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Re: Help with Linux selection please?

Chinook wrote:
I have an X86 based PC (with a ATI AIW 8500 card) on my LAN that I'm expunging XP from and am trying to decide which Linux to install. I AM NOT :-) looking for a heated debate of which is best (whatever that means), but rather which might better facilitate a couple personal general criteria.

Hmm, just looked this over. I hope it isn't overkill/too long/
confusing. I might point out that as far as *using* Linux, there's
very little difference between distros. It's in *system admin*
where they differ from each other, mostly. To put it another
way, what people call "Linux" is really not Linux at all, but
the GNU project software, which is the same for all distros.
Linux per se is just a kernel, which is pretty much the same
in all distros as well. The admin tools, like the ones for
getting updates, and specific files' contents which control
boot etc. are what make the major differences between distros.

There is a multitude of Linux distros out there. You haven't really
given a list of requirements, but I'll start out a little list here

(1) Not a LiveCD, want to boot/run from hard disc
(2) Not reduced feature set, this is not a server
    want to try a GUI
(3) I have a reasonably new processor, so I'm not trying
    to make it run on a 486, I have a relatively new BIOS
    and can boot from CD
(4) I do/do not want to do my own support (with the help
    of mail echoes or whatever)

I'm familiar with Red Hat Enterprise, Blue Hat, CentOs, Scientific
Linux, Debian, and Fedora Core. (Though I know of SuSE, Mandrivia
[formerly Mandrake] and several others, I'm not familiar enough
with them to give good info or advice on them.)

Red Hat Enterprise is a fully supported product with a good history, but
I have one little issue with it: Churn. There is constant pressure
to upgrade to the next level. For something I pay for support, I'd
want something a little longer lived. Also, their x.0 releases
are notorious for needing some tweaking. It also has a bunch
of non-free/proprietary software bundled, which is either a
good thing or a bad thing, depending on your view.

Blue Hat is for Real Time, and I suppose you don't want to pay
quite as much as they ask.

CentOs is the same as Red Hat Enterprise, with the non-free parts
stripped off, and re-built by volunteers. Support is, however,
very weak IMO. The people participating in the e-mail echo are
pretty sharp, and very helpful. But at least one of the list
managers seems to be very partisan, and there is a lot of bickering
(can you say constant flame wars?). I'd run CentOS if it weren't
for the way the e-mail list is managed. CentOS for me is a bust
due to that.

Scientific Linux is like CentOS, but by a different group,
a bunch of physicists etc. So it's essentially the same
software. I haven't participated in their mail echo, so
I don't know how supportive it is.

Debian is fairly stable and the e-mail echo is pretty helpful,
mostly. I don't use Debian, but I finally persuaded my girlfriend
to try Linux again, and things are so much better now than they
were with RH 6.2 when she last tried it. She tried several
LiveCDs I burned for her, and decided that Knoppix and Kanotix looked
best. These are both Debian based. I also pursuaded her that Knoppix
was not a good install, so I got her Debian. Frankly, there have been
a few problems with it, and the help here has been spotty for her. But
I've seen lots of good help for others with problems, and flame wars
are, if not precisely non-existent, at least not obtrusive (unlike
CentOS, which is rife with strife). Anyway, I subscribe here to
get help for her. BTW, most help really is valid for all distros,
so unless the issue is with the installer or upgrader or something
like that, most any echo can help.

Fedora Core is a project, not a product. It's what I run, though
it probably isn't what I should have installed. It's for those
who like to experiment with the bleeding edge, so to speak. New
and experimental features are constantly being introduced. Lots of
churn. New releases come out about every 6 mos, and there is a lot
of pressure to load the new stuff for a variety of reasons, including
they need testers to run the stuff. I consider it beta test releases,
though some of the people over at the Fedora echo get their hackles
up when I say that. There is also a policy of "two releases and you're
out", which means that, for example, when Fedora Core 4 came out,
all support for Fedora Core 2 (which I run) was dropped. There is,
however, a Fedora Legacy group doing volunteer support FOR SECURITY
ISSUES ONLY which back-ports changes in software. Since FC5 is about
to come out, they are about to pick up FC3 (the release after mine).
Even the Legacy support goes away after two more, so FC1 is about
to lose support even from Legacy (though there is some discussion of
possibly extending support). Again, this is only for SECURITY issues,
no feature support.

1) My wife will be using it for documents and communication. I'm sure OpenOffice will satisfy the documents use, and she prefers Thunderbird and Firefox for communications. Oh yes, she says she has to have her card games :<))

Any distro with X and either GNOME or KDE will run whatever you want.
I use GNOME as the window manager, others like KDE. You can start
flame wars on nearly any Linux mail echo by criticising either, or
promoting either. GNOME is supposedly for the less-powerful user,
while KDE is supposedly for the more-powerful user. I happen not to
want to use a GUI for machine admin, anyway, preferring to use the
CLI. My girlfriend uses KDE, and I use GNOME. I think that KDE menus
are less well thought out and more complicated to find things than
the GNOME menus. But, as I said, since I mostly use them for purposes
of starting console terminals and managing them, it mostly doesn't
matter to me. Each user can have his own preference, so you and your
wife and whoever can try both and use the one you prefer.

As far as games, GNOME and KDE both come with a game set, but either
can load and run games written for the other, in my experience anyway.

2) I mainly play at (I'm supposedly retired) software development on my PMac G5 using ObjC/Cocoa. I would like to be able to expand into the Linux world using GNUstep.

Sorry, those words mean nothing to me. I'm an OS and Telecom man, so
I just don't know what they are, and probably can't advise on that

So, a combination of a simple home system and one on which an old SE can keep his head busy :-) I'm comfortable using Unix, but have had no experience using Linux.

Well, if you're an old had at UNIX, then Linux will be like "same song,
second verse", EXCEPT...

Being an experienced UNIX software developer (as I am) is *not* the
same thing as being an experienced Sys Admin. It took me months before
I learned enough to be fairly certain that I knew what needed to be
backed up, and what did not. There is fairly vigorous debate over
what tools even to use. There are, for example, three basic schools
of thought: dump/restore, tar, and cpio. Each camp has its fans,
which are also detractors for the other two. (There's also the
rsync bunch, but I consider that a non-answer, as it simply places
the burden for backup on another machine.)

Anyway, you'll have to learn how to administer a machine, which is
quite different from using it. There are log files which must be
purged from time to time. Then there is /etc/fstab which is a world
of its own. User management is much less of an issue, though I'd
certainly have separate user names for each one using the machine.

Though it may be as unneeded as on a Mac, I'll want to include ClamAV or an equivalent. Some sort of firewall would also be a consideration, as well as a volume cloning tool for backup and whatever system maintenance tools might be appropriate. Maybe I'll even have more luck keeping it networked with my Mac than I had with XP.

Do you plan to run a web server? Do you have wideband access? If
you don't want a web server and you have wideband, then I recommend
getting a router for your firewall put between your etherport and
your modem, and set the router up so that all ports on the WAN side are
stealthed except for the e-mail challenge port, which I'd close.
D-Link makes a nice one with that as the default. Do this even if
you only have one computer.

There is a variety of tools, but there is also controversy over
which ones to use. Many of the commercial tools look to me to
be wrappers around standard UNIX tools, like tar or cpio.
What I have done is write me a little script which uses tar
to create a compressed archive, which I then burn to CD. So far,
I've not had to split one across CDs. One question you'll have
is "what do I need to back up?" I suggest getting and reading
a copy of the file system hierarchy standard, which provides
a rationale for where to put things. It'll be helpful for
figuring out what needs to be backed up, as most Linux
distro's come somewhat close to following its recommendations.
Try http://www.pathname.com/fhs/

I use K3b to do the burning. I used to use xcdroast, but K3b
is (for me at least) much more intuitive.

Whatever you do about backup, I strongly recommend that you
verify that your procedure can indeed rebuild a working system,
and that you do backups frequently. I'd recommend against
re-writable CDs or DVDs, as my experience shows that they are
not always readable on another machine, or even on the same one
after a few months. A brand new CD costs $.50 USD. I also
recommend verifying each backup as it is made. If this advice
is old hat to you, and you already know how to manage a backup
system, then just ignore it.

I'm not sure what you mean by "volume cloning". The standard UNIX tool
is rsync, but there is also some sort of ghost clone (I am not
really familiar with ghost, and don't do that sort of stuff anyway, so
my advice here is pretty weak.)

One possibility (and one I recommend, actually) is to get LiveCDs and
run off them for a while. That way, you can try out some stuff and
see what you like. Try http://www.frozentech.com/content/livecd.php

Any comments are appreciated.

Well, HTH.

Thank you,
Lee C

This message made from 100% recycled bits.
You have found the bank of Larn.
I can explain it for you, but I can't understand it for you.
I speak only for myself, and I am unanimous in that!

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