Linux users: Which Distro do you prefer?

I’m thinking of switching my primary computer use from Windows (using XP, and I have a Vista “upgrade” disc sitting on my shelf that I have no desire to install) to Linux. Windows has always worked well enough for me, but a mixture of curiosity and annoyances over the little things it doesn’t do well (especially the bloat and memory hogging) has led me to the point that I want to part ways.

At least, most of the way. I’d keep XP to boot to it for games that don’t run out of Linux, but for the most part, I’m ready to make the switch.

I just can’t decide which distro I should try. I’ve only known Windows from 3.1 to present, but in the odd case I’ve had to use a friend’s or a lab Mac, I’ve adapted well enough, up to and including various versions of X. So while I would like one that can skin to appear like XP, I hardly need it. I’m glad to move to something entirely different.

Solid NTFS read/write support is a plus, so that I won’t have to partition a FAT32 to share between the two for file access in either system. If there’s one that you find works better than others supporting games through WINE, all the better; I’d like to eschew Windows as much as possible.

Ubuntu looks like a good first step as a popular system not far removed in style from Windows. Red Hat has age in its community. I’ve heard Gentoo has great customization, should I want to once I’ve adapted. Debian? Slackware? SUSE (though it’s not free)? Other?
Oh, relevant config usually helps here:
Intel Core2 T7200, 2.0GHz
2GB memory
laptop with onboard graphics (hence: the games I play are not exactly cutting edge)
Plenty of hard drive space for an extended partition to make things easy.

I’d suggest Ubuntu.

I tried several a few months ago, and it was the simplest for me to set up, and gave me the least headaches.

Look at a cd run Linux if you’re not quite sure.

MEPIS was the first one I tried that was simple for a Linux newbie to run. I ran it from cd for a while, and then did an install.

I downloaded the Wolvix Linux has some specialized cd run systems to download.

Trying different distros by running the cd is a good way to check out different versions with no hassle or commitment.

My personal favorite is Fedora. I’ve never used Ubuntu.

I’ve used Slackware ever since the first distributions of Linux came out on floppies. Slackware really hasn’t changed much since. It’s got one of the clunkiest installers, but it’s very customizable.

I’ve been playing with SUSE lately and I do not like it at all. It seems to me that it’s got kind of a Windows mentality to it. It puts everything it thinks you need up where you can easily get to it, and makes it damn near impossible for you to find anything it doesn’t think you’ll need. Install was very simple and it works well. Kinda has a Windows-ish look and feel to it when you’re done.

I’ve used Debian. It seemed OK. I didn’t do much fancy with it. Install was smooth and easy, it worked when it was done. Can’t say much more about it.

I use a FAT32 partition to transfer files. It’s just easier that way.

Annoyances about Linux:

Command line stuff is cryptic as all hell. There’s an old joke that Unix is very user friendly, it’s just particular about who its friends are. If everything works great, you probably won’t ever have to worry about a command line. But, if something doesn’t work, and you go ask on one of the linux newsgroups for help, they may tell you to edit some script you’ve never heard of in a directory you never knew existed. Oh, and step 2 just might be to recompile your kernel. Linux is very powerful, but it sometimes requires you to be a true unix weenie to figure something out.

In Windows, when you install a program, you put in the CD, click click, done. In Linux, if it’s something that comes with Linux you might have a reasonably easy time with it, but if it’s not something that normally comes with your distribution, the first step is often to load the source code onto your system, and the second step is that you compile it. Now you’re not a user. You’re a junior software engineer, whether you want to be or not. The scary thing is that there are lots of linux weenies out there who truly believe that this is user friendly and can’t understand why people still use that crappy windows stuff.

Playing games under Linux is a royal pain. Stick to dual booting and play the games under Windows.

No matter what people tell you, open office isn’t anywhere near as good as microsoft office.

Some web sites won’t work under linux.

Of course, there’s lots of good things about linux too. Basically, most of those things the mac guy says to pc in those commercials also applies to linux. In linux, you don’t have to enter the 300,000 digit license key to get the stupid software to work. You don’t have some security piece of crap constantly getting in your way until you dig into the damn control panel to kill it.

Plunge in, have fun. Don’t expect linux to be as user friendly as windows is. Don’t expect to be able to do everything under linux that you can do under windows. For most things, though, you’ll be able to get it to work.

In which I post from a bootable CD .iso of Ubuntu:

If I decide to make a more serious leap, I’ll set up a FAT32 partition for files that can be shared on either OS. But for now, NTFS operability is a nice feature.

On a conceptual level, I understood that. That was before trying to boot a CD .iso of Ubuntu, and finding one major flaw immediately that i wanted to change: My screen resolution options are 640x480, 800x600, or 1024x768. No widescreen, and no higher resolution. I run Windows in 1440x900. So I google for an answer.
Step one: open Terminal.
Step two: type this indecipherable command line code
Step three: open some obscure system file (that it thankfully provided the full tree to type in)
Step four: copy and paste from the result of the indecipherable command line code to the obscure system file, and save.

It’d all be nice if I was not running off a CD, and could save as I went. I’m taking on faith that this could work for an installed copy of the OS.

So I guess that’s another requirement for this thread: recommend distros that I can run off a boot CD with 1440x900 (or really, most any widescreen) support.

Known. One of the big reasons I’ll still keep XP, even if I otherwise make a full switch.

I’m not afraid of a little Terminal play to get things to work, and just as its own end. I’m a relatively intelligent, intuitive guy. I can learn quickly. And “user friendly” is for your grandmother.

These aren’t bootable CDs, but FYI I’ve used Fedora and SUSE on laptops with wide screen with no problems. One of my co-workers had to do the cryptic super secret decoder ring magical text string on the same model laptop, but it worked on mine without any fiddling (same version of SUSE too… hmmm). My laptops are Toshiba and IBM Lenova. YMMV.

Answering the question posed in the title, I prefer (and consistently run) Debian. Yes, it’s (generally) not bleeding edge. But then, I haven’t experienced the problems I’ve had with other distros (RedHat: poorly maintained packages that change settings on update, Gentoo: never did get it installed, Arch: non-standard structure and configuration, although perhaps it was simply not what I was used to). Haven’t gone near SUSE in years, but it seemed decent when I did. All the other distros I’ve used were special purpose (e.g., SLAX, Damn Small Linux, SystemRescue, Linux From Scratch, etc.), which you’d most likely neither want or need at this point.

IME, once it’s installed (which is no longer the pain that it once was), Debian just works. Even across upgrades, which Fedora has botched (for me). I’ve gotten familiar with and used to it, otherwise perhaps I’d be running Ubuntu, which I recommend to anyone making the switch.

Oh, and as far as I know, any (worthy) distro should now include NTFS support as a package. Also, my resolution display settings give me various options, up to and including 1280x1024 (monitor maximum) without a hitch.

Next I’m-learning-as-I-go-along question:

Prefer KDE or GNOME environment?
And thanks to everybody so far on suggestions and comments.
An update:
I fooled around with a bootable version of Ubuntu last night, which was okay, but didn’t do much for me. Mostly the issue with screen stretching to WS. Not bad, but left me curious about trying a KDE environment.

So now I’m finishing burning a live disc of Fedora KDE, see how that feels to me.

A bit late to the party, but I’ve been using Ubuntu as my primary OS for about a month and a half now (I actually bought a Dellbuntu to upgrade my old computer). I’ve been enjoying it quite a bit so far, but I find that it has been slowing down in performance since I got it. I plan on trying out some other distros (mainly Arch has my eye, but also Zenwalk and Gentoo) as soon as I get some internet troubles I’m currently having resolved.

Now I admit to being something of a computer nerd, but I think that the command line is being given a poor review. As someone who has used Windows for a while you’re surely not used to working in the command line anymore, but if you make the effort to understand what you’re doing, using the command line is much more efficient and allows for more flexibility in your computing than GUIs in many cases. You may consider looking at the Linux Documentation Project to really get the foundation of the Unix-style terminal. After a while using the terminal, the commands to start to mean something to you. For example, I’ve never set up widescreen support (I don’t have a widescreen monitor), but based on my experience the “obscure system file” you edited was probably /etc/X11/xorg.conf. The directory name /etc stands for Editable Text Configuration files. X11 is the “windows” system that Linux uses. Xorg is the most popular implementation of the X11 system, and “conf” is just short for configuration. I don’t know about the other steps you took to set up the widescreen support–certainly not what I’ve done when I set up my resolution.

Regarding NTFS support: I haven’t looked into it much, but there is a program called ntfs-3g that I believe contains all the read and write support you need. However, I’m not entirely sure of the status of the write support and whether its use is recommended. You will (probably) have to edit your /etc/fstab file (which I believe is short for File System TABle, but I’m not sure), but it’s not terribly hard to do (here is some documentation on it). Have you considered the option of giving Windows ext2 (and thus some ext3) support with this? The only problem is that it will be read as an ext2 partition, which only means that you will need to run a file system check (which should(?) be done automatically) in the event that Windows should crash while working with that partiton.

It is generally considered good practice to have a separate /home partition in Linux. This way if you should need to reinstall your operating system your personal files will be left intact. This should make it easier to use your personal Linux files in Windows, and you don’t have to worry about doing anything to the Linux system files while in Windows.

Regarding the difference between Gnome and KDE: My understanding is that KDE is a bit heavier on system resources, though it probably won’t be a problem on a modern system like yours. They also have a somewhat different way of handling the GUI (menu structure and directory navigation). Both Desktop Environments will be available on a lot of the bigger distributions. If you like Ubuntu but also like the KDE environment, you could always use Kubuntu, or even download and install KDE after installing Ubuntu.

My vote is for Kubuntu - I’ve been using it for a while now. I’m a geek, so I don’t mind solving the problems that arise, but it’s been pretty good.

And apt makes maintaining the system real easy


I’ve been running Debian or Ubuntu on my home machines for years. I’m currently running a hacked-up version of Xubuntu Dapper that I haven’t had the time or the inclination to update it. It’s just about perfect for me right now just the way it is.

It’s an Inspiron E1405 with the 1440x900 screen running on Intel GMA. I had to install the 915resolution package to get it to work at the correct resolution.

At work, I run SLED 10 on a Thinkpad R60. I can’t say I’m too fond of it; SuSE and Redhat seem to crap config files all over the directory tree where Debian tends to be pretty strict about keeping everything in /etc. The package selection is also pretty slim, since its the “enterprise” version of SuSE. I hate hate hate having to dig through rpm sites looking for things like XMMS, or worse yet, *-dev packages for dependancies when I need to build something. Getting certain XFCE bits to run on top of GNOME was a bitch.

However, since it is Novell’s enterprise desktop offering, I’ve got access to things like Novell’s eDirectory client which will never see the light of day in Debian or Ubuntu.

Been running SuSE with KDE as my only production machine at work for over a year now. Anything I want that it can’t do (very little) I can do in a VMWare virtual machine. Can’t stand Gnome, too Vista-ey.

However at home it’s still XP because I mainly do games there - but my next home machine will be a Mac when 10.5 is released!