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Debian is indeed difficult to install and configure. I use it and like it but I need assistance with it and I still haven't got printing to work. You would be better off with a Debian derivative, ie: Knoppix, DSL,Mepis.
Well, I have to admit I have little experience with laptop computers, but I simply don't count "might not work on unusual hardware" as meaning an install is "difficult". For a laptop or other unusual hardware, any linux distribution is going to have hit-or-miss success. Some linux installers have better hardware compatability than others, but IMHO that's different from the issue of "easy" vs "difficult" to use, as long as it works with most hardware.
For hit-and-miss hardware like laptops, your best bet is try out a few of the ones with better hardware detection until you find one that works out-of-box (i.e. Mepis, Knoppix, Mandriva, whatever). If you're a newbie, then you just stick with that. If you're an experienced Linux user who insists on, say, Gentoo or Slackware or Debian, then you take notes on how the hardware is configured and install your prefered distribution based on that. Obviously, that's not for newbies to tackle, but then a newbie isn't going to have some strong preference for one distribution over another, right?
Originally posted by trademac I'm leaning towards Debian at the moment. I presume it is relatively easy to choose which desktop/window manager to utilise. Is it an option during the install?
All major linux distributions have a graphical login manager (usually either gdm or kdm), where you can choose via menu what desktop environment/window manager you want to use for this session.
With Debian, the default "desktop workstation" install gives you GNOME and KDE. You can install fluxbox and IceWM after the install by opening a terminal and typing:
su (this is the command to log in as "root"--it will ask for the root password)
apt-get install fluxbox
apt-get install icewm
There are graphical software installation applications built over apt-get if you want to point-and-click, but I find typing to be faster and more convenient (for one thing, it's easy to post/receive advise on forums like this and you can cut-and-paste commands right from the web forum).
With the way Debian's package management system works, installing software with apt-get will also basically configure it, meaning it automatically gets added to the login manager's menu of session options. This is REALLY NICE compared to they way things work in rpm-land...
KDM and GDM are both pretty bloated and take a couple seconds to load..they actually provide more services than simply a login box... XDM is not nearly as configurable or pretty..but it's faster and it works.. you can tweak the fonts and font sizes and colors and stuff in the config file.. but XDM only provides a logon box.. even which desktop environment you want to load has to go into your .Xsession (or something like that)... it uses the same format as .xinitrc such as "exec startkde".