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Distributions for New (and beyond) Linux Users

post #1 of 76
Thread Starter 
First and foremost, welcome to OCN's Linux forum. We're glad you're interested in trying out Linux! If you ever have problems, people in this forum are usually quite willing to help people if at all possible.

Is Linux Right For You?

This is the first question that must be answered. As much as I love Linux, as a reasonable person, I have to accept that it isn't right for everyone.

The most notable complaint is the lack of game support in Linux. Linux can game quite well given the proper set up but it depends a lot on the game. Linux users use an application called WINE. WINE is a compatibility layer. It's not Windows. It's not a Windows Emulator. It's not perfect.

This same complaint extends to other software that runs exclusively on Windows. It might run in WINE, it might not. Checking the WINE app database is a good place to start if you want to go this route.

There are two other options:

Dual Boot. Setting up partitions so you can run Windows for games and other software you can't live without.

Grub/Grub2/Lilo and Why You Shouldn't Use EasyBCD and Wubi

A quick word about boot loaders. If you're going to dual boot, you are going to have overwrite the Windows MBR with another bootloader. Window's MBR will not handle Linux distros. You have three main options: Grub(Legacy), Grub2 and Lilo. No one really uses Lilo that much. Grub and Grub2 are pretty good but there are some differences between the two when it comes to editing it. That is beyond the scope of this thread though. Just make sure that if you use grub, use instructions for grub. Likewise, if you use grub2, follow the instructions for grub2. The instructions are not cross-compatible.

There is a program out there called EasyBCD that is designed to make things easier. It doesn't. In fact, it just makes things more complicated. How the grub boot loaders work is it points to the proper boot section for each distro (or windows) that you run. All it is really doing is pointing the computer in the right direction.

What EasyBCD requires you to do is install grub (or grub2) in a different location on your computer. It then hacks the Windows boot manager. The Windows entry in the Windows boot manager points to Windows. The Linux entry points to that other place where you installed grub or grub2. So it doesn't really make sense. You're just adding an extra entry when grub could handle Windows and Linux. It's not worth it and it's not recommended.

Now, Wubi. Wubi is a Windows Ubuntu Installer and like EasyBCD, it's bad news. Instead of two separate partitions with a classic dual boot, Wubi creates, essentially, a virtual partition. It's not good, it's not needed, and you won't see too many people recommend it.

Switch to cross platform software if you can. Before I switched to Linux exclusively, I used programs like GIMP, Blender 3d, Thunderbird and Audacity. Since they're cross platform, they really softened the learning curve.

Linux is a secure and stable platform that will give you a finer understanding of computers and will give you more time to enjoy the things you want to do instead of focusing on security.

Before we begin, a note about categories. While Mint and the *buntus are listed as beginner distros, they are by no means strictly for beginners. You can take an Ubuntu system as far as you want to go.

For Beginners:

Which distribution should you start with? There are two fantastic distros that can get you to a usable desktop very quickly: Ubuntu (and its derivatives) and Linux Mint.

Easy download links:


After downloading the appropriate ISO, either burn it to a disk or put it on a USB drive. Set your bios to boot from that media first (before your hard disk) and it should be set to go! Installation is easy with just some very basic information.

Why these distros? Because they're all very simple and well suited to use on a desktop or laptop. They will install pretty much everything you need to quickly get to a working desktop. They have fantastic hardware support.

So what's the difference between these distros?

The difference between Ubuntu and Linux Mint is Linux Mint will install a lot of the multimedia codecs for you. You have this option to install them on Ubuntu but it won't do it by default. The reason being is that these codecs are not open source. They're still free under Ubuntu but you need to install them yourself or tell Ubuntu to do it during the install (10.10 and later). There are some layout differences too.

So which is better? It's up to you. Personally, I like having the option of running a completely open source system so I choose Ubuntu. Then, if I want to install non-free packages, that's my choice.

Now, a more difficult question is what's the difference between Ubuntu, Kubuntu, Xubuntu and Lubuntu?

Simply put, it comes down to the Desktop Environment. Ubuntu uses GNOME, Kubuntu uses KDE, Xubuntu uses XFCE and Lubuntu uses LXDE.

GNOME and KDE are heavier when it comes to Desktop Environments. They use more resources but offer the user a richer environment with all sorts of desktop effects and nice menus.

Ubuntu minimum specs:
  • 1 GHz x86 processor
  • 1GB of system memory (RAM)
  • 15GB of hard-drive space (although this can be split onto 2 drives, a 5Gb / and a 10Gb /home fairly easily)
  • Graphics card and monitor capable of 1024 by 768
  • Either a CD/DVD Drive or a USB port (or both)
Kubuntu minimum requirements are similar to Ubuntu but I could not find actual specs. KDE is a little heavier than GNOME at this time but not by much. As you can see, as long as you have a decently modern system, it should work.

XFCE and LXDE are minimalist environments. What they lack in glitz and glamor, they make up with speed. These two environments are best on older systems where resources are limited.

Xubuntu minimum specs:
  • 192mb of RAM
  • 2gb of free space
Lubuntu minimum specs:
  • Pentium II or Celeron systems
  • 128mb of RAM
I wasn't kidding when I said these are lightweight systems. They're usable on older systems and really fly on modern systems.

Which one is right for you? It comes down to what your system can handle and your personal preference.

I personally like to start with Ubuntu (GNOME) and tweak it to my heart's content. Other people like Kubuntu (KDE). If your system can handle it (and most modern systems can), go with one these two. If you have an older system that struggles with them, go with Xubuntu (XFCE) or Lubuntu (LXDE).

What are the downsides to these distros? Well, the main problem is Ubuntu installs everything you might possibly need. While this is a good thing for beginners, some people prefer to run their machines a little lighter. Some people don't want all the base install programs. Some people don't want extra dependencies that Ubuntu forces you to install.

For Users Looking to Move Past Beginner Distros:

I took some heat for being Ubuntu-centric but I stand by my assertion that Ubuntu and Mint are the best for new users. There are other really good distros out there that should not be overlooked.



Fedora

Fedora is another Live Disc Graphical Install Distro that is extremely popular. By default, it comes with the GNOME desktop.

Fedora, by no means, is a difficult distro to learn but it does require more command line use to get it set up properly than the beginner distros. This is one reason why I have it in this section. Command Line Interface, or CLI, is very scary to many brand new users.

It also uses a different package manager which is the second reason why this is a separate group. Since Fedora is built from Redhat, it uses RPM instead of Ubuntu/Debian's Aptitude Package Manager (DEB). I find Aptitude to be more user friendly from an end-user standpoint but RPM is fine and dandy too. It just takes a little more learning.

Because of this, I wouldn't dissuade a new user from trying Fedora but it's not as point and click easy as Ubuntu and Mint.

OpenSUSE by Rookie1337

On something of a hybrid or step between both Ubuntu and Fedora in terms of general user ease is openSUSE. Again like the buntu's it comes with very easy to follow directions for the installer. There are multiple DE options to choose from including the XFCE, LXDE, KDE, and Gnome environments (possibly expanding to E17 soon). Depending on the ISO acquired the user can choose the ISO to have just the minimal packages combined with single DE of their choice that fits on one blank CD. Or they can choose the single layer DVD ISO that comes with all the DE options along with a plethora of other packages/programs. OpenSUSE has full integration of rpms and combined package managers zypper and yast/yast2 for either CLI or GUI use respectively. Repos and packages are found in a search-able download data base that can allow the user to find everything straight from the distro's makers without having to search the entire internet.

Overall the install experience is as easy as Ubuntu and Fedora. If using the DVD ISO the user will have many packages, language packs, and other things they will not have to search for along with the ability to install another DE every time they want to try something new. Also, the integration of proprietary codecs and fonts is included so if you're attached to Times New Roman and other MS fonts they can/should be included as part of the installed packages or the first update. GPU drivers should also be as automatic as the buntus to install/setup. Using openSUSE is pretty easy though the user will need to depend more on the repos and packages them it than going out and finding individual packages themselves.

In the end openSUSE should be viewed as one step more difficult than the buntus but still easier than Fedora which doesn't like proprietary things such as mp3/mp4 codecs.


Slightly More Advanced



I just started using Arch and besides the install headaches, this is the first time I've used a distro that I really fell in love with.

Arch is a little different from the distros above. For one, it's not a graphical install. It's command line for the first 20 steps until you install Xorg and a Desktop Environment or Window Manager.

It's also a rolling release. On Ubuntu, you have 10.04 that was released in April of 2010. Then you had 10.10 that was released in October of 2010. 10.04 is a long term support while 10.10's support will die sooner. With Arch, it never stops being supported. There are no versions. There are snapshots of later builds but they aren't releases. They're simply snapshots so people can get up and running faster with a fresh install.

The install process is the main reason why this is harder than Fedora or Ubuntu. You start with a command line and there is a little install window where you can set up your time, your partitions and your base packages. Anyone with a little Linux experience can do that. The trickier part is editing your rc.conf, picking out what packages you need to start with and setting up the repositories.

This is where Arch really shines. They have a fantastic wiki that can walk you through anything. You can see that here.

nathris, a member of OCN, has a post here that is a quick way to set up Arch. It is designed to get you to a working desktop the fastest way possible.

Another great feature of Arch is the AUR or Arch User Repository where people can send in their own packages and builds for the community to download. This takes a little set up but but it's very nice.

Arch is a trade off. While it may take a little learning and a little more time to set up, you get pretty much exactly what you want in the end. A distro like Ubuntu tries to cater to everyone and gives you a wide assortment of programs from the beginning. The downside to that is you'll more than likely get programs you don't want and will never use. If you're lucky, you might be able to remove them without too much issue. If you're not, you're stuck with an installed program that is deeply embedded into the system.

Credits:

Jimi for the idea
W4LNUTS for adding Fedora to the list
Rookie1337 for his OpenSUSE write up
Edited by TFB - 1/27/11 at 2:42pm
    
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post #2 of 76
Just get linux from scratch.
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post #3 of 76
Thread Starter 
That's not helpful for beginners.
    
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post #4 of 76
I'd like to argue that Fedora and OpenSuse are every bit as easy to use as Ubuntu. Every single distro you listed is freakin ubuntu...
    
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post #5 of 76
personally, I started out with ubuntu, then went to kubuntu, then to mint, hopped around to debian and fedora, and ended up really starting with linux when I tried arch.

something about being forced to learn it in order to get a working system really helped me get accustomed to the command line, and now I have trouble using command prompt on windows because I'm so used to the linux commands and syntax.
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post #6 of 76
Linux is not helpful for beginners in general.
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post #7 of 76
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by W4LNUT5 View Post
I'd like to argue that Fedora and OpenSuse are every bit as easy to use as Ubuntu. Every single distro you listed is freakin ubuntu...
Read Jimi's thread below. This thread is working from his idea that we have a sticky for beginners who always ask "What distro to use" and 99% of the answers are Ubuntu or Mint.
    
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post #8 of 76
Your suggestions are Ubuntu-centric and cannot be taken seriously. Zenwalk? openSUSE? Fedora?
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post #9 of 76
Thread Starter 
Forget it. I'll just bang my head against the desk. I've got one guy suggesting Linux from Scratch for beginners and a bunch of other people complaining I didn't mention their favorites.

So much for trying to help people.
    
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post #10 of 76
Quote:
Originally Posted by TFB View Post
Forget it. I'll just bang my head against the desk. I've got one guy suggesting Linux from Scratch for beginners and a bunch of other people complaining I didn't mention their favorites.

So much for trying to help people.
Fedora and OpenSuse are hardly my favorites. They share the one thing that also makes Ubuntu a popular place to start. They have each have a decent sized COMMUNITY for help and support.

And if we wanna talk about whose mentioning their favorites...
    
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