Help configuring SLED installation for irrigation dedicated system
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For industrial control, you need rock-solid stability, the expectation that the PC may not be re-booted for 2 years or more, and an industrial strength distro that has the capability of being set up with only the applications you need. This excludes all the derivative distros that offer splashy media-oriented setups, and office type goodies.
If your control application, and the interface to the real world controlling valves, contactors, etc. can be launched from the command line, you may not even need a GUI screen, but many find some sort of graphical screen very convenient, even if the monitor is switched off for much of the time.
SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop (SLED) is in that class. It is a bit staid and conservative, without all the movies and eye candy. The paid version comes with Novell support. Widely used for industrial measurement.
Similar words for Red Hat. Fedora is the community/development hotbed for Red Hat. Red Hat used to be the industry norm, though it has lost ground to the others in recent years.
Debian Sarge, but with the 2.6 kernel option, is also in that class.
Sarge is the last word in stability, to the point that new releases happen only about yearly, and still stay with the 2.4 kernel. Built systems are expected to run for years, often attended only remotely via network access. Debian is more of a struggle to install than some. Debian Sid is the (so called "unstable") has more recent software choices, and Debian "Etch", the "testing" distro, should not be considered.
Slackware is a stable granddaddy, much respected, but the heart of it is the work of one man, Patrick Volkering. The Vector Linux variant of this has a fast, lightweight desktop. Slackware would be up to it (many servers use it).
Mepis 6.0 or 6.5. Mepis uses the Ubuntu engine, which in turn is a fork of Debian. Ubuntu installation is absurdly simple, and the distro is supported, and stable, but software versions are locked to the installed version, making the use of other drivers and repositories difficult. That said, I have industrial control tool LabView running in Mepis 6.0
Gentoo is all compiled, user choice configured, and absolutely the power users tool. The time it takes, and the depth of knowledge, makes this one something to stay away from if you are new to Linux. I mention it because it is easily in the quality class for stability etc.
From all the above, and given that you are new to Linux, I would suggest a supported SUSE SLED pack, and take care not to choose everything installed. You don't need it to be a mailserver, or have a huge suite of Office applications. As with all the good distros, you have a choice of desktops, like KDE or XFCE, etc.
I don't have any familiarity with any of the equipment or software but I am interested in linux and automation. This isn't meant as a criticism but your proposed setup seems like overkill to me. The sprinkler software will run on win98, so why not dedicate an old(read cheap) piece of equipment to the project. You could take a cheap laptop, dual boot windows and linux if wanted, and do away with the complexity of wine, unless of course, you have already seen a working setup.
I also have a Rain8 controller which is connected to my Dell desktop PC (500 mHz 256 MB Ram) which runs Trustix version 2.2. I bought a smarthome PowerLinc II model 1132B which interfaces to the computer via the serial port. I wrote a simple c program that can send x10 commands. A shell script runs from cron turns on whatever zone I want at the desired time/day. If your connected to the internet you can sync time via ntpd. I still use the windows program to configure the controller.
In my googling I found a powerlinc daemon that basically configures each house/unit code as a device. There are lots of other linux home control stuff out there too.
Trustix is CLI only and in my case it would not matter what distribution I was running. There are also a few X10 computer interfaces to choose from. I picked the powerlinc because it appeared to be the eaisest to use with linux.