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Old 12-13-2009, 09:15 PM   #1
ahr8tch
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How to Choose a Distro?


I've seen many threads that ask, "Which distro is better?" While I realize that question is much like, "How long is a piece of string?"; I think that if reworded, it can be pertinent.

What I'd like to know is, "How should one go about choosing a distro?"
IOW, what things should one consider when choosing a distro? I have an Asus netbook with Xandros installed. I don't know whether I should leave it be or install another distro. The Asus EeePC 900 has only half a GB or RAM and 4GB of data storage plus an SD card slot. I also bought an external CD drive.

I plan to buy an old P3 or P4 system and install Linux on it. I will use it to learn more about the OS and how to use it. I will surf the web and send/receive email and try out various apps. I'll use Firefox, Thunderbird, OpenOffice as the basics and go from there. I'll have at least a gig of RAM and probably a 500 GB HD.

Has anyone ever written an article on things to consider in choosing a distro? Any wiki or how-to's I should read?

This newb thanks you for your patience and assistance!

rh
 
Old 12-13-2009, 09:53 PM   #2
xode
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My recommendations are this:

(1) Leave the Xandros on your netbook. My understanding is that it is a reasonable and clean distribution.

(2) Plan on getting a number of distributions with the intent to try them out one at a time. At http://www.osheaven.net/, getting your hands on a number of distributions at once is simplicity itself and doesn't even cost that much.

(3) When deciding which distributions to get, focus on those whose software packaging method matches the Xandros distribution you already have for better compatibility between your netbook and the other computer you want to get. In your case, the software packaging method is APT (Debian based). This means you want to look at distributions like Ubuntu, Mepis and Freespire.

(4) However, don't neglect distributions that aren't Debian based. In particular, you might want to try out a couple of RPM based distributions and the ones that have worked for me are: SUSE and CentOS. You probably want to stay away from Fedora Core for now. Its GUI behaviour is too sloppy and would need a lot of cleanup done on it to make it usable. For me, FC4 was reasonable but I did see plenty signs of sloppiness, but FC8 was unusable out of the box, the worst problem being the normal logout function only worked intermittently.
 
Old 12-13-2009, 09:54 PM   #3
stickman
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Choosing a distro is essentially choosing a starting point. With some effort you can get any software to run on any Linux distro. Distro makers are essentially choosing the starting point they think is best by including what they think is important. Head over to distrowatch.com and read what they focus of distro is, and see if any match up with what you want or need.
 
Old 12-14-2009, 04:30 AM   #4
salasi
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ahr8tch View Post
"How should one go about choosing a distro?"
The most important thing, and probably the thing that you can't really do, is to decide what you want. Until you have tried, you probably don't really know and this is always going to be a problem.

You can't really make tradeoffs until you know what your priorities are.

Quote:
I plan to buy an old P3 or P4 system and install Linux on it. I will use it to learn more about the OS and how to use it.
Yes, start there and look at a few Live CDs to see what appeals to you. Once you have that, and a clear idea of which UIs are appealing and which aren't you should move to an install with an at-least-tolerable UI.

Only then move on to your Eee, if you still want to, but after, say, six months you'll have probably narrowed in on what you finally want. Unless you a dedicated distro hopper, in which case you probably get some pleasure from hopping.
 
Old 12-14-2009, 07:02 AM   #5
Fred Caro
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version hopping

I'm a dedicated 'distro' hopper and keep mags in business but it is probably best to settle down with one or two! If you limit yourself to pentium 3 then look for a light-weight version, Xubuntu? If you go for a decent processor then the choice becomes much greater and a bit baffling; each has features that are useful, e.g., Mandriva has a gui feature that lets you move files around with a right click but doubtless you could write a script for that in another 'distro'. Checking 'Distrowatch' is a good idea. Happy hunting.

Fred.
 
Old 12-14-2009, 07:46 AM   #6
pixellany
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Quote:
While I realize that question is much like, "How long is a piece of string?"
That's easy: 3...

Seriously, the way to pick a distro is to keep trying them. What I have found is that the choice is not related to what SW is initially supplied----it is (for me) the way the package management and configuration is set up + the quality of the documentation and the user community.
 
Old 12-14-2009, 09:25 AM   #7
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Try them all and stop when you find what your looking for, to most this is how the choice is made. For a netbook I'm going to throw out the name puppy linux, light and fast.
 
Old 12-14-2009, 09:55 AM   #8
onebuck
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Hi,

Welcome to LQ!

Newer GNU/Linux distributions won't always support legacy hardware.

Try a Livecd from 'The Livecd List' but choose a older version of the distro if your hardware is legacy.

The 'md5sum' or 'hash is very important to learn to use and too regularly get in the habit of utilizing it. You can get a sum checker for M$ if need be; 'md5sum.exe'.

For GNU/Linux the 'man md5sum' will get you all the information to perform the check. You can get the 'man command from the 'cli' at anytime.

If you downloaded the cd/dvd iso then be sure to check the md5sum for the original iso. From the GNU/Linux cli;

Code:
~#cd /downloadisolocation      #cdromiso.iso cdromiso.md5 

~#md5sum -c cdromiso.md5       #substitute the correct name to check
If the iso md5 is ok then you should try 'CdromMd5sumsAfterBurning''.

This way you will know if the burn was OK! Sometimes you may need to slow the burn rate of the image to get a valid copy.
 
Old 12-14-2009, 11:21 AM   #9
ahr8tch
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Quote:
Originally Posted by xode View Post
My recommendations are this:

(1) Leave the Xandros on your netbook. My understanding is that it is a reasonable and clean distribution.

(2) Plan on getting a number of distributions with the intent to try them out one at a time. At http://www.osheaven.net/, getting your hands on a number of distributions at once is simplicity itself and doesn't even cost that much.

(3) When deciding which distributions to get, focus on those whose software packaging method matches the Xandros distribution you already have for better compatibility between your netbook and the other computer you want to get. In your case, the software packaging method is APT (Debian based). This means you want to look at distributions like Ubuntu, Mepis and Freespire.

(4) However, don't neglect distributions that aren't Debian based. In particular, you might want to try out a couple of RPM based distributions and the ones that have worked for me are: SUSE and CentOS. You probably want to stay away from Fedora Core for now. Its GUI behaviour is too sloppy and would need a lot of cleanup done on it to make it usable. For me, FC4 was reasonable but I did see plenty signs of sloppiness, but FC8 was unusable out of the box, the worst problem being the normal logout function only worked intermittently.

Very helpful information, xode! Thank you!

So, one of the significant differences in distros is in how they handle software packages. I didn't know that before (and I still don't know how to download and install software). I have learned that most software is in a .tar file and most of it has been compressed (.gz). I'm unaware of what 'tar' means at this point (something to do with bundling multiple files into one file?), but will read the man-page. Are there other file formats that are commonly used for software distribution? If so, are any better or worse than others?

Your response indicates that APT (Advanced Packaging Tool) and RPM (RedHat Package Manager) are the major (or only?) package management solutions out there. Are there others I should be aware of and investigate? My guess is that a distro maker chooses a package manager model and incorporates one in its entirety or chooses one and customizes it to work with the distro being built. (Or, are the package managers pure in any given distro?) Can you point me to a comparison between APT and RPM that would help me to understand the relative merits of each?

Again, thank you for the response. As you can tell, it gave me information and, more importantly, got me to thinking about issues previously unknown to me.

Last edited by ahr8tch; 12-14-2009 at 11:24 AM.
 
Old 12-14-2009, 11:31 AM   #10
ahr8tch
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Quote:
While I realize that question is much like, "How long is a piece of string?"
Quote:
That's easy: 3...

Well, I can see you're not a fan of The Hitch-Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy. Everyone knows that the answer to God and Everything is "42". <grins>


Thanks for the suggestion. I have a distro of SuSE that is several years old and an Ubuntu that is more recent. Given the ease of access via downloading and the low cost of disk-based distros, I will definitely give several a try.

Thanks again.
 
Old 12-14-2009, 11:37 AM   #11
ahr8tch
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Quote:
Originally Posted by onebuck View Post
Hi,

Welcome to LQ!

Newer GNU/Linux distributions won't always support legacy hardware.

Try a Livecd from 'The Livecd List' but choose a older version of the distro if your hardware is legacy.

The 'md5sum' or 'hash is very important to learn to use and too regularly get in the habit of utilizing it. You can get a sum checker for M$ if need be; 'md5sum.exe'.

For GNU/Linux the 'man md5sum' will get you all the information to perform the check. You can get the 'man command from the 'cli' at anytime.

If you downloaded the cd/dvd iso then be sure to check the md5sum for the original iso. From the GNU/Linux cli;

Code:
~#cd /downloadisolocation      #cdromiso.iso cdromiso.md5 

~#md5sum -c cdromiso.md5       #substitute the correct name to check
If the iso md5 is ok then you should try 'CdromMd5sumsAfterBurning''.

This way you will know if the burn was OK! Sometimes you may need to slow the burn rate of the image to get a valid copy.

Hi onebuck!

Thanks for the suggestion. From the context, I'm guessing that md5sum is software that allows one to verify the integrity of a distro. I will look into it. I think I downloaded and ran a copy of it when I downloaded Ubuntu a few months back. Does it run on both Linux/Unix and windows based platforms?

Thanks again!
 
Old 12-14-2009, 04:19 PM   #12
onebuck
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Hi,

'md5sum' should be on your base install for a distribution. You can get a sum checker for M$; 'http://www.etree.org/cgi-bin/counter.cgi/software/md5sum.exe' to install and run on that platform.
 
Old 12-16-2009, 01:42 AM   #13
xode
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ahr8tch View Post
Very helpful information, xode! Thank you!

So, one of the significant differences in distros is in how they handle software packages. I didn't know that before (and I still don't know how to download and install software).
First, a rundown of just what software packages are. In general terms, all software consists of either executable programs, program libraries (collections of executable code that stay in a computer's RAM and that any executable program or another program library can call as needed to do its work), or both (software typically consists of both). As you can imagine, by the time you get to something as versatile as your typical linux distribution, there is a very complex latticework of installed programs and program libraries in place, most of which depend on other installed programs and/or program libraries. Further, all of those programs and program libraries that depend on other programs and/or program libraries also require that the program and/or program library that they depend on usually either be of a certain version or later, or sometimes of a certain version or earlier. Then, there are times when certain programs and/or program libraries conflict with other programs and/or program libraries. Also, what if you want to uninstall some software? How do you keep track of what changes you made to your computer when you originally installed that software so that you can completely undo those changes if you want to uninstall that software? And so on. Enter software packages and package managers. Software packages are compressed archives that contain executable programs, program libraries, data and configuration files that those programs and/or program libraries will need, along with instruction files to the package manager as to where to put all of those files, what directories to create if necessary and what other changes to make to the system on install, and what files and directories to remove and what changes to unmake to the system on uninstall.

My experience has been that you want to get an effective and well laid out GUI frontend for whatever package manager (e.g. APT or RPM) that your distribution is based on. In the case of RPM, that would be smart (http://labix.org). I haven't yet seen the equivalent for APT. By effective and well laid out GUI frontend, I mean a GUI that will let you easily pull up and examine any package at will, clearly show you what is in that package, what other packages it needs, what other packages need it, what packages it conflicts with, what changes it would make to your system if it were installed or uninstalled, and more. A good GUI frontend to the package manager for your system will take you a long ways towards being able to easily install or uninstall software on your computer.

Quote:
Originally Posted by ahr8tch View Post
I have learned that most software is in a .tar file and most of it has been compressed (.gz).
For all of the reasons I gave above as to why packages and package managers exist, you really don't want to directly install any software in .tar.gz format on your system. You want to first take that .tar.gz software and convert it into the package format that your system is built on. Unfortunately, the documentation that describes how you do this is absolute total cryptography and I haven't muddled through it yet.

Quote:
Originally Posted by ahr8tch View Post
I'm unaware of what 'tar' means at this point (something to do with bundling multiple files into one file?),...
That's exactly what 'tar' is, except there is no compression involved. The compression comes with the .gz or .bz

Quote:
Originally Posted by ahr8tch View Post
...but will read the man-page. Are there other file formats that are commonly used for software distribution? If so, are any better or worse than others?

Your response indicates that APT (Advanced Packaging Tool) and RPM (RedHat Package Manager) are the major (or only?) package management solutions out there. Are there others I should be aware of and investigate?
I would say that RPM and APT are the major ones. I would stick with those for now.

Quote:
Originally Posted by ahr8tch View Post
My guess is that a distro maker chooses a package manager model and incorporates one in its entirety or chooses one and customizes it to work with the distro being built. (Or, are the package managers pure in any given distro?) Can you point me to a comparison between APT and RPM that would help me to understand the relative merits of each?
I would say that the package managers are "pure" in any given distribution, since whatever customization that needs to be done in regards to package management can always be built into the installed packages themselves. My understanding is that APT and RPM are about comparable. However, I personally favor RPM over APT because of the "smart" GUI frontend for RPM that is available.

Quote:
Originally Posted by ahr8tch View Post
Again, thank you for the response. As you can tell, it gave me information and, more importantly, got me to thinking about issues previously unknown to me.
 
1 members found this post helpful.
Old 12-16-2009, 01:45 PM   #14
salasi
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ahr8tch View Post
So, one of the significant differences in distros is in how they handle software packages.
You can regard one (or is that two?) of the most important differences between distros is/are:
  • Convenience of handling installation/de-installation
  • Completeness of repositories
and, maybe, up-to-dateness, too.

Quote:
I didn't know that before (and I still don't know how to download and install software).
Mostly there is a package manager. It manages packages. Assuming a good net connection, select what you want, and let it do it.

Quote:
I have learned that most software is in a .tar file and most of it has been compressed (.gz).
Mostly you want to ignore .tar.gz files, if you can get something that the package manager handles directly. OTOH, .tar.gz files are usually 'cross-platform' in the sense that can be used on any Linux.

Quote:
I'm unaware of what 'tar' means at this point
'tape archive' this isn't important, directly; its just a method of putting lots of small files and their directory structure into one big one.

Quote:
Your response indicates that APT (Advanced Packaging Tool) and RPM (RedHat Package Manager) are the major (or only?) package management solutions out there.
Nearly. .rpm is a package file format and is comparable to the .deb package file format. you don't directly want to concern yourself with this.

There is also a command-line tool called RPM, which can be used to manipulate .rpm packages, but you don't want to concern yourself with that (note the double-usage of the name rpm can cause some confusion).

APT is a more-or-less equivalent for .deb files. You still probably don't want to concern yourself with any of this.

There are graphical tools for installing packages; you do want to be concerned about this. YUM, Yast (depending) for rpms, synaptic for .deb (there are also other, such as kpackage and 'updater' tools which have overlapping areas of functionality; something else not to worry about at the moment).

Quote:
Are there others I should be aware of and investigate?
Don't worry about anything beyond the rpm and deb formats, and their associated tools, for the moment.

Quote:
My guess is that a distro maker chooses a package manager model and incorporates one in its entirety or chooses one and customizes it to work with the distro being built. (Or, are the package managers pure in any given distro?)
Yes, but I don't know what 'pure' means in this context.

Quote:
Can you point me to a comparison between APT and RPM that would help me to understand the relative merits of each
?

No. I don't care (much) about the relative merits of the package formats, and nor should you. Look at the tools, not the package formats. Synaptic (for apt, err, obviously), imho, works the most smoothly. But, there are other things to consider, too...

BTW, if you just install/use stuff that comes as part of the default install, all of this discussion is moot.
 
Old 12-16-2009, 03:02 PM   #15
Balinus
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ahr8tch View Post
I have learned that most software is in a .tar file and most of it has been compressed (.gz). I'm unaware of what 'tar' means at this point (something to do with bundling multiple files into one file?), but will read the man-page. Are there other file formats that are commonly used for software distribution? If so, are any better or worse than others?
Hello, most of the software you need will be on the packages servers of the distributions, so you don't need to compile the software yourself.

However, you sometimes need to compile the software yourself (to get the lastest version for example) and this can be a pain for the first few times.

A good "How-To" for compiling and installing software can be found here : http://www.tuxfiles.org/linuxhelp/softinstall.html. It helped me a lot to understand what to do. Go take a look!

Good luck!
 
  


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