Give me cake, just choose one for me....
I'm not really sure if this should be a blog or a real article, news or story but I guess it'll fit somewhere.
I'm new to this Linux thing. It was just a few months ago, I had tried it way back in the past and went back to windows as I had no time to fiddle, that I installed my first distro, then uninstalled, then installed, then uninstalled... you get the picture and you're probably smiling remembering the good ole days when you first took a bite of the apple. Now, back to the point. I was trying to install a version of red hat that came with a book I bought yonks ago. I needed to pick up Linux for some work I've just taken on and I need to broaden the horizons to offer my customers more than just MS. Yes, it was an older version of RH and no, I can't remember the release (a month of going through distros will have that effect!)
After failing miserably getting it to work properly I took to the trusty net, google produced a considerable list of Linux offerings. Reading through them I saw a few familiar names, xandros, Linspire, Suse, Red Hat (what happened to Lindows? ah, money talks), didn't Corel have one too? Plus some I hadn't heard of Ubuntu, Gentoo, Turbo Linux, Mepis... so many options, I'm a kid in a sweet shop with a pocket full of silver coins ready to hand them over to the sugar god behind the counter! Then I had to make a decision, which one? Do I have a lifetime to read the reviews, trawl the forums, finally posting the newbie questions only to be answered by the Linux equivalent of mid American preachers? Yes, I did read a few posts akin to the praise be to the lord of Linux, remove thine eyes from that evil of all evils, WINDOWS ilk. It was somewhat surprising that the flag waving wasn't just against windows, these people were flicking the V's at each others preferred distros, that one does this... this one does that. Does, doesn't it? Jumpers for goal posts! Ok, I may be a bit slow, but isn't Linux supposed to be the flour in the OS sandwich? I mean the same core ingredient? Ok, you can get white and brown, I'll give you that, what I mean is, don't you just add the filling you require? Linux is Linux, right?
All of this was leading me nowhere. I tried about 6 of these things. A few of the installations actually worked first time but then fell over when I asked it to do such perverted acts as find my PCMCIA network card or the built in wireless one. Some of those that did work I found to be lacking in things like audio codec’s, graphic support. The burning question is which one do I choose? Which religion do I follow? In the words of Dire Straits, two men say they're Jesus, one of them must be wrong. We're not faced with two, I could take 50-50, we're faced with 100's of 'em (probably, but my estimating experience is based on bank balance, wife’s credit card bill and the fact I own an Alfa Romeo that has a garage love affair!) So which one?
Taking a different view, if there were 100 different flavours of Microsoft windows to choose from, all built on the same core, given free (or minimal cost for CNR, support etc), each with their own slant, how big would the MS version be? Would it be installed so prolifically? You give a user an inch and they'll steal your ruler. So which distro do I go with and why?
I suppose the primary question a new Linux user needs to ask is:
What do I want to use it for?
Closely followed by:
How complicated do I need it to be?
Some of the installations I tried all asked far too many questions. I needed to know an awful lot to get it anywhere: what is the permatabulation factor to the power 100 over the square root of the transremitted HDD speed in un-viagra’d megaflops, not everyone is a kernel developer, NASA or a parking attendant with a brain the size of a planet.
I need a stable platform for developing Java, perl, tcl, .NET, HTML, JSP etc.
I need some good IDE's
I need an office suite, word processor, spreadsheet, calculators, database, and presentation tool, complete with the associated spelling and thesaurus tools.
I need a browser, supporting media plugins and email.
I need it to be easy to use as my wife will use it, my daughter too when she visits.
I need wireless connectivity as I move around a lot.
I need good laptop support, power saving acpi etc.
I don't need to spend hours installing applications or running updates every 5 mins.
I need very good multimedia support, airports are boring places, tunes are good for code and DVD's make flying fly by.
I need support for peripherals, USB mainly, cameras, webcam, memory.
I need it to be quick, time is money and I have no boot screen patience.
So which one? Well I settled or better to say, landed, on Ubuntu Dapper 6.06, it's not perfect, there's some problems with the ATI display, I don't like the gnome desktop but my wife does hence no kde... oh and that’s another thing, what are the differences in desktops? I see some of the Linux installs offering about 10 different ones. What difference does it make? What do I need to know to support my decision? If you people feel I made an error in choosing Ubuntu, I would like to know why, I don't mean just the 'V' waving, I need to know the real reason and a reason to go with the distro you wave the flag for. As a complete outsider, I see that people are loyal to their chosen path, why do you stick with it? Have you tried any of the others? I mean really tried? Not just the token install, boot and 'oh, it looks crap' reinstall. I am sure that every newcomer to Linux will want to know these things and wouldn't it be great if I could get back the 2 months I have just spent installing/uninstalling/breaking/fixing/whinging/moaning/crying/screaming over this decision? Is there such a thing as the Linux for all seasons? What do lose in one and gain in another when I walk the thin distro line? If it weren’t for the work element, what would keep me in Linux and away from MS? Why do I feel like betamax each time I install one of these?
But then, am I the type that will take someone’s word for it without trying anything else? Talk about Catch 22, my name is Yossarian, I will live forever or die trying! Or is that install forever?
Oh, and to finish the ‘why Ubuntu’... it was easy to install, I found it easy to configure and a little reading went a long way regarding wireless, printers and other hardware, and adding that it is well supported would round that one nicely. Buuuuut, I read the reviews of the others and I'm a bit lost here... gedit? Others? Lost? So many puns, so little time I wonder if I'm missing out... the horror. The horror of making a decision!
And no, the answer isn't 42.