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Ideal Linux System for Newbies?

Cliff posted more than 7 years ago | from the gotta-start-somewhere dept.

Linux 486

spiffyman asks: "In the next year, I'll begin advanced work in mathematics, and I'll also be upgrading my desktop box. In light of the advantages of Linux and FOSS in the area of science and mathematics, I want to convert from a Windows system to a dual-boot one with Linux. Primary tasks aside from math/logic activities will include learning intermediate programming, web maintenance, some computational linguistics (in Python), and LOTS of LaTeX work for my publishing activities. What do Slashdot readers recommend in terms of hardware, OS, software, and perhaps reading for a quasi-power Windows user (with no previous Linux experience) to convert to an all-Linux system?"

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No Experience? (5, Informative)

pkcs11 (529230) | more than 7 years ago | (#17371176)

Most people (myself included) will suggest ubuntu, since it's a great Out Of The Box solution.
But Fedora might be a good fit as well.
Try out 3-4 distros and use what is most comfortable for you.

Re:No Experience? (5, Insightful)

mordors9 (665662) | more than 7 years ago | (#17371268)

This answer shows why the question is nonsensical on its face. No one can tell you what distro is best for you. Everyone has a different personality. For me, Slackware is the ideal distro for a newbie. But then, I like to read up on any product before I use it. So I thought it was easy to install and now it is very easy to administrate. It has lower overhead from all of the bells and whistles that some of the other distros have included. There is no dependency hell that can be so frustrating to a newbie. If you stay away from the auto updaters and read the changelogs, you will never have a broken system. If you are like a lot of the Windows users that come over to Linux, however, you will probably be better served by one of the other distros. The majority of them want to run the installer CD and then just have everything be set up and work. Of course some of them become so frustrated the first time they run into a problem and have no idea on how to fix it, they run back to Windows. But good luck to you.

Re:No Experience? (1)

twistedcubic (577194) | more than 7 years ago | (#17371644)

I don't think the question is nonsensical given the specifics mentioned. There might be others with experience who can say whether certain distribution make it easy to install certain software (math software in this case), among other things. Though it probably isn't true, I wouldn't be surprised if math majors and English majors, as a group, preferred different distrubutions.

Re:No Experience? (1)

marcello_dl (667940) | more than 7 years ago | (#17371718)

If you stay away from the auto updaters and read the changelogs, you will never have a broken system.

You will anyway if your hw/sw configuration triggers a undiscovered/unfixed bug. IMHO it's better to have the "fire and forget" capability available with many linux package managers and read up where the downloaded packages are stored (/var/cache/apt/archives/ on debian derived). If you have a broken package, chances are you have still on your HD the earlier version and you just need reading the docs on how to revert back to it.

I concur. (5, Informative)

Alaren (682568) | more than 7 years ago | (#17371276)

Ubuntu. I personally decided to switch a few months back. I tried Fedora and some others and Ubuntu adjusted quickly to the switch. The ideology wars (Linus hates Gnome, x distro is more powerful, why coddle n00bs, just buy them a Mac, etc.) are always great flamebait, but in terms of sheer usability for the masses, Ubuntu is the clear choice.

Re:No Experience? (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17371488)

I would prefer Fedora. Ubuntu is a great "I just want to have a computer and for it to work" distro but for serious scientific/ mathmatical programming I suggest something that has gcc installed by default :) Theres a reason scientific linux is not a ubuntu derivative. Of course people will mention that its a snap to install all the necessary software development tools but that misses the point which, in my experience, is that ubuntu is designed with the average user in mind rather than the developer. Not saying thats a bad thing, its definitely a good thing but in your case it would probably be good to have something which is designed with your needs in mind which is probably not ubuntu.

Re:No Experience? (2, Insightful)

fimbulvetr (598306) | more than 7 years ago | (#17371620)

If a linux distro has a gcc installed by default (Hopefully the same one that was used to compile the kernel, cough, unlike redhat, cough), it chould be a sign that the distro may be bloated and a heavy weight.

More packages installed by default == more space used, more security vectors and more clutter.

Personally, I prefer having to install "less" or "build-essential" in debian because I know that if they don't exist, there's probably very few useless tools on my system that could be exploited, that take up space, that conflict with other packages, that run as daemons and steal precious memory/cpu cycles, etc.

Ubuntu, while certainly heavier than debian, follows more or less the same guidelines.

Re:No Experience? (2, Interesting)

HAKdragon (193605) | more than 7 years ago | (#17371582)

Try out 3-4 distros and use what is most comfortable for you.

While the person asking sounds like he's relatively technically savvy, that is advice I would never tell to a person who is not very good with computers. Having to install more than one distribution of Linux and having to figure out how each of then work would drive the average person away from Linux really quickly.

Ubuntu is a Windows killer (4, Interesting)

Colin Smith (2679) | more than 7 years ago | (#17371724)

It may not quite be a OSX killer, but it really is easier to set up, easier to use, easier to administer, more consistent and prettier than Windows. It's an elegant desktop.

It simply works out of the box and has 20,000 packages available at the click of Applications -> Add/Remove.
 

Same as a Windows system (4, Funny)

TuringTest (533084) | more than 7 years ago | (#17371180)

The one that is babysitted and administered by an expert.

Re:Same as a Windows system (1)

kc32 (879357) | more than 7 years ago | (#17371586)

Works for me (tm)

Although in this case I'm the expert running the Windows box for my family.

Why??? (2, Interesting)

udderly (890305) | more than 7 years ago | (#17371182)

Why dual boot? It seems so inconvenient to me. Perhaps virtualization would be better?

Re:Why??? (5, Interesting)

linguae (763922) | more than 7 years ago | (#17371284)

There are some cases where dual-booting is more advantageous than virtualization. Virtualization takes a heavy hit on RAM (I tried Parallels on my MacBook with a measly 512MB of RAM, my 1.83GHz dual core computer felt like my old 8MHz Mac SE), and if you're strapped for cash and don't have much memory, it's better to just dual-boot where the OS has full access to all of the RAM needed.

That reminds me to invest in a upgrade to 2GB of RAM soon.

Re:Why??? (1)

convolvatron (176505) | more than 7 years ago | (#17371610)

get the 2gb, parallels just flails painfully with only 1, although i haven't tried turning down the guest size very low. just upgraded to 2 and both oses are very usable..except for an occasional usage spike that i can't really explain.

Re:Why??? (1)

fm6 (162816) | more than 7 years ago | (#17371658)

The key phrase in your post is "some cases". Let's look at this specific case. The guy has asked for advice on buying hardware, so he's not stuck with adapting an existing machine. And anybody buying a new machine these days needs to max out the RAM anyway, because RAM is cheap and today's software is RAM-hungry.

Virtualization (1)

martyb (196687) | more than 7 years ago | (#17371300)

Why dual boot? It seems so inconvenient to me. Perhaps virtualization would be better?

Sounds great, but... I've downloaded vmware workstation, as well as a release of Ubuntu, but I must be missing something. Is there a simple HOWTO that gives a step-by-step on how to setup and use a virtual machine on windows? What information I found seemed to be written at an abstract level. I'm leary about butchering up my system with trial and error. (Yes, I have backups, but would rather not have to go through that time-consuming step if I can avoid it.)

I'd like to be able to play around with, say, Ubuntu in a VMWARE virtual machine, yet keep my Windows/XP home SP2 system up and running without putting it at risk.

Re:Virtualization (0, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17371456)

You apparently have no idea what VMWare is. You downloaded it, but didn't even take the time to look at the site to see what the freakin' software does.

If you would have taken the 5 minutes to do some research rather than post this pathetic question here, you would realize that it would have no risk whatsoever to your existing system.

Step 1: Install VMWare

Step 2: Go through the nifty wizard to install Ubuntu in a VMWare virtual machine

Step 3: Fuck up your Ubuntu install

Step 4: Close VMWare (Click the button with the X on the VMWare Window)

Step 5: Delete your virtual machine (somewhere in My Documents)

Step 6: Start over at step 2...

Re:Virtualization (IS EASY AND RECOMMENDED) (4, Informative)

dilute (74234) | more than 7 years ago | (#17371652)

It is REALLY easy. The easiest thing to do is install VMWare Player under Windows - it is a little simpler to deal with than VMWare server (which is also a free - as in beer - download). Then go to http://www.vmware.com/vmtn/appliances/directory/ [vmware.com] and pick out any one of the many pre-packaged Linux VMs that they have up there. Just open the VM in VMWare Player and you're off to the races. You mayt want to play around with the screen resolution after you get into your VM, but otherwise, it should be good to go.

The easiest distro to play with is probably a Ubuntu Dapper (6.06) one from this month. After you start it up, you can upgrade it to the latest "Edgy" version of Ubuntu (by changing your repositories in the Synaptic upgrade tool from Dapper to Edgy). You can alos create VMs from scratch (go to www.easyvmx.com)

Other distros you'll find up there include Debian Etch (the latest, still-in-process one), various Fedora Core versions, Knoppix. It is pretty sweat-free (except for the download time and the disk space) to DL a bunch of these and see which one (or ones) you like best. In truth, they are all very similar, except for their upgrade mechanisms and the places they stash system files.

If you go to the Mono web site (a completely separate web site), they have a VM with a recent version of SUSE Linux. Though their version is slanted toward setting up Mono (.NET-style) services), it is very nice.

To do this stuff smoothly you should have at least 1 gig of memory (preferably 2 gigs or more), and a BIG hard drive. Be sure to delete VMs you are not going to use.

After you get used to this, you may indeed want to go to VMWare Server, because it has more opearation options and a very nice snapshotting capability that allows you to make wild experimental changes and easily revert to the last good running state of the server, if things go bad.

Me? - I go the other way, and run Linux on my real hardware, and Windows in a VM (using VMWare Server for Linux). I find I don't need Windows that much, and it runs fine from a VM (you do a full install from a CD, same as with a real machine).

Re:Why??? (1)

Kwiik (655591) | more than 7 years ago | (#17371458)

You can get a USB drive preloaded with linux, and use it on any computer - no risk to your data.

websites like www.linuxonusb.com give you a good solution and promote the community... yellow dog linux also has this service.

the drives generally cost little more than a standard drive, and they do all the work for you.

Re:Why??? (2, Interesting)

Antique Geekmeister (740220) | more than 7 years ago | (#17371640)

How well does Ubunto handle Xen or another lightweight Windows virtualization system? I'd absolutely recommend that new Linux hardware have the CPU virtualization features to run another Windows OS directly locally: most new hardware comes with enough speed and RAM to do this, and a Windows license anyway, so let the user have Windows available in a local installation for games and Windows Media and other tools they may require, and use Linux for the basic OS stability and tools as they learn to play with them.

A recent enough OS to support Evolution for access to MS Exchange email and calendar functionality in a shared or corporate environment is vital. Fedora Core 6, the RHEL 5 demo, and the latest OpenSuSE seem to support it, although Novell has just made a huge licensing mistake involving Microsoft patents and just lost one of the core Samba developers in the resulting mess and will doubtless lose other core people. Expect SuSE support of critical Windows compatibility to be actually hurt by their deal with Microsoft, as they cripple themselves by using Microsoft technologies directly and not being able to use GPL tools from that patent agreement.

For ease of use, find what the local Linux experts use at home, and stay away from bleeding edge hardware that may involve a lot of manual work to integrate into your OS. 64-bit dual-core Opterons have good reports and better Linux support than Intel's 64-bit oddnesses: high-end ATI video cards are better supported than NVidia because ATI publishes their specifications, NVidia tries to shoe-horn their proprietary and extensively modified libraries on top of existing Linux tools and does a very strange job of it. 250 Gig drives are cheap and plentiful: use known-vendor, actual hardware RAID instead of software RAID, if you need RAID, since a lot of software RAID drivers are poorly documented and a nightmare to integrate. Check what the network chipsets are: if they're something unheard of, prepare to spring for a $10 NE2000 card or borrow a cheap USB network port, just to get booted far enough to grab patches.

Describe what you need or want to accomplish for more ideas: are you a gamer? A Perl programmer? Doing simple web browsing with flash and animation making you excited? Doing Q/A work?

Ideal Linux system for newbies: (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17371186)

none.

This comes up pretty often (3, Informative)

drinkypoo (153816) | more than 7 years ago | (#17371194)

Step 1: Whatever hardware you get, be sure to make sure that it is compatible. The easiest way to do this is to buy a centrino system, because that means all the major hardware will work properly :)

Step 2: Use Ubuntu. It's the easiest, bar none. It gives you access to gigantic repositories (debian.) It has by far the most support today, meaning that you're more likely to find an install package for software on Ubuntu.

Step 3: Get lots of RAM. This is the most important hardware-related advice I can give any user of any computer :)

As for reading, I suggest The Unix Programming Environment by Kernighan and Pike. It will help you understand Unix, which will help you whether you're using Linux or Slowlaris. [bell-labs.com]

I second that ... (1)

sygin (659338) | more than 7 years ago | (#17371346)

Ubuntu is easy to get up and running with, you can always migrate later if you want to. it has great support forums.

OSX (0, Offtopic)

krunk7 (748055) | more than 7 years ago | (#17371196)

OSX Leopard It had to be said.

No, it didn't have to be said. (2, Insightful)

IANAAC (692242) | more than 7 years ago | (#17371304)

OSX Leopard It had to be said.

No it didn't, particularly when he's specifically asking for a Linux system.

Re:No, it didn't have to be said. (4, Insightful)

Bastian (66383) | more than 7 years ago | (#17371606)

Well, that really depends on why the person is looking for a Linux system. If it's someone who's looking to get into desktop Unix (or just looking for an alternative to Windows) and doesn't realize that Linux isn't the only player in town, then it may be worth mentioning OS X or FreeBSD. At the moment, OS X is my current favorite desktop Unix in all respects except politics so I think it does deserve mention.

Now if the person needs to have something that works with existing hardware or specifically wants Linux for political reasons, then it's different and it's not worthwhile to mention other OSes.

Fair enough. (1)

IANAAC (692242) | more than 7 years ago | (#17371686)

But keep in mind what he was asking:

He wants a system that will dual boot Windows and Linux, which suggests to me that he wants to use existing hardware, otherwise I'm betting he'd have said he was looking for new hardware to put Windows and Linux on.

And every single suggestion of OSX fails to take this into account. The only way you can legally get OSX is to buy new Apple hardware. Sure, you can run Maxxuss' Tiger under VmWare, but from first hand experience, it's dog slow. A great way to test out OSX, to be sure, but I certainly wouldn't want to run it that way on a daily basis.

Re:OSX (1)

FishWithAHammer (957772) | more than 7 years ago | (#17371350)

He asked for a Linux system, numbnuts. Not a user-coddling half-a-*NIX.

Re:OSX (3, Interesting)

boner (27505) | more than 7 years ago | (#17371392)

I could not agree more! Macbook with Intel Core Duo, 2 GB of RAM, 120 GB harddisk and *Parallels*!!
I can run Windows 98, Windows ME, Ubuntu, OpenSolaris and WindowsXP whenever I want! Shared disks using NFS or SAMBA.

As for my publishing needs, I am writing my thesis in LaTeX, using Xemacs as editor. Xfig, R, OCTAVE, gnuplot etc. to do the research and generate the plots (all under MacOS X, thanks to macports).

It is *so* usable... why would anyone need anything else... and it looks cool too!

Four years ago I would have said that Linux was the desktop of choice... I no longer believe that to be true. The ease of use of MacOS X convinced me, a computer is a tool not a workout station. I still play with Linux and Windows, but rarely boot them anymore... From a user experience MacOS X is sooo much better than Linux (yes my Ubuntu is the most recent), and Windows... nothing compelling there....

 

I'd suggest ... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17371204)

... a Mac.

Specifically a 20" or 24" iMac.

Yes, there's tonnes of LaTex/TeX/etc stuff out there for it. And almost all flavours of Linux.

You can even run Windows on it if you want, though of course that would introduce viruses and spyware back into the mix, which seems silly to me.

Ask a friend with a Mac laptop (chances are you know one). Do a little research. I think you'll find the value "ratio" to be superb.

Re:I'd suggest ... (1)

5pp000 (873881) | more than 7 years ago | (#17371624)

As someone who has used both Linux and the Mac for years and years, I have to second this. Apple has put a massive amount of effort into making a Unix-like OS easier to use, and Linux is nowhere near catching up. Any app that runs on Linux can also be downloaded for the Mac. For the non-programmer I see no advantage to Linux whatsoever.

gentoo (1)

neurovish (315867) | more than 7 years ago | (#17371208)

Definitely gentoo.

Re:gentoo (4, Funny)

lpcustom (579886) | more than 7 years ago | (#17371290)

LFS [linuxfromscratch.org] would be much better for a newbie!

Re:gentoo (1)

penix1 (722987) | more than 7 years ago | (#17371302)

Definitely gentoo.


For a newbie?!?!?! Are you stoned!

Then again, no better way to learn Linux than from the ground up....;-)

B.

Disclaimer:

Proud Gentoo user since 2004

Linux version 2.6.18-gentoo-r5 (gcc version 4.1.1 (Gentoo 4.1.1-r1)) #1 SMP Thu Dec 15 21:24:08 EST 2006

Re:gentoo (1)

EvanED (569694) | more than 7 years ago | (#17371390)

Depends... Gentoo docs are generally VERY thorough, so I think that it would be possible to start with it. However, you have to be of the right mentality I think... you have to be a tinkerer, not mind doing some work to get things to work sometimes, be perhaps a bit of a control freak, and you have to have patience. Gentoo is a great distro (my desktop dual-boots XP and Gentoo, and I've been using it for a couple years now), but if you want to pop the CD in and have a working system in 30 min or an hour, you have to look elsewhere. (Even with the Gentoo reference packages I suspect.)

My personal feeling right now is that either Ubuntu or Debian would be best. Like Gentoo, they have excellent package management, but don't have to go through the things that go with compiling everything.

Re:gentoo (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17371714)

"Couple" is not an adjective.

"Couple" is only a noun, like "pair".

You've been using it for a couple of years now.

Thanks.

Hah.. (1)

Junta (36770) | more than 7 years ago | (#17371340)

No thanks. I grew tired of dealing with obscure broken library dependencies on upgrades on my *own* systems, sure as hell don't want to have to answer someone who, in the process of emerge -upv world (or whatever it is anymore), ended up with applications linked to libraries with changed versions. I know there are utilities to automatically run ldd against everything (revdep or revbuild.. can't remember) and re-emerge, but in the end, big pain in the ass, and ultimately you don't learn that much more about linux like, say, doing a linux from scratch would teach if that were the goal.

Definitely would go with an Ubuntu install. Debian would also do the trick with little hand-holding, but at times Ubuntu is more practical about some packaging decisions while Debian can be more purist. Also, Ubuntu clearly targets a set environment, and Debian endeavors to make sure everything works pretty well, but expects the user to know more about what they want to make choices for themselves. Also, Ubuntu is easier to showcase the newer stuff typically (though Debian Etch and Ubuntu Edgy are about equivalent on that front currently).

Re:gentoo (1)

Homr Zodyssey (905161) | more than 7 years ago | (#17371366)

I'm pretty sure neurovish is joking. I highly recommend that you not waste time with Gentoo if you are a linux rookie. While Gentoo has many many benefits, being newbie-friendly is definitely NOT one of them.

As previous posters have said, Ubuntu is the easiest to set up (IMHO).

Re:gentoo (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17371524)

I tried running ubuntu just recently, lasted about 2 weeks before i switched back to gentoo. Its much easier to get things to work on a gentoo system imho. Its like the difference between a new mercedes and a '70's muscle car. The 70's muscle car may not be as easy and fancy to run, but much simpler and easier to fix when something goes wrong.

What Is So Sad About This Question (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17371218)

Is that the million different answers will have essentially absolutely no impact on day to day use.

Instead we have silly package management hassles so everyone can throw files where ever the fuck they want and not in something simple and logical like OS X's .app structure.

Instead we have a bunch of different desktops because certain people stormed off in a tantrum or other juvenile reasons.

And so on...

Linux is moving in every direction possible sideways and very little forward.

A Mac (5, Funny)

pdo400 (86490) | more than 7 years ago | (#17371230)

You'll be able to do all your work AND get laid more.

Re:A Mac (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17371270)

You'll be able to do all your work AND get laid more.

especially if you're a fag, since other fags use macs.

Re:A Mac (1)

josteos (455905) | more than 7 years ago | (#17371632)

Dammit, I want an OSeX upgrade for my PC!

Community (1)

Cr4wford (1030418) | more than 7 years ago | (#17371240)

One of the best things about linux is the community... http://www.linuxquestions.org/ [linuxquestions.org] is all I've needed to solve many problems. My favorite distribution is Gentoo. It just takes a lot of time and effort put into it to get it running, and then it's smooth sailing. That's not to say that it's difficult--it just takes time, at first. I recommend trying a bunch of distributions (LiveCDs come in handy here) and just choosing one that you like.

Re:Community (1)

Caesar Tjalbo (1010523) | more than 7 years ago | (#17371472)

This is very much my recommendation too. LinuxQuestions is excellent even if you don't have any questions; simply looking through old threads revealed so much information that I'd otherwise not had a clue it existed. Trying out various distro's and installing a few for few times can learn you a lot about what's available and possible, http://distrowatch.com/ [distrowatch.com] provides information about which distro's are available and where to get them. Distrowatch's motto "Put the fun back into computing" proved to be true for me.
Be careful when installing a dualboot system and make sure your Windows data is backed up.
My favorite isn't Gentoo, it's Fedora Core 6, but chances are you're more bothered by a choice of windowmanager or software-update-mechanism than actual distribution.
Enjoy!

cygwin (4, Informative)

Lord Bitman (95493) | more than 7 years ago | (#17371242)

Use Windows until you have reason to use Linux. Don't use Linux until it's better for you.

I disagree (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17371474)

If he's using mostly python and LaTeX, he might as well use a system that has those integrated out of the box. I have used both Python and LaTex on Win32 and I have to say that both seem better on a Unix-like OS.

Re:cygwin (1)

Foofoobar (318279) | more than 7 years ago | (#17371548)

Honestly, that kind of mentallity can be a larger problem to the workplace. You develop using the easiest platform for what you are trying to do and you develop on what you are releasing for. For instance, a LAMP developer would have an easier time avoiding Windows end of line characters popping up in subversion clients, text editors and a variety of other programs merely by BEING on a Linux platform thus saving alot of worries and hassles. On a similar note, a C# developer would probably find it alot harder to transfer files and connect to shares if he was on Linux or MAC.

The right tool for the job... not 'Windows by default' unless you think a hammer can solve all your carpentry needs.

Re:cygwin (3, Insightful)

Junta (36770) | more than 7 years ago | (#17371648)

If the submitter never tries linux, how would they supposed to find out when it *would* be better for them? I think the description shows clearly he has reason (working with latex and python, and the platform is popular in the field he is working more into).

If they have the time and resources to evaluate a platform, particularly one that enjoys fair popularity in their field, they should do so.

In fact, I would recommend delaying a Windows license purchase on the new system entirely, unless transitioning his existing license from his old desktop. Leave Windows on the older system and see if Linux can fit the bill more than he realizes. Windows is not free by any legal measure, so already there is benefit migrating to a free platform and save a fair chunk of money (even XP home OEM is 90 bucks right now)..

Slackware. (5, Interesting)

byteframe (924916) | more than 7 years ago | (#17371244)

Sound crazy, but with very little work on the part of the guru, it can be set up with something like KDE, and from there they can use the system no problem, however, since it's slackware, when it comes time to fix something or get into the bowelsof the system, the easyness of the internals in slackware should really help the user not only fix the problem, but also learn about Linux system adminstartion due to the fact that Slackware is the least distributiuon specific disitrubtion out there.

Install slack, bump up to a 2.6 kernel (ck preferably), and use either the slack-supplied KDE, or install Dropline Gnome. Flip iniitab to runlevel 4, and your set.

What WOULD make a distro easier? GUI tools? If your telling me netconfig is hard to use, I'll shoot myself in...hmm...the left ankle.

Re:Slackware. (1)

Who235 (959706) | more than 7 years ago | (#17371452)

Slackware was my first permanent distro and I loved it.

Quirky, sure, but I learned more in a month than I did with any other distro I tried.

I don't think you're crazy at all. I think you should be modded up.

PCLinuxOS is probably my favorite newbie distro, though. The hardware support is great, and package management is unbelievably easy with Synaptic. Also, the overall configuration is easy - it uses the Mandrake configuration wizard deal - I don't remember what it's called.

PCLinuxOS. Lousy name, but it is really a great distro to learn with.

My suggestion... (3, Interesting)

Darundal (891860) | more than 7 years ago | (#17371254)

Just download an Ubuntu livecd (I would recommend 6.06, not 6.10) and put it in your current desktop system. Test to see if all the hardware works properly, and then just mess around with the OS. Since you are getting some new hardware, and you want to dual-boot, I would recommend one of the pieces of new hardware be a separate hard drive to put the OS on (you could just partition your first disk, but I find that there are certain advantages to having Windows and Linux on separate hard drives). Nvidia graphics cards generally have better Linux support than ATI cards do, so if you are getting a new graphics card, your best bet would be something from Nvidia. As far as software is concerned, I really don't have any suggestions off the top of my head.

Re:My suggestion... (1)

nightgeometry (661444) | more than 7 years ago | (#17371572)

I'm interested in what the advantages of having the OS's on different drives are?

I have always found that two hard drives are good for the OS on one and data on the other, and that that is the case even when I have multiple OS's (i.e. all my various OS's on hda, and all my data partitions on hdb, hdc &c).

The advantage I have always thought was to separate app / OS access and data access (and move swap file to the second drive too, to take that out of the OS / app access path). All I see the other way is that it becomes easier to pull a drive. Other advantages? I'm always interested on ways I could be doing this better.

Cheers.

Recommended reading (1)

lazyforker (957705) | more than 7 years ago | (#17371258)

This book is a useful reference that assumes you know 2000/XP/2003 but need to know the equivalent commands etc in Linux:
"Linux for Windows Administrators" by Mark Minasi and Dan York
Slightly out of date now, but definitely a good starting point.

Get anything (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17371282)

Gee. Very similar questions have been asked so many times on various linux newsgroups. How about doing some research of your own.

Better yet, why any linux distribution matter anyway? Get a recent computer and use any distro. I have used RedHat/Fedora/Suse/Gentoo/Debian and couple of others and tell you the truth, they is no difference besides installation and few other quirks. Get whichever you feel like. Don't waste your time looking for the perfect one. It is like finding the perfect wife/husband, there aren't any.

Ubuntu (1)

Foofoobar (318279) | more than 7 years ago | (#17371294)

I have to say that previously I used to be a big Fedora fan and have tried Xandros and a couple other pre-packaged distributions for the desktop. But Ubuntu is by far the most stable and easiest to manage. I installed it on my 65 year old moms system and it detected her scanner, her new camera, her sound card and everything just fine. I use Ubuntu at work after smeone in IT convinced me to try it and I haven't had a single issue with it since then.

Previous to this, I wondered what all the buzz was about Ubuntu and now I know. If you want an easy to set up and manage Linux desktop, Ubuntu is the way to go.

scientific linux, ubuntu (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17371298)

I believe there is a distro called scientific linux (check at distrowatch.com) which (again, I think) is based on redhat/fedora, and includes many mathematical/scientific applications out of the box. Ubuntu would be fine, but I would suggest SimplyMepis first. Both are debian-based (SimplyMepis is actually ubuntu-based now), which gives you easy access to about 18,000 debian packages, including most packages I could imagine you desiring in the math/science realm. SimplyMepis is a slightly easier installation, and includes more proprietary audio-visual compatibility out of the box.

Not scientific linux... (1)

Junta (36770) | more than 7 years ago | (#17371422)

Not recommended, the goal is clearly to be a university or similar workstation/server, adding AFS configuration and such as they repackage RHEL. Not a large community/yum repo, and not oriented to new users without competent administrators to complement them.

Debian and debian derivatives by far have the most rich environment and repositories. I haven't tried Fedora Core except a couple of times briefly, but by now they may have a fair yum repository.

I started with linux kernel 1.2.3 (was easy to remember) on a slackware distro back in the day.... ah the memories....floppy after floppy after floppy....

Rule #1 (3, Insightful)

eno2001 (527078) | more than 7 years ago | (#17371306)

Forget everything you know about Windows. Linux is not Windows even if some of the GUI environments are starting to resemble aspects of them. Linux is closer to the Unix ideal of MANY MANY MANY tools that do one thing really well and need to be intertwined with other things to do more. As a non-programmer, I find Linux much easier to customize than Windows in terms of actually building new functionality. This is not something easily accomplished on Windows unless you want to get a Devel kit. In Linux it's practically a survival skill. Take a look through some of my Slashdot Journal Entries for examples of how I accomplished some interesting things with Linux that would have been nearly impossible with Windows.

Ubuntu or Damn Small or DSLn (1)

goombah99 (560566) | more than 7 years ago | (#17371308)

if you have a modern computer and want a full service experience with very little hassle then try Ubuntu. That's what it's good at. Works well out of the box and full featured and runs on most computers. Fully modern Apps.

On the other hand for people using old gear they want to extend the life of then the heavy weigh linuxes will bog. If they also don't know squat about linux and can barely navigate the file browser but want simple functionality (word processing, note taking, web and e-mail) then DSL has a nice interface: all icons on the desk top. minimal screen real estate, a suite of ultra light weight applications, easy package management, and INSANLEY fast boot times. No need to dual boot since the CD boot is ludicrously fast on old computers (under a minute on a pentium 2 133 Mhz).

DSL_not is just like DSL but has more graphics heavy apps. In particular you get a more modern open-save dialog that does not use the old file path navigations styles.

Anything else between these two extremes is more a matter on specialized usage. E.g. want something more full featured than DSL but still pretty lightweight and also want to run Windows Apps in WINE? then try Slackware's killbill edition. Which is a nice compromise.

Want something with lots of security tweaking possibilities, and more enterprise worthy (slower updates of apps), then maybe Debian with it's awesome package management?

Whant something you could get some pay-for-it support? Redhat or Suse? Maybe wnat it for free then fedora? entriprise then Cent--oh heck what's the entriprse fedora called?

As a mathematician (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17371312)

Get a Mac - all major sim packages, gcc, latex, the various IDEs, etc. are available for OSX.

Ubuntu Linux is the way to go (1)

ButteBlues (1032124) | more than 7 years ago | (#17371314)

Ubuntu Linux for sure. It is: - user friendly - popular - supported - supportive of many hardware configurations - fast - configurable It also has one of the best resources for a new Linux user [ubuntuforums.org] available. I have a five year old laptop, and Ubuntu is the only distribution which properly supports all my hardware. All of the others had some sort of problem with either the graphics card or the wireless card. The choice is clear-cut, in my opinion. If you want a nice LaTeX-based quick and functional editor as well, Wyneken is something I use for typing up notes.

WPA is horrible in Ubuntu (1)

Rob Simpson (533360) | more than 7 years ago | (#17371712)

I guess you don't care about encryption if you have an old enough laptop, but it makes Ubuntu a pain with a new one. I'm using SUSE 10.2 because wireless isn't as horribly [comphobby.org] broken [ubuntuforums.org] as it is in every other distro I've tried. And before anyone says anything about the package manager bug - that was fixed. WPA has been a thorn in the side of Ubuntu and other distros for years.

for Latex.. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17371322)

for Latex, stick with MikTex on windows and Winedt32 (shareware, $30 or so, worth every penny IMO ). most userfriendly for writing quickly and previewing quickly.

PCLinuxOS (1)

bilbravo (763359) | more than 7 years ago | (#17371330)

I'm a long time Gentoo user, but recently installed PCLinuxOS on my wife's Acer laptop after doing much searching for a user-friendly, and "everything works out-of-the-box" distro for it. Well, the wifi drivers didn't actually work out of the box, I had to download and go through a wizard and pick the .sys file... then bam, they worked.
 
Great distro, and I even put it on my desktop... sometimes Gentoo is a bit needy, ya know? :-)

Linux Distro and Reading (1)

Fuger (795406) | more than 7 years ago | (#17371332)

Having tried a handful of Linux distributions, I personally recommend Ubuntu. The biggest reason why is the Ubuntu Forums [ubuntuforums.org] .

Read it before you install to check if other people have had compatibility problems with your intended hardware. Read it during install for work-arounds and useful hacks. Read it after you install for any questions you may have. The user base for Ubuntu is very large and knowledgeable. I imagine there are similiar knowledge forums for Gentoo, etc, but I haven't worked with them.

Basically, the Internet is your best friend when using Linux. Read as much as you can about your intended distribution BEFORE you install it. You can save HOURS of headaches!

Ideal System (1)

Ramble (940291) | more than 7 years ago | (#17371336)

The ideal system for me is the media centric easy one.

I used to run Gentoo, and to be honest it's probably the best distro I've used to date. Right now I run Vista and that's probably the best version of Windows I've used to date.

A mixture of the two would be great, because I love the customising capabilites of Gentoo, the zero-cost of it and that it's modern and fast. However, the fact that there is no good media centre solution for Linux puts me off a lot. Anyone who has ever used Vista MCE will know what I'm talking about. The day when I can press a button on my remote and record/watch a tv show in a few presses will be the day I switch to Linux.

A few other things need to be changed as well, such as the possible difficulty in installing (Why does the average user need to download a Python library for something to work? I bet 90% of people don't know what Python is).

Hardware is an issue as well. I know that lots of the problems experienced are hardware manfacturers fault, but god damn when I install an OS I expect 3D graphics accel. Or my ethernet card to be working.

Re:Ideal System (1)

robzon (981455) | more than 7 years ago | (#17371694)

The day when I can press a button on my remote and record/watch a tv show in a few presses will be the day I switch to Linux.

Ummmm... MythTV [mythtv.org] ?

From one newb to another (1)

eclectro (227083) | more than 7 years ago | (#17371342)

I recommend PCLinuxos [distrowatch.com] . It has the right mix of ease of use and fucntionality out of the box so you can see what the ins and outs of linux are with a minimum of transfer shock. Then you can try other distros once you have this under your belt.

The only whine I have is that the beta flash player doesn't work well for me as compared to other distros. But that's more adobe's fault than linux's. Hopefully this will be fixed shortly.

OSX (0, Flamebait)

NineNine (235196) | more than 7 years ago | (#17371354)

There's really no reason to waste time messing around with Linux anymore. Just get a Mac. You'll be able to work out of the box, and you can spend a lot more time doing work (and having fun), rather than fixing problems.

Re:OSX (1)

talksinmaths (199235) | more than 7 years ago | (#17371542)

Which TeX distro will he be working with right out of the box under OS X?

Re:OSX (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17371672)

I disagree with the recommendation to get a Mac, but I have used TeX installed via fink on OS X without much problem.

I still recommend Linux for this particular thread. Much cheaper than a Mac, for one. And it sounds like this guy's needs are right up Linux's alley.

This one: (1)

goombah99 (560566) | more than 7 years ago | (#17371700)

Fink install TexMac

Okay it's not "out of the box" but it's nearly all drag and drop (if you use fink commander) or the mac package installer.

Basically fink is a major chunk of Debian . Thousands of packages.

The best part is that fink is all self consistent unlike the package managers on linux which seem to always get all twisted around depending on which linux or which compat-lib you are using.

So Unix package management in my experience is a lot easier on macs than on linux.

Best part is this: unistalling the packages you installed to get back to zero again is one drag and drop to the trash. Try that on linux.

you don't need to switch... (1)

larry bagina (561269) | more than 7 years ago | (#17371364)

everything you mentioned (LaTeX, python, web stuff, etc) can be done in Windows. Install cygwin, mktex, TeXnic Center, and you're golden.

I've tried dual (or even triple) booting in the past and it's the worst of both worlds. However, virtualization lets you run side by side and leverage the particular advantages of each environment.

Depends on your expectations (4, Interesting)

Cyphax (262239) | more than 7 years ago | (#17371376)

I personally have 2 favorite distro's. First there's Slackware. Its tremendous transparancy has always made it easy to configure, mess around with, and it's versatile. What's more: it makes me feel at home. Yes, lots of things take time to set up, but everything will be just about the way you want them to be.

Then there's Ubuntu. It has impressed me with features that make life on the computer easier. At the same time, I don't know my way around it much and I do not want to HAVE to know my way around it. Behind Ubuntu, I have a completely different mindset than when I'm behind Slackware. When something refuses to work in Ubuntu, I cuss it out: why haven't the developers fixed this yet?! When something refuses to work in Slackware, I seek the configuration files out and edit them as needed. It's what it was made for, as opposed to Ubuntu (in my eyes).

Perhaps you find it odd for a person to completely think differently using 2 different distributions of Linux, but that's how it works in my head. Maybe others share this oddity. Either way: if you want a versatile distribution that you want to get to know and that you want working with you, I'd go for something like Slackware, or Debian or maybe Gentoo. If you want something that works out of the box and starts you off with a set-up desktop, go for Ubuntu or Suse, or maybe Fedora. Of course if it comes down to it you can configure Ubuntu to be exactly as you want it, but then I'd start right at the beginning with Slackware/Debian and build your own system. You learn more that way.

Hopefully the rough edges will be shaved off Ubuntu as it is an impressive distro with many a feature that Windows simply doesn't have, or less polished. It also has a large userbase, is supported widely by developers (package-management is good). Of course, the same applies to Fedora and Suse. Try and see for yourself what you like. They can all be installed great with VMWare Server. And speaking of which, Windows runs good in VMWare as well so you won't have to abandon your trusty Windows. ;)

Lots of options (2)

dsoltesz (563978) | more than 7 years ago | (#17371384)

Ubuntu's probably the right answer, but I'm very fond of SuSE. Ask around and see if you can locate a local Linux Users Group (LUG) - they're usually happy to help, can show you various flavors of Linux, and even help you with set-up of the O/S and even installing specialty apps. It is very likely you will need to know how to get around in Linux (or Unix) if you're going into a scientific research field, so my recommendation is to go ahead and learn it sooner rather than later.

You Might Have a Look at SuSe (1)

NeverVotedBush (1041088) | more than 7 years ago | (#17371388)

If you are a Linux newbie, I think one of the best ways to go would be with a boxed solution. SuSe is a pretty good distrubution, is backed by Novell, and will give you just about all you could ever hope for on a bunch of CDs or DVD. As a boxed solution, it comes with basic manuals hardcopy and all the manuals plus extras on the CDs and accessible once you have done the install. There is a bit of controversy about Novell's recent deal with Microsoft but that might end up being a benefit to a mostly Windows user. A lot of people will recommend a "roll your own" solution but for most people getting into Linux for the first time, that might not be the best answer. You can always switch later - and that's one of the benefits to Linux - it's free. Only the boxed solutions cost and not very much compared to Windows. If you know how to download and burn ISOs, you can go Fedora, Ubuntu, etc., and are at least a little familiar with GRUB, RPMs, YAST, etc, you may well want to go with the others. But otherwise, I'd suggest SuSe in a box.

I installed Linux on a box 3 weeks ago. (1)

kiwioddBall (646813) | more than 7 years ago | (#17371394)

I used an old P4 1.7 I had lying around... rather than investing in a new piece of hardware you might find it easier to just use something old. It appears you don't want to do anything too computational.

I installed Ubuntu 6.10 Desktop on the box. Troubles I had : Not beiong able to download a version of the distro that would install. It is a big download, and the MD5's never matched. When this happens, the install will just hang in the middle. I ended up getting a disk by mail. The other issue I have is that it keeps forgetting my DNS servers. I don't know why (yet).

I've been a Windows guy since 1995. Ubuntu isn't as intuitive as Windows no matter what anyone says, however it is by far the best attempt made by a Linux distro yet. I'll stick with Windows on my Laptop and Ubuntu on a server in the back room (they talk to each other nicely).

Good general distro (1)

kawabago (551139) | more than 7 years ago | (#17371404)

Ubuntu is nice but it is set up for a newbie with root access disabled. For the stuff you want to do you would be best off with Fedora Core 6. When you do the install choose only the Gnome desktop or KDE desktop if you prefer but installing both makes administration very confusing. Generally Ubuntu and Fedora Core are set up to run Gnome and now that it is maturing it is a very nice desktop. I highly recommended buying a distribution with support to get you going, it will pay for itself when you start customizing things.

Cheapo second hand + backup system (1)

sugarmotor (621907) | more than 7 years ago | (#17371412)

With a 500MHz - 1GHz system you should do just fine.

Those can be had for $100-200 if they are not thrown out.

Work out a backup system.

Use a revision control system (subversion.tigris.org). Should be good for your python scripts and latex work. Use make even with latex.

Stephan

Simple (2, Interesting)

reacocard (1043858) | more than 7 years ago | (#17371420)

I am fairly new to linux myself, (I switched just last April), and I have just a few words to say.

1) Use Ubuntu - It is by far the easiest distribution to get started in, supports most hardware automatically, and has a HUGE range of software available. Plus, the forums [ubuntuforums.org] are superb and have helped me countless times.

2) Break things - Seriously. This is the best way to learn about how your new system works. I've learned many things from the times I've broken my system, most importantly how not to break my system.

Good luck, and welcome to Linux!

Re:Simple (1)

Puma_Concolor (842998) | more than 7 years ago | (#17371636)

I have been using Slackware since 1998 and I find it open and easy to use. You do learn about how it works and fits together and I tried Redhat, and Suse, but I always liked Slackware.Also, use the tool that does the job, I have ONE win2k box just in case it is needed. All in all HAVE FUN!

Linux cheetah 2.4.32 #6 Fri Mar 17 00:15:38 EST 2006 i686 unknown unknown GNU/Linux

ease of use (1)

gkrat (1031506) | more than 7 years ago | (#17371442)

Pretty much all distros will do what you want them to. From personal experience I would recommend either Fedora Core or Mandriva (this is the distro my gf uses, and she had no linux exp until i loaded it on her system). Both use rpms to install software, easy configuration utilities with them, and very easy installations.

Try a live distro first. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17371470)

I like the commercial version of Suse for Newbies. If it works on the system then there's nothing else to do. I just installed Ubuntu on my wife's machine and it was necessary to install 'stuff' (java runtime in particular) before Ubuntu would do things like watch YouTube videos. OTOH, Suse couldn't cope with the video card (all the obvious tricks didn't work); hence the advice to try a live distro first. You will then know whether you have a working solution before doing something like reformatting the hard drive. (Once upon a time, Mandrake would install to unused space on a Windows partition but I suspect that NTFS has put an end to that.)

best recommendation for newby Linux (2, Informative)

Quenyar (560924) | more than 7 years ago | (#17371484)

As a newby Linux user, I'd go with the majority and suggest ubuntu - except that the tetex debian package that is available for download onto ubuntu is flawed. Fedora has a better standard load of LaTeX it works better out of the box for LaTex. I really like Kile (GUI front end to LaTeX available in both Fedora and ubuntu) and it is a time-saver that doesn't automagically break things, like most GUI front ends. There are some long-term weirdnesses you should be aware of with Fedora - when you install it, choose as your user some other ID than the one you want to use for yourself - the opposite of the ubuntu advice, where you want to be the install-user.

Another alternative - you're probably a TUG member. You can very easily install LaTex from the TeX Live CD/DVD. It's easier than installing MiKTeX in Windows (from that very confusing PDF) - this gives you the advantage of a dead stable LaTeX set on your computer - rather than one that automatically updates and might become temporarily unstable with respect to your personal custom code.

So, I guess, I'd suggest a best of both worlds approach - installing ubuntu and then installing LaTeX manually. You'll be really happy. It's so simple to do things - such as dvi2pdf - you'll never want to go back to Windows. Which reminds me, do go and get the Acrobat reader for Linux and install it - it works better than the standard app (in Fedora). In ubuntu the standard reader works OK. Drop me a line if you want assistance.

Try vmware (4, Insightful)

astrashe (7452) | more than 7 years ago | (#17371490)

Try vmware first. It will let you run a virtual system in a window on top of windows, so you won't have to reformat your drive, or repartition, or do anything like that. It's a very inobtrusive way to get started.

The virtualization penalty in terms of performance is very slight, and you don't have to worry about drivers at all, which is huge, especially if you're new to linux, and haven't selected your hardware with linux in mind.

Which distro depends a lot on the specific apps you want to run. As you probably know, linux doesn't have universal installers the way windows does -- packages have to be rolled up for your specific distro. (They don't *have* to be, but it's a lot easier if they are.) I don't use TeX often, but I think it should be pretty widely avaialble on most distros. Python is ubiquitous, you won't have any trouble anywhere.

I tend to think of apt as the "killer app" of linux. You just ask for an applicaiton, and it downloads and installs automatically. Not all distros have it -- it's something that exists in distros that are part of the debian family tree. Ubuntu is a debian based distro, and so it has apt.

So Ubuntu is really the safe answer.

There's a fair amount of stuff that doesn't work out of the box in Ubuntu -- almost always for licensning reasons. Software to play multimedia files often falls into this category, and it's sort of a pain to get all of that set up, and things like flash for your web browser don't work out of the box either.

So my advice to you would be to do virtualization for your math stuff with unbuntu, and to stick to the host layer windows install for multimedia stuff. Once you know your way around linux, you can take the plunge and go all linux. But this way, you never have a machine that won't do whatever you need it to do.

SuSE is in disfavor now for political reasons (fights over licensing, and I'm pretty down on them myself), but if you want a really slick desktop, it's hard to beat. It's better for multimedia after the initial install, and it tends to work better out of the box generally. There are lots of little details that are handled better.

My main problems with SuSE are mostly ideological now, and those problems are severe enough that I wouldn't use it. So I don't want to downlplay the political stuff, it's real, and it's important, and I think that Novell is on the wrong side of it. But one of the reasons the fight with Novell is so painful is that very shortly before the problem emerged, they came out with what were pretty much the most beautiful linux desktops ever.

My other problem is the lack of apt, the package manager, which you really, really want, even if you don't realize it now. Life without apt can't really be called living.

Finally, if you're in a math department somewhere, ask around and see what other people are using. Because the single most valuable thing for you as a new user will be someone you can ask for help.

How much you want to tinker with the OS? (1)

sleepdepzombie (580324) | more than 7 years ago | (#17371512)

If you want an easy, out of the box solution go with Ubuntu or one of it's variants. http://www.ubuntu.com/ [ubuntu.com] http://www.kubuntu.org/ [kubuntu.org] http://www.xubuntu.org/ [xubuntu.org]

If you want to tinker with the OS a bit I'd suggest Slackware. http://www.slackware.com/ [slackware.com] It isn't as easy to set up or maintain. However, you will have more of an opportunity to actually learn what is going on with they system.

OpenSuSE (1)

FreeFull (1043860) | more than 7 years ago | (#17371526)

Use newest version of OpenSuSE, you will know how to use it. (PS. Don't use internet install, its terribly slow)

Re:OpenSuSE (1)

armchair99 (745329) | more than 7 years ago | (#17371726)

Unfortunately Novell has chosen to align itself with the Dark Lord of Redmond but the OpenSuSE 10.2 DVD is the only distro I have tried that recognized, initialized and made available all the hardware in my Dell Latitude D610. It simply worked right out of the box.

Easy to administer... Mandriva. (1)

waferhead (557795) | more than 7 years ago | (#17371528)

I have been a "Linux on the desktop" user since ~1993...
But I'm still only an advanced user, It's just a tool.
(Sorry to the Ubuntu folks, it just isn't all that, yet)

After trying _everything_, I always end up back on Mandrake... ...Now known as Mandriva.

TIP:
Esp. if are installing on old/weird hardware, do an install from the Mandriva-ONE-KDE CD.

This installs a basic system, then google for "easy urpmi" and get all your sources configured right. Also has Nvidia and ATI drivers built in. Works nice.

Virtualisation (3, Insightful)

Mostly a lurker (634878) | more than 7 years ago | (#17371534)

If you are upgrading your desktop anyway, I would suggest a VMware (or possibly Xen: with modern hardware, Windows is a supported guest OS) solution rather than multiboot. Just make certain you have enough RAM. The host OS can be Windows or Linux with a virtual machine taking care of the other OS. Considerations on choice of host OS are
  • a Linux host will perform better, will be more malware resistant and, perhaps, be more robust;
  • if you are buying a brand new system, driver support may be better under Windows (Linux in a virtual machine will not care about the host hardware drivers);
  • if you go 64-bit, Linux is the best choice of host OS.
As others have suggested, Ubuntu is a sound choice of Linux distribution. I am going to blow my karma by noting that SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop is even better if you are willing to give Novell some money.

my $0.02 (3, Interesting)

Chris Snook (872473) | more than 7 years ago | (#17371544)

Hardware:
1) A CPU with hardware virtualization will greatly expand your options for using Windows and Linux together on the same box. Any Intel Core chip or AMD Socket AM2 chip will work.

and

2) Anything from a top-tier OEM is going to be much easier to make Linux work on than something you pieced together yourself.

and

3) Spend your money on RAM, not CPU.

Distro:
a) Ubuntu, as it benefits from the vast repositories of Debian software, but is better targeted for your use case.

or

b) Fedora Core, as it benefits from the vast repositories of RPM software. For out-of-distro software, you're more likely to find RPM downloads than .deb downloads, so with Fedora you'll be less likely to have to compile software yourself. The downside of Fedora is that older versions aren't supported for very long.

If having to do a major upgrade every year to be able to keep getting updates scares you, use Ubuntu. If having to compile your own software scares you, Fedora might be better, and Gentoo is definitely out.

There are plenty of other perfectly valid choices, but Ubuntu and Fedora Core are the obvious first two to mention for someone who's probably going to be spending a little time searching Google and browsing the user forums.

n00b too. (2, Informative)

uglybracelets (1043862) | more than 7 years ago | (#17371562)

I myself started using Linux at the behest of my boyfriend about a week ago, and I would have to say Ubuntu was really easy. He walked me through some stuff, but I am really comfortable with it already. But this is the only thing I have ever looked at, and it may be hard if you don't have someone behind you helping you, but I like it.

Ubuntu (4, Insightful)

foreverdisillusioned (763799) | more than 7 years ago | (#17371564)

Before Ubuntu, I tried Red Hat (this was pre-Fedora), SuSE, Debian, Knoppix, Gentoo (with the help of a friend who knew what he was doing), and Mandrake (as it was then known.) All of them had serious issues--mostly unrecognized hardware, but a couple couldn't even make it through installation (for example, Knoppix would hang no matter what I did.) I was a newbie, but I wasn't utterly helpless... I knew my way around a shell. With each distro, I spent several days troubleshooting the problem and got nowhere. I *wanted* to use Linux, but I simply couldn't afford to invest so much time making the basics work. There's a huge difference between a little tinkering in my spare time (which I was looking forward to) and trying to live without a functional network card.

And then, along came Ubuntu and EVERYTHING JUST WORKED. Obviously, your millage my vary (some people say that Ubuntu has given them nothing but headaches yet e.g. MEPIS is a dream) and I'm sure Ubuntu's improvements have since been incorporated in all of those other distros I tried, but Ubuntu's philosophy and their large community of helpful users has me sold. Virtually every single niggling little problem I had in 5.04 (the first Ubuntu release) has been resolved. I've installed Xubuntu on my mom's old laptop and she loves it (and unlike Windows, it's virtually maintainance-free.)

If you do encounter problems after installing Ubuntu, just check out ubuntuforums.org--I've installed it in half a dozen computers now, and virtually every problem I've ever encountered has been easily solved by following a step-by-step guide some kind soul has posted.

Ubuntu really is "Linux for Human Beings."

Re:Ubuntu (1)

Antique Geekmeister (740220) | more than 7 years ago | (#17371704)

And by this point, your hardware was six months older, right? Meaning there was time to integrate the latest monitor, graphics drivers, and other hardware related details into the OS? Have you retried that hardware with the latest "live" CD's of the other distributions, to see if they've worked out the relevant kinks?

Kubuntu, anyone? (2, Insightful)

dbneeley (1043856) | more than 7 years ago | (#17371588)

I think the KDE interface makes more sense for the Linux newbie, and the Kubuntu distribution has many advantages as well. As mentioned above, tremendous online resources and a very active community for advice and support are substantial advantages.

For LaTeX, I suggest Lyx...available for your Windows side as well as in Linux. See http://www.lyx.org/ [lyx.org]

I would also create a separate partition for those things you will need to share between both windows and Linux. I'd probably format this as a fat32 partition, since that is somewhat simpler to use for Linux and will appear transparent to Windows. The occasional glitch in the handling of NTFS partitions is not worth the hassle, yet you are bound to have a fair amount of information that it would be helpful to have available in either side.

David

I am biased... (1)

Lord Kano (13027) | more than 7 years ago | (#17371596)

In favor of Mandriva. I've been a big time advocate since I tried Mandrake 6.0.

The configuration tools are second to none. You can accomplish most of the common tasks while in the GUI. Eventually you'll likely encounter a problem that will force you to fix it with a command line, but until that time a newbie can learn a lot with the included tools.

LK

Name of Journal (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17371600)

In Latin, the noun "nihil" is indeclinable. Thus the usage "Ex Nihilo" is a common error, which, in its corrected form, should stand as "Ex Nihil."

I've repeatedly suggested Linux... (0, Offtopic)

mark-t (151149) | more than 7 years ago | (#17371630)

... to my wife to run on our family PC... every time we have to reinstall Windows.

The reply is something to the effect of "Nobody else knows how to use YOUR computer, do you want nobody to use even the computer that is supposed to be for the whole family?"

For math users, check out Quantian Linux (2, Informative)

mmadsen (593489) | more than 7 years ago | (#17371708)

Most of the comments here seem to be more about the Linux distro than Spiffyman's domain-specific requirements. Speaking from that perspective, I'd check out the Quantian Scientific Computing Environment (http://dirk.eddelbuettel.com/quantian.html). It's a complete Knoppix LiveCD distro, pre-loaded with every FOSS math and science app around, including a fairly comprehensive TeX/LaTeX set of tools, IDE's, etc. The best part about Quantian is that you can run it as a LiveCD, boot it on an existing Windows system while you get up to speed and learn the toolset, and you don't have to immediately reformat/repartition/dual-boot your existing box. Personally I'm a big fan of Ubuntu, and especially Edgy Eft, but I still boot up a Quantian VM anytime I'm sitting on Windows or Mac and need to use R for stats, or use some math libraries. Hope this helps. Good luck!
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