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Ideal Linux System for Newbies? 486

Posted by Cliff
from the gotta-start-somewhere dept.
spiffyman asks: "In the next year, I'll begin advanced work in mathematics, and I'll also be upgrading my desktop box. In light of the advantages of Linux and FOSS in the area of science and mathematics, I want to convert from a Windows system to a dual-boot one with Linux. Primary tasks aside from math/logic activities will include learning intermediate programming, web maintenance, some computational linguistics (in Python), and LOTS of LaTeX work for my publishing activities. What do Slashdot readers recommend in terms of hardware, OS, software, and perhaps reading for a quasi-power Windows user (with no previous Linux experience) to convert to an all-Linux system?"
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Ideal Linux System for Newbies?

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  • Why??? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by udderly (890305) * on Tuesday December 26, 2006 @07:00PM (#17371182)
    Why dual boot? It seems so inconvenient to me. Perhaps virtualization would be better?
  • Slackware. (Score:4, Interesting)

    by byteframe (924916) on Tuesday December 26, 2006 @07:06PM (#17371244)
    Sound crazy, but with very little work on the part of the guru, it can be set up with something like KDE, and from there they can use the system no problem, however, since it's slackware, when it comes time to fix something or get into the bowelsof the system, the easyness of the internals in slackware should really help the user not only fix the problem, but also learn about Linux system adminstartion due to the fact that Slackware is the least distributiuon specific disitrubtion out there.

    Install slack, bump up to a 2.6 kernel (ck preferably), and use either the slack-supplied KDE, or install Dropline Gnome. Flip iniitab to runlevel 4, and your set.

    What WOULD make a distro easier? GUI tools? If your telling me netconfig is hard to use, I'll shoot myself in...hmm...the left ankle.
  • My suggestion... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Darundal (891860) on Tuesday December 26, 2006 @07:06PM (#17371254) Journal
    Just download an Ubuntu livecd (I would recommend 6.06, not 6.10) and put it in your current desktop system. Test to see if all the hardware works properly, and then just mess around with the OS. Since you are getting some new hardware, and you want to dual-boot, I would recommend one of the pieces of new hardware be a separate hard drive to put the OS on (you could just partition your first disk, but I find that there are certain advantages to having Windows and Linux on separate hard drives). Nvidia graphics cards generally have better Linux support than ATI cards do, so if you are getting a new graphics card, your best bet would be something from Nvidia. As far as software is concerned, I really don't have any suggestions off the top of my head.
  • Re:Why??? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by linguae (763922) on Tuesday December 26, 2006 @07:09PM (#17371284)

    There are some cases where dual-booting is more advantageous than virtualization. Virtualization takes a heavy hit on RAM (I tried Parallels on my MacBook with a measly 512MB of RAM, my 1.83GHz dual core computer felt like my old 8MHz Mac SE), and if you're strapped for cash and don't have much memory, it's better to just dual-boot where the OS has full access to all of the RAM needed.

    That reminds me to invest in a upgrade to 2GB of RAM soon.

  • by Cyphax (262239) on Tuesday December 26, 2006 @07:18PM (#17371376)
    I personally have 2 favorite distro's. First there's Slackware. Its tremendous transparancy has always made it easy to configure, mess around with, and it's versatile. What's more: it makes me feel at home. Yes, lots of things take time to set up, but everything will be just about the way you want them to be.

    Then there's Ubuntu. It has impressed me with features that make life on the computer easier. At the same time, I don't know my way around it much and I do not want to HAVE to know my way around it. Behind Ubuntu, I have a completely different mindset than when I'm behind Slackware. When something refuses to work in Ubuntu, I cuss it out: why haven't the developers fixed this yet?! When something refuses to work in Slackware, I seek the configuration files out and edit them as needed. It's what it was made for, as opposed to Ubuntu (in my eyes).

    Perhaps you find it odd for a person to completely think differently using 2 different distributions of Linux, but that's how it works in my head. Maybe others share this oddity. Either way: if you want a versatile distribution that you want to get to know and that you want working with you, I'd go for something like Slackware, or Debian or maybe Gentoo. If you want something that works out of the box and starts you off with a set-up desktop, go for Ubuntu or Suse, or maybe Fedora. Of course if it comes down to it you can configure Ubuntu to be exactly as you want it, but then I'd start right at the beginning with Slackware/Debian and build your own system. You learn more that way.

    Hopefully the rough edges will be shaved off Ubuntu as it is an impressive distro with many a feature that Windows simply doesn't have, or less polished. It also has a large userbase, is supported widely by developers (package-management is good). Of course, the same applies to Fedora and Suse. Try and see for yourself what you like. They can all be installed great with VMWare Server. And speaking of which, Windows runs good in VMWare as well so you won't have to abandon your trusty Windows. ;)
  • Re:OSX (Score:4, Interesting)

    by boner (27505) on Tuesday December 26, 2006 @07:19PM (#17371392)
    I could not agree more! Macbook with Intel Core Duo, 2 GB of RAM, 120 GB harddisk and *Parallels*!!
    I can run Windows 98, Windows ME, Ubuntu, OpenSolaris and WindowsXP whenever I want! Shared disks using NFS or SAMBA.

    As for my publishing needs, I am writing my thesis in LaTeX, using Xemacs as editor. Xfig, R, OCTAVE, gnuplot etc. to do the research and generate the plots (all under MacOS X, thanks to macports).

    It is *so* usable... why would anyone need anything else... and it looks cool too!

    Four years ago I would have said that Linux was the desktop of choice... I no longer believe that to be true. The ease of use of MacOS X convinced me, a computer is a tool not a workout station. I still play with Linux and Windows, but rarely boot them anymore... From a user experience MacOS X is sooo much better than Linux (yes my Ubuntu is the most recent), and Windows... nothing compelling there....

  • Simple (Score:2, Interesting)

    by reacocard (1043858) on Tuesday December 26, 2006 @07:21PM (#17371420)
    I am fairly new to linux myself, (I switched just last April), and I have just a few words to say.

    1) Use Ubuntu - It is by far the easiest distribution to get started in, supports most hardware automatically, and has a HUGE range of software available. Plus, the forums [] are superb and have helped me countless times.

    2) Break things - Seriously. This is the best way to learn about how your new system works. I've learned many things from the times I've broken my system, most importantly how not to break my system.

    Good luck, and welcome to Linux!
  • Re:No Experience? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday December 26, 2006 @07:25PM (#17371488)
    I would prefer Fedora. Ubuntu is a great "I just want to have a computer and for it to work" distro but for serious scientific/ mathmatical programming I suggest something that has gcc installed by default :) Theres a reason scientific linux is not a ubuntu derivative. Of course people will mention that its a snap to install all the necessary software development tools but that misses the point which, in my experience, is that ubuntu is designed with the average user in mind rather than the developer. Not saying thats a bad thing, its definitely a good thing but in your case it would probably be good to have something which is designed with your needs in mind which is probably not ubuntu.
  • my $0.02 (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Chris Snook (872473) on Tuesday December 26, 2006 @07:29PM (#17371544)
    1) A CPU with hardware virtualization will greatly expand your options for using Windows and Linux together on the same box. Any Intel Core chip or AMD Socket AM2 chip will work.


    2) Anything from a top-tier OEM is going to be much easier to make Linux work on than something you pieced together yourself.


    3) Spend your money on RAM, not CPU.

    a) Ubuntu, as it benefits from the vast repositories of Debian software, but is better targeted for your use case.


    b) Fedora Core, as it benefits from the vast repositories of RPM software. For out-of-distro software, you're more likely to find RPM downloads than .deb downloads, so with Fedora you'll be less likely to have to compile software yourself. The downside of Fedora is that older versions aren't supported for very long.

    If having to do a major upgrade every year to be able to keep getting updates scares you, use Ubuntu. If having to compile your own software scares you, Fedora might be better, and Gentoo is definitely out.

    There are plenty of other perfectly valid choices, but Ubuntu and Fedora Core are the obvious first two to mention for someone who's probably going to be spending a little time searching Google and browsing the user forums.
  • Re:No Experience? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by HAKdragon (193605) <hakdragon@gma i l . com> on Tuesday December 26, 2006 @07:32PM (#17371582)
    Try out 3-4 distros and use what is most comfortable for you.

    While the person asking sounds like he's relatively technically savvy, that is advice I would never tell to a person who is not very good with computers. Having to install more than one distribution of Linux and having to figure out how each of then work would drive the average person away from Linux really quickly.
  • Re:Why??? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Antique Geekmeister (740220) on Tuesday December 26, 2006 @07:38PM (#17371640)
    How well does Ubunto handle Xen or another lightweight Windows virtualization system? I'd absolutely recommend that new Linux hardware have the CPU virtualization features to run another Windows OS directly locally: most new hardware comes with enough speed and RAM to do this, and a Windows license anyway, so let the user have Windows available in a local installation for games and Windows Media and other tools they may require, and use Linux for the basic OS stability and tools as they learn to play with them.

    A recent enough OS to support Evolution for access to MS Exchange email and calendar functionality in a shared or corporate environment is vital. Fedora Core 6, the RHEL 5 demo, and the latest OpenSuSE seem to support it, although Novell has just made a huge licensing mistake involving Microsoft patents and just lost one of the core Samba developers in the resulting mess and will doubtless lose other core people. Expect SuSE support of critical Windows compatibility to be actually hurt by their deal with Microsoft, as they cripple themselves by using Microsoft technologies directly and not being able to use GPL tools from that patent agreement.

    For ease of use, find what the local Linux experts use at home, and stay away from bleeding edge hardware that may involve a lot of manual work to integrate into your OS. 64-bit dual-core Opterons have good reports and better Linux support than Intel's 64-bit oddnesses: high-end ATI video cards are better supported than NVidia because ATI publishes their specifications, NVidia tries to shoe-horn their proprietary and extensively modified libraries on top of existing Linux tools and does a very strange job of it. 250 Gig drives are cheap and plentiful: use known-vendor, actual hardware RAID instead of software RAID, if you need RAID, since a lot of software RAID drivers are poorly documented and a nightmare to integrate. Check what the network chipsets are: if they're something unheard of, prepare to spring for a $10 NE2000 card or borrow a cheap USB network port, just to get booted far enough to grab patches.

    Describe what you need or want to accomplish for more ideas: are you a gamer? A Perl programmer? Doing simple web browsing with flash and animation making you excited? Doing Q/A work?
  • by Colin Smith (2679) on Tuesday December 26, 2006 @07:46PM (#17371724)
    It may not quite be a OSX killer, but it really is easier to set up, easier to use, easier to administer, more consistent and prettier than Windows. It's an elegant desktop.

    It simply works out of the box and has 20,000 packages available at the click of Applications -> Add/Remove.
  • Re:No Experience? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Phantombrain (964010) on Tuesday December 26, 2006 @07:58PM (#17371858) Journal
    Two Words: Live CD
  • Re:I concur. (Score:4, Interesting)

    by smilindog2000 (907665) <> on Tuesday December 26, 2006 @08:13PM (#17371978) Homepage
    Heck, mod parent up! It's a simple answer for a simple question. RedHat always catered to advanced users, Suse went evil recently, Fedora rocks in may ways but is highly unstable and in the end not quite as easy as ... Ubuntu. Did I read someone pushing Slackware?!? Great distro, but no way for the noob. Debian rocks, but again, for the noob... Ubuntu.
  • What is your goal? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Savage-Rabbit (308260) on Tuesday December 26, 2006 @08:32PM (#17372128)
    This answer shows why the question is nonsensical on its face. No one can tell you what distro is best for you. Everyone has a different personality. For me, Slackware is the ideal distro for a newbie. But then, I like to read up on any product before I use it. So I thought it was easy to install and now it is very easy to administrate. It has lower overhead from all of the bells and whistles that some of the other distros have included. There is no dependency hell that can be so frustrating to a newbie. If you stay away from the auto updaters and read the changelogs, you will never have a broken system. If you are like a lot of the Windows users that come over to Linux, however, you will probably be better served by one of the other distros. The majority of them want to run the installer CD and then just have everything be set up and work. Of course some of them become so frustrated the first time they run into a problem and have no idea on how to fix it, they run back to Windows. But good luck to you.

    Which distro to adopt if you are a newbie really depends on what you want to achieve or learn by installing Linux. If you want an alternate desktop system you could go for Ubuntu [], Linspire [], Novell's SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop [] distro where you get lots of user friendly GUI tools to solve your configuration problems. If your ambition is to become a corporate Linux admin or a developer and you want to build a server system to cut your teeth on I would recommend something like Centos [] because it is a free-of-charge binary 'clone' of Red Hat ES/AS which along with SUSE Linux Enterprise Server is the standard for anybody who runs enterprise quality software including the ubiquitous Oracle Databases. Slackware [] on the other hand is only for you if you are a for true nerd, developer, comp-sci/engineering student or some such eccentric who want to find out the old fashioned way how a modern *NIX system is put together. Basically I'd say that if you are a complete Linux newbie, say... an experienced Windows XP user, you should definitely start with one of the ultra user friendly Linux desktop distributions and proceed from there. If you want to become a professional Linux admin you should also get over any fear you may have of command-line interfaces and doubly so if you have any ambition to do any serious development on a Linux system.
  • by partenon (749418) * on Tuesday December 26, 2006 @09:11PM (#17372440) Homepage
    If you wanna learn how Linux works, I'd suggest Gentoo. Read the handbooks while installing and try to understand what you are doing. Do it from Stage 1. It'll help you to have a good understanding on how Linux works. And patience. Lots of patience. It may take a full week to get everything working properly. And you may need to install it more than once :-) When we are starting, it's easy to mess everything up.

    If you just want a box up and running, Ubuntu or Fedora will work. I'd suggest Ubuntu, but Fedora is OK. Both have tons of customizations to make it easier for a newbie, both have a great community, both have pre-scheduled releases and both have "install from repository" softwares (but I prefer Ubuntu's one).

    Good luck!
  • by Arceliar (895609) on Tuesday December 26, 2006 @09:28PM (#17372602)
    Sometime during late 2000, I started my gradual switch to the free unixes. I began with Zipslack, a part of the Slackware project, because I could install it on my fat32 partition without needing to repartition. At the time, working off of a 7GB harddrive, I wanted to avoid splitting the partition, as I had so little to work with.

    Over the years, I've distro hopped probably two dozen times, both linuxes and bsds, but ultimately it's all come down to two things: efficiency and ease of use. That being said, Gentoo wins in my book by a wide margin when it comes to efficiency. It's _ALMOST_ as good as Linus From Scratch, but the sheer amount of work saved by using portage (for me at least) wins over the slightly even more optimized results from Linux From Scratch. That being said, I don't use Gentoo on my desktop. Portage (gentoo's package manager) downloads source and compiles it--a rather time consuming process for one who doesn't have distcc installed on several networked computers to speed things up. Because of this, I'm currently working off of Kubuntu (though any Ubuntu version is more than adequate in my opinion) because it is the fastest of the easily updateable distributions I have used. I'm honestly not just jumping on the ubuntu train here--I honestly disliked the distribution until about Knot 6 of the testing stage for Dapper, where I came to realize that it was approaching the speed my gentoo install had achieved at the time, but without the need for long compilations every update.

    In summary: I would have to say Ubuntu is best if you're new to things, don't know every minute detail of your machine inside and out, or want things to be mindless to maintain. If you're a performance junky, Gentoo is best IMHO because of how easily you can create a highly optimized system--and in the long run this may be better for what you're describing, particularly if the software you'll be using or writing need not update more than once a week or so and involves a lot of number crunching.

    Gentoo is however quite a bit more difficult to install on it's own right, I would suggest starting off using one of the derivative distributions, such as Vida Linux or Sabayon. I myself prefer Sabayon out of the two, once the ridiculous amounts of orange and red are taken out of the theme. Much like Ubuntu in it's default install, Sabayon is almost painful to look at if you don't absolutely love orange and red.

    As far as virtualization goes, I would say this: virtualization is a great thing, but I myself think it's nowhere NEAR at a state that it can even attempt to replace a native install. There's just too much of a performance handicap with so much overhead still, in my opinion, to warrant regular use. It's a great way to test out a distro before deciding to burn a cd/dvd of it and install, or running the occasional application which only works on Windows, cannot run through Wine, and doesn't warrant a full install.
  • Me too. I am getting suspicious of the ubuntu cheerleading going on here. It sounds a bit too much like other 'distro du jour' cheerleading we have seen previously, particularly the gentoo stuff.

    Suse has great hardware support, a reasonable install, a good system configuration tool, and a nice enough desktop. Its let down by an enterprise focused package selection, and poor network based repositories.

    Mandriva has good hardware support, excellent installer, a good system configuration tool and a good desktop. Its let down by rushed testing before major releases (2007 is OK, but 2006 had several flaws), and a weak website. You can subscribe (I.e. pay money) to Mandriva to get access to a distro with alot of free-but-commercial distro. It installs acrobat, realplayer, flash, nvidia drivers, and other software. Also check out Easyurpmi, a website that points you at the urpmi repositories for community packages.

    I found ubuntu had good hardware support, but the installer was limited, the configuration tool poor, and the desktop came with a very limited set of default options. Online support is excellent. The basics (OOo, The GIMP, etc) were intalled by the installer, but stuff like Inkscape and games had to be installed from the command line. Before installing, check the web for tips, as there are some packages and things to do that make things alot easier (such as setting up big list of repostories in /etc/apt/sources.list)

    I havent used redhat, but I understand its very much like SuSe.

    What I would do is create a tri-boot system. Put windows in a partition, and then create a 50Mb /boot partition, 2 6Gb partitions for two system install root directories, possibly a 10Gb /usr/local partition, and a /home partition. Then you can install 2 distros and compare them, I would select Mandriva 2007 and Ubuntu 6.06 for the tests. Install Mandriva first, its partition manager is best. If you decide to go to a single distro, use the other 6Gb partition as a backup.

    Anyone suggesting you try gentoo, debian or slackware is , quite frankly, an idiot.
  • by kb6vdo (783825) on Tuesday December 26, 2006 @09:43PM (#17372692) Homepage
    I am an aged retired professor of EE, who started using Linux about a year and a half ago. In my considered opinion the best Linux system for a rank newbie, in Linux, to start is to download Knoppix, any version later than 3.0 will 'find' all the hardware on most, if not all, PC systems (yes! no downloading drivers). Put Knoppix on your hard drive, leaving windoze there, use either GRUB or LILO as a boot-operating-system selector (search the Internet using how-to 'task', but be careful not all Internet articles are cool). You are smart to keep your windoze system running until you can safely shift completely to Linux. Use the Internet for any questions (feel free to ask questions of any tested Linux user). A single source of information which helped get me started was Carla Schroder's 'LINUX Cookbook', O'Reilly, isbn: 0-596-00640-3, which may be a bit dated by now, but a very good source of Linux 'how-to' information. (There are several articles on the Internet by this author which you will find very helpful, also O'Reilly books has a cool on-line service.) I started with Knoppix went to Slackware, then to Mandrake, Mepis, then Ubuntu, (to name only a few) finally shifted to just plain good old Debain Linux. Debian, in my considered opinion is the very best of all Linux operating systems which I have tried. Its 'apt-get' and "aptitude" operated from the console (command line) give you the best selection of free software available for Linux operating systems. This software is free for the download, and these two commands, see'~$ man', will connect, using sources.list (/etc/apt/sources.list), then download any or all software for you. Linux operating systems always have manual (~$ man 'command-name') avaiable to help us newbies learn to speak Linux. (There are also 'alien' to convert pkg.tgz to pkg.deb, and '~# dpkg -i pkg.deb' to install non-debian software packages on Debian.) (note: 'aptitude' and 'apt-get' both use 'dpkg' to complete their work, I am told.) Slackware is my, kind of, second choice Linux operating system, however, it tends to maintain some of the older Unix tradition. I have 'tailored' my Debian Linux systems to suite my needs, keeping my home directory separate (on a not-to-be formatted partition but use as /home/kb6vdo, for example) so that all my favorite settings are not disturbed when the urge strikes me to add a later or different version of Debian, or any other, Linux operating system to my collection of running operating systems on this box. Mix other Linux distros with care! If worried use a new alias user name instead of your choice a redo all your gui settings. Knoppix, Ubuntu, and Mepis, when I used them, were all three based on Debian Linux, but tend to modify the source code to suite their own needs, not mine. This source code change makes distribution upgrades dangerous for newbie linux folks. Linux is wonderful, it has more and better free scientific software as well as highly specialized free publishing software avaialble, I dare say, than you can even purchase for windoze. Linux is virtually unlimited in its scope of useful possiblities; it is, practically, the modern day Unix which was and is designed for both academic and research use. As far as I know the only area where windoze out shines Linux is in its graphical interface, in that higher optical resolutions are atainable in windoze. This does not matter to most of us, but to gamers this is very important. I keep Knoppix 'run-from-cd' Linux on hand to help me get out of trouble or fix some friend's computer software problem. Knoppix is probably the best Linux of this variety ever and gives quarter to none, to the best of my knowledge. About the PC system, it really does not matter until you get into areas such as wireless Internet, sound and such. Any old or new PC works well, at least for me, with Linux of any variety which I have tried. Thus, what ever PC or laptop you have will accept Knoppix Linux. Most, if not all, will run faster as well. Just remember, as my freind Jerry Sharp used to say: "Linux does not have its 'hood' welded shut", a mechanic can fix it, more than can be said for windoze.
  • by el_munkie (145510) on Tuesday December 26, 2006 @09:58PM (#17372784)
    I did an experiment recently. Someone I vaguely knew through a friend had come across a laptop that he thought was "hot". As the only nerd he knew, he wanted me to wipe off anything that the hard disk might have had on it. I was amused and thought he was just paranoid, but I humored him.

    To be honest, I was the one that alerted him to the existence of programs that phone home when the laptop is stolen. I don't think any normal user ever uses these, but they exist. However, the license number on the pre-existing XP install could probably be matched to the computer it was sold on and maybe to its rightful owner.

    The computer looked like a fresh install, complete with with all the worthless bullshit that big-name PC laptop manufacturers bundle with their machines. The goddamned system tray must have had 15 icons in it when expanded, and they all were about to expire. It was 15 or so inches, a widescreen, some year- or two-year old middle of the line model. Nothing to sneeze at.

    I told him that I had no version of Windows that predates XP, and the ones I have are legally licensed to me (thank you $5 University copy, it's almost worth it). So he had two options: I could blank the hard disk until he could scare up a copy of XP (he won't, not for normal prices), or I could install Linux. After some explaining, he chose Linux.

    I don't think he's ever owned a computer or had access to a family machine, so I figure KDE should be just as easy to learn as Explorer for a first timer. He only wanted to get on the web and play DVDs. The only modern implementation of Linux I've used has been Gentoo, and it has always worked flawlessly, once you get it set up. Portage is amazing, and if things compile, they'll work. Before that I had used Redhat 5, but the RPM system annoyed me to the point that I switched back to Windows for years. It could be because I was using it on an old laptop from 1996 that had a winmodem, but it was a pain in the ass.

    I wanted to see if a normal person, a Kaspar Hauser of computing, would pick up on KDE. But not bad enough that I want to toil for days making Gentoo work on his machine. I opted for a precompiled distribution, instead.

    I'd heard good things about Ubuntu, but I hate Gnome. So I got Kubuntu. It installed out of a LiveCD, which is much slicker than Windows XPs primitive installation process. Wireless seemed to work, but I wasn't letting this guy on my network and I live in the only complex in the world where everyone has renamed their routers, changed the channels, encrypted, and MAC filtered their wireless. The laptop picked up the neighbors, though, and it sure seemed to be working. DVDs kicked up some error about a decss library and quit after the FBI warning. I tried to install the required library through the graphical upgrade interface, but it didn't work. Very annoying.

    So I gave him the laptop and he didn't figure out that its functionality had been severely decreased since recently, when I was out of town. I heard that he was having trouble watching his movies and needed help, but I'm rarely home and he doesn't, and won't, have my numbers. Also, he moved to another complex while I was away, so he's pretty much on his own.

    Will he sink or swim? He'll have to hit up the message boards to get things to work, and I think Kubuntu left a way to get there from the desktop or K menu. He's a smart guy in fields outside of computing, and he could learn Linux the hard way and become the greatest programmer ever. Or he could hock it for a few ounces of dirt weed.
  • XPressLinux (Score:2, Interesting)

    by mike3k (574665) <mike3k@gm a i l .com> on Tuesday December 26, 2006 @11:06PM (#17373166) Homepage
    I'm developing a Kubuntu-based distro, XPresslinux [], designed for Windows switchers. We pre-install WINE, VLC Media Player, Firefox with MPlayer plugin, and Java (free GCJ), so users can play most common media files and run many Windows applications. OpenOffice, which is included in Kubuntu, already takes care of MS Office documents.
  • Mandriva, (K)Ubuntu (Score:3, Interesting)

    by 3vi1 (544505) on Tuesday December 26, 2006 @11:23PM (#17373296) Homepage Journal
    I've tried four or five distros myself, on multiple occassions. Mandriva and K/Ubuntu tend to have the most success discovering all the system components. That is, of course, not including Knoppix.

    I wouldn't recommend Knoppix for your situation, although it's definitely worth keeping on a thumbdrive as a recovery tool. Knoppix is Debian based, like Ubuntu, so it really doesn't give you much advantage and is missing the K/Ubuntu system administration tools.

    Mandriva (previously Mandrake) had the easiest to use system tools back when I was using it. It made most things very easy. Still, don't expect to not be editing system config files in a text editor and learning the hard way the first time you mess up a bleeding edge video driver upgrade ... as with any Linux distro if you're not using pre-built packages for everything.

    Mandriva was not keeping up with their 64-bit versions in a timely matter, so I moved to Kubuntu back when dapper was coming out of beta. I chose that version because I prefer the KDE desktop over Gnome, but you could go with Ubuntu just as well (Gnome may be the easier desktop to step into cold). You can always install the KDE packages later too, if you change your mind.

    I'm very happy with Kubuntu - especially the pace at which it and the other Ubuntu distros are evolving.

    What I recommend is to download every live CD you can find: Ubuntu, Kubuntu, Mandriva, Suse, Fedora, etc... and see what works best for you and with your hardware. See how the packaging systems of each work and find out what the main differences are between the ones to which you narrow the field.

  • by RickRussellTX (755670) on Tuesday December 26, 2006 @11:34PM (#17373368)
    I've been working university computer support for a long time, and questions like this really give me hope for the eventual doom of the Microsoft hegemony. Tomorrow's decision makers are learning Linux, and MS operating systems aren't even in the decision tree. The most common question I hear from scientists and engineers these days is, "Linux or Mac?"

    I recently interviewed for a support position at a major university physics department, and Windows support wasn't even a factor. They had already evolved past Microsoft products; none of the critical applications in physics were running on Windows. Their platform distribution was 60% Linux & Solaris, 30% Mac, and 10% "other", with Windows buried somewhere in the bottom 10%.

    Ultimately, I suspect that Windows will be relegated to executives and administrators who must run "mission critical productivity software" (that is, Excel and Access), while the desktops in R&D, marketing, the factory floor and the retail store are all running some variant of Linux or MacOS. It will be interesting to see if Microsoft makes _any_ attempt at corrective action to slow this "brain drain" in the sciences and engineering schools.

    Anyway, back on topic, I recommend Fedora. Although I use Ubuntu and find it very approachable for somebody that doesn't want to spend lots of time under the hood, the fact is that RedHat and RPM packages are sort of an industry baseline for math, science and engineering. You'll find most big open source projects are precompiled for RedHat, while Ubuntu will be stuck with some old version out in the Debian Multiverse or worse, you'll have no choice but to compile it yourself.

    Rick R.

  • Gentoo + Ubuntu (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Laebshade (643478) <> on Wednesday December 27, 2006 @01:09AM (#17373796)
    Put Ubuntu on your new computer, and Gentoo on your old one. Make the Ubuntu your desktop and the Gentoo one a server. Install whatever you want except any GUI components (using Gentoo on a modern desktop is a headache). I use a similar setup here, except I have Vista on my desktop (and yes, I did setup Gentoo on my server). The Gentoo will give you an outlet to learn about linux without screwing up your desktop (and also forcing you to learn a CLI). You can even get a stage4 backup cron setup (after you learn how) so if you hose your server you can always restore it.
  • by chris_sawtell (10326) on Wednesday December 27, 2006 @02:21AM (#17374084) Journal
    By buying one from somewhere such as these folks:- [] They offer Ubuntu, but if after using that particular distribution you want to try another one you will _know_ that all the hardware works properly with Linux. For a hassle free Linux experience, that's the secret of it. IBM ThinkPads also run Linux very well indeed. Now you should get the distribution your favourite helper uses. I installed Gentoo [] on a ThinkPad belonging to a friend of mine who, as far as computing goes, is a compleat nitwit. Gentoo lasted longer than than any other distribution before he needed a sky-hook to pull him out of the deep, um, quicksands. However I do not recommend it for total beginners unless they have competent helpers to get them going, because the installation can be a bit of a baptism of fire.

    For your publishing activities, you might like to install both Scribus [] and LyX [] in addition to the TeX and LaTeX you mention.

    While the suggestion to buy a Mac is marked 'Funny', and was, I'm sure, intended to be such, it's actually not such a silly suggestion because Macs do run Linux very well, and if you find you don't like Linux, which while being superbly user friendly, it does tend to be somewhat pickey about the friendships it makes. If you and Linux just do not get on, you still have a very good piece of hardware and software in your possession. Macs will also run the software I have mentioned using the X-11 server from either Apple [] or Fink []. That's in addition to all the proprietary software offered by Apple and their ISVs.

  • Re:No Experience? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Chandon Seldon (43083) on Wednesday December 27, 2006 @03:23AM (#17374328) Homepage

    This really isn't as big a deal as you make it out to be. Unix-ish systems have versioned libraries, which means that multiple versions of the same library can be installed in parallel. Further, it's possible to do what Windows developers do with their apps - just include a copy of the library with the app.

    I don't run that many apps that aren't in the Ubuntu package repository. The only two I have installed are Unreal Tournament 2004 and Google Earth. Both apps just work, even though UT2004 is two years old (and therefore would have mad library problems if there really was a library compatibility issue).

    Occasionally I decide I want to dig out Loki's Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri. It's using some ridiculous old version of libc, so I have to install an old-libc compatibility package. It's there in the repository, so I just have to fire up the package manager and grab one package to get my game working. The fact that installing a six year old binary application is that simple pretty much debunks the "hard target for ISVs" claim - my distro didn't even *exist* when the app was released.

  • Many options (Score:2, Interesting)

    by extern_void (1041264) on Wednesday December 27, 2006 @08:05AM (#17375262)
    In terms of Linux, where you have many options to chose, it is good and bad. Good because you have many distros and each one with some specific features and it is bad for the same reasons :)
    I've been using Slackware for many years and i really love it, it is simple and in my opinion, easy to use.
    But you always can try Ubuntu that looks real good and Debian because of its package manager that may make things easier for newbies.
    You must keep in mind that any linux you chose, does not matter, you'll always have many similar tools for math and programming.

    Before you decide take a look at the following links:

    Slackware []
    Debian []
    Ubuntu []
    Gentoo []

    It is very important that you learn something about those linux distros out there and make
    your own decision, pointing out what does really matter and what doesn't
    Don't you have some virtualization tool for testing? You can install a couple of distros and
    then make your decision based on experience.
    good luck!

"The greatest warriors are the ones who fight for peace." -- Holly Near