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Old 10-24-2009, 12:25 PM   #1
JJH
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Longest lasting and most stable Linux distro?


Hi,

I'm moving away from Windows and would like to know which Linux distro is the most stable and user friendly out there, bearing in mind I need to do the usual things like emails, write MS compatible documents, download, capture and edit videos in AVI, MPEG and WMV formats as well as sound files from USB sticks etc.

I would also need to use some of my existing Windows software, so do I dual boot, run a virtual O/S, or use Wine etc?

I'm currently running XP on a 2.6 Ghz P4 desktop box with 2 gigs RAM. I thought about dual booting initially until I get used to Linux, though I'd like to hear others experiences.

One thing that puts me off is the development lifecycle of some Linux distro's. For me it is way too short. I'd rather have regular updates to the same installation over say a 3-4 year period.

Another is the unfriendly way (to me) of finding my work on most Linux distro's. How does anyone find their saved work on other hard drives for example? The current system seems illogical to me for a desktop computer. A network is different... Is it possible to make all drives show on the desktop or on the start bar by default?

Anyone know what would suit me best? Perhaps I'm opening a hornet's nest here ;-)

Regards,
JJH
 
Old 10-24-2009, 12:45 PM   #2
N3rding
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Long winded question :P
Ubuntu or VectorLinux make a nice beginner's distro.
I do reccommend dual booting.
And yes you can add desktop links to other drives/folders or, if you choose, they can be added to your menu
 
Old 10-24-2009, 12:56 PM   #3
repo
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Quote:
I would also need to use some of my existing Windows software, so do I dual boot, run a virtual O/S, or use Wine etc?
dualboot would be a good start.

Quote:
One thing that puts me off is the development lifecycle of some Linux distro's. For me it is way too short. I'd rather have regular updates to the same installation over say a 3-4 year period.
Go for debian stable

Quote:
Another is the unfriendly way (to me) of finding my work on most Linux distro's. How does anyone find their saved work on other hard drives for example? The current system seems illogical to me for a desktop computer. A network is different... Is it possible to make all drives show on the desktop or on the start bar by default?
Mounted drives will show at the desktop as an icon, or you can browse them using the filemanager.
 
Old 10-24-2009, 01:01 PM   #4
JJH
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Hi again,

Thanks for the comments so far.

I do like Ubuntu, but there is a new version out every other week - or so it seems.

Debian is better? Not looked at VectorLinux. Will take a peek...

JJH
 
Old 10-24-2009, 01:29 PM   #5
Erik_FL
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There is no single right answer to the question of what Linux distro is the best or easiest to use. It will partly depend on the hardware, partly what applications you want to use, and also your own experience and expectations.

What I suggest is that you download and install VirtualBox and then install a few different distros to try before you decide.

Here are some of the distros that I've tried and thought were good, though there are many other good distros.

Ubuntu, Fedora, Debian, Slackware, Linux Mint

I use Slackware Linux but it does take more preparation and information to install than Ubuntu, especially the first time.

Before you dual boot with Windows XP there are some things you should think about.

How do you plan to re-partition your hard disk? Some installers such as the one with Ubuntu can automatically re-size your NTFS partition. Slackware and other distros may require typing in commands or using additional software. Back up your important files before you install a Linux distro, especially if you will have to re-size the Windows XP NTFS partition.

You can dual boot in a number of different ways. The default installation of most Linux distros will make the Linux boot loader start first. That means if something goes wrong, Windows XP might not boot and you might have to repair the Master Boot Record using a Windows XP Setup CD. You can choose other ways to install the Linux boot loader but it might not always be obvious how to do that. I usually install the Linux boot loader to the Linux root partition instead of the Master Boot Record (MBR).

What kind of system restore or installation discs did you use for Windows XP? If your computer does not have a normal Microsoft Windows XP Setup CD it may be difficult or impossible to repair problems. You may have to completely reinstall Windows XP and even reformat the entire hard disk. You can boot a Microsoft Windows XP Setup CD to repair problems, but that isn't possible with most computer manufacturers' restore discs. If you're going to dual boot it can be helpful to get a copy of a real Microsoft Windows XP Setup CD just so that you can boot it and repair problems.

If your computer has a hidden factory restore partition (HP for example) then you may have to do special things to install a Linux distro or to keep that hidden partition functional. Take a look at your current partition layout carefully before you install a Linux distro.

It is possible to have the Windows XP Boot menu start first, and then start the Linux boot loader. That's what I do on my system. It requires additional steps after installing Linux. I have to copy the Linux root partition's boot sector into a file, and then copy the file to the Windows XP NTFS partition. Then I have to edit the BOOT.INI file to include Linux as a menu entry. You can use the Linux "dd" command to copy the boot sector or you can download the free Windows XP Support tools from Microsoft and use the "DSKPROBE" utility. It sounds more complicated than it is.

Do you have a RAID configuration? Most PC RAID controllers are "fake hardware RAID". They require special drivers for any OS including Linux. Depending on the RAID controller and Linux distro the installation can be simple or very complicated on a RAID configuration. If possible I recommend installing Linux on a single, non-RAID disk to start with. If you do plan to install on RAID, make sure that the distro is compatible and you know any special steps for installing it on fake hardware RAID.

Even if you expect everything to work great, be prepared with the boot discs and other things that you need in case there's a problem. Back up your important files first, and have another computer that you can use to download files or look for information online.

Do you want Windows to be able to "see" your Linux files? There is a driver for Windows called "ext2ifs" but it is only compatible if you format your Linux file system in a compatible way (using 128-byte inodes). That may require manually formatting the Linux partition rather than using the default installation.

Do you want Windows backup software that can back up your Linux partition? Paragon Hard Disk Backup is one example of software that works with Linux partitions. You have to buy a Linux version to run the program under Linux but you can use the Windows version to back up and restore Linux partitions. You also may need to format your Linux partition with 128-byte inodes for some backup software and features to work.

If you want my opinion about Linux distros, I recommend Ubuntu for a GNOME desktop or Slackware for a KDE desktop. KDE looks more like Windows, and GNOME is simpler but has more graphical desktop effects. KDE is rapidly catching up to GNOME with the eye candy. I prefer Slackware and KDE but I can't argue with anyone choosing GNOME on another distro such as Ubuntu.

If you have a friend or someone who can help you install and configure your system in person, then it might be a good idea to use the same distro they have. If not, take a look at the different distros and install them in VirtualBox. Then you'll know what's required to install them and find out about any problems without affecting your Windows XP system. After you feel comfortable with a distro, then install it to a partition on your hard disk as a second OS that you can boot.

There are some distros designed for special situations or to be simpler to install and use. I'll mention a few of them.
  • Puppy Linux - Great for a boot CD or with limited RAM or CPU speed
  • Damn Small Linux (DSL) - Good with limited RAM or CPU speed
  • Linux Mint - Very easy to install and use (similar to Ubuntu)

Boot CDs that may be handy.
  • Hiren's BootCD
  • MemTest86.com free memory test boot CD
  • Microsoft Windows XP Setup CD (that can run Recovery Console)
  • Puppy Linux boot CD
  • Super Grub Disk
  • Restore discs for your computer model
  • Partition backup software boot CD (Paragon, Ghost, etc.)
 
Old 10-24-2009, 01:32 PM   #6
catkin
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How do you find your work using Windows?

Linux systems have a home directory for each user, similar to "My Documents". If you are a Windows Explorer user then the Linux File Managers are similar and have the equivalent of "Favorites". Some (there are many to choose from) allow right clicking a folder and creating a link to it on the Desktop. Shortcuts to folders can be created in Desktop Panels (roughly equivalent to the Programs menu).

If you prefer to use "Recently Used" either in individual applications or overall then there are broadly similar features on Linux.

Dual boot is tedious, having to reboot to switch systems. Running Windows-on-Linux or Linux-on-Windows using virtual machines (using, for example VirtualBox) is a lot easier to work with -- or you may prefer to run Windows applications in a Windows environment emulator. Performance, especially graphics performance is reduced in a virtual machine (important if you are into graphical games) and not all Windows applications run in the emulators.

It may be a lot easier to "push" yourself into Linux if you don't dual-boot; the tendency is just to stay in Windows where you have a full tool set and are familiar with it all; having to reboot to get to Linux makes it less accessible. I chose Linux running VirtualBox with WXP running in a virtual machine and I only installed the must-have Windows-only apps in WXP; it worked to push me up the learning curve.

There's a lot to be said for switching from Windows-only applications to Windows-or-Linux applications before switching from Windows to Linux. That way you have a lot less to learn when you do change OS.

Most printers, scanners etc. work under Linux but not all. The Linux Foundation maintains a compatibility list.

Ubuntu is not a particularly stable distro.
 
Old 10-24-2009, 02:41 PM   #7
brianL
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If you want a stable distro with long term support (security updates, etc), go for Slackware. It has a slightly steeper learning curve than some others, but it's not Mt Everest.
I'm dual-booting with XP Pro on my laptop, and running XP Pro in VirtualBox on my desktop, and cannot see any difference. I am also, contrary to what catkin said, spending less and less time on Windows. Try a few distros 'til you find the one that suits you.
 
Old 10-24-2009, 05:03 PM   #8
gold_leaf
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Many (most?) distros have a Long Term Support (LTS) edition which will have the sort of release cycle the OP is looking for. Mint Elyssa is one example which is supported until 2011.
 
Old 10-24-2009, 05:10 PM   #9
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I try not to plug slackware on every single "whats the best distro" thread but in this case he asked for longest lasting and most stable....

That would be slackware. You can get packages all the way back to 10.0, which was released over 5 years ago. Its the longest surviving distro, and in my opinion the most stable, although I cannot honestly say I've run every single distro.

Live slackware is an excellent transition system imho. You can run it without altering your current install and learn the ropes.
http://www.slax.org/
 
Old 10-24-2009, 06:02 PM   #10
w1k0
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It isn't easy to point longest lasting, most stable and user friendly distribution.

Longest lasting and most stable distribution is Slackware. The current version 13.0 was released August 26, 2009. Despite of it all the versions beginning from 10.0 are still patched. Slackware 10.0 was released June 23, 2004. Slackware 9.0 and 9.1 were patched up to August, 2009.

The most user friendly distribution in common sense of that term is in my opinion Linux Mint. After installation and update it's ready to use it as a desktop system. Unfortunately Mint hasn't good documentation. So called english.pdf covers only installation and basic features of the system and wiki page is rather poor.

If you don't fear to read documentation Slackware will be user friendly for you. The basic source of information you'll find in so called SlackBook. The novelties are described in the documents available on the first installation disc.

For full installation of Slackware you need three discs. For full installation of Linux Mint you need one disc. In both cases you'll probably install some additional applications.

I installed successfully Slackware and Linux Mint with additional applications on partitions of 7.75 GB.

Assuming you have 2.6 GHz P4 with 2 GB RAM I think it'll be for you more convenient to use Windows in virtual machine.

In short: Slackware is for techies and power users (some call them ``nerds'') -- Linux Mint is for novices and regular users (some call them ``noobs'').
 
Old 10-24-2009, 06:38 PM   #11
dxqcanada
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Quote:
Originally Posted by JJH View Post
I would also need to use some of my existing Windows software, so do I dual boot, run a virtual O/S, or use Wine etc?
Wine, if the app is supported ... otherwise go for a VM.
 
Old 10-24-2009, 06:42 PM   #12
Erik_FL
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As Slackware versions go 12.2 is probably still the most reliable. Slackware 13 is the latest, and there are some new problems with KDE 4.2.4.

What I suggest is to look at a few distros and decide if you like GNOME or KDE better. Also try a few applications that you plan to use and see if there are problems.

No distro is ever perfect and different versions of any distro may be better or worse. The most important thing is to become familiar with how to use and maintain one or two, and get the applications working that you need.

What I've found is that only a few of my applications work well with WINE. Many work with some limitations or problems. Some don't work at all. VirtualBox on Linux will run Windows XP with no problem, but you may have to disable some of the desktop effects like "wobbly windows". With seamless mode in VirtualBox you can combine the application windows for Windows XP and Linux on the same desktop.

Last edited by Erik_FL; 10-24-2009 at 06:46 PM.
 
Old 10-24-2009, 08:48 PM   #13
chrism01
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Just to point out that Fedora is Redhat's R&D distro, new version every 6 mths, each one only supported for 13 mths.
Go for Centos (free equiv of RHEL), 7 yrs updates for each major version eg 5.x (current is 5.4).
http://www.redhat.com/security/updates/errata/
 
Old 10-25-2009, 07:32 AM   #14
JJH
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Hi everybody,

There is some very useful stuff here so thanks to everyone that took the time to reply. Some replies are very comprehensive so thanks for that too :-)

I think that from what is said so far, I will initially try a VM running a few ready made VM images on top of XP. When I find something I like, I will reverse that, so I install whatever flavour of Linux I get on with, then run XP as a VM on top of that.

So far I looked at Slackware, VectorLinux, and MintLinux. I looked at Ubuntu a while ago, but was put off by a too rapid development cycle. I'm not against that, just that if it needs so many new versions, then it couldn't have been that well thought out to begin with. Just my opinion that's all, as I know it's popular.

I want to take a look at Slackware, but there is no live CD, but apparently there is a live version available online? I will take a look at that. VectorLinux looks good and does have light version on live Cd, so will download that too.

JJH
 
  


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