because their new license don't allow users to freely install Linux on multiple machines. More money for them, which is good (Linux vendors need to survive), but I don't use them because of it.

    Lastly, some advice in general: if you're going to be installing on older machines, remember to AVOID using Gnome or KDE. Install them to get their apps, but then also install IceWM or WindowMaker, and use those instead. IceWM runs apps from other window managers really well, and it's responsive. It's what I'll be using on my 486 laptop when I get it upgraded to 20 megs of RAM.

    • by Arker (91948)

      Mostly good advice. A couple of disagreements. I don't think you should rule slack out. It's not the easiest to install, but it's really not that hard. Anyone that's installed pre-win95 dos shouldn't have much trouble getting slack going. The package management is minimalist, but it does the one thing you really need and does it well - it installs and uninstalls packages cleanly. I've used it and I've used RPM based distros and honestly had a lot less trouble with slack tarballs than with rpms. And it's the leanest, fastest distro you're likely to find - perfect for an older slower machine. I've run slack with KDE happily on a machine that was just unbearably slow running Redhat or Mandrake with KDE - very impressive. The slack team takes care to configure things properly before compiling, and it shows. The guy asking the question didn't give enough information about his own situation to rule slack out IMOP. While Mandrake is perfect for the would-be Windows refugee that is installing to a new, fast machine, and wants the minimum of hassle or unfamiliar-looking routines, it's not exactly the leanest and meanest and may not perform very well on an old backup computer.

      Other than that, I agree with everything you say, although I prefer WindowMaker instead of Ice that's just personal preference, either is a great choice, full featured window managers without all the overhead.

  • All right: First off, I use Debian. The main reason is that, with Red Hat (and Mandrake, and SuSE ... haven't tried any others, as I stuck with Debian after I was happy) I had a lot of trouble getting anything set up correctly that wasn't packaged up with the distro. Nonstandard locations for things, strange scripts that I couldn't find documented anywhere, etc., etc.

    However, I have found Debian to have one big shortcoming ... you have to know what your hardware is. Not much of a problem if you just bought your computer, but if you're setting it up on an old system that you don't know much about, or something of the like, you can end up having to go through headaches trying to find out which modules you need, etc. Red Hat and Mandrake, in comparison, did a great job of detecting all my hardware, so I could just go at it.

    So ... if all you want to do is plug in the CD and have it work, I'd say go with Mandrake. (It was the nicest of the "other distros" that I tried.) But if you're going to want to fiddle around a lot, then get Debian. Oh, it's also the beloved "free as in speech, beer, walnuts, fish, ..." distro of choice, if you find that sort of stuff important :) Just ask vrms.

  • coupla cents (Score:2, Insightful)

    by go$$amer (218906)
    I decided to try the same thing a couple years ago on a tired p166 (S series - mind you, no MMX extensions here!) clocked to 200. I also had a couple drives at 1 gig and 540 megs. Not being one to take the easy route, and enjoying "first on the block" DSL download speeds, I grabbed Redhat and Debian, despite hearing that Debian could be, er, less than intuitive to the new user. I did my homework, maintained a good solid pipe to the user materials on both distros, and found that Debian actually provided the best starter platform. It forced me to break with my years of windows complacency and actually learn whatinhell the the OS was going to do and what I'd better do to make it fly. Granted, I'd already suffered through years of Dos, all the Windows os'es (from 2 on, sorry to say...) Mac, Unix and, whatever those trash 80s ran on... Do yourself a favor and get a good (O'Reilly?!? look for recommendations in the archives here) and learn it ground up. If the install is spoon fed to you, you're just another Win NT guy that ran a Linux install app... Like I said, my 2 cents...

  • I'm really not qualified to give you a good answer here. I started off with Slackware 2.3 and now, 6 years later, run Slackware 8.0.

    I have momentarily tried Redhat, Debian and Mandrake, but all of those installs have not lasted more than a few hours.

    By all means give Redhat and Mandrake a try, they're easy starter distributions, but try to graduate to Slackware or Debian once you've got the hang of it. I think this is more importantly so if you want to use learning Linux as a method of learning UNIX.

    Learning Linux, however, should, above all, be fun. It's easy to lose sight of that.

    I'm sure someone is going to come out of the woodwork here and contest some of the things I say, so before they do, let my stress that this is just my opinion and I'm perfectly entitled to it. I've also held this opinion for years and am unlikely to be chaning it anytime soon.
  • by Faux_Pseudo (141152) <Faux.Pseudo@g m a il.com> on Monday August 13, 2001 @01:03AM (#2141242) Homepage
    I usaly install mandrake for people and then listen to what they like or don't like about it and what they want to do. From there I install the distro that best matches their needs.

    Mandrake is the Mac of Linux
    Redhat is the MS of Linux
    Slackware is the UNIX of Linux
    Debian is the Linux of Linux.
    • If you really want to learn about Linux and how it works and all that, here are some useful footnotes:

      Mandrake is the Mac of Linux
      Redhat is the MS of Linux


      You could do it with either of them, but with these two distributions, everything is supposed to fit into a framework that is predetermined by the respective vendor. All the hacks I did on Red Hat systems to get them to do what I wanted were just that... hacks. Mandrake is quite similar and my former roommate had the same sort of problems making his system learn new tricks.

      Slackware is the UNIX of Linux

      For learning, this is the system to do it on. I haven't actually used Slackware in a long time, and I've heard it has some kind of auto-tool thingy similar in kind to up2date or apt-get, but I don't recall its name. Installing Slackware is a learning experience. Maintaining Slackware is a learning experience (if you don't use the auto-tool). Anyone who took a Slack 96 system through either an a.out to ELF upgrade or a kernel 1.2 to kernel 2.0 upgrade knows this. I had fun with Slack and it gave me a good foundation, but it got tiring.

      Debian is the Linux of Linux.

      Installing Debian is a learning experience, but after that a trained monkey could maintain it. In fact, cron can be trained to do most of your maintainence - to the point that all you have to do is replace failed or full hard disks.
    • and Suse ? the OS/2 of Linux ?
      • and Suse ? the OS/2 of Linux ?

        Heh, if that were the case, I'd have to give Suse a shot, then. I started using Linux full-time after I gave-up on OS/2, but I still miss the latter.

        -Karl

    • by mattdm (1931) on Monday August 13, 2001 @03:13AM (#2125889) Homepage
      I've heard this analogy quite often, but it's not fair. (And I think we all know that even if you didn't mean it negatively, in these circles, being compared to MS isn't exactly an endorsement.)

      Red Hat might have the best selling and/or most popular distribution, but they're not Microsoft-like an any meaningful way. In fact, they're one of the most -- if not the #1 -- Free Software-friendly commercial distributions. All of the software they write is released under the GPL, and with the sole exception of Netscape 4.7x, the distro includes no closed software. (They've said that Netscape will go away when Mozilla is a completely viable replacement, which shouldn't be too long now.) And, they've shown repeatedly that they're not interested in becoming a monopoly (of Linux or in general) -- they're interested in increasing the Linux "pie" completely. (A great example of this is the Mandrake distribution, which basically started as a branch from RH Linux.)

      In fact, take this as a challenge to people in general: point out one way in which Red Hat's behavior is like Microsoft's. From what I can tell, it's pretty much all "they're-too-popular-to-be cool" syndrome.

      (As a side note: I'd say Caldera, with Ransom Love's anti-GPL rhetoric [zdnet.com], is more like Microsoft -- or at least, they'd like to be.)
      • RedHat is FAR too close to Microsoft, in happy-friendly GUI ways, basic utilities crash constantly ways, and ebrace-and-extend ways.

        1. Happy-friendly ways. chkconfig, linuxconf, rpm. The ideas are nice. they're very nice ideas. However, they're botched in a number of ways i'll soon get to. KDE, GNOME, whatever is available in whatever default installation of RedHat is nice and quite useable. Just like Microsoft. That is certainly admirable. Doesn't make it good, though.

        2. Basic utilities crash. Have any of you done an RH 6.2 FTP install? Hell, even a custom CD install can easily pull a segfault out of RedHat. netconfig on 5.x and 6.1 will segfault if it doesn't get specific PTR lookup responses. Even worse than that, it'll segfault in the middle, so you don't know if it's changed your sysconfig settings, your live IP address/subnet/default route, or what... and if they're out of sync, don't expect netconfig to work once more to fix it. It'll just segfault some more and leave you hanging unless you can vi /etc/sysconfig/network/*, ifconfig, and route.

        3. Embrace and extend. RedHat has positioned itself to be the high-market-share distro. However, RedHat intentionally releases broken standards (RH 7's egcs for one?) and moves things around in such a way that if a software developer writes a program to be installed on a RedHat Linux system, it won't install on any non-RedHat-based distribution. If it does install, the crazy egcs release will keep it from running on the new machine. RedHat often screws with things like init scripts just enough to make them UNIX-like, but to break POSIX standards. What pisses me off about RedHat is how deliberate their embrace-and-extend design policies are.

        I don't recommend RedHat for anything, because learning the quirks of RedHat puts users into bad practices of using their proprietary tools, or expecting the proprietary behavior of their tools to be standard cross-platform. It's sort of like how a lot of linux distros have a 'route' command that, for some reason, won't accept 'route add -net default' (which is standard across UNIX) but will accept 'route add default gw'... annoying.

        And why do users use SysV-style Linux distros, and still use ps -ax? why not ps -ef? :)
        • Okay, I shouldn't do this, I know; but its monday.

          > What pisses me off about RedHat is how deliberate their embrace-and-extend design policies are.

          No. Sorry, no. Not even a bit. Generally, the design approach is something along the lines of "What the $#**! Why is it doing that? That's absurd. It breaks (i18n/printing/USB/my toaster). Well, fix it. Yeah, but the only way to fix it breaks (backwards compat/non-ANSI C/5 year old packages). Damned if you do, damned if you dont. Grrr, go with the future compatible stuff."
      • The Redhat==Microsoft analogy is very apt. Remove your Microsoft prejudices and look at the OS world from the eyes of everyday Joe. Joe wants to run Windows because all of his friends are running Windows, the university extension teaches Windows classes, and the software down at Fry's is all for Windows. Now he wants to use Linux. What does he choose? The distro that everyone else is using, and the one that all of the HOWTO sites are geared towards.
    • by geirt (55254) on Monday August 13, 2001 @03:41AM (#2141762)

      RedHat is the ketchup of linux

      Tasty, versatile, red and ubiquitous, but some people will tell you that it isn't very gourmet...

  • SuSE (Score:3, Informative)

    by curtS (214040) on Monday August 13, 2001 @12:53AM (#2141865)
    Though I started out with Caldera, I'm on my third version of SuSE and love it. Great graphical interface, lots of install options and nearly every package you could ever want...
  • by Binary Tree (73189) on Monday August 13, 2001 @12:54AM (#2141868)
    http://www.bbspot.com/News/2000/4/linux_distros.ht ml
  • by BigBlockMopar (191202) on Monday August 13, 2001 @01:01AM (#2142273) Homepage

    For your first Linux distro, I recommend Red Hat Linux. While I think it's unquestionable that it's not the best Linux, especially from a security standpoint, it's very well supported. Almost every Linux FAQ you'll find on the 'Net treats Red Hat as the defacto standard.

    Coming from NT/2000, for the first little while, everything is going to feel really foreign and strange. Don't lose your way. Relax and read the docs which are all over the 'Net. And don't be afraid to experiment with the system.

    Red Hat has (don't flame me, this is from memory) an installed base of about 50% of the Linux market; you can't beat the support. And even if it's not the most secure or stable Linux, it blows NT/2000 out of the water in security and stability.

    Specific version? Find a Red Hat 6.2 distro; make sure you turn off un-needed daemons ("services" in Windows parlance) and do the BIND upgrade, since most older Linux/UNIX distros ship with a fairly dangerous DNS server vulnerability.

    I'd stay away from x.0 versions, especially RH 7.0, which, to be blunt, sucked. I like the greater maturity of the 6.2 distro over RH 7.1 because, well, RH 6.1 wasn't nearly as good as 6.2. Note that the kernel that ships with 6.x and 7.0 is a 2.2 series kernel, and a more modern distro has a 2.4 series kernel, which means better built-in firewalling, SMP support and a few other goodies.

    Once you're comfy with it, consider moving up to Debian or Slackware - but that's a matter of opinion.

    • This is not meant as a flame. Please do not read it as such.

      I'm an avid Win2K user, and your post follows the /. FUD tradition quite nicely. You said that "[Linux] blows NT/2000 out of the water in security and stability." then go on to say that "and do the BIND upgrade, since most older Linux/UNIX distros ship with a fairly dangerous DNS server vulnerability.".

      Isn't this a little contradictory?

      2K has security problems, yes. So does RedHat. So do most other distributions of Linux. It's always a matter of patches/updates to the latest bug-free code. Yes, Linux usually gets fixes quicker than 2K, but at the same time, Microsoft was (as they should be) quick to jump on the fix to IIS5 with all the Code Red viri running around.

      Please try not to bash 2K just because it's made by MS. It works. It works better than any other OS that MS has produced. MS took a clue about stability from Linux, just as Linux should take a clue about usability.

      It's all about options, not "my dad can beat up your dad".
    • [RedHat]
      And even if it's not the most secure or stable Linux, it blows NT/2000 out of the water in security and stability.

      I'd disagree with that. Linux tends to be as secure as the versions of the daemons you have running on it. Having done lots of installs of different distributions, if you ask to install a service it will be installed and run. I do RedHat installs and have only what I want running, I know people who do Debian installs and end up with things like discard, daytime, samba, etc running and not realising it. Does this mean Debian is less secure than RedHat? Of course not - it just means I know what things to select (or not) and how to check what's been installed and what's running... and my friend doesn't.

      I suspect that part of RedHat's reputation comes from the fact that it's very easy to select an "install everything" option whcih does result in lots of unecessary services running. As you say yourself, it's one of the most popular distros - it's also one of the most well known. Hence you get lots of newbies who choose RedHat as their first choice and end up doing just that because they don't know any better. Recent versions of RedHat combat this in two ways. Firstly, there's up2date which is nice. Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, during the install you can setup a firewall.

      All that aside, the real answer is not that one distribution is better than another, it's that new people to Linux should RTFM. The same is true with most OSes, programs, etc. There are a large number of people who have very little clue, and some of them try to use Linux when they really shouldn't.

      I like the greater maturity of the 6.2 distro over RH 7.1

      If it's for someone new to Linux, and it's for a desktop machine then I'd definitely recommend 7.1 over 6.2. Or 7.2 when that's out (a beta of it was released a little while ago). The 7 series has the features I noted above, much more recent versions of software (nice for playing around and getting a better idea of how good things are), better hardware support (2.4 kernel, XFree 4).

  • by steveha (103154) on Monday August 13, 2001 @03:55AM (#2142850) Homepage
    I've tried Mandrake. It had a great installer; it was very easy to get going. It should be a good way to get started with Linux and hack around.

    But I am a rabid fan of Debian. Debian is easy to maintain; once a Debian system is working, it is so easy to keep it up-to-date. The Debian volunteers do a great job of putting together the packages, and the apt-get system is just wonderful.

    But many folks find Debian hard to install. Thus I recommend you give Progeny Debian a try. Progeny is available for free download, or as a packaged product with support. Be sure to check and see if your hardware is supported, however; if the installer melts down, it isn't any fun.

    steveha

  • Depends... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by drudd (43032) on Monday August 13, 2001 @01:04AM (#2142923)
    It really depends on what you consider necessary qualities of a "newbie" distro...

    If you want something that's simple to set up and maintain (i.e. short learning curve) then mandrake is probably your best bet.

    If you actually want to learn linux and its workings (which I advise) then use something which forces you to read a few faq's once in a while... like debian, or even better, slackware.

    Doug
    • I've never tried Mandrake, but seems to be the distro of choice for refugees from Windows; I answer newbie questions over at AskMe.com and I see a tremendous amount of new users saying they are using Mandrake - and liking it.
      I'm a bit out of the loop over here - how did it get to be so popuar? Is it the cheapest on the shelf at WalMart or something?
      Over here, we get free distros with magazines (Linux Magazine, Linux Business, Nikkei Linux, etc.) But they haven't had Mandrake yet - (Probably has poor I18n support.)
      (It's a great feeling to be able to pick up a new distro for ten bucks at a convenience store or magazine stand...)

      Cheers,
      Jim in Tokyo
      • Mandrake is popular because it offers:
        1. RedHat compatibility (for the most part)
        2. a well-designed GUI installation, complete with good hardware detection. This is a big one--I haven't seen another installer that competes with Mandrake's.
        3. Mandrake Update (think apt-get for rpm, with a snazzy GUI interface)
        4. up-to-date KDE and GNOME desktops, XF86 4, etc.
        5. GUI configuration tools for most administration tasks
        6. a newbie-friendly user community
        7. options for advanced users, like ReiserFS, security levels ranging from "crack me" to "paranoid", lots of development tools, etc.

        Having said all that, I think I'm switching from Mandrake to Debian after the next stable release. I've got the urge to get my hands a little more dirty. :-)

  • Mandrake or SuSE (Score:4, Informative)

    by mad_clown (207335) on Monday August 13, 2001 @02:33AM (#2143004)
    I'm using Mandrake 8.0 right now, i use SuSE at work... I've experience with Slackware, Debian, and Red Hat as well... Mandrake is definately a good starter... it makes installing pretty simple and you won't get lost... sure its not as "ELEET KRAD HARDCORE" as some of the other distros, but its definately great for starting users, and makes a good desktop system as well. If you really want to "LEARN LINUX" it's probably not the best way to go, since it automates alot of stuff, though alot of those things you can do by hand too, but the distro itself is mostly geared towards desktop usage.

    SuSE is a good middle-of-the-road distro, imo, providing a pretty easy interface, but alot of customizibility too. I guess it really depends on if you want to LEARN LINUX before you start using it, or the other way around... getting your feet in the water before moving into the more difficult things... Just my opinion...

  • Progeny (Score:4, Informative)

    by CarrotLord (161788) <.moc.liamg. .ta. .edrahcir.nod.> on Monday August 13, 2001 @12:59AM (#2143438) Journal
    It's got all the goodies of Debian, is more up to date, and has an easy install process... What more could a man want? (except perhaps an ICBM or two).

    rr

  • by Foxman98 (37487) on Monday August 13, 2001 @12:56AM (#2143651) Homepage
    If you are serious abot trying to "learn" linux - then nothing will teach you as much as slackware. Check it out at slackware.com [slackware.com]. It might not be the easiest, but you will know a hell of a lot more about the way linux works after installing slackware, rather than redhat or mandrake.
    • by Arandir (19206)
      If the newbie is willing to learn, then by all means, Slackware is the only way to go! But if the newbie merely wants to see what all this Linux hullabaloo is about, then Mandrake or SuSE would be more appropriate.

      Slackware is a great learning distro because it's bare-bones. No cruft to get in the way. I know too many people who know Redhat inside and out, yet would be lost in twenty seconds with Debian. And vice versa.

      (Of course, if the newbie wants to learn *unix* as opposed to just linux, then FreeBSD might be a good choice as well)
  • Synopsis (Score:3, Insightful)

    by mosch (204) on Monday August 13, 2001 @01:05AM (#2143767) Homepage
    This article will result in:
    • 27 posts saying mandrake is the best
    • 15 posts saying mandrake is lame
    • 42 posts saying debian is the best
    • 11 posts praising SUSE
    • 20 posts flaming redhat
    • 12 posts saying you should use *BSD instead
    • 75 posts with no identifiable content
    • 0 informative, well-reasoned posts
    Why will it contain this crap? Because it really doesn't matter what you use as long as you learn the unix philosophy, so just pick a distro that you like, be it Debian, RedHat, Mandrake, Suse, Caldera or even FreeBSD or something.

    What really matters is that you realize that your choice isn't the only choice. Make one, explore it, learn about it for a few months, then try another one and learn the differences. Lather, Rinse, Repeat.

  • by bmo (77928) on Monday August 13, 2001 @03:06AM (#2144136)
    Hands down, I have to say it's SuSE. I've been with it since 6.0 and I've tried others in the meantime, and I always go *back* to whatever is current with SuSE. Why? It's probably the most *organized* distribution out there, plus it has the best documentation *bar none*. I tried Mandrake 7.2 and Debian. Talk about polar opposites, Mandrake was insanely easy to install, but chaotic once I started poking around in the guts (lots of "standard" stuff was just simply *missing*) and Debian, well, let's just say at the time the install was needlessly complicated for no reason whatsoever. (To be more specific, Debian pissed me off because I thought we had evolved since the first edition of Slackware, which was *simpler* to install than Debian. I was appalled at Debian's obfuscation of the install process. YMMV)

    I installed SuSE 7.2 the other day, and it was well laid out and simple to install. It wasn't as automagic as Mandrake's install, but it's pretty close. I got Personal Edition this time around because I was looking for a more lightweight version that was better edited, and I'm pretty happy with it. They didn't leave out any of the essentials for a workstation, while making it lighter than the 7 cd/ 1 dvd Pro Edition.

    Gawd, I sound like a commercial.

    Anyway, that's my view. All flames will be printed out on TP and used to wipe my butt.

    Oh, and one other thing...if any SuSE guys are out there, please PLEASE keep YaST2 as a separate program! In 7.2 the modules for it are integratable into KDE's Control Center. While this is more consistent and convenient, it screws with my ability to update KDE from source code.
  • My weekend excursion (Score:3, Interesting)

    by ChaoticCoyote (195677) on Monday August 13, 2001 @10:26AM (#2144719) Homepage

    It just so happens that I spent this last weekend trying to answer this very question. While I'm pretty comfortable with a low-level Linux distro (I use Debian 2.2r3), I have some potential clients who have older machines and far less technical knowledge.

    So I took an old box (233Mhz Pentium-MMX, 160MB, 4.3GB HD, SoundBlaster 128 PCI, S3/VirgeGX, non-name MB) and tried several different non-commercial distros. The candidates were: Slackware 8.0, Mandrake 8.0, Debian 2.2r3.

    Note that my analysis was from the standpoint of giving a distro to an uninitiated user -- someone who can drop Windows ME onto a machine with ease, but who has never installed Linux. The results were disturbing.

    To begin with, *none* of the distros could automatically install my 4.3GB HD at its full capacity. In every case, no matter what the BIOS settings, I was forced to edit configuration files to get the "whole" drive. Such behavior isn't acceptable for a newbie (or even an expert in a hurry) -- especially since WinDoze has no trouble installing the drive as 4.3GB.

    Mandrake had the prettiest installation of the three, and probably the easiest, with two exceptions: DrakX locked up when it tried to start configuring X, and it couldn't seem to install my network properly. I solved the X problme by booting from the HD and manually installing X. As for the network -- well, I can ping the router, I can ping Slashdot, but it won't ping any other systems on my LAN. Apache and FTP daemons won't load for some reason, and I have no clue... yes, it did find my RealTek 8029 (ne2k-pci driver) network card, and I can get to the web via Mozilla. Mandrake is still on the machine, so I'll try to figure things out again tonight. Just plain bizarre.

    Next up was Slackware, which seemed to install simply before refusing to boot. I get the "LI" half of lilo, and the machine is dead. The docs suggest that such problems stem from the default kernels, which are compiled with lots of "stuff". So I tried reinstalling with different options, and I tried recompiling the kernel (2.2.19 (?) and 2.4.5) several ways, and I tried using the kernel Slackware employs in its setup (bare.i and bare245.i). No go; always the same result.

    And yes, I've recompiled more kernels than I care to remember; I know all about running lilo and such. Even if the recompiled kernel *had* worked, such technical wizardry is not acceptable for someone used to the ease of Windows.

    If I booted from the CD and mounted my root on the HD, Slackware looked pretty good. The network worked; X worked. But I have no idea how to install it so it will boot from the HD directly.

    Debian worked quite well, installing a small base system. I needed to make a minor change to the modules configuration to load the driver for the network card; otherwise, I had a simple, working Linux system on tap in less than 45 minutes, including X. The problem with Debian: The release distro (2.2r3) is a bit old and behind the times. On the other hand, so is my test machine, so maybe that's why they get along (grumpy old hardware?)

    For my own workstations, I'll stick with Debian and my tried-and-true system of using it to provide a base install that I then upgrade manually as needed.

    Some final thoughts:

    Debian is great for those of us in the "know". Love my Debian. It installs small, has a simple and elegant package management scheme, and it expects me to know what I'm doing.

    For "normal" folk, though, *none* of these distros would be adequate. Windows is such a joy to install -- you put the disk in, you answer a few questions, and you have a working computer. While Mandrake's install is very nice, it still requires technical expertise beyond the desire of most "users".

    You might want to look at SuSE or Red Hat; perhaps they're better-suited to the beginner. I have both distros, but they're old copies (v6.2 for both). Red Hat pissed me off by using the 2.96 snapshot of the GCC package; I didn't have time to download and burn SuSE CDs.

    In the end, I still don't see Linux as ready for the desktop or the "user" community. It still needs to mature a bit -- and as an "expert" (note the quotes), I'll stick with Debian for now. It has worked on *every* machine I've installed it on; I can't even say that of WinDoze.

  • FreeBSD (Score:4, Informative)

    by fwc (168330) on Monday August 13, 2001 @02:26AM (#2144870)
    Sorry I couldn't resist.

    I'd recommend you take a good look at FreeBSD. Hop over to http://www.freebsd.org/ [freebsd.org] and take a look around. In most cases, all you need to get going is a couple of floppy disks and the instructions found here [freebsd.org]. The installation disks will automagically download the entire distribution via the net.

    I don't want to start a FreeBSD vs. Linux war, but if you're looking for a server replacement, FreeBSD is a great choice. If you are wanting to use it on your desktop as a workstation, then perhaps Linux is the better choice, although I still wouldn't discount FreeBSD 100%.

    • Re:FreeBSD (Score:3, Informative)

      by Jace of Fuse! (72042)
      Sorry I couldn't resist.

      You realize of course we'll be marked as trolls for this, right? But, you beat me to it. So I'm ganna give you an AMEN.

      I don't want to start a FreeBSD vs. Linux war...

      I don't want to start a FreeBSD vs Linux battle, either. I get enough of that from some of the people I know. But I have to admit that after using several Linux distros and using FreeBSD, the choice (for me) was quite clear. That's not to say I didn't like some of the Linux distros I tried. Not at all. I really liked Storm and I fully intend to install either Debian or Slackware on an IBM I have sitting in the corner. But when it came time to choose a system of the many I tried to run my web-server off of, I had to settle on FreeBSD.

      At first I was a little wery about going with something slightly less mainstream than Linux, but good Linux binary compatibility (not to mention the Ports Collection) was a plus that won me over to FreeBSD.

      With FreeBSD the first few days were really rough because there were several major annoyances I had, and none of my Linux friends had any useful insight. But I quickly solved most of my problems on my own. I feel I have learned much more this way. Plus, when I needed quick answers, web-searches almost always provided immediate and exact answers because there is only one FreeBSD and many other users have experienced the exact same problems.

      It's something of a shame that Storm went the way of the wind, but after I made my choice to run FreeBSD it hasn't mattered too much. As for my soon-to-be Linux system, that just shows that I'm not knocking Linux at all (how could I?) it's just that I made the choice based on my needs and what I like. I personally don't feel I was moving forward fast enough with any of the Linux distros, but I felt comfortable with FreeBSD very quickly.

      That's just me.
    • Re:FreeBSD (Score:2, Informative)

      by Arandir (19206)
      I have to agree. You might not stick with FreeBSD, but if you only try Linux, you're missing a whole other world out there called "unix".
  • well (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Ubi_UK (451829) on Tuesday August 14, 2001 @09:52AM (#2147044)
    I've tried quite a few distro's and I've stuck to Redhat and Mandrake because:
    -lots of Deja.com questions
    -lots of hardcopy books
  • RedHat (Score:3, Informative)

    by reverius (471142) on Monday August 13, 2001 @12:51AM (#2157297) Homepage Journal
    I personally don't use RedHat (being a seasoned linux user, I have been using Slackware exclusively for a few years) but I have installed it on occasion, and find it to be relatively easy to use in its newest incarnations.

    That is what I would suggest for any new linux user, especially coming from Windows.
    • Re:RedHat (Score:2, Insightful)

      by camusflage (65105)
      Only on slashdot... The third post gets a "redundant" moderation.

      As a primarily Windows user, I've never had a problem with Red Hat, be it on its own system, under VMWare, or even on an old Sun Ultra 1 system I was playing with.

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