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back to article Ubuntu? Fedora? Mint? Debian? We'll find you the right Linux to swallow

Linux, it is said, is all about choice. Indeed, the ability to choose, well, pretty much everything, is probably the best thing about Linux. But the huge variety from which you can choose - ranging from distro and desktop to window manager - can also be overwhelming for newcomers. If you've ever thought about abandoning Windows …

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Re: .. and then there were 2

Agreed, Slackware does just what I want, which is to say: not much. No automation (because sometimes I don't want a USB stick mounted when I plug it in,) no package management (always causes me more trouble than it saves,) and no unnecessary patching of sources.

Then again, I do maintain an internal LFS distro in my day job, so compiling and scripting don't exactly scare me. Then again, again, I only got the job because I learned everything the hard way with Slackware.

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Go

You Mean

"Ubuntu is the leader, so everyone please just promote that"

Ballmer has a secret deal with $huttleworth to ultimately sabotage Linux ? Yeah, makes a hell lot of sense what you say.

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Been using Mint with mate for over 12 months now quite happy with it on my 5 year old dual core Dell laptop. Sold a few self built PCs before with Mint installed and not had anyone come back and say they wanted me to put Windows on it yet.

Even put damn small linux on an old 200mhz Pentium 2 PC with 64mb RAM and a 6gig hdd for someone as well that just wanted a basic PC for writing letters and doing email, it ran suprising quick booting faster to the desktop than a 3 year old PC with Windows 7 installed.

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The boxes did not come back since installing Windows is so easy every Tom, Dick or Harry can do it. :)

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Anonymous Coward

I'm going to try Damn Small on an old PC for a neighbour's little boy. All he really needs is a browser to get to his school website, which works in FireFox, Chrome and IE.

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Devil

If you just want a replacement for Windows

If you just want a replacement for Windows then all of these are fine choices.

However, if you really want to get to grips with the why and how of things, I'd recommend something with a little less hand-holding. Gentoo is both less and more hand holding simultaneously, which is a little clever, Slackware has less hand holding, but both offer the sort of minimal structure that requires you to work out what it is that you want and then go and do it.

You could do worse than using my favourite OS, FreeBSD. FreeBSD has some nifty features you just can't find on Linux, like ZFS, but it's not designed for someone who just wants to sit back and have everything done for them.

It's also a real OS, which means that that there is a core of software (the 'world') that *is* FreeBSD, it's not a collection of glorified packages that you install that hopefully makes the kernel 'go' - plus you get an awesome Beasty logo!

The benefit of all of these options is that there will be things that go wrong over time, and you (yes you!) can go and fix them. This will (hopefully) teach you why they went wrong and stop you doing the same thing in future, or at least going "aha, I know what this one is...".

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the unbelievable truth

While I've been using openSUSE and its predecessors since 1999 it remains true that I chose it for being European and that I could buy the 6 CDs and the manual for £20 or something from the bookshop near where I worked. I'd never heard of KDE per se nor Gnome. Luckily (IMHO) I got KDE and I've used it ever since. I'm used Gnome occasionally, elsewhere, I still like KDE. I could go on about that but not now.

I think the best advice in this article was choose your desktop.

All these performance benchmarks are largely tosh unless you are doing video processing (from experience) or 3D design/gaming (apparently) but I'm using a ten year old computer with 200 MHz DDR2 recently upgraded with an SSD because they've got cheap, and all's well.

I don't understand why people "test drive" distros but its their decision. I got lucky with S.u.S.E. Over time I've got to grips with how it's organised. They've got good core and community support. I now consider myself a power user. It's the one I recommend to other people because I'll be able to help them.

As far as I can see most distros are the same at the core and similar at the edges.

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I for one welcome our new KDE overlords

All these more likely to be distro-specific desktop environments such as Unity, MATE or Cinnamon are pointless, and are a fragmented waste of effort in the open source community. Time to simply get behind KDE as it is the only environment with enough momentum and wide support behind it too snowball into success. That means OpenSUSE.

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Re: I for one welcome our new KDE overlords

I wouldn't say that Unity is useless, but just that it isn't the best for mouse and keyboard machines. In the future there may well prove to be a place for a GUI that works for both mouse+keyboard and touch, if it can be made to work. Arguably, it hasn't yet:

MS have tried using a mouse+keyboard GUI for touch devices (albeit older single-point touch devices where to stylus is akin to a mouse cursor) and more recently for multi-touch PCs tried the approach of bolting two GUIs together. Others have tried the other direction- using tablet versions of Android with mouse and keyboard. Apple haven't really tried combining the two- maybe because they would rather you own a Macbook and an iPad. XP Tablet Edition wasn't a complete flop- it was adopted by people with specific needs- car mechanics for example use 'ruggedised' laptops, and 3rd party engine diagnostic software is designed to be used with people poking at the screen or a mouse.

The trouble is, the mouse gives you a single, accurate point with modifiers (either different buttons or a keyboard key), multi-touch gives you less accuracy but different modifiers (number of contact points and 'gestures'). These differences extend beyond the GUI of the OS and into the applications used with it. Reconciling these differences in a coherent, efficient and easy to learn way is no small task.

Using a direction pad ('D-pad', game controller, IR remote control) is a another input method, one that is given in its own GUI in most OSs (Windows Media Centre, OSX Front Row, XBMC), so the 'multiple GUI' approach seems sensible to people in some situations.

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Meh

The Truth

Most average users out there don't want any of this. They want a box that lets them go on the Internet. Maybe they will want some word processing or other utilities. Some software for poking at the pictures they take. This will be what came on the computer, whether that's Chrome OS, Windows, OS X or Linux (Very rare for the latter). Of course Windows is preferable as it's the most common and most things on the Internet are assured to work with it without faff.

This is really an article aimed at the slightly geeky looking to expand their knowledge but not really learn anything deep about linux. I avoid desktop linux like the plague. Windows runs 99% of the apps I need for my job, and 100% of the games to relax. Linux will be my server OS of choice but I don't want to spend time outside of work fiddling on my computer just for the fun of it.

Interesting article, but I'm not sure about the intended audience.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: The Half-Truth

I don't disagree entirely, but desktop distributions like Mint do exactly what you are saying what average users want. Windows 8 is a very different kettle of fish to Windows 7 or XP (or even Vista for that matter), and the confusion between Metro and the dumbed down desktop interface on it, is arguably more complex for average users than say Mint, or KDE based distributions, which resemble what average users are more used to than Windows 8 does.

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Re: The Truth

" I don't want to spend time outside of work fiddling on my computer just for the fun of it."

Then you are not the employee I am looking for! Why are you even reading a tech site?

Also the circular trap (no games->no users->no audience->no games) is slowly coming to an end with the advent of linux Steam.

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Re: The Truth

This is really an article aimed at the slightly geeky looking to expand their knowledge but not really learn anything deep about linux

Thats probably me up there. Moving from the "geek by work" to "geek by choice". Would like to learn more about Linux. would happily learn something deep about linux, but would need to know my way around the environment first.

Don't feel any further enlightened after this article., Shame. i got excited when i read the title.

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Re: The Truth

Some people are born geek, some people achieve geekness, some have geekness thrust upon them.

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Re: The Half-Truth

Q: What has been "dumbed down" on the Win8 desktop? It is the Win7 one without "Start" that has been replaced by Metro.

For casual users that never used the few features of "Start" that are lacking in Modern (Attachment of files to programs) the Modern UI is as easy to use (if not easier) than Start. They will simply klick/touch/select the element and run, not caring if it is Modern or classic software. (Likely: Not even realizing they are different)

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Re: The Half-Truth

"For casual users that never used the few features of..."

Many fo those casual users have been trained over the last 15 years to click start so they can find the thing they want to run. Many of them will be thoroughly confused.

Not because the UI is confusing, and not because the UI is worse, but simply because 'Whar my start buttun?'

I don't know if they'll adapt very well. I anticipate many more confused parental phone calls after the next round of computer updates, whenever that may be.

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Re: The Truth

For me, the reason I use Linux is precisely because I wanted to spend less time tinkering with the OS and more time just using something that is rock solid. I really got fed up of Windows' flaws especially back in the days of Win98 when my machine would regularly fall over in heap while writing Delphi programs. Also, I was fed up of Winrot, viruses and disk defrag which meant regular maintenance. All these things made me want to look for something more reliable where I would have to spend less time worrying about fixing the OS and more time just using the computer.

So, here I am over ten years later and I am so much happier and relaxed using a computer. Far less tinkering.

I do agree with you though, that Linux needs to come pre-installed. Most people cant install any OS, whether it be Windows or Linux. My experience is that for people wanting to change, if I do the install for them they are up, running and very happy. There has to be that desire to change though, otherwise you're trying to get them to use something they're not really interested in.

I also agree it's not a great article for noobs.

As for things working off the Internet without faff, I think it's been a few years now since Windows was better than Linux at that. I would agree that at one point there was so much IE specific stuff, some sites could be problematic, but those days are long gone.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: The Half-Truth

A lot of people who speak positively of Windows 8, either completely hide Metro by using 3rd party tools to restore the desktop to Windows 7 / XP functionality, or are at the other extreme and want to see the desktop phased out, with a complete Metro interface. Casual users may find either of these two extremes usable, but jumping from one to another, with no clear pattern between them, and relying on hot corners, and hidden bars to activate things is certainly not going to endear them to it. Nor is having to remember the name of programs, to search for them, or a ton of keyboard shortcuts, which those who like Windows 8, suggest make the best ways to nagivate the system.

An entirely Metro-ised system might indeed be easier for the casual user. However once they try and do any sort of proper work, or indeed need to organise their files, the interface shows its weaknesses. And having a completely different style of interface for these tasks, is not making it user-friendly.

Linux distributions which keep the familar XP style user interface, are going to be a lot easier for casual users to make sense of, than Windows 8. Indeed one could argue that the 'Start' menu in say Linux Mint is superior to Windows 7, because it effectively categorises programs by their type, rather than manufacturer.

Incidentally, one of the reasons desktop Linux is criticised is due to the perceived lack of applications available for it (note: I said perceived, I have found plenty of decent software on it, and as many people have said, maybe the introduction of Steam might be a step to change these views). It is worth pointing out that Metro has no killer or compelling applications. Most of the reports on it appear to be about Twitter and a lack of Facebook 'apps', which may be an issue on mobile platforms, where bandwidth is at a premium, but on a fully fledged desktop with web browsers, is quite frankly crazy.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: The Truth

check out - UNIX Made Easy: The Basics & Beyond!

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Re: The Half-Truth

What has been "dumbed down" on the Win8 desktop?

Start menu, gadgets, sidebar ... anything and everything that was useful on the desktop has gone.

... that has been replaced by Metro.

Exactly. Microsoft decide that Metro/TIFKAM was the One True Way and removed the functionality from the desktop. Instead getting a simple pop-up menu to start programs you now have to suffer a switch to a completely different GUI to run a program. Insanity!

TIFKAM may be an OK-ish sort of interface on a phone or a tablet, but it's a bit rubbish on a desktop without a touch screen and useds should have been given a choice.

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Stop

Right.

"all your hardware should work right out of the box."

But doesn't. Put me right off my last casual flirtation with linux. I mean, I could, but who can be arsed?

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Re: Right.

About five years ago the main argument the Linux fold were putting out was that it was a good way revitalising older laptops... alas, some of them could be quite esoteric machines.

Rather than just asserting that it works out of the box with most hardware (it might nine times out of ten, but Sod's Law is what it is) , a more useful approach would be to promote a list of distros for specific machines. Just a website that's asks you what machine you are using and then gives you a choice of suitable distros that have been tested by other people in the community.

CAD vendors do it the other way round, and publish a list of specific machines that have been tested with their products.

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Linux

Re: Right.

@Dave 126

Yes that would be nice. Anybody you feel is obliged to do it, anything you would like to pay for it. Anyone you feel you could blame for an error in the list. Want to start building one your self for the good of the Linux world.

Just accept Sod's Law. Nine out of ten is not that bad and the reality is still better.

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Re: Right. @Seanmon

Tried any Windows install from Microsoft provided (i.e. not vendor supplied recovery) media recently? If so, did every bit of hardware work, especially on a laptop? What! You've never installed Windows yourself? Then you're not qualified to comment.

From experience, I absolutely know that Ubuntu or Mint will be able to use more hardware from generic install media that Windows without the vendors drivers disks.

What you are complaining about is that you can't get a system with Linux installed.

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My take

I have been forced to use windows for some time because development work I had to do, but not any more. I have a windows partition for games but it has no use beyond that. I did have fedora installed but while gnome3 didnt look bad it wasnt very user friendly when I wanted to be productive. I changed the desktop to cinnamon which I think is amazing and was very happy at the productivity. Excluding the major irritation that the gnome SSH keyring didnt work. I couldnt get my ssh keys added on startup and the known bug had yet to be resolved. ssh-add in the startup did nothing either and this was the end for me and fedora.

On my laptop I run mint because it actually runs on the (low spec) laptop in a reasonable manner, unlike windows 7 which is painfully slow and very unusable. So I replaced fedora with mint. A decision I am very happy with and again mint seems to run faster than windows. However I do get some tearing with mint and changing drivers causes its own problems. I can live with a little tearing although I dont know many normal users who would.

Interestingly the windows install on my desktop occasionally gets a black screen and the Nvidia drivers crash/recover. This doesnt happen during games but it does happen when browsing the internet.

I have found faults with windows, fedora, mint and ubuntu (which I found almost unusable with unity). So I stick with what I like which is windows for games and mint for work. However I do miss the yum installer from fedora.

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Re: My take

"Excluding the major irritation that the gnome SSH keyring didnt work. I couldnt get my ssh keys added on startup and the known bug had yet to be resolved."

Known bug? I'm not aware of one and it works fine here. Is this Cinnamon-specific? Or are you using autologin?

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Anonymous Coward

@AdamWill

On fedora 17 I could run ssh-add in the command line to import my keys. If I put this into the startup programs (or whatever it is called) nothing would happen. It should have popped up an input box I believe.

If you go to activities and search "keys" a key management program was available (cant remember the name). However the import feature has a known bug that it wont import your public key unless you have the private key. Which defeats the point as you should only have the public SSH key on your system.

The only solution I could find was to manually open a terminal every time I logged in and then ssh-add. After a while I installed Cinnamon hoping it would fix the problem, but it didnt.

This was a couple of months ago so it may be fixed now but I surrendered to mint (not at all a loss).

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Anonymous Coward

I'll jump to Linux when...

1) The likes of Open Office or Libre Office are 100% (and I mean 100%) compatible with MS Office files (I have to open, work with and send back documents sent by corporates that will continue using MS Office for the foreseeable future).

2) Adobe releases a version of PS for Linux or another software package overtakes PS to become the industry standard. And yes, I know that Gimp can do 80%+ of what PS can do, but I'm a power user, so those 20% do make a difference. Also, the ability to operate the industry leader helps employability. I don't see many job adverts asking for GIMP knowledge, but plenty ask for competence in Photoshop.

My 2 pence

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Anonymous Coward

Re: I'll jump to Linux when...

That day will come when Microsoft Office files are 100% (and I mean 100%) compatible with other versions of Mirosoft Office, than the one they were created on.

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Re: I'll jump to Linux when...

Steam might set a precedent for commercial software on Linux. It will be interesting to see what happens, and if productivity applications follow in the wake of games. The attitude that 'we don't need commercial software, you must be a snob if you do' is not helpful to the adoption of Linux. Professionals and business will happily spend a few hundred pounds per user if it saves them time over a free alternative.

The other possibility is that more commercial software gets used 'as a service' or 'in the cloud' (useful for software that benefits from team collaboration and rented compute resources, such as engineering design and simulation) and the user's OS becomes irrelevant.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: I'll jump to Linux when...

"Professionals and business will happily spend a few hundred pounds per user if it saves them time over a free alternative."

You haven't worked for IBM any time recently then?

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Anonymous Coward

Re: I'll jump to Linux when...

1) The likes of Open Office or Libre Office are 100% (and I mean 100%) compatible with MS Office files....

WRONG!

Every and I mean *every* single, mildly complex (e.g. some text, a few pictures with captions etc.) Word document over 2 pages that I've opened in OO/LO has had some sort of formatting error. Vice versa for opening docs originally created in OO/LO, in Word. A common one I've seen recently is LO resizing images so that they take up the width of the page, rather than respecting the margins of the document. This simply does not happen with other Office suites, such as the excellent and free Kingsoft Writer - the nearest I've found to a true Word clone.

To be fair OO/LO warns you about incompatibilities when you attempt to save in .DOC format. I'm just sick of hearing the fanboys pretending otherwise.

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Linux

Re: I'll jump to Linux when...

Did you miss the title, that he said that he'll jump to linux WHEN... 100% compatible?

Because it seems like you missed it and in fact the whole point of the post, in your eagerness to find something to argue against in a post that actually entirely agrees with you. Muppet!

(BTW, OO/LO compat is as good as word's own compatr between versions IMHO)

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Facepalm

Re: I'll jump to Linux when...

Actually, the first time I read the post, I missed the join between "I'll jump to Linux when..." and the post contents. I almost went searching for a Linux version of Photoshop before re-reading!

And, you are right about OO/LO compatibility... I frequently have to use LO to convert Office files from 2010 or 2011 saved as Office 97-2003, to something that can actually be read in Office 2003.

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Anonymous Coward

Office issues

This is the funniest argument I encounter but I do hear it often. The problem is that microsoft are the incompatible ones in the computing world. People pay the price for a system which is incompatible with the rest of the world, often even with its own products.

So the question is if it makes sense that the well behaved and standards compliant products should be 100% compatible with a broken product or the other way around. I am not pushing the joys of linux here only stating that MS office is a moving target. Always wrong and very broken.

Unfortunately MS has the market. The broken product is the most widely distributed although the more expensive. Openoffice isnt restricted to linux but people wont use it because it is not 100% compatible with their broken product of choice. Thereby making the argument backward but relevant

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NB

Xubuntu gets my vote

Fast light and the DE doesn't get in my way and is infinitely configurable. I've always found Unity to be horribly buggy and one of those terrible design mistakes that occur when some management type decides it's time to changes for changes sake.

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Anonymous Coward

Opensuse !

Still a good old lady.

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Anonymous Coward

There are what at least 100 linux distros about 10 different window managers and 2 maybe 3 different package managers? No need for so many distros. If they want to make a real impact and displace windows they should focus their efforts on four or five distros targeted at different areas (gaming, tablets / touch screen, low performance, high performance)

I know the beauty of it is that it is 'roll your own' but it will never take off when there are so many distros which leads to so much confusion amongst non linux users which prevents migrating.

Another major flaw with Linux is ironically caused by what should be one of the strong points. I use linux myself and I think it's great there is a fantastic community out there putting all this time and effort in to free software, but the community is very hostile and you have to learn the hard way. Even if you are very good at finding information on Google all you will find is links to threads where someone asks the question you have and someone bites their head off for not searching the forum and locking the thread. So you search the forum yourself and find the same sort of posts where the question is asked and the threads are locked....

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Anonymous Coward

"they should focus their efforts on four or five distros targeted at different areas"

Silly prick. Who are they. Anybody you know, anybody I should know. Perhaps you should send them a line.

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Flame

And I Think

..you are just regurgitating the talking points from the M$ Propaganda Sheet.

M$ is indeed confused by the many heads of Linux. It drives your paymasters mad that Linux is like a hydra and when M$ has destroyed one head (e.g. SuSE), seven new heads have grown in the meantime, out of sight of M$. What your paymasters want is a single, coherent competitor which can be attacked via A) patents B) bribes C) targeted smear campaigns.

Diversity is a massive strength of the FOSS community, just look how quickly we have routed around the Shuttleworth Defect, because there were alternatives. Or, the SuSE Bribe. I am sure Ballmer will shell out billions in order to subvert Linux and other major FOSS, because he thinks it can be squashed with the methods of the sleazy bizman. It worked with Netscape, why should it not work here ? (In his mind).

I hope he will pay Linus Billions for sabotage. Then we will simply fork the kernel or go BSD and slowly bleed M$ white.

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I love these posts about how it will never take off.

Linux owns the mobile space, the embedded space and the server space. Hell, it's probably even in your tv.

Just because you don't see it on the desktop everywhere.. well it doesn't mean squat.

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Re: I love these posts about how it will never take off.

Really????? This is about the DESKTOP environment for mr & mrs joe public.

Equating embedded versions of an OS with desktop versions does you no favours in the credibility stakes.

And don't even get me started about the mobile space - for every person who claims Android is linux you'll get at least another claiming "it's not the same/real thing"

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Re: I love these posts about how it will never take off.

Linux the kernel has certainly taken off. GNU/Linux the operating system is not so widespread. (Not a criticism - just noting the difference, most "Linux" users/advocates are concerned with GNU/Linux, and we only get into this confusion because of the same name applying to the kernel and the operating system. Maybe RMS had a point after all with saying it should be "GNU/Linux"...)

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Re: I love these posts about how it will never take off.

"Really????? This is about the DESKTOP environment for mr & mrs joe public."

Not really, when people (probably people like you) keep muttering this misguided nonsense about it being a niche OS that only crazy hobbyists contribute to or would ever run. That's demonstrably false, it's ubiquitous.

Android is not the same thing as GNU/Linux, no, but it is yet another example of the linux kernel (and a few other parts of the system) getting out there and getting things done. It's in cars, it's in network equipment, it's in tvs, it's in everything.

"Equating embedded versions of an OS with desktop versions does you no favours in the credibility stakes."

It's not a version, it's the same OS, which is why I can install firefox on my NAS and run it via remote desktop if I want to (not that that would be useful). I'm not sure how this affects anything in 'the credibility stakes', but it certainly doesn't do the assertion that it's never going to take off any favours either.

If there isn't a consumer UI that struck it big in the desktop space, so what? That's not even the growth market any more.

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Re: I love these posts about how it will never take off.

"Linux the kernel has certainly taken off. GNU/Linux the operating system is not so widespread."

You'll find it's probably in many (most?) houses with any up to date tech in them somewhere as it runs NAS boxes, routers and TVs these days, along with various other types of consumer electronics. And yes, GNU/Linux rather than Android or other userspace on top of the kernel.

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Android is Linux.

Linux is a kernel, not an OS. Android uses the Linux kernel.

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Pint

Trisquel GNU/Linux

I recently ran into Trisqual GNU/Linux and I have to say that its been very pleasant working with this one as an alternative desktop.

The distribution is based on Ubuntu but obviously doesn't copy all the lame nastyness which has been added as of late. If you're interested then here you can find a whole chart explaining how they set things up.

Their whole motto is basically providing a Linux distribution which is fully free, or in their words: "Trisquel is different. We naturally want to bring you an operating system that is tight, beautiful, and robust. We want your software to be feature-rich and work exactly as you expect it to. But we'll never compromise your freedom, either." (see their FAQ page here).

All in all a pretty decent distribution IMO, I enjoyed working with this one on occasion.

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Happy

Am I just thick-skinned?

I don't understand the idea that the Linux community is hostile. A bit of gentle taking-the-piss when you ask a stupid noob question is a very small price to pay for free support! And most of the time I haven't even got that, just people earnestly trying to help - and it's always amazed me how much total strangers will go out of their way to help you. (*Looks at PS/2 lead Dvorak/Qwerty switcher custom made for me at cost ($5) by some South Korean I've never met*).

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Am I just thick-skinned?@ John H Woods

"Gentle taking-the-piss"

You're not thick-skinned, you're obtuse.

"stupid noob question"

And getting the Linux zealot snobbery that people have been pointing out down quite nicely, too.

Why didn't you help him by paying a bit more than cost, then? You know, give back to the community?

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Go

Re: Am I just thick-skinned?

I think the average Linux expert is only pissed if he suspects an MS $hill posting bogus questions. if it really is a problem, go to your local Linux User Group.

Just type "Linux User Group" in google and hit enter. The Linux machines of Google will infer your location from your IP address and display the next local LUG.

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