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Distros for Newbies

Novell Cool Solutions: Tip

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Posted: 11 Feb 2004

Recently we posted this OPEN CALL in the Q&A:

Question: Which Distribution of Linux would you all recommend for someone that has never touched Linux? I am very excited about Novell buying SUSE, and can see Novell giving Microsoft a run for their money. But most importantly I see the oportunity to streamline. I'd really like to start learning Linux so I am more able to meet my company's demands.

Answer: We heard from several experts who vouch for SUSE Personal or Pro to start with. It comes with a great book, and it is extremely easy to install. We've heard that RedHat is harder to get started with. As one expert said, "Whenever I tried RedHat, I gave up after a while because a NIC didn't work, or a WiFi card, or my TV card etc. etc. With SUSE I had everything running almost immediately."

OPEN CALL: Any other suggestions for the easiest Distribution for a newbie to use? Let us know.


Brian Joe

I like SUSE LINUX Pro 9.0 and agree it's super easy to install and use.

I also found Lycoris/LX Desktop is extremely easy to use as a starting point, but like SUSE for the richness of bundled apps.

Robin Small

I've been using Linux since the RedHat 5.1/5.2 days (what is that? 5? 6 years now?)

Anyway, I'd recommend Mandrake or SUSE for a complete beginner. The setup wizards are great for those coming from the Windows world of plug and play.

For those who are more experienced and want a "feel good" solid Linux workstation (and know your way around config scripts), SUSE and RedHat are both really good.

For those who are gluttons for punishment and really want to tinker under the hood, it's got to be Gentoo and Debian.

And for those Enterprise Servers, it's SLES.

my $.02

Marco Horstmann

I think SUSE is the best distro to start with linux. The installation is very easy und comfortable.

Here in Germany I think most linux computers run with SUSE .

Pascal Seiler

For sure, SUSE is one of the easiest Linux's to set up and maybe one of the best Distro's for corporate use. If you would really understand what's needed to run a Linux System I recommend starting with Debian. It's hard for the first few days, but it gave me a fast understanding how things are made. Docs? The Internet has all you need. By the way, a lot of ISP's run Debian and NNLS would be a great solution for them. So, please support it soon.

Peter Smith

Why not try a bootable version that runs right off the CD? One large advantage is that a user unfamiliar with Linux does not have to actually install the OS to the machine, just put the CD in the tray and Linux boots from CD completely.

SUSE version 8.1 (newer version 9.0 available) is a bootable disk that runs on all the laptops and desktops that I have used it on. One additional benefit to running Linux from bootable CD is that should you ever lose the main OS installed on the machine, you can boot to Linux from the CD, mount a drive and back up any important data or modify files accordingly.

Having tried many versions of Linux, I would strongly recommend the bootable CD's for their convenience and the SUSE distribution specifically for the ease of use and bundled applications.

Sander van Vugt

If they really want to install it, SUSE 9 in my opinion is a very good choice. If it is just to get familiar with the product, the bootable Knoppix cd is even a better choice since it requires no installation at all.

Brad Clarkston

I would pick the SUSE live-eval version over Standard or Pro.

It's always better to have a newbie work with a live CD and still have his/her Windows system untouched as a safety net until they know what they are doing.

Henry Cross

I've been an avid Linux user since '95 and have tried nearly every distribution at one time or another. I also use Linux professionally on my job as system administrator for a Fortune 500 company.

Due to the recent Red Hat licensing change I find myself looking at some of the newer distributions in an attempt to migrate from my current installation of Redhat 9. In fact, on my desk at the moment are three of the newest to arrive. SUSE 9.0, Sun's Java Desktop System 2003 and Xandros 2.0. While I haven't yet reviewed Sun's new offering I have taken a look at the other two.

SUSE 9.0 Professional

Pros: YAST2! Software and lots of it! Subsequent installation of packages can be done via FTP, HTTP, NFS, etc. no CD/DVD required. No vendor mandated desktop "look" just pure KDE (...or Gnome if you prefer). And so much more...

Cons: Improper identification of mainstream video card (NVidia 4200 Ti). NVidia driver required separate download. WiFi card configuration initialization and addition of default route must be done manually via kwifimanager and YAST2 on every boot when using WEP.

Notes: This will most likely become my new desktop system due to the rich set of software and the best Linux admin tool I've ever used. YAST2.

Xandros 2.0 Standard

Pros: The "Windows" look. (Is that a Pro ?) Ease of use, ease of administration and polished/consistent finish/look of everything. Real NVidia driver actually installed at "installation time".

Cons: Installation of additional packages is too granular I want to click eight check boxes and click "install" once not click "install" eight times.

Notes: This will be my recommendation to all my Windows friends. This is the product that SUSE "Standard" should be! IMO this is the desktop system that could turn the tide for the Linux desktop scene. Kudos to the people at Xandros for such fine work.

Brian Squadrito

In my arrogant opinion, LindowsOS is the easiest to get started with.

On an older version (3.0) I have even been running the novel client on an old Win95 PC I dual-booted at work (full GUI file management on NW 5.1 with inherent OS tcp/ip printing), but the hardware doesn't support the newer versions' requirements. :-(

The forums are an excellent resource for newbies, it connects to M$ network services extremely easily, and it's an excellent internet PC out-of-the-box. :-)

I've played with Slackware , RedHat 7 and 8, SUSE 8.2 and 9.0 Pro, Debian, and Turbolinux, and am prepared to try Gentoo on my games PC next, FYI.

Thomas Welp

A very nice possibility for newbies to try Linux is Knoppix. It boots from CD, includes applications to watch DVDs, Open Office, Recovery tools.

Since it doesn't need the user's harddrive it is perfect to try Linux with no risk.

It also has a Terminal Server that can be started and enables thin clients, Notebooks or PC with Boot-Rom to access the Linux-Server.

Greg Molyneux

SUSE is a fantastic distro - it's professional, stable, and has great documentation, but there are features of other distributions that can't be overlooked. I'll attempt to provide a few examples from my favorite distro, which I've configured and deployed for both server and desktop implementations. Please keep in mind as you read this, SUSE has some fantastic features of its own, and I'd recommend it for use in any business looking to move to Linux, but there are always things that can be improved in ANY distribution.

Mandrake Linux

--THE SINGLE BEST USER COMMUNITY OF ANY LINUX DISTRIBUTION ON THE PLANET. Even though I intend to use SUSE in the office (as a result of Novell's recent purchase), I will continue to use and support Mandrake Linux at home and anywhere else I can. Their developers listen closely to the users feedback about the distro, and help resolve problems in a timely manner. The users themselves work together, providing updated/new software packages and help resolving issues in a fashion I've never seen associated with any other distribution. There are several very useful user support sites devoted to Mandrake's distribution, hosted by some very dedicated and talented Mandrake users.

--SUSE 's distribution method needs some serious work to be appealing to Linux users (including corporate techs). I subscribe to MandrakeClub, which allows me (for $60 a year basic membership) to contribute directly to the company, and provides me with special perks as a member. These perks include access to new/updated software, reserved ftp/http mirrors for distribution download, earlier and easier access to documentation and solutions, and more. I have absolutely NO PROBLEM paying for a good OS, but I despise being forced into paying for an upgrade, or a physical copy of a distribution (read - M$ Windows, SUSE and others). I know "you can always install over the wire", but sometimes that's not an option, and it's rarely my first choice. SOMEBODY GIVE ME AN ISO SET TO BURN TO CD!!! As much as I like SUSE , I HATE their unfriendly distribution method, and seriously limited support of the user community. Is anybody at Novell/SUSE listening?

--Toolsets/drivers/program versions in Mandrake are almost always farther ahead and more capable than what SUSE offers. I know, "a business-oriented distribution like SUSE has to have a longer development time and release cycle for platform viability, and . . . . ." But recently I had a partition problem during a dual boot install that Windows XP couldn't detect, and SUSE wouldn't even attempt to touch (uses Partmon, I believe). So I broke out my Mandrake Linux 9.2 CD and used ITS PARTITIONING TOOL TO REPAIR THE PROBLEM (diskdrake), then SUSE installed fine. SUSE could stand to be a little more innovative in its choice of tools and features, because end users won't typically take the time to learn how to do things the hard way.

--Automounting of removable media (CD-ROM's for example) isn't nearly as slick in SUSE as in Mandrake. It just doesn't have the same clean, quick feel to it.

--RPM package management is an interesting subject. While SUSE 's GUI RPM installer is absolutely top notch, I find that there are times I REALLY miss the command line urpmi utility that Mandrake uses. I may just need to educate myself a little bit better about SUSE 's options though, and I do like SUSE 's graphical software install interface better than any other I've used.

Half of the points listed above are fairly minor, but the first three (in my mind) should be seriously considered by ANY distribution. SUSE is a first class Linux distribution, and it's not my intention to bag on it, but one of the beautiful things about open source software is NOT HAVING TO RE-INVENT THE WHEEL. Look around SUSE, and talk to your users - use the advances that others have made to improve your own already fantastic distro, the company as a whole, and most importantly your user community. This will help you APPEAL TO A MUCH WIDER AUDIENCE.

By the way, can anybody tell me what SUSE stands for?

[Editor's Note: From the handy Wikipedia comes this explanation of the SUSE acronym: The name "SUSE " is an acronym of the German term "Software und Systementwicklung," meaning "software and system development."]

Author's Note: After posting this note [with a section criticizing SUSE's directory placement], I had the opportunity to download and evaluate Mandrake's version 10beta2 distro. As it turns out, Mandrake's newest distro will include a very similar directory structure. This made me curious enough to check out the Filesystem Hierarchy Standard for Linux (see or, and to my surprise, SUSE's distro simply conforms to the latest version of the FHS. Whether I like the standard or not, SUSE is doing things the right way.

Niels C Nielsen

How about Knoppix for trying out Linux? It loads and runs directly off the downloadable cd. This way people can try Linux without messing with the Windows install on their HD. Then, whenever you feel comfortable with Linux, you can install any distro of your liking carefully alongside Windows or boldly do a rip-and-replace.

John E. Abrams

Having been involved in Unix operating systems since the 80's and having loaded and operated Linux since very near its beginnings, I have to make it clear that all modern distros are light years from where this all started! Modern distros do most of the heavy lifting during set up with GUI's and "fill in the blanks". So by comparison to the floppy installs from command line, they all are more or less easy to install. Configuration of services and hardware has always been the area where issues with all of the flavors of Linux get reported.

The fastest most easy way to get up and running for a newbie I think are the numerous bootable CD distros. Most install and run with a simple reboot, require almost no configuration, and most will run on almost any relatively modern hardware. It depends on what you need, but as a learning tool for users and admins needing to get commandline or X "stick time" this is the fastest way to get there with the least pain I know of.

Try Knoppix, Morphix, LNX-BBC -- there is a bunch of them out there. There are some new small distros out there that are amazing! I keep two or three around for all sorts of stuff. I even have one that boots from a 64Mb USB thumb drive!

Bryan Diller

I also have found SUSE and Mandrake easy to install and use. There are so many free tools out there for monitoring and troubleshooting networks, there is no reason not to learn how to use Linux. Now that Novell has jumped in with both feet things will only get bigger and better.

My biggest complaint was I had a server that had SUSE 8.2, the hard drives crashed and during the rebuild I tried to install SUSE Linux 9.0 Professional. The install would complete and upon reboot the server would crash with a kernel panic which was very confusing and had me ready to pull my hair out. I just went back to SUSE 8.2 and the server is running fine.

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