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I recently got a new laptop for use abroad (I'll be in Europe for a few months), and decided that it was about time to bite the bullet and install Linux on it (well, I'm being safe - dual booting XP Pro SP1 and Linux). I've been lurking on these boards for a bit, and have done a fair amount of research on the different distributions/packages. The big question is, of course, which distribution do I use? I'll try to be as specific as possible in describing what I'm looking for (so I'm not asking you folks what the best distro is [an impossible question, I reckon], just one that'll suit my needs).
It should be noted that I have almost no experience with Linux (or Unix). I have a few books scattered on my floor that I can use as reference, though. I've installed a few distros on the laptop already, just to get a feel for them (SuSE, Fedora, Slackware). However, I haven't really gotten involved in any of them. I have extensive knowledge of 98/ME/XP, as well as a bit of knowledge leftover my DOS days.
I'd like a distro that is *fast*. That's my primary concern. I'm just going to be using the laptop for writing, surfing, music, etc. [as opposed to rendering/audio], but, for example, a fresh install of Fedora felt heavy and very slow (compared to XP, at least). I'll probably run X the majority of the time [although I think it would be mighty fun to confine myself to the command line], so one of the smaller questions is: do you gurus have any recommendations on a desktop environment? I prefer a very minimal (but not ugly!) desktop that is fairly streamlined and easily modified. My only experience thus far as been with Gnome and KDE, though I've read about Xfce, Flushbox, etc. Was it Gnome, and not Fedora, that was so sluggish on my machine? Also, should I worry about mixing and matching desktop environments with window managers? If so, any recs on a win manager?
Another thing to consider is that the hardware in the laptop is very new. It's running a Pentium M 1.6 with all of the related Centrino hardware (mobo, wireless NIC), as well as a Radeon Mobility 9000. Should I be worried about support for this hardware when choosing a distro?
Finally, I actually want to learn Linux. Distros like Mandrake and Fedora really seem to hold your hand, so perhaps those wouldn't be the best options. On the other hand, I certainly don't have the skills for LFS. What about Gentoo? And what about Vector compared to Slackware (I realize that Vector is just a modded Slack)?
One last question: what contributes to the speed of a Linux box? Is it how the kernel is compiled? Is it the number of packages installed (ie is there any speed difference between a box that has 2 gigs of packages installed vs. 100 megs of packages)? Or is it something else entirely? I'm just trying to figure out how to run a clean system.
I realize these are a lot of questions, so thanks to anybody who tries to tackle them. And if you have any advice re: running Linux that's not related to these questions, feel free.
I will tell you this, everything you want points to Slackware. Fedora and other distro's are very heavy and bloated to me also. I run Slackware 9.1. I have run SuSE 8.2, many flavors of Redhat, Mandrake, Peanut, and some others.
Slackware is no-nonsense, and it is fast and not bloated.
I'm very happy just running KDE in Slackware 9.1.
Personally, from what I've read, Vector is not as stable as Slack yet. I however don't have anything to back this up.
I've also run Slackware 9.1 on My Dell D600 Laptop with a Pentium M 1.3. Everything works great.
I think you'll be better off if you just start with Slack. You'll end up their anyway
I love Slackware. It's great - very fast, esp. to boot up, and though I've only been using it for a few days now I can tell that it's going to be a good way for me to learn more about Linux. (I started with Mandrake - it was good for learning Linux basics before trying something a little more advanced.)
It's not bloated, as I found Mandrake and SUSE to be, and it doesn't get in your way at all. I feel more in control of my system than I did with Mandrake and SUSE.
Find some sites w/tips on how to get Linux running well on a laptop, here's one from TLDP:
"Another thing to consider is that the hardware in the laptop is very new. It's running a Pentium M 1.6 with all of the related Centrino hardware (mobo, wireless NIC), as well as a Radeon Mobility 9000. Should I be worried about support for this hardware when choosing a distro?"
The time to worry about hardware support is when you are choosing hardware. Before you buy hardware run it through Google and make sure that Linux supports it. All of the distributions support the same set of hardware.
As to which distribution to use I've found that the main difference between the distributions is the installer. How fast and/or conveniently your computer runs has a lot more to do with how you configure it than what distribution you use. Although if you just accept the distribution's default configuration then what distribution that you use becomes important. If you are going to just go with the default configuration then I recommend SuSE. If you want to configure everything to perfection then use Slackware because it does not get in your way by assuming anything about what you want.
However, I don't recommend that you use Slackware as your first distribution because if you do not start out with a master plan then you and Slackware sit there waiting for the other to do something useful.
I recommend that you install SuSE first. Then, after you have learned Linux and whenever you are ready to upgrade, switch to Slackware.
"One last question: what contributes to the speed of a Linux box?"
"Is it how the kernel is compiled?"
"is it the number of packages installed"
"Or is it something else entirely?"
Your hard drive configuration is very important. You want the fastest hard drive access possible and you want to access all of your disks in parallel (i.e. don't put Windows on one hard drive and Linux on another. Spread Linux across all hard drives.)
Your ratio of memory demand versus actual memory size is very important. Swapping slows you down a lot.
"If so, any recs on a win manager? "
It is a tradeoff. The bigger they are the nicer they are and the slower they run. Really the important point on size is if the window manager is big enough to tip you over into swapping then you need a smaller window manager.
As much as I like Slack, I really use Red Hat the most on my desktop.
Now, don't get me wrong. I have been using Linux for a long time now and Slackware has been flawlessly running on server that I administer since Slack 8.0, but I really think that Slack works best on servers, not desktops. On the plus side, Slack is very stable (much more stable than Red Hat or Fedora) and when it is properly configured, I have never had any siginificant downtime with the server. On the down side (and why I think RH is better for desktops) is that Slack doesn't come with many of the apps that I use, like openoffice.org for example.
It is true that I can install them myself, but it's more hassle than I'm willing to do right now (besides, I have a really bad dial up connection where I currently live...and no possibility of a high speed connection).