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Choosing a distro

Link to this post 17 Jan 12

I am considering switching (back) to Linux. I was a long time Windows user who switched to Ubuntu when Vista was released. I probably don't need to explain why. One of the things I was hoping to do with Ubuntu is actually learn the OS, but that never happened. I couldn't find any decent books or documentation to guide me through the OS. Everything was either way too basic, or too over my head. As a result, my only resource was the Ubuntu forums. However, by way of my goals, that wasn't much help either. I was expecting to have problems transitioning to Linux, but hoping they would be an opportunity to learn. Instead, I would post questions, and responders would basically just post some code (that I didn't understand) for me to copy and paste into the terminal. There was no explanation, and no learning. After a few years of that (and a desire to try a couple apps that wouldn't run in WINE), I switched to Windows 7.

However, I want to change back yet again (though not to Ubuntu) and the main reasons are:

1) I'm rekindling an old (as in 10 years old) interest in software development with the possibility (i.e. faint glimmer of hope) of designing mobile apps and maybe make a few extra bucks. Otherwise, I just want to tinker with other forms of software development (AI design, productivity apps, maybe some games). I think that developing skills with Linux will help strengthen my foundational knowledge with computers and help with programming.*

2) I like Linux better. I liked my old desktop and being able to have a cube or multiple virtual desktops running. I tinkered with Python when I was using Ubuntu and it made things much easier having a 3x3 desktop workspace. And I liked the terminal. Unlike Windows "Command Prompt", you could actually do things in the terminal.

3) All the usual sociocultural/economic reasons why people dislike Microsoft and Apple products.**

4) My computer is getting a bit older (about 5 years or so), and Linux would just be a lot faster and lighter.

* I do realize that knowing Linux won't necessarily make me a better programmer on MS or MacOS platforms, as I would need to know those systems as well, but I do believe it would strengthen my general computer skills more so than knowing Windows or MacOS. Who knows, maybe it might turn into some kind of tech job down the line.

**The irony of #1 (specifically the bit about mobile apps) and #3 is not lost on me. :P

Anyway, I'm having trouble choosing a distro. I don't like the direction Ubuntu is going (and it wasn't much help the first time around anyway), so that's out. Still, I have concerns about going with a less flashier and less user friendly distro:

1a) Too steep of a learning curve
1b) Not enough support (whether it be community or comprehensible documentation)
2) I won't be able to use it for certain media applications (I have a ton of music and movies)
3) Lack of adequate support for web browsing (especially flash)

Considering all this, can anyone suggest a distro that might work for me (and maybe explain why). I'd really appreciate it.

Thanks.

Link to this post 18 Jan 12

It is unfortunate that you did not have good experiences with ubuntu because in my opinion it has the best documentation of any distro at https://help.ubuntu.com/ . However most of the instructions from one distro can be used on others, outsides of ubuntu's unity interface everything else they use is common in other distros.

Honestly you can go with mandriva, linux mint, opensuse, fedora and many others to fulfill your needs although their documentation may not be as good as ubuntu's. All of the distros I listed are very user friendly like ubuntu (especially mint which is based off of ubuntu), they can play nearly any video or audio format after the codecs are installed generally through the mplayer-plugins package and all of them support flash in their repos.

Link to this post 18 Jan 12

Ubuntu did have some good documentation, however (based on what I needed it for), every fix was pretty much just a couple of clicks through a gui. I think the most difficult issue I had was getting NVIDIA and flash to work (at the time, the support was a little sparse), but even then, all I needed to do was a little search in the Synaptic Package Manager to get what I need. So, on that end, the system was a little too user friendly...I didn't really learn how anything worked. I was hoping to learn a little about the shell/command line, but I might as well have been using a Mac.

I was considering Mint and Mandriva, though I was concerned that I might have the same problems I had with Ubuntu (not enough opportunities to learn the nuts and bolts of the system). Also, I read that opensuse was basically just like Mandriva, but clunkier.

Since posting, I've been researching distros, and I've been considering something more along the lines of Debian, Slackware, or Centos. Definitely not very user friendly, but I thought I would back it up by either keeping a Windows 7 partition (so I can still hit the net for documentation of forum/irc help if I get in a tight spot), or just buying a cheap, bare-bones netbook that will let me do the same. This way, I'll have a safety net when it comes to checking email, getting on the net, job hunting, and maintaining my resume. Music and movies would just have to take a back seat if Slackware/Debian/CentOS isn't playing nice. Also, I managed to get my hands on a few linux books (Dummies, O'Reilly, and a couple others), that I hope will be all I need to get a distro up and running.

Additionally, thinking both long term and by way of potential near future opportunities, Debian, Slackware, or CentOS (based on what I've read) are good for people looking to learn server admin. I have a friend who recently started a small non-profit private school and they haven't really established an IT base. I figured that once I experimented and learned a bit, I could approach her and volunteer as a server admin to further develop my skills (and maybe I could get the school to comp a couple certs along the way :D).

At this point, this is the impression that I get:

Slackware: Hardest to use, but if you master it, you've got Linux in the bag
Debian: A little more user friendly than the others, more software packages available
CentOS: The best choice if you want to eventually get a job, though has a lot less software available

Are my impressions correct? If so, it's a neck and neck race. Is there anything else that will put one ahead of the others? Thanks.

Link to this post 18 Jan 12

I like how you think and your impressions of the harder distros are correct, Centos has value for certificaton because it is basically a free clone of Redhat Enterprise Linux.

If you are looking to build a stable "easy" to maintain system I would recommend Slackware, because that is what I use.

Debian is good because of apt, but the difficulty in developing software packages and many assisted technologies make it a bit difficult to find direct answers to your problems.

Centos is good and stable but as a RedHat clone is also has many of the assisted technologies, some missing RHEL components and SeLinux enabled which can make administration difficult.

I will stick to my recommendation of Slackware because the online help is good, http://www.slackbook.org/ is good for documentation, but http://www.slackbook.org/beta/ is shaping up to be a bible for Linux admins, the administration is "simple" and because a few users here including myself can easily help you with nearly any issue. Note that I used simple in quites, because it is not user-friendly/point and click simple, but it is simple because it requires less involved steps to diagnose and setup software.

If you wish to use Slackware we are here to help you learn everything you needs to know, the first thing to know is that it does not have a GUI installer, but the installer itself is simple when you get past partitioning.

As for package availability there are plenty of package mirrors and slackbuildsorg , and if you are really wanting to know how to handle package management I can teach you to make your own slackbuild scripts to generate packages.

Link to this post 18 Jan 12

First, those slackbook links just redirect me to Wikipedia's page on SOPA (interesting read, though).

[i]"If you wish to use Slackware we are here to help you learn everything you needs to know, the first thing to know is that it does not have a GUI installer, but the installer itself is simple when you get past partitioning."[/i]

I had to quote this. The one thing I liked most about Ubuntu was the shell. It reminded me of back when DOS was a real OS that worked with Windows and not the children's toy it has become. As much as the GUI makes navigating between multiple tasks/projects faster, if I'm just working on one thing, I'd rather kick it old school with the shell.

I'm glad you had good things to say about Slackware. I was pretty tossed between that and CentOS (the latter for the career potential), but I've since been reading that it's much easier, and works better, to VM CentOS in Slackware rather than the other way around. This way I can have the most "educational" distro while also developing skills with the most job-friendly one. Side note, I'm not sure how much I should care about having a package manager (i.e. Debian's APT). If the point is to learn the OS, am I not better off learning how to download and compile the source and work out dependencies on my own?

Now for the nitty-gritty of conversion. First, I'm not sure if I should go with partitioning or getting a cheap netbook. The main benefit I see for the netbook is that I can have all my Linux pdfs, chms, and other docs running on that while I'm tinkering on my main box. I'm just not sure if that benefit is worth dropping $300. And, if I do partition, my setup and the amount of data I have is a little awkward. My laptop only has a 150GB hard drive, though I have a 1TB external. All together, I probably have 500+GB of music, movies, and other data. Obviously the external plays a huge role in data management. Right now, I keep most of it is archived and only copy it over to my system when I need it. It used to be formatted to ext3 when I was using Ubuntu, but when I switched back, my cousin and I rigged this bizarre setup with another laptop and personal server to copy the data, reformat the external to NTFS, and put it back on the external. It was a bit of an ordeal and took the better part of an afternoon. We don't have access to this personal server anymore, so I'm wondering how to handle this with a Linux conversion. Ultimately, I want to be able to play my movies and music via Linux, but I don't think there's any way it can read an NTFS external (at least it couldn't when I was using Ubuntu).

Any thoughts?

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