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Introduction to Linux - A Hands on Guide
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Now to try to give you an answer that actually helps
As I'm sure you've noticed, there are lots of flavors (i.e., distributions) of Linux, and each of them has its own strengths and weaknesses. I started on Slackware because I wanted to learn to configure the system by hand -- my thinking was that if I could learn to read and edit conf files, I could pretty much go to any *Nix box (Linux, *BSD, Solaris, etc.) and figure it out with a little effort, and for the most part that has been true. Slackware is probably about a medium on the difficulty scale, and would be good if you have a second box to install it on (or will be dual booting) so that you can still have a working machine that you are familiar with when you just need to get work done (or go on-line to figure out why something you are trying to set up isn't working).
Gentoo is the second (sort of...) distribution that I learned, and is currently what I prefer over Slack. However, it is easily the most difficult distro that I have ever used. Gentoo is to Linux as buying a car restoration project is to driving. You have to build it before you can use it, and that's not a particularly easy task, especially for a new Linux user. After running Slack for about five years, my first Gentoo box took me a week to build :/ However, once you get it built, it is nice because -- short of a hard drive failure with no backups -- you will never have to completely rebuild it again.
Were I in your shoes, however, I would probably try Ubuntu first. The install is brain-dead simple, and when it's built it will just work. Wireless? No problem -- it will detect the hardware, install the appropriate drivers, and give you a list of access points near you, just like your XP machine will. Slack or Gentoo? Forget it. You'll spend a while getting wireless to work...if you can get it to work at all. With Gentoo, once wireless works, you'll probably break it again at the next update (done that three or four times myself) and it will take you another several days to get it fixed...again. The Gnome desktop that Ubuntu uses by default will look a little different than your XP box, but is simple and intuitive enough that you'll figure it out in no time.
If you are looking for a networking/admin job using Linux, you might want to skip Ubuntu and try Red Hat/Fedora or CentOS. They are nearly as easy as Ubuntu in many ways, or at least easier than Gentoo or Slack and are what is often used in businesses that run Linux. If you can install Windows, you can install the latest versions of Red Hat or CentOS.
The nice thing about Linux is that, since it's free (as in beer -- usually), you can try several versions and decide which one you like best.
Most answers reflect personal experiences and biases, which is as it should be. I am a rank beginner, even after several years, but my enthusiasm has not waned. I started with Suse, then Fedora, then Sabayon, and settled on Ubuntu. It would have been nice had I done things in reverse order, since I find Ubuntu easiest to use and I'm quite happy with it.
As RWallett said above, you should try Ubuntu if you're really new to Linux. It's generally geared towards people coming from MS Windows. It's the first distro I tried, and I've been with it for a good few months, and I'm happy with it so far. I've tried other distros in VirtualBox, but most of those (at least I've found) are finicky sometimes, usually when it comes to things like the little nitty gritty details of configuation. Exceptions might be Debian (which Ubuntu is based on) and maybe Fedora or Suse. I'm no Linux expert, but I have learned quite a bit since I moved away from Windows, and I rarely even use Windows anymore on my PC. Linux is definitely a learning experience (or as some say, an unlearning experience ), and it takes some getting used to, but once you've got the basics figured out, then you should be well on your way.
I think , to start with, Mandriva is the best , I am using for last 2 years.Moreover, Its a stable and free with all mulitimedia codecs .or u can go for ubantu.But for ubantu, internet should be there to install extra application.
Last edited by call_krushna; 10-15-2009 at 03:26 AM.
As the original poster, skpanda, I'm a network manager and I'm working in a very large and complex environment (>10,000 subnets, > 150,000 computers).
In the last 3-4 years I've experimented some open-source solutions for monitoring and managing the network.
I started using OpenSuse but now I'm using Ubuntu, both Workstation and Server editions. Ubuntu Server in particular is super-easy to install and to manage from remote. It's stable and permits me to reuse obsolete hardware (old servers with very little RAM) for my projects.
I recommend using Ubuntu.