Good free Linux distro?

My computer recently took a swan dive (as seen in GQ) and I don’t have my Windows XP CD or CD key or anything that came with it anymore.

I’m a little bit upset about that but I also thought it might be the perfect time to go back to Linux. Then I checked out Mandrake and SUSE, two of the more “mainstream” distros, and neither one of them are free!

Is there a good mainstream distro out there that has plenty of software and is still free or has Linux pretty much gone the way of what they used to hate?

I’ve been boned by weird, unpopular distros before so I don’t even want to know about Cousin Ralphie’s Linux 1.5, no matter how good it is, and I don’t want a half-assed distro that claims to be free but then wants you to pay for pretty much any functionality. I’m also not an uber-Linux geek or even really an uber-computer geek anymore; I just want a good free home OS with some decent software. Does that exist anymore?

Both are still free. You can download them from various ftp mirrors, but you won’t get any support or documentation (which is what you pay for when you buy them). Since your location is Phoenix, the closest mirror for Mandrake would probably be: (you can download the .iso images for Mandrake 10.0 here). To find out where other mirrors are, go here, and click on the button marked “I’m already a member of the Club or plan on registering soon, please send me to the download page” at the bottom of the page.

You can find a list of the SuSE mirrors here, but SuSE doesn’t let you download .iso images. You have to run the installation from the ftp server, but it’s very straightforward and easy.


I’m trying to install Debian now but the it keeps locking up on me.

Of the three (Mandrake, SUSE, and Debian), which would you recommend?

You can download an .iso image of SUSE Linux 9.1 Personal from here.

I personally recommend Debian (running the “unstable” branch of it, which is actually as solid as the normal versions of most other distributions). Mind you, I haven’t even used Mandrake, and my experience with SuSE is limited, but Debian is good enough to warrant a recommendation.

You might also want to give a look at Fedora. It’s pretty up-to-date and has many of the same (or similar) automated tools that make Debian such a joy to use.

I’m downloading SUSE now. If the installation doesn’t work I’ll know that whatever was wrong with my hard drive wasn’t fixed by formatting and I’ll either keep trying to fix it or wait until I can afford a new hard drive and install Debian.

That is, unless someone else has a better idea :).

Of the three, I would recommend Mandrake. You can get Mandrake 10 from You can get a lot of distros from

On a side note, if you are not an huge fan of Linux or really geeky about playing with an OS, maybe consider FreeBSD.

In the *BSD flavors, other people get geeky for you and put out an OS for you to use. And they have that amazing portage system.

It’s something to consider. If you didn’t fall in love with Linux, and your not in love with Windows, maybe try one of the other options out there. FreeBSD is free as in beer and speech, available for download, stable and able to run the majority of the applications you can run on Linux.

But if you are set on a Linux distro, Mandrake or Fedora until you are more comfortable with Linux.

As always, though, it really is personal preference.

Debian is definitely a nice distro, but I wouldn’t recommend it to someone who is unfamiliar with Linux or Unix. Mandrake is very easy to install and is probably the distro which is easiest to use if you are only familiar with Windows. SuSE is also very easy and straightforward to install, but you may have to do a lot more command line stuff to really configure it the way you would like. Fedora is based on RedHat (and developed by RedHat) and I have heard a lot of good things about it.

In my opinion the main advantage of using Mandrake or Fedora is that it is really is to install additional packages (since they both use .rpms). It’s a lot trickier on Debian. Then again, if you like to compile all your apps from the source code yourself, Debian is the way to go.

Also, the SuSE Personal .iso mentioned above contains just a basic Linux installation, without any third-party stuff. If your hard drive really is screwed, you can always try installing one of the “Live” distros that runs straight from the CD. If you want to install to your hard drive later on, you can do that also. The original Linux distro that runs from CD was Knoppix, but there is also MandrakeMove, and SuSE Linux Live

SuSE, Debian, and Knoppix have all frozen on me multiple times while trying to load them.

I’m not sure at this point if I’m having computer issues or bad luck.

This isn’t quite right. If your app is in the Debian package system, then you simply drop to the console and do an “apt-get install app.” You don’t even have to go to the trouble of downloading the package yourself. Now, of course, if the package isn’t in the system, that’s another matter entirely, but it’s usually possible to find someone who’s made debs and posted them online. The only reason I ever compile things on Debian is when I want to customize them, when I’m patching them, or when I’m using something so obscure that no other distribution would have a package, either.

Fedora has apt, too, as well as yum, which solves the same problem. If the package isn’t in the repository, though, it’s a bit easier to find an RPM. Of course, some RPMs are distribution-specific, and at that point you have to resolve all the dependencies yourself…

I thought the *BSD package system was just called “ports,” with Gentoo modifying it to “portage,” no? :confused:

I’ve always been partial to Slackware myself. It doesn’t get in my way as much as any other distro I’ve tried. It’s a very good choice if you know what you’re doing, since it doesn’t get in your way as often. If you don’t quite know what you’re doing, that’s OK too, because it makes a great platform to learn. In either case, it comes with the standard plethora of software. And it’s only 2 CDs for the English version.

Praxim, I probably used the wrong name. Portage is Gentoo Linux.

I’ve settled on Slackware 10, now. I’m very happy with Slackware, but there are a couple things that would keep me from recommending it to someone new or just trying out Linux.

The first is the sound system. I’ve had to run alsamixer, unmute or set the volume up, then save the config. Kmix would do it, too. But the fact remains that the sound was disabled after installation and that could confuse the hell out of the uninitiated.

The second thing is that users must be in the audio group to get sound with through their browsers. It’s as simple as adding the user name after the audio group in /etc/group, but again scary for new folk.

Finally (for this post, there are more), after installation you don’t go to run level 4 with X started. You have to init 4 or start gdm. If you want to boot into an X environment, you have to edit /etc/inittab.

But as an experienced user, I love the simplicity of it all. Even the init scripts. The way I feel for Slackware, now, is the way I felt for Mandrake when I started using Linux.

Anyone familiar with an error along the lines of: