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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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  • No Experience? (Score:5, Informative)

    by pkcs11 (529230) <pkcs11NO@SPAMmsn.com> on Tuesday December 26, 2006 @07:00PM (#17371176) Journal
    Most people (myself included) will suggest ubuntu, since it's a great Out Of The Box solution.
    But Fedora might be a good fit as well.
    Try out 3-4 distros and use what is most comfortable for you.
    • Re:No Experience? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by mordors9 (665662) on Tuesday December 26, 2006 @07:08PM (#17371268)
      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.
      • I don't think the question is nonsensical given the specifics mentioned. There might be others with experience who can say whether certain distribution make it easy to install certain software (math software in this case), among other things. Though it probably isn't true, I wouldn't be surprised if math majors and English majors, as a group, preferred different distrubutions.
        • by mordors9 (665662)
          You must not be that knowledgeable about installing software on Linux then. Most any major software package is going to have both .rpm or .deb packages available either on their own site or in the distro specific repositories. That will cover most of the distros out there. For the rest of us that have chosen other paths (Slackware for one), the source package will be available where we can build the package ourself. The one exception we sometimes run across is proprietary programs but since he was talking a
          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            by tacocat (527354)

            Seriously, it's kind of a lame question to ask. But if someone really ahs to ask...

            If you want a distribution that just works and doesn't screw your installation from upgrade to upgrade then go with Debian. It doesn't a great job supporting LATEX and everything else you mentioned. And it works. It's stable.

            I'm going to assume that if you are using this for your school projects and reports you would rather choose an older more stable distro over volitale latest and greatest. Debian, unlike unbuntu et

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

              by Kwiik (655591) on Tuesday December 26, 2006 @10:33PM (#17372982) Homepage
              Umm, Ubuntu is based off of Debian.. in addition to that, how is it such a great accomplishment that a distro does a great job of supporting LaTeX? They can all work pretty much the same with it. Save the distro wars for somewhere else..eesh

              Anyways, my suggestion is to give a live CD a try. If you want to take your system from computer to computer and have it work flawlessly between boots (plus making it ultra easy to install apps that don't come on the live CD) then give a Live USB a try. There are many distros mostly based off of Debian for this. I recommend to check out linuxonusb.com since they make it easy to choose a distro. DSL-N's homepage is pretty good too - both give you the ability to buy a USB drive preloaded with a bootable linux partition at about the same cost as a regular USB drive, and they both claim to directly support the community.

              Good luck to the poster
              • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

                by tacocat (527354)

                Unbuntu is based on Debian unstable. Not Debian stable. Right now Debian unstable is in a freeze pending release. But once that is done, expect Unstable to live up to it's name and hence take unbuntu (potentially) with it.

                No distro flame war. But I really get pissed off when something breaks.

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

            by Arethan (223197) on Tuesday December 26, 2006 @08:44PM (#17372222) Journal
            I fail to see how having RPMs and DEBs available makes installation any easier for "most distros out there". Being a Slack user, perhaps you never noticed that new versions of libraries tend to be released every 2 to 4 months, and each distro tends to be compiled against the bleeding edge newest libraries available at that time. This generally causes an absolute ton of dependency hell at all levels. This is the exact reason why most commercial packages build against the enterprise distros, because their life cycles are counted in years instead of weeks. Having a precompiled rpm/deb in the distro repository helps, but it is far from an effective solution when it comes to newbies installing software, and it certainly doesn't make Linux a very friendly looking target for ISVs.

            While rapid software evolution is the biggest strength to Linux based systems, it's ironic that it is also the absolute biggest downfall. After using Linux for over a decade on servers, and during that time even spending a 2 year stint of Linux as my only desktop OS, I can safely say that it isn't the distros' package system that's broken. Instead it's the complete lack of enforceable standards. If Linux wants to ever become a serious contender for the desktop OS throne, it will seriously need to standardize the versions of the core libraries. If you want to continue to maintain rapid development, deployment and deprecation, that's fine, but at the end of the day the distros should have a single version target for these libraries. The more bleeding edge versions can coexist on the same system right along side the legacy standards. The Linux Standard Base did a fair job at starting this, but as far as I can tell it's mostly fallen off the map, not to mention that it never went far enough.

            I really hate to break the dream-bubble here guys, but we need a "Standard Linux Desktop" specification that fully defines the available libraries and their versions all the way from libc to gnome. Now I'm not saying that once you implement the standard you're done innovating, that's just stupid. What I'm saying is that a user should have a single super-package to install that brings their Linux installation into full compliance for a standard desktop specification. Multiple standard assemblies can be installed on a single machine, and would allow the use of older binaries on newer systems. In order to enforce this standard, the installation of gcc should use the latest standard assembly by default, switchable to older and custom assemblies through the use of command line switches.

            Of course the biggest pain in the ass with all of this is getting all 9 million of the various distros to work together for 6 months to define these standards. Luckily we don't need to go that far. Simply getting RedHat and Debian to work together on it should be enough to affect the majority of machines out there.

            Getting back on topic for the article: If you want to use a commercial package, use a distro that claims compatibility with RedHat Enterprise Linux. Otherwise pick a RHEL compatible or something based on Debian. Those are the easy picks that offer the broadest set of precompiled software that tends to work 75% of the time.
            • 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.

      • If you stay away from the auto updaters and read the changelogs, you will never have a broken system.

        You will anyway if your hw/sw configuration triggers a undiscovered/unfixed bug. IMHO it's better to have the "fire and forget" capability available with many linux package managers and read up where the downloaded packages are stored (/var/cache/apt/archives/ on debian derived). If you have a broken package, chances are you have still on your HD the earlier version and you just need reading the docs on how
        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by mordors9 (665662)
          I am fairly new to Slackware (c. 2001), but have never experienced a bug like this. Patrick Volkerding is usually pretty diligent in testing his packages prior to putting them into the patches.
      • by pizpot (622748) on Tuesday December 26, 2006 @08:17PM (#17372008)
        The majority of them want to run the installer CD and then just have everything be set up and work.

        Me, I'm an old hpux admin. I like a distro that I have to spend all day installing. I like it even better if I need a 2nd computer to solve problems.
      • What is your goal? (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Savage-Rabbit (308260)
        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
      • Re:No Experience? (Score:5, Insightful)

        by goldspider (445116) <ardrake79NO@SPAMgmail.com> on Tuesday December 26, 2006 @09:09PM (#17372428) Homepage
        "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."

        No, it's a good question. Your answer, however, leaves plenty to be desired.

        My guess is that Linux "newbies" want a system that just works. They're probably coming from either a Windows or Mac perspective, and aren't particularly interested in what personalities distributions are tailed for.

        Their first Linux distribution should be intuitive and and functional. They shouldn't have to read manuals to get it working, and how-to information should be readily available in the system.

        All this crap about what "personalities" are right for particular distributions makes me want to strangle someone. It's a cop-out excuse for why no Linux distribution is particularly attractive yet. Make it work. Make it simple.
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Rick17JJ (744063)

          If Make it work. Make it simple is your goal, then just use Ubuntu. You don't need to look any further. Not everyone has the right personality for a distro such as Linux from Scratch [linuxfromscratch.org]. That would be for someone who wants to better understand how it is all put together and how it all works. Building your house from scratch isn't for everyone either, although some people have that kind of "build it yourself" personality. I built my own computer from scratch partially as a learning experience. Not everyone

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

        by trick.one (682514) on Tuesday December 26, 2006 @09:14PM (#17372478) Journal
        No, your response shows why so much of the non-technically-savvy population won't take Linux seriously. This guy wants to switch from Windows to Linux--he's already decided, you don't even have to try to convince him!--and yet your response to his perfectly valid question is "Figure it out yourself, asshole, and stop asking retarded questions." Sure, everyone has their own needs and every distro fills its own niche. This guy gave a pretty good description his needs, and is trying to figure out what fits. Surprise--not everyone thinks that fucking around with various Linux distros is a good use of their time. Most people use computers for things OTHER THAN figuring out how computers work. It's like asking the waiter for a recommendation and being told, "Why don't you just get everything on the menu and see what you like?"
      • Re:No Experience? (Score:4, Insightful)

        by LurkerXXX (667952) on Wednesday December 27, 2006 @01:40AM (#17373942)
        Agreed on all points. That's why I suggest the poster run Linux in VMWare instead of dual booting. Dual booting is a PITA if you need to switch back and forth. Besides, VMWare makes it easy to revert back to previous 'versions' if you mess up your *nix system while learning it. It also will allow him to try out a number of Linux distro's (as well as *BSDs if he feels like it) easily, so he can try out a variety to compare and play with to see what he really likes.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        Administrate?

        Also, I suspect the poster was expecting a number of different opinions with brief explanations, which he could peruse before making his choice from among those offered. That is far from nonsensical.
    • I concur. (Score:5, Informative)

      by Alaren (682568) on Tuesday December 26, 2006 @07:09PM (#17371276)
      Ubuntu. I personally decided to switch a few months back. I tried Fedora and some others and Ubuntu adjusted quickly to the switch. The ideology wars (Linus hates Gnome, x distro is more powerful, why coddle n00bs, just buy them a Mac, etc.) are always great flamebait, but in terms of sheer usability for the masses, Ubuntu is the clear choice.
      • Re:I concur. (Score:4, Interesting)

        by smilindog2000 (907665) <bill@billrocks.org> 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.
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward
      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 s
      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by fimbulvetr (598306)
        If a linux distro has a gcc installed by default (Hopefully the same one that was used to compile the kernel, cough, unlike redhat, cough), it chould be a sign that the distro may be bloated and a heavy weight.

        More packages installed by default == more space used, more security vectors and more clutter.

        Personally, I prefer having to install "less" or "build-essential" in debian because I know that if they don't exist, there's probably very few useless tools on my system that could be exploited, that take up
        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by kosmosik (654958)
          > If a linux distro has a gcc installed by default (Hopefully
          > the same one that was used to compile the kernel, cough,
          > unlike redhat, cough), it chould be a sign that the
          > distro may be bloated and a heavy weight.

          I don't want to judge about bloat and stuff. But for sure *casual* Linux distro will include GCC installed since you usually need it to install (link it) closed only software like nvidia/ati drivers and vmware. Also GCC is needed by stuff like DKMS framework etc.

          In fact you should not
        • Re:No Experience? (Score:4, Informative)

          by Frosty Piss (770223) on Tuesday December 26, 2006 @09:11PM (#17372450)
          If a linux distro has a gcc installed by default (Hopefully the same one that was used to compile the kernel, cough, unlike redhat, cough), it chould be a sign that the distro may be bloated and a heavy weight.

          More packages installed by default == more space used, more security vectors and more clutter.

          I don't understand this kind of comment. We're not talking about embedded Linux here, it's probably a workstation where disk space and even RAM is not going to be an issue. Even with laptops built in the last few years, using up disk space with the OS is just *not* an issue. There are MANY good reasons to not install what you don't expect to use, but using up space on your workstation's HD is not one of them, the OS and its parts will still be a very small minority of the disk volume. In my opinion...

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by HAKdragon (193605)
      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.
    • 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: (Score:3, Informative)

      by donaldm (919619)
      I don't really like to suggest a specific distro since there are so many around. I think it is best of you ask yourself if you are going to require paid support from a commercial company such as Novell (I know but they still produce a good distro) or Redhat. You could also look at their free versions such as OpenSuse or Fedora Core 6 or CentOS (basically Redhat Enterprise 4). Other distros such as Ubuntu and Debian from what I have heard are also excellent. There is always fantastic on-line support for near
    • Re:No Experience? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by melikamp (631205) on Tuesday December 26, 2006 @08:56PM (#17372336) Homepage Journal

      The ideal solution for a newbie comes pre-installed. The distribution does not matter that much. I anticipate that many readers will object, but I am convinced that it makes sense to introduce a working system. I started working with GNU/Linux when I was finishing the high school, back in 95. I did not start by making a clean install, but rather by playing around with whatever was installed at my dad's work. It just happened to be Slackware, but you know, since it was up and running, I could not care less. I was free to poke around a learn new things.

      If you really are a newbie, the last thing you want to learn is how to test hardware configurations and patch the kernel just make your drivers work. This knowledge is very useful, but is rather irrelevant for someone who seeks a good introduction to how the new OS works. My advice: commandeer a geek friend of yours to set up a distribution of his choice and then run with it.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by pyite69 (463042)
      Ubuntu is great - but the best version of it is Linux Mint. This is basically Ubuntu with Flash, Java, media codecs all pre-configured.

      On a standard Ubuntu or Fedora system, if you put in a DVD nothing will happen.
    • by uncoveror (570620) <webmaster@@@uncoveror...com> on Wednesday December 27, 2006 @12:05AM (#17373494) Homepage
      Ideal Linux system for newbies? I recognize the words, but together they make no sense.
  • by TuringTest (533084) on Tuesday December 26, 2006 @07:00PM (#17371180) Journal
    The one that is babysitted and administered by an expert.
  • Why??? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by udderly (890305) *
    Why dual boot? It seems so inconvenient to me. Perhaps virtualization would be better?
    • 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.

      • get the 2gb, parallels just flails painfully with only 1, although i haven't tried turning down the guest size very low. just upgraded to 2 and both oses are very usable..except for an occasional usage spike that i can't really explain.
      • by fm6 (162816)
        The key phrase in your post is "some cases". Let's look at this specific case. The guy has asked for advice on buying hardware, so he's not stuck with adapting an existing machine. And anybody buying a new machine these days needs to max out the RAM anyway, because RAM is cheap and today's software is RAM-hungry.
    • Why dual boot? It seems so inconvenient to me. Perhaps virtualization would be better?

      Sounds great, but... I've downloaded vmware workstation, as well as a release of Ubuntu, but I must be missing something. Is there a simple HOWTO that gives a step-by-step on how to setup and use a virtual machine on windows? What information I found seemed to be written at an abstract level. I'm leary about butchering up my system with trial and error. (Yes, I have backups, but would rather not have to go through

      • by dilute (74234) on Tuesday December 26, 2006 @07:40PM (#17371652)
        It is REALLY easy. The easiest thing to do is install VMWare Player under Windows - it is a little simpler to deal with than VMWare server (which is also a free - as in beer - download). Then go to http://www.vmware.com/vmtn/appliances/directory/ [vmware.com] and pick out any one of the many pre-packaged Linux VMs that they have up there. Just open the VM in VMWare Player and you're off to the races. You mayt want to play around with the screen resolution after you get into your VM, but otherwise, it should be good to go.

        The easiest distro to play with is probably a Ubuntu Dapper (6.06) one from this month. After you start it up, you can upgrade it to the latest "Edgy" version of Ubuntu (by changing your repositories in the Synaptic upgrade tool from Dapper to Edgy). You can alos create VMs from scratch (go to www.easyvmx.com)

        Other distros you'll find up there include Debian Etch (the latest, still-in-process one), various Fedora Core versions, Knoppix. It is pretty sweat-free (except for the download time and the disk space) to DL a bunch of these and see which one (or ones) you like best. In truth, they are all very similar, except for their upgrade mechanisms and the places they stash system files.

        If you go to the Mono web site (a completely separate web site), they have a VM with a recent version of SUSE Linux. Though their version is slanted toward setting up Mono (.NET-style) services), it is very nice.

        To do this stuff smoothly you should have at least 1 gig of memory (preferably 2 gigs or more), and a BIG hard drive. Be sure to delete VMs you are not going to use.

        After you get used to this, you may indeed want to go to VMWare Server, because it has more opearation options and a very nice snapshotting capability that allows you to make wild experimental changes and easily revert to the last good running state of the server, if things go bad.

        Me? - I go the other way, and run Linux on my real hardware, and Windows in a VM (using VMWare Server for Linux). I find I don't need Windows that much, and it runs fine from a VM (you do a full install from a CD, same as with a real machine).
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Overzeetop (214511)
          I can tell that most of those words in your post must mean something because they seem to make sense, in a sentence construction sort of way. But I'll be honest that my eyes just glazed over when I hit by changing your repositories in the Synaptic upgrade tool from Dapper to Edgy. It didn't get much better after that.

          This is a big problem for those that may not have oodles of free time; maybe the OP does. I have tried (and, I admit) given up on several packages, including RedHat (before the break), Ubuntu
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      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
      • by dilute (74234)
        Xen is nice, but not at all Newbie-friendly, and last time I checked, wanted to run on a Linux host. VMWare Player does not (AFAIK) take advantage of hardware virtualization support (as provided in newer CPUs), but the performance hit is not too bad, if you have a recent machine with lots of RAM. And, it is trivial to install and use, and can be hosted on either Windows or Linux (Mac in the works).

        Also, with VMWare Player (or Server, or whatever), you don't have to sweat whether your basic hardware will b
  • by drinkypoo (153816) <martin.espinoza@gmail.com> on Tuesday December 26, 2006 @07:02PM (#17371194) Homepage Journal

    Step 1: Whatever hardware you get, be sure to make sure that it is compatible. The easiest way to do this is to buy a centrino system, because that means all the major hardware will work properly :)

    Step 2: Use Ubuntu. It's the easiest, bar none. It gives you access to gigantic repositories (debian.) It has by far the most support today, meaning that you're more likely to find an install package for software on Ubuntu.

    Step 3: Get lots of RAM. This is the most important hardware-related advice I can give any user of any computer :)

    As for reading, I suggest The Unix Programming Environment by Kernighan and Pike. It will help you understand Unix, which will help you whether you're using Linux or Slowlaris. [bell-labs.com]

  • A Mac (Score:5, Funny)

    by pdo400 (86490) on Tuesday December 26, 2006 @07:05PM (#17371230)
    You'll be able to do all your work AND get laid more.
  • cygwin (Score:5, Informative)

    by Lord Bitman (95493) on Tuesday December 26, 2006 @07:06PM (#17371242) Homepage
    Use Windows until you have reason to use Linux. Don't use Linux until it's better for you.
    • by Foofoobar (318279)
      Honestly, that kind of mentallity can be a larger problem to the workplace. You develop using the easiest platform for what you are trying to do and you develop on what you are releasing for. For instance, a LAMP developer would have an easier time avoiding Windows end of line characters popping up in subversion clients, text editors and a variety of other programs merely by BEING on a Linux platform thus saving alot of worries and hassles. On a similar note, a C# developer would probably find it alot harde
    • Re:cygwin (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Junta (36770) on Tuesday December 26, 2006 @07:39PM (#17371648)
      If the submitter never tries linux, how would they supposed to find out when it *would* be better for them? I think the description shows clearly he has reason (working with latex and python, and the platform is popular in the field he is working more into).

      If they have the time and resources to evaluate a platform, particularly one that enjoys fair popularity in their field, they should do so.

      In fact, I would recommend delaying a Windows license purchase on the new system entirely, unless transitioning his existing license from his old desktop. Leave Windows on the older system and see if Linux can fit the bill more than he realizes. Windows is not free by any legal measure, so already there is benefit migrating to a free platform and save a fair chunk of money (even XP home OEM is 90 bucks right now)..

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Lord Bitman (95493)
        If you are already used to Windows, and can try out the benefits of Linux without completely abandoning what you have, why would you want to "dive in" and waste what could be a perfectly good system?

        Cygwin allows you to try out some benefits of Linux without dedicating anything. That's [my] point.
  • 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.
    • by Who235 (959706)
      Slackware was my first permanent distro and I loved it.

      Quirky, sure, but I learned more in a month than I did with any other distro I tried.

      I don't think you're crazy at all. I think you should be modded up.

      PCLinuxOS is probably my favorite newbie distro, though. The hardware support is great, and package management is unbelievably easy with Synaptic. Also, the overall configuration is easy - it uses the Mandrake configuration wizard deal - I don't remember what it's called.

      PCLinuxOS. Lousy name, but it
  • 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.
  • I have to say that previously I used to be a big Fedora fan and have tried Xandros and a couple other pre-packaged distributions for the desktop. But Ubuntu is by far the most stable and easiest to manage. I installed it on my 65 year old moms system and it detected her scanner, her new camera, her sound card and everything just fine. I use Ubuntu at work after smeone in IT convinced me to try it and I haven't had a single issue with it since then.

    Previous to this, I wondered what all the buzz was about
  • Rule #1 (Score:4, Insightful)

    by eno2001 (527078) on Tuesday December 26, 2006 @07:11PM (#17371306) Homepage Journal
    Forget everything you know about Windows. Linux is not Windows even if some of the GUI environments are starting to resemble aspects of them. Linux is closer to the Unix ideal of MANY MANY MANY tools that do one thing really well and need to be intertwined with other things to do more. As a non-programmer, I find Linux much easier to customize than Windows in terms of actually building new functionality. This is not something easily accomplished on Windows unless you want to get a Devel kit. In Linux it's practically a survival skill. Take a look through some of my Slashdot Journal Entries for examples of how I accomplished some interesting things with Linux that would have been nearly impossible with Windows.
  • if you have a modern computer and want a full service experience with very little hassle then try Ubuntu. That's what it's good at. Works well out of the box and full featured and runs on most computers. Fully modern Apps.

    On the other hand for people using old gear they want to extend the life of then the heavy weigh linuxes will bog. If they also don't know squat about linux and can barely navigate the file browser but want simple functionality (word processing, note taking, web and e-mail) then DSL ha
  • I'm a long time Gentoo user, but recently installed PCLinuxOS on my wife's Acer laptop after doing much searching for a user-friendly, and "everything works out-of-the-box" distro for it. Well, the wifi drivers didn't actually work out of the box, I had to download and go through a wizard and pick the .sys file... then bam, they worked.
     
    Great distro, and I even put it on my desktop... sometimes Gentoo is a bit needy, ya know? :-)
  • 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. ;)
  • by dsoltesz (563978) * <deborah.soltesz@gmail.com> on Tuesday December 26, 2006 @07:19PM (#17371384) Homepage Journal
    Ubuntu's probably the right answer, but I'm very fond of SuSE. Ask around and see if you can locate a local Linux Users Group (LUG) - they're usually happy to help, can show you various flavors of Linux, and even help you with set-up of the O/S and even installing specialty apps. It is very likely you will need to know how to get around in Linux (or Unix) if you're going into a scientific research field, so my recommendation is to go ahead and learn it sooner rather than later.
  • I used an old P4 1.7 I had lying around... rather than investing in a new piece of hardware you might find it easier to just use something old. It appears you don't want to do anything too computational.

    I installed Ubuntu 6.10 Desktop on the box. Troubles I had : Not beiong able to download a version of the distro that would install. It is a big download, and the MD5's never matched. When this happens, the install will just hang in the middle. I ended up getting a disk by mail. The other issue I have is
  • Simple (Score:2, Interesting)

    by reacocard (1043858)
    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 [ubuntuforums.org] 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
  • As a newby Linux user, I'd go with the majority and suggest ubuntu - except that the tetex debian package that is available for download onto ubuntu is flawed. Fedora has a better standard load of LaTeX it works better out of the box for LaTex. I really like Kile (GUI front end to LaTeX available in both Fedora and ubuntu) and it is a time-saver that doesn't automagically break things, like most GUI front ends. There are some long-term weirdnesses you should be aware of with Fedora - when you install it,

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by frisket (149522)
      I just moved from FC4 to Ubuntu, and the first thing I did was rip out the Ubuntu-installed TeX and install it from the TeX Collection CD. Otherwise Ubuntu is doing just fine, and much more up to date than FC, and it recognised everything I had...with the exception of CUPS, which still plays sillybuggers with the printer defs.
  • Try vmware (Score:5, Insightful)

    by astrashe (7452) on Tuesday December 26, 2006 @07:26PM (#17371490) Journal
    Try vmware first. It will let you run a virtual system in a window on top of windows, so you won't have to reformat your drive, or repartition, or do anything like that. It's a very inobtrusive way to get started.

    The virtualization penalty in terms of performance is very slight, and you don't have to worry about drivers at all, which is huge, especially if you're new to linux, and haven't selected your hardware with linux in mind.

    Which distro depends a lot on the specific apps you want to run. As you probably know, linux doesn't have universal installers the way windows does -- packages have to be rolled up for your specific distro. (They don't *have* to be, but it's a lot easier if they are.) I don't use TeX often, but I think it should be pretty widely avaialble on most distros. Python is ubiquitous, you won't have any trouble anywhere.

    I tend to think of apt as the "killer app" of linux. You just ask for an applicaiton, and it downloads and installs automatically. Not all distros have it -- it's something that exists in distros that are part of the debian family tree. Ubuntu is a debian based distro, and so it has apt.

    So Ubuntu is really the safe answer.

    There's a fair amount of stuff that doesn't work out of the box in Ubuntu -- almost always for licensning reasons. Software to play multimedia files often falls into this category, and it's sort of a pain to get all of that set up, and things like flash for your web browser don't work out of the box either.

    So my advice to you would be to do virtualization for your math stuff with unbuntu, and to stick to the host layer windows install for multimedia stuff. Once you know your way around linux, you can take the plunge and go all linux. But this way, you never have a machine that won't do whatever you need it to do.

    SuSE is in disfavor now for political reasons (fights over licensing, and I'm pretty down on them myself), but if you want a really slick desktop, it's hard to beat. It's better for multimedia after the initial install, and it tends to work better out of the box generally. There are lots of little details that are handled better.

    My main problems with SuSE are mostly ideological now, and those problems are severe enough that I wouldn't use it. So I don't want to downlplay the political stuff, it's real, and it's important, and I think that Novell is on the wrong side of it. But one of the reasons the fight with Novell is so painful is that very shortly before the problem emerged, they came out with what were pretty much the most beautiful linux desktops ever.

    My other problem is the lack of apt, the package manager, which you really, really want, even if you don't realize it now. Life without apt can't really be called living.

    Finally, if you're in a math department somewhere, ask around and see what other people are using. Because the single most valuable thing for you as a new user will be someone you can ask for help.
  • I have been a "Linux on the desktop" user since ~1993...
    But I'm still only an advanced user, It's just a tool.
    (Sorry to the Ubuntu folks, it just isn't all that, yet)

    After trying _everything_, I always end up back on Mandrake... ...Now known as Mandriva.

    TIP:
    Esp. if are installing on old/weird hardware, do an install from the Mandriva-ONE-KDE CD.

    This installs a basic system, then google for "easy urpmi" and get all your sources configured right. Also has Nvidia and ATI drivers built in. Works nice.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by ErroneousBee (611028)
      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
  • Virtualisation (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Mostly a lurker (634878) on Tuesday December 26, 2006 @07:29PM (#17371534)
    If you are upgrading your desktop anyway, I would suggest a VMware (or possibly Xen: with modern hardware, Windows is a supported guest OS) solution rather than multiboot. Just make certain you have enough RAM. The host OS can be Windows or Linux with a virtual machine taking care of the other OS. Considerations on choice of host OS are
    • a Linux host will perform better, will be more malware resistant and, perhaps, be more robust;
    • if you are buying a brand new system, driver support may be better under Windows (Linux in a virtual machine will not care about the host hardware drivers);
    • if you go 64-bit, Linux is the best choice of host OS.
    As others have suggested, Ubuntu is a sound choice of Linux distribution. I am going to blow my karma by noting that SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop is even better if you are willing to give Novell some money.
  • my $0.02 (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Chris Snook (872473) on Tuesday December 26, 2006 @07:29PM (#17371544)
    Hardware:
    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.

    and

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

    and

    3) Spend your money on RAM, not CPU.

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

    or

    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.
  • n00b too. (Score:2, Informative)

    I myself started using Linux at the behest of my boyfriend about a week ago, and I would have to say Ubuntu was really easy. He walked me through some stuff, but I am really comfortable with it already. But this is the only thing I have ever looked at, and it may be hard if you don't have someone behind you helping you, but I like it.
  • Ubuntu (Score:5, Insightful)

    by foreverdisillusioned (763799) on Tuesday December 26, 2006 @07:31PM (#17371564) Journal
    Before Ubuntu, I tried Red Hat (this was pre-Fedora), SuSE, Debian, Knoppix, Gentoo (with the help of a friend who knew what he was doing), and Mandrake (as it was then known.) All of them had serious issues--mostly unrecognized hardware, but a couple couldn't even make it through installation (for example, Knoppix would hang no matter what I did.) I was a newbie, but I wasn't utterly helpless... I knew my way around a shell. With each distro, I spent several days troubleshooting the problem and got nowhere. I *wanted* to use Linux, but I simply couldn't afford to invest so much time making the basics work. There's a huge difference between a little tinkering in my spare time (which I was looking forward to) and trying to live without a functional network card.

    And then, along came Ubuntu and EVERYTHING JUST WORKED. Obviously, your millage my vary (some people say that Ubuntu has given them nothing but headaches yet e.g. MEPIS is a dream) and I'm sure Ubuntu's improvements have since been incorporated in all of those other distros I tried, but Ubuntu's philosophy and their large community of helpful users has me sold. Virtually every single niggling little problem I had in 5.04 (the first Ubuntu release) has been resolved. I've installed Xubuntu on my mom's old laptop and she loves it (and unlike Windows, it's virtually maintainance-free.)

    If you do encounter problems after installing Ubuntu, just check out ubuntuforums.org--I've installed it in half a dozen computers now, and virtually every problem I've ever encountered has been easily solved by following a step-by-step guide some kind soul has posted.

    Ubuntu really is "Linux for Human Beings."
    • And by this point, your hardware was six months older, right? Meaning there was time to integrate the latest monitor, graphics drivers, and other hardware related details into the OS? Have you retried that hardware with the latest "live" CD's of the other distributions, to see if they've worked out the relevant kinks?
  • Kubuntu, anyone? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by dbneeley (1043856)
    I think the KDE interface makes more sense for the Linux newbie, and the Kubuntu distribution has many advantages as well. As mentioned above, tremendous online resources and a very active community for advice and support are substantial advantages.

    For LaTeX, I suggest Lyx...available for your Windows side as well as in Linux. See http://www.lyx.org/ [lyx.org]

    I would also create a separate partition for those things you will need to share between both windows and Linux. I'd probably format this as a fat32 partition,
  • Most of the comments here seem to be more about the Linux distro than Spiffyman's domain-specific requirements. Speaking from that perspective, I'd check out the Quantian Scientific Computing Environment (http://dirk.eddelbuettel.com/quantian.html). It's a complete Knoppix LiveCD distro, pre-loaded with every FOSS math and science app around, including a fairly comprehensive TeX/LaTeX set of tools, IDE's, etc. The best part about Quantian is that you can run it as a LiveCD, boot it on an existing Windows
  • You can order on-line from one of the Linux vendors.

    Alternatively, you can take a live Linux CD to the store, boot from it, and see what works.

    Personally, I have found Ubuntu to be a great all-round distro and highly recommend it for general use.
  • If you are pursuing a PhD, make sure that your committee chair is on board with your decision. He (or she, or it) may often need to exchange files with you. If he is predominantly a windows user, you may have a difficult time, unless you make it easy for him to see your stuff. I preferred to use latex and linux, while my advisor preferred windows and word. It was not fun helping prepare presentations or figures for him from my work. In the end, I am sure he was pretty pissed off by my decision. My col
  • 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.
  • by bl8n8r (649187) on Tuesday December 26, 2006 @10:53PM (#17373078)
    A nice way to test-drive a distro before installing it. Check out distrowatch.com [distrowatch.com]. Since your inclined to torment yourself with Advanced Math, you might be interested in Scientific Linux.

    1) Debian == Knoppix, Ubuntu
    2) Redhat == CentOS, Fedora, Mandriva, Scientific Linux
    3) Slackware == Slax, Vector Linux
    4) SuSE == Microsoft (see: techp.org [techp.org] )

  • 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.

    -J
  • Gentoo + Ubuntu (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Laebshade (643478) <laebshade@gmail.com> 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.
  • NOT a Mac (Score:3, Informative)

    by JoeCommodore (567479) <larry@portcommodore.com> on Wednesday December 27, 2006 @01:21AM (#17373862) Homepage
    If you want to learn Linux and not Fink or whatever bottleneck app you need to run to get your Linux stuff working don't get a MAc. While OSX is all nice and fluffy trying to get stuff running on Macs via X11 w/fink or whatever will add a whole new level of frustration.

    Go with Linux, Ubuntu is nice, Centos is good too. (If you don't have high speed internet, go with something that has all the whistles pre-loaded on a CD/DVD like the retail SuSE, as you won't have to wait and download all the goodies.)

    Get some books, I reccomend the older "Red Hat Linux Bible" for its completeness of covering wall that is GNU/Linux is in general (regardless of distro) as well as grab more in depth tomes on getting skilled in specific areas (especially for programming,) do browse your bookstore and peersonally check out the books for yourself, some are real dogs. Get used to using Google, google groups and hearing a lot of "Read the ####ing Manual" as you start, it's not really hard, just different.

    As for hardware get something Intel/AMD with at least a Ghz of speed (I would not worry about 64 bits if you can't afford it right off, the support of 64 bit apps is still a bit behind 32) and at least 512 MB RAM, Nvidia Cards have some of the best performance for low prices and are not hard to configure, some ATI cards super right out of the box (careful on many other manufacturers video cards your experience may be really bad when starting with the wrong video card). A really good keyboard and mouse are helpful too (
    lots more typing in Linux).

    An external drive for backups is a nice thing, and if you are dual booting consider getting a second hard drive for Linux to live on (so you don't have to futz with Windows repartitioning).
  • by chris_sawtell (10326) on Wednesday December 27, 2006 @02:21AM (#17374084) Journal
    By buying one from somewhere such as these folks:- http://system76.com/ [system76.com] 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 [gentoo.org] 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 [scribus.net] and LyX [lyx.org] 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 [apple.com] or Fink [sourceforge.net]. That's in addition to all the proprietary software offered by Apple and their ISVs.

  • coupla thoughts.... (Score:3, Informative)

    by Sfing_ter (99478) on Wednesday December 27, 2006 @03:11AM (#17374284) Homepage Journal
    Test your hardware first with a boot cd:
    Try slax; ubuntu; kubuntu; mandriva-move; free-spire; vector; knoppix;

    1) maximum out of the box windows compat: xandros
    2) good capabilities on older hardware: vector, slax
    3) debian based distros - (ubuntu; kubuntu; freespire; knoppix; xandros), I cannot say enough about apt; it rocks; it works: updating or installing on bleeding edge unstable it sometimes has issues but is mostly rocksolid.
    4) Realize that you are using an os that is ideologically against proprietary software/codecs and on some of them you will need to take extra steps to play mp3s, wmvs et. al.
    5) do not play the comparison game. the os' are different and approach the same ideas from different angles. In linux you don't need to login as root/admin in order to install software etc. that is what the 'su' (superuser) command is for.
    6) create a seperate partition for the /home; the reason is, that no matter what distro you use, you can use your same data folders without having to tweak things to find your data :)
    7) make sure you use the ext3 file system to create your home partition as that will be mountable from windows (since you will be dual booting)
    8) programs that are not os critical can be installed into your user folder; I like to keep more recent versions of azureus, sun java, firefox and tbird than most distro's have time to get to so I install from the software creators sites to my home folder and then when I need the latest version i just update them no need to su or anything.
    9) when you do find something that is working, stay with it for a while, and don't listen to the "but x distro can do this!!!" there is a tendency to play with all the "new" distros/versions but if you need the machine for day to day work keep it stable and keep it simple.
    10) no matter which decision you make it will be right/wrong depending on who you talk to, so go have fun.

    Commander Data - Engage Flame Drive!!!
  • by delire (809063) on Wednesday December 27, 2006 @04:42AM (#17374616)
    90% of a good distro is in it's community, in the knowledge base it produces and maintains. No matter how technically good a distro is, it's less useful if there isn't documentation in your language, if a bug isn't noticed by a user, the forums aren't lively, or if people aren't packaging for your distro because no-one's using it - if it doesn't attract developers +/or package maintaners for all these reasons.

    For this reason Ubuntu is the winner, hands down, despite being extremely sensibly put together. I'm a Debian user but would never suggest it as a starting distro for a newbie. I have pointed many people at Ubuntu that have very little computer experience, with great success. Some of these people have been running Ubuntu exclusively for over a year now.
  • by PapaZit (33585) on Wednesday December 27, 2006 @09:41AM (#17375754)
    I doubt this'll be read by many folks (after all, the article was posted -hours- ago), but I haven't seen anyone else mention it.

    I think that there are two things that should affect your decision.

    The first is application support. Open Source stuff isn't a problem. You can just assume that it's available for any distro that you like. If you're going to use any commercial software, you should check with the makers of that software to see what distros they support. A lot of academic software expects Redhat Enterprise (or a clone like CentOS) or Suse.

    The second thing you should consider is distro lifetime. Many linux distributions stop offering support and upgrades for old versions after a year or two. A lot of us -like- to wipe everything and reinstall, but if you're trying to get work done, it can be really annoying. There are a few distros that offer a longer support window, though. Ubuntu offers a "LTS" ("Long-Term Support") version, and Redhat (again, and clones like CentOS) offers support for their products for several years.

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