[thelist] Which Linux?

Burhan Khalid thelist at meidomus.com
Mon Aug 4 06:28:32 CDT 2003

Wednesday, July 23, 2003, 2:41:06 PM, Hershel wrote:

HR> I am interested in advice from evolters about which Linux distro would be
HR> best for a web developer like myself. To avoid wasting bandwidth and because
HR> this may not be germane for many readers, I have summarized what I am
HR> looking for here:

HR> http://galleryrobinson.com/family/newbie.htm

I can give you some perspective on this, because for a while, I was in
the exact same boat as you were. I was developing stuff on Windows,
yet wanting to move to Linux because all the webhosts that I deal with
are linux based, and it seemed like a good thing.

I've tried all the major distributions .. RH, SuSE, Mandrake,
Connectiva, even FreeBSD. Although not a complete newbie to Linux, I
was by no means an expert. Although all the major distributions have
easy installers, some are just easier than others.

My test machine was an old Dell laptop .. Pentium II 400 (I think)
and 128 Megs of RAM, with a 10-20 gig hard drive. I found that RH 9
was the most resource hog even during the install process. Mandrake
was the easiest to install, and didn't require much customization
or ask many questions during the install process. One thing I learned
is that you better have a bootable CD for almost all distros to work.
You would think this was a "gee duh" -- but I found that some CD
burners (like Roxio) ... tended to mess up on the ISO burn, creating
for you a rather interesting looking coaster. In my experience, Nero
works best ... although this might have to do with some bad juju on
the part of the media (I was using Sony blanks).

If you want to be up and running with a system as soon as possible, my
suggestion (like the others) would be to go with either Red Hat or
Mandrake ... noting that Red Hat's RPM packages are not the easiest to
install, sometimes you'll get version conflicts, make errors, etc.

Although less of a problem these days with the improved kernel, but
back when I was testing things, it saved a lot of grief knowing if
your graphics chipset was supported by the X server (that's the
program that enables the graphical part of Linux). Still, its a good
practice to get a list of your system's hardware on paper before you
begin the install process.

As for window managers ... this topic tends to start many holy wars on
IRC rooms, I would suggest that you visit the websites for the two
major window managers ( http://www.kde.org and http://www.gnome.org )
to see the screenshots, writeups, etc. Both of these aren't exactly
lightweight, and almost all distributions come with both, along with a
few others.

For your specific hardware and needs, I can recommend gentoo (
http://www.gentoo.org ). This is what I settled with when I was done
pulling my hair out with RH, SuSE, Mandrake, etc. The install process
is not the easiest, but its very well documented at the website. You
essentially customize the entire Linux system for your exact hardware
(down to the CPU type optimizations), and have the option to only
include the things you need. This might sound a bit scary to someone
coming from a strict Windows background ... and I can tell you that at
after you've done the customization ... in addition to knowing exactly
how your system is setup, you'll have learned a lot more about the
Linux then you will have playing around with KDE on Red Hat.

With Gentoo which is portage based, installing new software, removing,
and updating your entire system is extremely easy. Updating is one
command ( emerge -u system ) which connects to the internet,
checks your system's configuration with the latest packages
available ... and then updates your system (even the configuration files)
in one fell swoop.

One thing about Gentoo that I didn't like is that the install process
requires a connection to the internet (the faster the better), since
it downloads the latest stable packages for your system and compiles

Finally you should start hanging out in the many IRC channels
dedicated to different distributions. #gentoo is on freenode
(irc.freenode.net), and you can find many other open source
application chatrooms there. A lot of helpful folks,
even people that build the system (for gentoo, anyway) hang
around in the channels and offer some great advice ... especially for "how
do I do ___ ?" type questions.

Good luck, and welcome to the dark side :)

Burhan Khalid

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