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Introduction to Linux - A Hands on Guide
This guide was created as an overview of the Linux Operating System, geared toward new users as an exploration tour and getting started guide, with exercises at the end of each chapter.
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Head over to distrowatch.com and look at all the distros. You can also go to http://polishlinux.org/choose/quiz/ and take the survey, and it will try to help you out. Overall though, it is completely up to you. I normally recommend ubuntu for new users.
I use Ubuntu on a laptop, dual booted with Windows Vista, and it works well. However, my favorite distribution is Puppy. Google Puppy Linux and it should come right up. You can burn a live cd to try it out. It does everything I need in a desktop and more.
For distros that offer live CDs, you could burn the live CDs, boot to them, and check them out and see which ones seem to suit your tastes.
If you really want to study Linux, I recommend Slackware. It will not automatically partition your hard disk for you nor will it resolve dependencies when you install programs--it expects the user to do those tasks. And the Slackware community is large and helpful.
Start with it, get it working and tailored to your liking, and no other distro will ever intimidate you, because Slackware teaches you how Linux works and how to figure stuff out.
There is no official Slackware Live CD, but Slax is the unofficial one.
Nice easy distros for the beginner: Mint (a slightly improved Ubuntu) and Mepis. They have different user interfaces: if you create a pair of live CDs, you can run each before installing, to see which you prefer the look of. As for learning, you can do that with any distro.
Slackware is a good distro (especially for servers), but (like Arch and Gentoo) not for the beginner. At the risk of starting a war, I'd say it's not even a good way to learn, because its approach often differs to that of the majority of other distros.
I started by trying Puppy 4.2.1 and loved it. From there I went to Slackware 13.1 with KDE desktop, but it bogged down my old PIII 450 288mg laptop I'm using to learn Linux on, so I changed to Xfce and it runs much better.
Maybe I'm a little procrustean and finicky but IMHO there's a difference betweeen a Distro to start-learning-linux and a Distro to start-using-linux.
It mostly depends on what the final target will be: using it as a user or knowing how it works?
In the first case I suggest simple user friendly distro just like Ubuntu, Mint etc.
But if you want to "study" how Linux works you have to get your hands dirty and start with Slackware, Gentoo or Arch.
There are two types of Linux distro: lame and crippled, and conventional. OpenSuse is barely tolerable, but it's super easy. Ubuntu is Debian unstable branch with four feet of whipped cream on top. Debian is the industrial reference standard operating system, but it's for MEN, not boys. Slackware is pure, raw, unadulterated Linux, but it has no repositories. You can't install packages directly off the internet. You have to surf for the package you want, download it, and then use the package manager to install it.
Fedora is less than it could be, but it's easy, and it's conventional. I think the developers have gone temporarily insane over the nouveau driver, but if you have an nvidia card and don't mind a blank monitor, you can just uninstall nouveau. It's worth a try. Most users can remember how to log in without actually seeing anything on the monitor. But that's about all you can do with it, unless you want 2D graphics.