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What Distro Should I install and Why?
If you are just moving from the MS to the GNU World you might be asking yourself right now what distro should I install on my box?, along with a whole bunch of other questions like will Linux run on my box? Will it be hard? Will I find help online if I run into an issue, just to mention some of the questions that run into your mind right now.
This mini How-To tries to answer those and more questions starting from the most basic ones.
Will Linux run in my box?, the answer to this is yes, Linux runs on everything, If you have an old toaster with storage capabilities and memory you can install Linux on it!, How is this possible? Well, Linux is supported for most human known processors from i386 (old Intel), k7 (old AMD) to a64 (AMD 64), ppc, sparc, alpha, x86-64, and so on. As you can see the question is no longer will it run on my box, but, what kind of box do I have.
When selecting your Linux distro you need to have 2 things in mind, first what kind of computer you have, and what do you want to do on your Linux box.
So let's focus on some of the most known or popular ones:
Debian – One of my favorite tastes, Debian is becoming a standard Operating System and many other Linux distributions (well known ones) are based on it, why? Well, Debian runs in a long list of different architecture processors, you can see more info on http://debian.org/ , the Debian community does a pretty good job making their own binaries of the most well known application available, and they have an amazing way to handle dependencies and packages, Just to mention 2 of the most well known Debian based operating systems I will mention 2 of them: Knoppix and Ubuntu.
Ubuntu – The Debian's younger cousin, what Ubuntu does or try to do is to bring debian's quality and characteristics on a very user-friendly way, this does not means that Debian is not user-friendly or anything like that, we could say that "user-friendly" is relative on its documentation available.
Red Hat / Fedora Core – Another classic, if you already are somewhat familiar with Linux you know rpm, well if that's the case and you want to take advantage of rpm then who is best then their creators.
Suse – Another popular one, owned and supported by Novell one of the Old School, big networking companies, their goal is to develop server solutions new technologies and interoperability between proprietary technologies and Open Source Technologies.
Gentoo – If getting the best out of your hardware is what you want then you need to go with Gentoo, what makes Gentoo slim and fast is the fact that it compiles everything in your computer so it is like its made for your computer (you can do this on any distro, but Gentoo deliver an easier way to do it).
And these are not the only Distros, I did not mention Slackware, but that does not mean I forgot about it.
There are about 386 known distros for different platforms, from all over the world, that's what makes hard choosing the taste for you.
But you should make this decision based on what you need or what you want to do with your Linux box.
Each of the previous Distros have a way to download and install upgrades and other software text based and fully graphical.
Debian based systems have Synaptic Package Manager (A lot better then Windows Update and Windows Add or Remove Programs together) and the apt software install tool, which is text based (A lot faster than graphics).
Red Hat based systems have graphical control panels that allow you to install, uninstall and upgrade software, and they also have a text based tool known as yum (Introduced by another Red Hat based distro Yellow Dog) that allows you to do the same as apt.
But this might still not be answering your question or resolving your issue, this might even leave you with more questions.
In the quest for what to install, you should hear that inner voice in your head asking: do I want to be desktop user, or an advanced user. Will I use my distro like a Media Center Box?
As I have learned, by my own experience and mistakes, the best way to learn if you don't want to be just another desktop user, is to sacrifice beauty or the ease of use over performance and that inner satisfaction of knowing that although you are having a hard time learning, but you are learning!.
If you want to go for performance and learning, my suggestion is to pick either Debian or Gentoo, because both of them assume you are the boss and you know what you are doing and they don't do anything for you, although for some this might not look like an advantage for an user that's trying hard to learn this will take him half the way into the learning process, and why is this? Simple, it wont do anything for you so you'll have to learn to do it on your own and how to do it, I'm not discouraging the work of other distros like Mandrake now Mandriva or Linspire, its good that they try to make the migration process as clear as possible for the end user not to notice this has happened.
I remember back in the days when I first met Linux, I learned with Red Hat 7.3, while other distros where auto-mounting drives, auto-configuring services, auto-starting service I had to learn how to do it on my own. While some other distros had GUI's for the most common or well known commands and applications I had to learn how to do everything on command line.
How did this affected me? Well I was able to use almost any distro or Unix-Based Operating System with no problem because I knew the basic commands to do it, and it became easy for me to jump from distro to distro or from operating system to operating system, and it gave me a better perspective on which operating system to choose and stay with.
Its actually good if you are not sure what to pick or where to stay to try around, most of the well known distros have a live version that you can try without having to install it. (i.e. Debian has Knoppix, although is not made by Debian it is Debian based, or Ubuntu itself).
Depending on the computer you have or the country you live in, has 50% of possibilities of determination on whether performance is important for you or not, and this is based on the fact of updates in technology available in your country at affordable prices, in this case we will focus on old i386 computers.
Based on this there are ways of tweaking you Linux box to be as slim and fast as if you had a cutting edge computer, some of this are using light Desktop Environments, disabling unneeded services, compiling your own kernel for your computer, using swap partitions and so on.
Putting performance and the learning hunger aside if you just want Linux to be your Desktop Operating System with media center and gaming capabilities, you can either go for Ubuntu which is Debian based, but with a more friendly environment (it obviously consumes more resources) and media center applications like MythTV which allows you to connect your Linux box to your TV, and use it as a media center, record in hard drive TV shows and movies, record them in to DVD's, scheduling recording hours and so on.
There are also some other cool implementations for graphics like XGL introduced by Novell, and AIGLX which is its open source cousin.
Two more comments before I finish, first one, there's an old myth running that says that Linux cant be pretty, this is not true, google or even youtube XGL you'll see by yourself, it looks far better and cooler than Vista and Mac OS together.
And the final comment, the best part of choosing a Linux distro is that you have with Linux what you don't have with Windows or Mac or any other proprietary solution, the freedom to pick the flavor that taste better for you.
Son don't be scared just staring or frozen like a deer in the head lights and just migrate, experience the joy of feeling like a kid in a big candy store.
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