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I too would go with Boby's suggestion (FC). I think redhat installations are a breeze and very user friendly. Not only that, but lots of big companies use Redhat as production boxes as well so that's also a bonus to learn. However, once you dwelve into the redhat world, you'll see why you'll hate it .
I would highly advise against using Mandrake, especially if you're on a newer laptop with the Intel Pro/Wireless setup. Mandrake doesn't install that at all and it's a freakin nightmare to try to get it to work. I gave up.
Ubuntu is a good, light distro for a newbie, which is what I am. It comes on one cd rom. The drawback to Ubuntu is that you have to have your partitions set up beforehand, but it's really no big deal. The root user is disabled by default, for good reason. Yet another reason I suggest Ubuntu. You can get to the root terminal easily enough though, plus you can use the sudo command.
stick wid mandrake. i have shuffled between many distros and the distros that call themselves userfriendly are infact the toughest ones. wid mandrake, all the packages come preinstalled or u can use urpmi to install things. i have been using it for about a month and i joined the linux game only about 5 months ago and i havent had a single problem yet
Distribution: slamd64 2.6.12 Slackware 2.4.32 Windows XP x64 pro
I would also have to add slackware. I started with redhat now that I have been using linux for quiet some time, I'd say start with slackware cause it "makes" you learn how it works. It maybe allittle intimidating but there are infinite reasorces on the net.
I do not suggest Slackware for newbies unless they have used command line OS like DOS and have used LIVE Linux CD distributions like Knoppix for a few years. Mandrake and Fedora are good. I do not suggest using SUSE, because it is very, very Windows like and mostly nothing that you do in SUSE is Linux. IMO, Mandrake's installer is more fool proof than Redhat and Fedora because Mandrake's partitioner is setup in a way that you can contrentrate on one drive at a time. Also Mandrake's partitioner has more filesystems that you can select from.
The reason why companies like to use Redhat is because of the GUI tools. In hardcore Linux distributions like Slackware, Debian, and LFS (Linux from Scratch) do not have the GUI tools. All you need in Linux is a text editor like vi or vim to edit config files. GUI tools just gets in the way and sometimes screw up. IMO, is faster to just edit a file then using a GUI program to help you set it up.
I learned from using Mandrake. It tought me better than Redhat.
I started with Mandrake, but didn't really start learning until I got Slack... This is always my reccomendation if you want to learn. If you want an OS that works for you, use Mandrake. If you want an OS that works with you, use Slackware.
If you want an distro that you can learn with and want it to do exactly what you want get Gentoo. It does almost require you to have a broadband line but... Well, try it. It has the superbe package manager no other distro does.
I started with RH9 and i deleted it in 4 months, because it never did what I wanted it to do. Graphic tools got in the way, because they always rewrote the config file. I got so pissed off that i just wiped my HD . been running Gentoo ever since and not once i have regretted it.
I've not been a linux user for very long, but long enough to have installed about every distro there is to see which one I liked. A hd install of kanotix was my choice for a long time because of the debian core, however; I discovered PCLinuxOS and have had it on my machine ever since. It is based on mandrake 9.2 but incorporates apt get and synaptic. No fooling with mplayer files because it all comes pre-installed and is not buggy like mepis, and if you have an nvidia card, it works without installing the drivers. I think it is a perfect OS for the NOOB or the desktop/light business machine. Even as a "beta"...the latest release just rocks.
Goddamn Mandy - use Slackware.
(I heard many good words about Debian in Linux-FAQ...)
Slackware is the shortest way to learn Linux.
Mandy makes you lazy (like win32)
Very few people do anything creative after the age of thirty-five. The reason is that very few people do anything creative before the age of thirty-five -- Joel Hildebrand