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back to article The Reg guide to Linux, part 1: Picking a distro

One of the common complaints about Linux is that there are too many different editions (or “distributions”) to choose from, and only a hardcore nerd can tell them apart. Well, it's true, but you can safely ignore 99 per cent of them. Welcome to The Register's guaranteed impartiality-free guide. Tomorrow, we'll tell you how to …

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Stop

Ubuntu.

Stopped using it, when they mess up the Ui by swapping the window controls to the "Mac side".

I simply can't get along with Unbutu since they did this. Perhaps if I used ONLY Ubuntu, all the time, but in the real would, we all need Windows...

Really bad decision by Ubuntu to change that in 10.1

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@Ubuntu coward

I don't like ubuntu that much (I use ArchLinux), so I don't usually evangelize it, but you DO know that changing this back is a matter of about 5 seconds right?

Simple guide:

- ALT+F2

- gconf-editor

- go into /apps/metacity/general

- edit the button_layout to for example ":minimize,maximize,close" without the quotes (don't forget the ":")

Voila! You have your windows-like button settings back!

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Change the Theme

Somewhere in there is the facility to put the buttons back where they belong. Change the theme to something more friendly.

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Jad
Stop

Moving the buttons

As theregister pointed out in: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2010/04/30/ubuntu_10_04_review/ you can modify this in the gconf-editor ... and takes about 30 seconds ...

a nice walkthrough is at this site:

http://www.howtogeek.com/howto/13535/move-window-buttons-back-to-the-right-in-ubuntu-10.04/

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pfffft

took me less than a day to get used to the new button placement.

now on non-Lucid machines I move my mouse to the 'wrong' (ie, right) side.

amazes me how much some people whined about this minor change. I'm quite intrigued to see what groovy stuff Shuttleworth was freeing up the right-hand side of the window for.

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buttons

I was similarly annoyed when Internet Explorer moved the Home button to the right instead of the left of the address bar. I got used to it.

And out of all the reasons why one would choose Ubuntu, the placement of Window controls is not high up my list.

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Linux

In the real world...

people who think we all need Windows are just brainwashed. I can do everything I need to do with Debian. I haven't had a Windows installation in my house for a while now.

Don't get me wrong: for some people and some tasks Windows is the way to go. That's a long stretch from saying everyone needs Windows though. Most people could do everything they need to do on Linux.

I'm not one of those people who say everyone should run Linux or anything, I just hate when people say everyone needs Windows. It's not true. It's not even close to true.

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FAIL

GO to the themes and change back! Just three clicks!

GO to the themes and change back! Just three clicks!

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Seconded

I've been using Fedora for 4 years now. I still have a Windows box. May as well use it, as I paid for the license. It works as an ok HTPC. But I only "need it" for one thing. Running the software for my Harmony remote.

Next HTPC will have Myth and all kinds of goodies.

If Microsoft folded tomorrow, the personal impact on me would be minimal. I might have top get a new TV remote. The horror..

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Re;Ubuntu by AC

There is a simple solution to this 'problem'. Download and install Ubuntu Tweak. This programme will do lots of housework tasks including resetting the windows controls to the right side.

I wonder that Ubuntu do not include Ubuntu Tweak in either their distribution or their repositories. It is great and safe set of tools.

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Linux

Fully agree, sisk

The only reason I'm using Windows at the moment is that I cannot tether my Omnia (the original one) cellphone to any of my Linux boxes (we moved and that is currently the only option including satellite at the moment - getting electricity took the power company a few days to get a line down here). I'll play MS Flight Simulator, work with RAW photo (mainly because I am so used to the program I use for RAW files) files in Windows and that is about it. Most all other photo work gets done in Linux by the GIMP.

As an aside; I use Open Office for a lot of my spreadsheet needs because as of MS Office 2003, you could not do conditional formatting with data from another sheet (it returns errors stating you can't) for a large spreadsheet I use for budgeting, billing, and bill paying. Pulling data for conditional formatting makes the summary sheet a lot easier to view at a glance.

I know of more than one person who took a trashed and non-restorable Windows installation, replaced it with a Linux distro for lack of funds for a friend or family member and the only comment was that it booted and ran faster and the icons looked different, but they never complained about not being able to do anything they used to do.

As a result, it seems most of people's issues with Linux and open source stems from being locked-in by proprietary formats nowadays (I know that there are exceptions to this sentence).

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an infinite time sink

Yes I too found I could do everything I needed to do with Linux instead of Windows. It just took 20 times longer.

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you mean the Office ribbon?

I also found it took 20 times longer to do anything with it, instead of traditional menus.

But really, what you're saying is it takes time to get used to changes. Well done, Sherlock!

There's nothing inherently slower in Linux, YOU are slower. It gets better with practice. TTFN.

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@ da_fish27

...and this is the entire reason Linux is < 1% of the OS market...what normal human being is going to do this?

It needs to be mouse clicks...as few as possible, and controlled by a theme or something.

All the funky multtasking, reliability, memory handling etc etc counts for jack when the damned thing is unuseable & uninteligible by Joe Public.

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Concorance

"But I only "need it" for one thing. Running the software for my Harmony remote."

Have you tried Concordance http://www.phildev.net/harmony/index.shtml ?

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FAIL

Perfect example of why it's not mainstream ready.

Title says it all really. Still decades behind the times. When we're all using Minority Report style interfaces Linux will still require some archaic tactile keyboard or something.

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Joke

I'm old fashioned

"Still decades behind the times. When we're all using Minority Report style interfaces Linux will still require some archaic tactile keyboard or something."

This post was written using one of those archaic keyboards. What did you use to write yours? Did you cut and paste letters from the rest of this page?

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Anonymous Coward

Actually...

Linux has a Minority Report style interface now. It's not very widespread yet due to it being a young project and a PITA to configure, but it's out there.

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Go

me three

I'm with you. Ubuntu finally got their act together so I'm more disposed to make the move from XP. What Ubuntu does seems good, but it's what it won't do (for me) that will keep me dual-booting for some time. As a scientist with a few decades of (very) legacy software and data and XP tuned (at considerable effort) to execute all well, I will not - cannot - just toss that out for Ubuntu's advantages. MS will drop XP soon - I have no interest in Vista or 7 or more MS tomfoolery - so I will probably just take XP "off line", use Ubuntu for web related and conventional activity, and go from there.

My only uber-gripe is that the Linux distros have GUIs and Apps that are just imitations of the archaic Windows (or Mac) metaphors and apps. That's a long argument and I well understand the rut that first experiences carve in one's brain, but really, someone should have re-factored the whole "desktop" and "office suite" long ago to make them more functional (and appealing to those who have real work to do) beyond the point-of-sale. Regarding the latter, it may as well have been assembled from five different vendors for all the idiosyncratic control-structures and common underlying functions between them.

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Intrigued...

I hope I won't come across as combative or argumentative here; I'm genuinely interested. What metaphors would you suggest to replace the desktop / windows / icons / mouse / pointer - based user interface that world+dog has gotten used to over the last couple of decades?

I'm finding it hard to imagine a different approach, let alone a better one, being so used to this one by now. Sounds like you have some ideas. Have you shared them with anyone yet?

Thing is, if you're working in, or have links to an academic institution, then there's going to be any number of Computer Science graduates looking for a postgrad thesis* subject, and building a pilot of your new interface on top of a Linux distro would be a sweet project. I'd jump at the chance myself if I hadn't all these pesky bills and clients to deal with on a day-to-day basis.

Just promise to share the results with us back here, eh? ;)

*this may even fall within the scope of an undergrad's final-year project. If he's REALLY good...

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Heart

Sir

At the risk of being amongst a large crowd of 'what about's'

What about a small mention for Backtrack?

I'm a complete duffer at linux and I've managed to not only install it on my USB stick, it's also persistent. Took a bit of farting about but I now have a dual boot security system only when I plug the usb stick in (I would highly recommend the corsair padlock 2 as well - it's hardware encrypted (as opposed to the now broken software encryption methods).

Paranoid, moi?

I'm now trying to work out how to use backtrack persistent with TrueCrypt on a Corsair padlock 2 hardware 8Gb encrypted usb stick - ultimate deniability :D

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Linux

Nice

Thanks, Liam. As a techie this is the stuff I should know (but am afraid to ask).

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Yes, thanks.

This is a nice shift from all the damn mobile phone articles. The technical & professional coverage of interesting, yet low profile developments seems to have lost out to popular gizmos, especially those of ms, apple, google, etc. Is this the long-tail effect applied to news coverage? The bulk of news coverage is composed mostly of the largest players, meanwhile most developments occur in small shops who don't get so much as a peep.

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Damn Small Linux? Really?

I was a huge fan of DSL, but the community infighting, and someone taking home their toys has all but killed off that project. Surely there was another mini-distro in addition to Puppy that could have been suggested.

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TinyCore

TinyCore linux is my choice.

<10MB - lways runs from RAM.

Easy to add software - it just get's loaded into RAM, replacing an required files, so it's trviail to uninstall as well (just delete the file, and it isn't loaded over the base system).

MicroCore is the same but without X

I use these as rescue systems all over the place, and would recommend a customised version for a nice netboot based school/office layout.

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Alert

Debian's advantages over Ubuntu

Although I am a Linux veteran of many years, and thus not really in the target audience, my recent experience with Ubuntu would make me hesitate to recommend it to a novice.

I got an ex-corporate laptop about a year ago, wiped and with Ubuntu installed. I'd previously used Debian exclusively, but decided to keep the basically similar Ubuntu install. But over the following months I became dissatisfied by lapses in quality control of new releases of packages and by some non-standard design decisions the developers were taking. Then the major sytem upgrade to Karmic trashed my 'grub' boot. I was able to fix it and get the machine up and running again, but it took a couple of hours, and a novice just would have had no idea.

So I changed the software repository to point to Debian, and have gradually updated and replaced packages. I've had no particular software problems, and new hardware "just works".

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Agreed

As a long time Debian user I've always been underwhelmed with Ubuntu, especially when it comes to stability (though it does about match Windows XP for stability in my opinion). Ripping off Debian Experimental seems like a really bad way to build a distro.

That said, it's pretty, and easier to use than a lot of distros.

Personally I usually give newbies a Mepis disc, help them install it, and make sure they have my cell phone number in case they have trouble later on (they hardly ever do).

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This is madness! - This is El Reg!

You do know we know this stuff already, don't you?

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I know lots of clever things about lots of clever things

But this isn't my area of strength, so I find this helpful.

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RJ
Grenade

Pretty accurate summary

buy my god you are gonna get the distro fanbois out :p

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Joke

No problem

Linux fanbois are less ignorant than Windows fanbois and less fanatical than Apple fanbois, so I'm sure it will all be calm and rational.

:D

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Linux

Re : No problem

Correct - but why the joke icon ?

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Happy

Re : No problem

I didn't want to get down-modded too much >.<

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Linux

Dual boot

Put Fedora on the Linux partition, format the Windows partition as Linux and put Ubuntu on that. Join the RPM/Debian war. Either way it's win/win.

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Either way

it's Lin/Lin, surely?

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Good article - thanks.

I'd agree that Ubuntu is probably the easiest for a newbie to get going.

I had to help a mate with Xandros on his eeepc, but it did the job - did what it said on the tin. Similarly, another mate with "Linpus" (what a name!!!) on his Acer Aspire. But again, it was enough for the job.

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Acer Aspire

Also got an Acer Aspire with Linpus on it, looked very pretty but no where was there an option to add new users or to create an Admin user. Reinstalled with Ubuntu, no more problems :)

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Think of it as a toaster.

(OK, it can't roast CD's but...)

It's a personal machine. I don't need multiple users, nor an administrator account. Bit like a pocket calculator I can loan my mate. I really don't need security on my eeepc, as for my calculator - anyone can borrow it - and often do at school. My documents, etc, hide in "Google Cloud". I just whip it out (ooer, missus) when I need it.

Yep OK, I'll 'fess up - I put eeebuntu on the asus701, but it ain't my main machine. Currently, the only pages it goes to are sanakirja.org (for school use), www.mol.fi (for a job), www.linjakas.fi (for the bus), news sites and my gmail account. Oh, and the bank, for paying bills when I'm on my lunchbreak. But, the latter's seriously protected by their one-time password and (memorised) 8-digit customer number.

Does the trick. I wish they hadn't 'died the death' they seem to have. Damn useful thing to have in my 'man-bag'.

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Pint

Did I browse the BBC website by mistake?

Surely El Reg readers are either Linux users already or at least know what Linux is and what each of the different distros offer. This article seems more suited to that annoying BBC Click website than here.

FWIW, seeing as though you're targeting this at people like my Mum, I think you could have explained what Linux is, i.e. the kernel, and how a distro consists of the Linux kernel plus all the GNU utilities - hence the correct name GNU/Linux.

A bit of the history of Linux wouldn't have gone a miss either... then maybe those technically-challenged people like my Mum wouldn't assume that Linux is just an attempt at being a Windows rip off.

Anyway, I'm looking forward to all the Windows fans getting all defensive about their choice of OS. Where's the popcorn icon when you need one? Guess the pint of lager one will have to do instead.

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Nope

I'm an electronic engineer, so don't have much of a clue about linux. I have been thinking about trying it for a while, but been worrying about buggering my PC, which I need to have windows on for work stuff, so am interested and will try tomorrow night thanks to this.

Also, I don't give a flying F about the history and think it would cause even more confusion.

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I know what Linux is (more or less),

but have no idea what differentiates the available distros, so I found this to be a helpful, informative article.

Looking forward to the next part, too, as, despite being raised on Windows, I wouldn't mind trying a dual-boot configuration, to see if it's worth switching over.

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@EE

You'll need to remember that the commercial/mainstream EE (or any) tools are normally only supported on RHEL or SLES, and you'll be opening yourself to all sorts of grief if you try to install them on something like Ubuntu. Your only realistic options are Centos and possibly OpenSUSE. If you intend to compile and install open-source software then you can use any distro. Good luck.

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Didn't your Mum tell you....

...nobody likes a smart-arse?

If you know it, just don't bother to read it - or comment on it. It's not hard.

Could we have a slap icon please?

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Linux

Fair Enough... seems I got it wrong

Hmph I see I got downvoted a lot, so I guess I was wrong and this article is useful after all.

Happy to be proven wrong and to see that there is still a sizeable audience of potential Linux users out there.

Oh, and my Mum did tell me that nobody like a smart arse... but she also told me that all bullies are cowards. I've only just recovered from a broken nose and three broken ribs, so she was obviously a lying bitch.

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Yes, a bit more please

This article does indeed aim low. How about telling us more about how it is actually difficult to get even a small distro on old hardware like a P1 or 486 because those machines don't have, or sometimes don't support, enough memory to do an installation. Yes this can be worked around, and that is the kind of information that is suitable for an IT site. Also, how about some of the subtleties like how Ubuntu is in danger of becoming MS dependent through it's use of mono, and why one might want to chose Kubuntu instead? That is a discussion worthy of El Reg readers.

Good article. Wrong site.

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Guide to Linux, part 1: Picking a distro

Q. Will you be running Linux on a server?

A. If so, use Centos

Q. Will you be running Linux on a desktop?

A. If so, use Ubuntu

That's all folks!

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Grenade

Nearly right...

Q. Will you be running Linux on a server?

A. If so, use Hardened Gentoo

Q. Will you be running Linux on a desktop?

A. If so, use Gentoo

Q. Will you be running Linux on your desktop?

A. if so, use Gentoo with ACCEPT_KEYWORDS ="~$ARCH"

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Server = debian

Sorry, centos on the server sucks. apt-get does all the nice magic :)

Actually, as an earlier post says, it's win/win which ever - just personally not had much fun with centos

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Anonymous Coward

apt-get is better than yum?

Oh, the humour.

Also, calling Fedora "the freebie version of corporate favourite Red Hat" is incorrect. Fedora is not aimed at production environments, is more often used on the desktop and is about pushing, trying and testing new technologies.

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Anonymous Coward

Nearer than you think ...

I tried Gentoo once. I spent more time compiling than actually using it, but I suppose I was unfortunate enough to be trying it in the week when Firefox released 3 versions.

I'm another one who goes for CentOS on the server and Ubuntu on the desktop. CentOS for the long term stability, where it doesn't matter that you don't have the latest and greatest of everything. Ubuntu for the latest and greatest of everything, where it doesn't matter if it lacks a bit of stability.

For those who will no doubt question my comment about Ubuntu's stability, I have found, for example, that Network Manager in 10.04 arbitrarily breaks a couple of months after a fresh install to the point that even rebooting does nothing. When I asked for help I was recommended to remove it and set the networking configuration manually. I have seen this on three different machines and, while I can live with this on a desktop, I would definitely not want this happening on a server.

And regarding CentOS not having the latest and greatest of everything? Hey, I think the pride themselves on that.

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