[conspire] Distros for novices

Rick Moen rick at linuxmafia.com
Wed Sep 8 22:41:11 PDT 2004

Bruce, I'm hijacking your post from svlug at lists.svlug.org, and answering
it here.  

(I had mentioned http://linuxmafia.com/~rick/faq/index.php?page=kicking 
to a tire-kicking new user wanting to try Linux and use it for his Java 

> The Web page Rick mentioned looks good, but a little dated.  Also,
> looking at distrowatch.com, I would recommend the new MEPIS as a good
> Knoppix derivative, despite the fact that new does imply more risk --
> unless you wanna spend a little money and/or want an easy transition
> from Windows, where i recommend Xandros.  But more people use RPM
> distributions, despite "RPM hell".

For the record, that page is kept up to the minute, and I happened to
have revised a few things on it only a few hours before you posted that.

Anyhow, I happen to have been discussing this matter with Earl over at
EBLUG in Fremont, because I'm going to be helping them with their
installfest next Wednesday.  My posts:

---<first post>---

Quoting Earl (innate_ideas at yahoo.com):
> Great! This is our first installfest in at least a year so any help is
> really appreciated.

No problem.  Do we have several people to help run it, such that we can
divide up roles?  Do we have a count of people intending to come, what
they need help with, what distros they might appreciate being downloaded
in advance, etc?

---<second post>---

Earl --

Part of the reason I wrote with those questions earlier is that I'm
downloading ISO images to update my installfest kit.  I've just finished
with the latest Knoppix 3.6 image for i386, and am pulling down the
latest release-candidate snapshots for Debian "sarge" for i386 with the
next-generation installer program.  (These are the 41.7M "businessscard"
and 114MB "netinst" image.  Both require Internet access to complete

So, I guess what I'm wondering is:  What else should I ideally download
in advance, that we either know or strongly suspect people will want to

---<third post>---

Quoting Earl (innate_ideas at yahoo.com):
> The usual suspects, Red Hat, SuSE, Mandrake.

How dreary.  ;->

Let's consider those one at a time.

Red Hat:  RH9's so ancient, do we really want to encourage people?  RHEL
3.0 WS/AS/etc. is lawful to duplicate non-commercially, but the point is
disputed by some.  Maybe CentOS-3, White Box Enterprise Linux, etc.?
Fedora Core 2?  I have the latter; can get others if desired.

Honestly, if your plan involved RH9, I'd rethink it.

SUSE:  I have SUSE Linux Personal Edition 9.1 and SUSE Linux "live CD"
9.1, both for i386.

MandrakeLinux:  I have MandrakeLinux 10.0 Community Edition (3 disks)
for i586.  Problem:  It's supposed to be pretty buggy compared to 10.0
Official Edition, but I don't have that.

---<fourth post>---

Quoting Earl (innate_ideas at yahoo.com):                                          
> The plan is to introduce people (probably newbies) to an easy-to-use          
> graphical Linux distribution. Preferably a distro they can purchase
> and get paid support for.
Yeah, I'm aboard with that.  I'm not trying to raise pointless                  
complications, honest.  It's just that RH is a problematic case.  Let's         
look again:

o RH9's being end-of-lifed, in addition to already being obsolescent.           
  Therefore, no support any more.
o Fedora Core 2 is community-supported (and not purchasable as a boxed          
  set), except that Prodigy Systems sells support contracts for it, a la

o RHEL 3.0 WS is purchasable:  If we install it for people and they later       
  buy an (expensive!) copy at Microcenter, they'll have paid support.
  It's lawful for us to do that for people, given that we're doing it
  non-commercially -- though many will raise their eyebrows and claim
  we're bootlegging it.  I can bring disc sets for i386 and for AMD64.          

o The various RHEL rebuilds (Taos, White Box, Centos, FermiLinux, etc.)
  are community-only-supported (with minor exceptions) and not purchasable
  at Microcenter.

Which one(s), then?

The above illustrates a recurring problem in recent years:  The distros
LUGs would want to install for newbies (Xandros, Libranet, Lycoris,
Linspire, SUSE) have generally moved towards shrinkwrap distribution,
only.  That's in part marketing focus, but also owes to their inclusion
in many cases of non-redistributable proprietary software (e.g.,
Crossover Office, Adobe Acrobat Reader, Macromedia Flash player, etc.)

There are exceptions:  Xandros recently published Xandros Desktop OS
Open Circulation Edition v. 2.5 (?).  SUSE offers a 1-CD download of
SUSE Personal Edition 9.1.  Libranet is downloadable if difficult to
get -- and has some really clever features where it can fetch from the
Internet and install some non-redistributable software at the end of
installation (Flash Player, Acrobat Reader, Microsoft TrueType Core
Fonts).  Lycoris and Linspire are shrinkwrap-only, except for occasional
download "special offers", which don't permit redistribution.

The SUSE and Xandros editions are redistributable if you don't charge.
Libranet's redistributable without restriction.

But my overall point is that LUGs wanting to make available (thus,
redistribute) newbie-friendly distros are often caught up against
copyright law -- not counting Libranet and Mandrake, which lack things          
like Crossover Office.
The other problem is eternal:  What does the newbie want?  He mostly has
no idea, except in some cases he's heard some distro name and claims he
wants that without explaining why.

My top recommendation, these days -- if the desktop-user
Windows-oriented newbie _asks_ and has no particular reason for other
preferences -- is Xandros Desktop OS 2.5.  I'll install Open Circulation        
Edition for them, and tell them to look at
http://www.xandros.com/products/home/desktopoc/dsk_oc_intro.html for the        
product-line big picture.  It's what used to be Corel Linux OS, and is 
really good for fugitive Windows users.

But I have nothing against Mandrake, SUSE, or RHEL 3.0 WS.                      

> 9.2 download addition has an undeserved reputation as being buggy due
> it's triggering of a fatal firmware bug in LG cdroms that rendered
> them unuseable on installation. LG has a update to fix the firmware
> bug.

Yeah, I know.  I completely blame LG (formerly named Goldstar, by the
way) for selling crappy, avoidably vulnerable CD drives.  Shame on them.
Since we have a week before the installfest, I'll see if I can locate           
MandrakeLinux 10.0 Official Edition.                                            
But, if you have time, do check out Xandros.

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