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Discovering Linux - The Experiences of a Linux Newbie

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Discovering Linux - The Experiences of a Linux Newbie

August 2006

I have been using computers for years, mostly for gaming and Office apps, and I've been faithfull to Microsoft all this time. I had heard a lot about linux, and had tried some of the opensource software on my XP-laptop, such as OpenOffice. The thought of a free alternative to Microsofts costly products really appeals to me, and I decided to find out for myself what the fuzz was all about.

A few words about me and what I was looking for in my OS. I am from Norway, in my mid-twenties and I study at the University (not computer science). I have very limited technical knowledge, and I was looking for an Easy-to-use distro. My test computer is not exactly brand new; Pentium III 533 MHz, 128 MB RAM, 12 GB HD, ATI Rage 128. Also, it does not have an internet connection, so every time I need isos, software or support, I have to use the other computer, a newer model with XP.

I downloaded several distros on my XP computer and made installation discs. At first words like partitioning, swap drive, root drive and bootloader meant nothing to me, but after some time and some failures I sort of got hold of the installation process. The biggest shock for a Windows user like myself was how painfully frustrating software installation was. Compiling from source and keeping track of dozens of dependencies is a bit more challenging than simply double-clicking the setup-icon in windows. From browsing various Linux forums, I get the impression that some regard this as a good thing. Due to security reasons, it seems. I strongly disagree so far. It seems that software installation is made a lot easier with tools like apt-get etc., but all these seem to require an internet connection.

This is what happend when i tried to setup a distro on my own. I really liked the look and feel of ubuntu, and decided to make an effort to make it work like I wanted (restricted formats etc). I tried to compile gstreamer-files I had downloaded, but was unable to do this. It seemed Ubuntu didn't have a compiler preinstalled (what is a compiler?). I browsed the web, and was able to install gcc from the install CD, but still I couldn't install gstreamer. Seems I lacked dependencies. I downloaded all the dependencies that was listed, but when I tried to install these, it seems I lacked dependencies for the dependencies. It was at this time I uninstalled ubuntu.

Because I found it difficult to add software, it was very important to me that the distro worked out-of-the-box. Also, I don't even know what a config file is, so no manual editing of config files, please. What I ideally want from a distro is:

# A good looking, clean and tidy, functional desktop.

# It needs to work reasonably fast on my rather old computer.

# It needs to play MP3, AVI and other popular formats out-of-the box.

# A few games and a lot of preinstalled software.

# I prefer if it has AbiWord. OO is very slow on my PC (This is not a big issue).

# gcc should be installed by default.

# Perfect harware detection.

# A working sound recorder (the was a problem with a surprisingly high number of the distros)

Distro by Distro

1. Xandros (open edition)

+ Easy installation

+ Good looks. Easy to navigate for a Windows user.

+ Plays all formats by default.

+Working sound recorder

- A bit too windows-ish.

- Free edition lacks features, such as speedy CD-burning.

- Too many ads, too few apps.

- No Live-CD

2. Linspire (5.0)

- The liveCD is way to heavy for my system. No installation possible.

3. Mandriva (One)

+ Looks and feels great. Very intuitive.

+ Plays restricted formats.

+ The easiest installer and partitioning tool I have seen.

+ A lot of preinstalled software.

- Sound recorder won't work on my system.

- No games.

4. PClinuxOS

- Boring look.

- Graphical installer barley works on my system.

- When installed, X won't work. Somthing to do with ATI 128 Rage?

5. Ubuntu (6.06)

+ No. 1 when it comes to look and feel.

+ Good software selection by default. Nice games.

+ Great community support.

- Graphical installer don't work on my system

- MP3, AVI etc. don't work by default.

- Sound recorder won't work.

6. Fedora (5)

+ Looks and feels nice

+ A lot of good software installed.

- Text-based installer uses three hours to install the system-

- MP3, AVI etc. don't work by default.

- No sound recorder.

- Very slow on my sys.

7. SUSE (10.1)

- Won't work on my system.

8. Mepis

- Crappy looks. Menus need cleaning up.

- Difficult installation.


The concept of open-source, free software is very appealing. Many of the Linux-distros are very good, but I still haven't found one that fits my needs perfectly. Also, my needs will propably change as I become more aquainted to Linux. At this time, my favourite distro is propably Mandriva One, though it would've been Ubuntu if they had had support for restricted formats.

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Welcome to the jungle

Going down to paradise tty
where the installs clean
and the desktop's pretty...

Being or have been in the same position, all dressed up in the Linux trunks, goggles, snorkel, rubber ring and inflatable arm bands, ready to take that dive into the Linux ocean only to find you're still stood on the beach and the boat sailed long ago, I can sympathise.

I had a quick install and click about with Mandriva one, it was ok but I definitely preferred (K)Ubuntu. I managed to break everything else, but then, I am a happy clicker and I do like to prod things to see what happens (not wise to prod a blue spotted ray in the red sea, they don't like being prodded and the sting is akin to having a limb amputated with an acid edged plastic comb!).

There are reasons why restricted formats are not installed by default and I can understand them but it's relatively painless to get them installed. If you decide to give it another go... and I'm sure you will, you can install Automatix, run that and you'll have all the video, mp3, nose streaming you could wish for, plus a few extra bits for good measure. But you will need t'internet connection for it to work though, as with most installs, although from the ones I tried Suse was pretty complete but a tad slow on the older lappy, pIII 550, 512MB Ram and a naff trident video card.

Automatix dwells in its cave-like lair and can be found at:


It's taken a while for an installation to settle down on my laptop, now using Kubuntu, but I think if I didn't have to use it for work then I would have tried a few more and complained about those too. Complaining is a right when you're a grumpy old sod with a texting zombie, comatose, teenage daughter that visits once a month and does nothing but sits on the sofa with a face like a wet weekend and smoke pouring from her thumbs on the phone keypad.

Give it time and installations and you'll get the 1000 yard install stare, the true sign of a veteran Smile
I can just about see things at 1000 yards with military spec binoculars but I'm sure it will come. One install at a time.

Why not VMWare your laptop and install with an Internet connection to get the most out of any distro or even dual boot it? Grub/lilo. You'll probably find that you'll be weaned away from MS the more you use Linux. I use it less and less these days. Don't forget, it’s the path of the righteous man and beset on all sides by the evils of MS. Ah, I seem to be turning into an MS basher, I must have been linuxified.

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