April 10, 2008

Ask Linux.com: Choosing a distro, working with external hard drives, and learning how to write

Author: Linux.com Staff

Some questions keep coming back in recent threads on the Linux.com forums, such as how to choose the right Linux distribution. If you are a longtime Linux user, it's easy to forget how perplexing it is to get started.

For example, user pdmayton has decided to ditch his pre-installed Windows Vista and install Linux, but finds the conflicting advice regarding all of available distributions unclear.

I'm pretty experienced when it comes to computers but I have never used Linux. I actually bought this otherwise nice laptop (hp dv9000) with Vista pre-installed. That being said I'm looking for a distro that's at least somewhat user-friendly that has good compatibility. I know that's kind of vague but I really don't know what to expect or ask for from Linux. I like to do some mild gaming, DVD making, and everyday browsing. I also download a lot of media, create digital media, photo manipulation, etc. It's really important that it's media friendly -- I'm a sailor in the Navy and this is my main source of entertainment when I'm at sea for long periods of time!

Pdmayton's use case is typical for a laptop user -- well, except for that part about being deployed at sea for months at a time, where getting timely support could be an issue. Forum readers recommend Ubuntu and Mandriva.

User Computer Crazy also asks for distro recommendations, and gets suggestions for openSUSE, Fedora, Linux Mint, and Debian.

How's a new user to choose? User Mr. Xeno sums up the confusing array of suggestions. "Which version is just a matter of personal preference. I'm new to Linux myself, so I just dove right in and tried several versions." If you don't know where to start, he adds, burn several live CD distros and spend some time with each one before you install to your hard drive.

Hard drive woes

Speaking of hard drives, Neil posted about his dilemma getting Linux to access his external hard drive.

I have been using Linux for over a week now. I have data on my USB-connected external hard drive (Seagate) that I need to get off.... I have Knoppix that I can run from a disc but I have installed Debian on my desktop. Knoppix can connect to the hard drive but Debian cannot.

Neil's trouble is limited to the external drive in question; he has tested other removable media with Knoppix and Debian, and both distros recognized and mounted the test media. User proopnarine explained how to use dmesg from the command line to find out whether the distro recognized the drive itself, and Corleone followed up with the distinction between recognizing the disk and recognizing the filesystem on the disk.

Unanswered questions

Still seeking knowledgeable advice this week is iansane, who wants launch a Wine program from Nautilus' right-click context menu. Since the Wine program requires arguments, he knows he will need to write a wrapper script to make it work, but he is not sure how best to proceed. If you have advice, head on over to the Programming and Development forum to share it.

Fresh from the unsolved mysteries department is boray, who is running 64-bit openSUSE, but has a MAC address that changes every time he reboots. Got any ideas?

And user kingdord has a novel approach to the which-distribution-should-I-use question: he has decided to build his own. "So I come to you with the question: what programs outside a kernel would I need to make my own Linux distribution? I've gone through as much as I could with Linux from Scratch (LFS) but a lot of it is just following a recipe for building their distro, without the academic explanation for what other programs a Linux kernel needs to create a productive home/development PC."

Write here

A final forum tip: If you are interested in writing about Linux or free and open source software -- whether on your own blog, for public consumption in general, or even for online publications like us -- visit the Linux.com Writers' Forum. Topics cover everything from stylistic questions (how do you capitalize .deb at the start of a sentence?) to writing headlines, to coming up with story ideas. Ask questions, get advice from others, and share your experiences.


  • Community
Click Here!