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Introduction to Linux - A Hands on Guide
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With most distributions you do not need to choose either Gnome or KDE. One will be installed by default (unless the distribution uses something else such as XFCE, Fluxbox, etc.) but you can always install the other one afterwards, as a replacement or an extra. One of my distros is set up in such a way that I can simply pick Gnome, KDE, XFCE, Fluxbox or Enlightenment before logging in.
Whether you should choose either Gnome or KDE depends largely on your hardware. If you're going to use the P3, both may be too "heavy" to run quite comfortably. Last year already, 256 MB RAM was felt to be a minimum requirement. You can always use a light-weight desktop (XFCE, Fluxbox, ...) but obviously this means you won't be getting all the eye-candy and functionality. Which does not mean they "suck", on the contrary. I suggest you try Gnome or KDE and pick one of the other ones if they don't work.
To answer your other question, no, the software is not distro specific. All will run Mozilla, openoffice, koffice, mplayer, etc etc etc. One thing you need to bear in mind, however, is that pieces of software are "packaged" for specific distros. For example, some distros use the deb format (Ubuntu, Debian, ...), others RPM (Fedora, PCLinux, Suse, Mandriva, ...). This means that while the software is identical, the format is too different for an RPM package to work on a deb system (and the other way round). There are certain apps that allow converting one type to the other however. But as a rule, you should stick with what your chosen distro has on offer (Ubuntu, btw, presently has well over 19000 packages...) - Ubuntu and PCLinuxOS come all set up to start downloading more as soon as they are installed.
Considering that the software is largely identical for all distros, it is not really important which one you choose. Still, some are easier to use for beginners than others. I think PCLinuxOS and Mint have the largest amount of options preconfigured, followed by Ubuntu. Fedora and Debian are a bit more demanding (not all that much) but are well-documented and have a large fan-base. If you feel like breaking your neck, go for Slackware or Gentoo - I know some people who succesfully started with those but I know far more who ran off crying all the way back to MS. They are absolutely great but not fit for newbies unless they are willing to do plenty of research first.
Btw, you should not choose Knoppix if you want to install. It is intended to be a livecd; and although it can be installed to hard disk, it frequently results in some apps not (properly) working. That being said, having a copy of Knoppix handy is a good idea. Knoppix is often very helpful in repairing your installed distro whenever something goes wrong.
As for Linux doing all that Windows does, I can say that it will do more. I mean, when did MS start offering its customers 19000 software packages ? Linux has several complete office suties, at least a dozen music players, a similar amount of video players, hundreds and hundreds of wallpapers and icons, several image and video editing tools, etc etc etc. Of course, you shouldn't expect everything to be simple MS clones. If you get all worked up because you can't find a specific button where it is located in the MS equivalent, you'd better stay with MS.
Knoppix can be installed onto a hard drive in three different ways. One is a traditional Debian style install, which is what most people would want. Another is a "poor man's install" which essentially puts the CD image on the hard drive and makes it boot up like the LiveCD but with faster hard drive performance. The third option is a hybrid, which is like a traditional Debian install except that it uses Knoppix's startup scripts to autodetect hardware upon each boot.
I will make a Knoppix live cd, and am now downloading Ubuntu.
You make some valid points. It will be very interesting for me to see how difficult it is to get accustomed to a new O/S.
I just spent two days working with two different CD ripping programs just to get them configured properly. I don't think I need things to look like MS, but I did think these were a bit more complicated to set up than they should have been. But hey, what do I know, I can't write software at all.
I don't know if I can find anymore RAM or not, but do agree with an earlier poster that I want to see what a real Linux distro can do. I hope I am able to get it to run.
I am happy to hear again that I'll find what I need for apps with Linux. I was wondering about video editing and burning DVDs for home movies, as well as being able to sync a palm O/S with some type of desktop calender/mail/tasks app.
Now I need to get that old desktop PC put together!
This is about my 6th attempt to get up and running with LINUX and I've finally found a distribution that gives enough graphical interface to be able o learn the command line stuff as I go, in an enjoyable, rather than frustrating fashion.
Use the 700Mhz machine (I'm running on an 800MHz for the same reasons as you).
On your Windows box do a google for 'Linux Download' and then find a site that will let you download the Mandrake 10.2 distro. This is a 2005 version but is simple to load and get to grips with. Mine's the 'Limited Edition' ISO and there are 3 CDs to create in total. It takes a while to download each ISO and burn the CDs but since it's free who cares?
When you boot from Disk1 you will get to the disk partitioning section. Use the 'clear all' option to remove any old partitions, then (paradoxically) select 'Expert Mode' and then 'Auto Allocate'. The system will then set all the correct partitions for your drive(s).
I suggest that you set the security to 'Standard' and install a server system with as much of the included software as you can fit on the drive. You're only learning after all.
Once installed, you can do everything you could do in Windows, only more, better and with greater satisfaction.
Using the 10.2 distro I have managed to get SAMBA working correctly, Get Apache working correctly and get ProFTPD working directly to Apache. The first time so far!
My little home network now has a fully functioning server capable of delivering services that would have cost about a grand using MS software.
Once you have the system running, try downloading and installing 'Webmin' (Google it). This gives you a fully functioning graphical front end to virtually every setting you can think of.
You can do that with almost any Linux. Check out Distrowatch.com. Mandrake isn't the only Windows look-a-like. There are over 300 distros, I can preach Debian as much as you can Mandrake. Its a matter of preference.
Yes, you can take any Linux distro and install KDE, Gnome, XCFE or whatever on it. Using Debian, I've tried Gnome, KDE and Fluxbox, but stayed with Gnome. I only use command line when troubleshooting something.
Knoppix Live DVD or Cd can be installed to a hard drive another good distro for someone to try is PCLinuxOS .93 Jr that can be downloaded free from Madtux.org. It kind of has that windows feel and sets up a lot of hardware has it loads.