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Old 04-20-2011, 10:57 AM   #1
Hufflepuff
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Looking for Distro -- converting to Linux for the first time.


I'm converting to Linux from Windows, and I'm not sure which Distro to get. I checked out the Wikipedia "List of Linux distributions" page, but that's more confusing than informative, and I haven't the time or patience to try over six dozen Live CDs to find out for myself what I like best. Perhaps you can help me narrow down my selections.

First off, check out that Wikipedia page. Tell me -- what's the major difference between all those different "-based" distros? Debian, Knoppix, Ubuntu, Gentoo, Pacman, RPM, Fedora, Red Hat Enterprise, Mandriva, Slackware, Slax. That's all Chinese to me. Can anyone give me a rundown?

Second, and this is important, so listen -- I've only ever used Windows, but I'm not remotely interested in a Windows-esque Linux distro. Get that thought completely out of your head. I'm comfortable and indeed eager to try something utterly different. I know there's distros designed specifically to ease Windows users into Linux. Well, I'm not interested in anything like that.

To tell you the truth, I'm looking for something radically different. I myself am sick. To. Death of the desktop metaphor. I think it needs to die painfully. It served its purpose, but we're long past that.

My ideal computer interface - which I feel confident doesn't exist, not even in a Linux distro - would be tag-based, rather than widget-based (like Mac) or menu/folder-based (like Windows).

What I mean by tag-based is, I envision an operating system where files aren't sorted into folders, but rather, each individual file can have simple alphanumeric "tags" applied by the end-user, in addition to having default tags based upon the file itself.

For example, all text files of any sort would have the "text" tag, be they plain text or rich text or ODT or whatever. All images would have the "image" tag. All executables would have the "executable" tag. And so on.

Then, you yourself could give files tags. For instance, let's say you're using something like Game Maker to make a computer game, and you've got images and text files and so forth you're using for the game. You could tag them all with "My Game" or whatever.

The way the OS would work, then, would be instead of browsing "folders" filled with your individual files, the main OS interface would have a text input box, and you type the tags you wanna bring up. Type "text" and every text file on your machine is listed. Add "ODT" and only the text files created with OpenOffice are listed. Or you could type "My Game" and all the files - text, image and otherwise - you tagged for your game would show up.

And I imagine you could set defaults. For instance, some programs use a lot of text files to store data and preferences and stuff, and they could be tagged by the creator or by you, the end-user, as "data" and you could specify to the OS that when you type just "text," to automatically ignore text files tagged as "data" (which you wouldn't usually wanna read).

But of course, you could browse files. Instead of browsing through folders, though, the main screen of the OS, instead of a "desktop," would be a tag cloud. So you can type for specific tags, or you could browse them. Either way, the point is to murder the destop metaphor with a rusty knife.

But like I said, I can't imagine there exist an OS out there that forward-thinking, am I right? If I am, someone should seriously consider trying to create something like that.

I'll stop here, I'm rambling. Before I ask any more specific questions, someone give me the long short of the major difference between all the various "-based" Linux distros.
 
Old 04-20-2011, 11:20 AM   #2
reed9
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In many ways distros are similar. All the deb vs. rpm vs. whatever boils down to each distro having a package manager, which can perform pretty much the same tasks in any distro, but the details about how it does those tasks vary. And while there are some differences under the hood, for most user interaction, the various applications are available in any distro and there is usually a lot of overlap. So it's difficult to say, this is the one distro for you - it's really a matter of personal preference.

Based on your description, the one thing I can say is that you probably will want to check out the KDE desktop environment. (Again, all the major distros have a KDE spin.) It doesn't quite have the tagging features you're looking for, but it's as close as it gets, as far as I know. The feature is provided by nepomuk and is called the semantic desktop. I don't think it's yet complete, but it's getting there.

OpenSuse probably focuses on the KDE desktop more than most, so you might want to start there. Or if you like really bleeding edge you could try the Arch based Chakra Linux.
 
Old 04-20-2011, 11:29 AM   #3
Mr. Bill
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Well, it would be difficult to describe all the differences between all the "-based" variants of Linux, but an example should give some insight: Ubuntu Takes raw Debian and adds GUIs for virtually everything to make it "newbie-friendly", then add their idea of the most common software to the default install. Mint makes similar personalized changes to Ubuntu's default installation...

Can't say I've ever heard of anything like you described, but if you would like to try a distro that lets you get to the heart of the OS and take more control over how it works, Slackware, Gentoo or Debian would be good choices.
 
Old 04-20-2011, 12:50 PM   #4
DavidMcCann
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Differences are mainly:
1. Very stable (Debian, Slackware, CentOS) vs up-to-the-minute new software, which sometimes breaks (Fedora, Arch, Sabayon, Ubuntu)
2. Huge selection of software (Debian) vs basic collection (Slackware)
3. Simple installer which works 9 times out of 10 (most distros) vs complex installation procedure which works on the weirdest hardware (Arch, Slackware)
4. User interface: "desktop" with lots of useful widgets (Gnome, KDE, Xfce) vs spartan "window manager" (Fluxbox, Icewm, etc)
5. Different program installers, although they all work in a similar way
6. Different ways of getting patented decoders for media formats like MP3, which you Americans are supposed to pay for: pre-installing them (most non-American distros); giving users a choice of buying or downloading according to nationality; making you jump through endless hoops (OpenSuse)

For a start, you might like to try a couple of live CDs:
Mint: Gnome desktop
PCLinuxOS: KDE desktop
Both are easy to use and reliable. But I'd still advise reading the installation instructions before you put the one you like on the hard drive.

Last edited by DavidMcCann; 04-20-2011 at 12:53 PM.
 
Old 04-20-2011, 02:43 PM   #5
Hufflepuff
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Thanks so far, especially you, Dave.

So basically, for a casual computer user like myself, which distro I go with doesn't really matter? The only major differences are deep, technical and uninteresting to someone like me? So I should pretty much just select on what looks/feels the best?

Hey, here's another important question. I'm a minimalist; I don't need half a dozen text editors, three different versions of Solitaire (along with two dozen other casual games), etc. etc. etc. If I end up getting a distro which has a ton of pre-installed software, I'm going to uninstall most of it anyway. Do distros typically have multiple downloads? Like, Dave, you said Debian comes with tons and tons of software. If I happen to like Debian's interface and everything, would I be able to get a stripped-down version which contains pretty much nothing but a web browser (so I can then go download what I want)? If not, is there some ultra-light Linux distro available?

In fact, minimalism is one of the reasons I'm going with Linux. Windows suffers from so much bloat, and it's near-impossible to deal with because so much of the system is beyond access for end-users. With Linux, I can pretty much control everything, yeah? So no matter what distro I go with, I'm basically gonna gut it, strip out everything I myself don't use on a regular basis, which isn't much (internet, text editing, image editing and viewing, video editing and viewing and a handful of things like videogame emulators and freeware games).

Reed, would a Semantic Desktop work with pretty much any Linux distro? Or at least all KDE-esque ones?
 
Old 04-20-2011, 02:52 PM   #6
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Hi Hufflepuff,

You might be interested in the "Gnome Do" project. It sounds a bit similar to the "tag based" concept you expressed.

http://do.davebsd.com/

It should run in any Gnome-based distro. Ubuntu and Mint are probably the most popular for new users.

My personal distro of choice is called CrunchBang; it is a minimalist Debian-based distro that abandons the "desktop" metaphor entirely: http://crunchbanglinux.org

Last edited by snowpine; 04-20-2011 at 02:53 PM.
 
Old 04-20-2011, 02:54 PM   #7
reed9
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Yes, the semantic desktop stuff is part of KDE (specifically KDE 4+, not the KDE 3 series). If you go that direction, go with something using at least KDE 4.5 or later.

That said, KDE is about as opposite of minimal as you can get. It's a hulking behemoth of a desktop environment.

Distros do frequently have multiple downloads, both a DVD version with lots of stuff available (though you don't have to install it all), a CD version with less pre-included software, and some have a net install or minimal install CD that just provides a core system, often without a GUI. Anything else you want can be added later via the distro's online software repositories. Debian does provide a net install CD. This option usually requires a little more knowledge, since you have to know what you need to make a functioning desktop.

Arch Linux is also like that, except they only offer a minimal system and the expectation is that you make it what you want. It's definitely not geared towards new users, though they do have excellent documentation. It's my personal favorite.
 
Old 04-20-2011, 03:20 PM   #8
MTK358
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Hufflepuff View Post
Hey, here's another important question. I'm a minimalist; I don't need half a dozen text editors, three different versions of Solitaire (along with two dozen other casual games), etc. etc. etc. If I end up getting a distro which has a ton of pre-installed software, I'm going to uninstall most of it anyway. Do distros typically have multiple downloads? Like, Dave, you said Debian comes with tons and tons of software. If I happen to like Debian's interface and everything, would I be able to get a stripped-down version which contains pretty much nothing but a web browser (so I can then go download what I want)? If not, is there some ultra-light Linux distro available?

In fact, minimalism is one of the reasons I'm going with Linux. Windows suffers from so much bloat, and it's near-impossible to deal with because so much of the system is beyond access for end-users. With Linux, I can pretty much control everything, yeah? So no matter what distro I go with, I'm basically gonna gut it, strip out everything I myself don't use on a regular basis, which isn't much (internet, text editing, image editing and viewing, video editing and viewing and a handful of things like videogame emulators and freeware games).
You clearly want Arch. It's basically installs to a system that's has only the bare minimus command-line tools, plus a dependency-handling package maanger. Then you make whatever you want on top of that.

I wouldn't typically recommend it to newbies (the installation is quite complex and requires intermediate knowledge of the command line), but since you want to learn something new, check out the beginners guide (https://wiki.archlinux.org/index.php/Beginners'_Guide) and possibly try it.
 
Old 04-20-2011, 03:23 PM   #9
thund3rstruck
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@Hufflepuff,

Take a look at Distrowatch's Top 10 Distributions. This should give you a good understanding of the pros and cons of the top 10 distributions and then you can decide which suits your needs the best.

My personal favorite distribution is Linux Mint since it 'just works' and is most concerned with providing an all-in-one out of the box experience without getting caught up in the Open-Source vs. proprietary politics that drag down most distributions. I also really like Fedora but it takes a little extra work to get everything working (at least on my laptop it does).
 
Old 04-20-2011, 03:30 PM   #10
bret381
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I agree with MTK358, arch would be a good choice. For an easier install, you may give something like archbang a try. Installs with the openbox window manager and is preconfigured for ease of use. Very minimal system. from there you can add what you want.
 
Old 04-20-2011, 03:50 PM   #11
MTK358
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This is a bit off-topic, but what does the OP mean by the fact that Mac is "widget-based"? Not that I ever tried Mac OS, but from what I've seen it also has files/folders and a point and click GUI.
 
Old 04-20-2011, 04:46 PM   #12
Mr. Bill
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Quote:
Originally Posted by MTK358 View Post
This is a bit off-topic, but what does the OP mean by the fact that Mac is "widget-based"? Not that I ever tried Mac OS, but from what I've seen it also has files/folders and a point and click GUI.
I've never used a Mac either, but my own personal experience with "widgets" was with Puppy Linux. It's still a point-and-click icon, but more highly configurable. (open widget manager, select the one you want to alter, click "edit"...) There's not very much that you can't change. Just guessing it might be the same with Mac.
 
Old 04-20-2011, 04:48 PM   #13
savona
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I have only been a member here for a short time but already have seen a few dozen threads with this exact question. I vote we all pitch in to make a "pinned" thread that answers this question and just point people to it.

Thoughts?
 
Old 04-20-2011, 05:05 PM   #14
thund3rstruck
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Quote:
Originally Posted by savona View Post
I have only been a member here for a short time but already have seen a few dozen threads with this exact question. I vote we all pitch in to make a "pinned" thread that answers this question and just point people to it.
This question is so common because it's not a one-size fits all kind of question and that's why I try to point people to distrowatch.org.

Linux implementations are so varied that the 'which distro is for me' is actually a really difficult question to answer. Do you want an appliance (Smoothwall, DevilLinux, FreeNAS, etc) to provide a specific service or a standard desktop? Do you want an everyday desktop or a specialized set of tools to run from CD, thumb drive, etc (Blackbuntu, backtrack, etc)? Do you want all the special effects (compiz, etc) or lightening fast response time (Flux, OpenBox, Xfce, etc)? Do you want a stable release without package dependency checking (slackware, etc) or do you want a rolling release with all the latest and greatest? Do you believe in Open Source or do you just want the packages that work best for you (proprietary, etc)

I've been using Linux in some form since 1998 and I still find myself struggling to choose a distro every time I purchase a new PC (for myself or customers).
 
Old 04-20-2011, 05:29 PM   #15
savona
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Quote:
Originally Posted by thund3rstruck View Post
This question is so common because it's not a one-size fits all kind of question and that's why I try to point people to distrowatch.org.

Linux implementations are so varied that the 'which distro is for me' is actually a really difficult question to answer. Do you want an appliance (Smoothwall, DevilLinux, FreeNAS, etc) to provide a specific service or a standard desktop? Do you want an everyday desktop or a specialized set of tools to run from CD, thumb drive, etc (Blackbuntu, backtrack, etc)? Do you want all the special effects (compiz, etc) or lightening fast response time (Flux, OpenBox, Xfce, etc)? Do you want a stable release without package dependency checking (slackware, etc) or do you want a rolling release with all the latest and greatest? Do you believe in Open Source or do you just want the packages that work best for you (proprietary, etc)

I've been using Linux in some form since 1998 and I still find myself struggling to choose a distro every time I purchase a new PC (for myself or customers).
I understand and completely agree with everything you have stated. What I meant was to make a pinned thread that explains what your saying, how its almost impossible for someone to say which distro is best for you. Then instead of seeing the same conversation again and again, just reply with "read this".
 
  


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