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It all depends on how you define user-friendly. For me user-friendly means having the maximum control, I don't (or want) a fancy GUI for configuring the system. Therefore Slackware is my distro of choice.
To give you recommendations we need your definition.
Arch is kind of like Gentoo with binaries. It's bleeding edge, but if you're just playing around, it's worth a look. There's a lot of manual configuring at the beginning, but pacman is an excellent package manager and a pleasure to use. It's much faster than portage, and I'm not referring to the compiling either. It's not as flexible as Gentoo, but it's a lot more flexible than most other binary distros.
If you're looking for something more stable, take a look at Slackware. It's also a good learning distro, and if you need help with it, there are a ton of Slackware users at this forum.
Distribution: RHEL, CentOS, Debian, Oracle Solaris 10
If you want to learn how to control your machine through the command line, then Slackware is a good choice because it's one of the most (if not /the/ most) vanilla distro out there.
This means that there's very little branding, and very distro specific patches applied to the packages. And only a hand full of distro specific tools and configurations. And, it's rock solid. It's also the oldest living distro, still very much active too
What is good, IMHO, about the command line is that it forces you to think in underlying concepts of the system. This makes a steep learning curve, specially if you come from a Windows background. But in the end it'll make your life as an admin easier because it makes diagnosing faults soooo much quicker when you know what's going on under the hood.
But please don't misunderstand. If you look at the site The Slackware Linux Project you'll see no effort is made to 'sell' Slackware to the Great Unwashed. The site is designed for people who already know what Slackware is, and why they want it. Slackers tend to be Do it Yourself type of people, and you don't need massive amounts of willpower to get a slackbox up and running, but you will need curiosity and reading skills to tune it to perfection.
Also, there's two philosophies about Slackware as a beginners distro.
The first says that Slackware is too different from WIndows and that it's better to begin with an easier distro to ease the transition.
The second, which I'm partial to, says that Slackware is so different from Windows that none of the concepts you previously held when it came to computing hold anymore and you're really forced to learn computing from scratch. And you'll be better off in the long run.
So, if you just want to watch Youtube videos... run Ubuntu. If you want to learn about Linux/computers/networking/servers/security etc then by all means... Slackware is a good choice...
I'm a recent Linux transfer, and I decided to start with Slackware. I would agree with Satyaveer on the idea that it will take time to set it up. If you need immediate functionality, you'll be pulling your hair out sooner rather than later. Make sure you have time to mess with it.
how bout you tell us what it is about gentoo that has made you consider a different distro; that way we can get an idea of what your after.
Gentoo is great and don't plan to replace it anytime soon, as I have everything set-up in a way that works for me. The last two-three months there have been many releases Ubuntu 10.10, Fedora 16, Mint 12, etc.
I just want try out a new Linux environment (not funtoo/sabayon) to get deeper understanding of Linux. I plan to set-up a home server next week to host two blogs and personal files. I'm downloading Slackware to try it out, but I've also heard great comments on Scientific Linux. Gentoo is obviously not the best choice for a server unless your crazy.
Well mate, i've never used Gentoo, but from what i've heard you need to know a fare bit to get it up and running, so there's probably not that many distros that can teach you any better. Maybe Slackware, but if it doesn't do it for you, linux from scratch would probably be your best bet.