Like a virgin...


Gary says: Well, they finally got to me. Since taking over as Linux Format's production editor in October I've spent many a happy hour listening to Andrew enthuse about Mint, Graham's Pulse Audio gripes, general misty-eyed recollection of Mike's creation of MikeOS, and Effy's insistence that ChimiChangas are a valid and relevant component of the free software movement. Throughout all this, I've managed to keep my head down and remain aloof from the world of Linux, clinging to the belief that ignorance is bliss. But this month the powers that be at Linux Towers have put their hands deep into their pockets, or raided the skip out the back of PC World, and scraped together the hardware to build me my very first Linux box. It now sits here, resplendant, on my desk, waiting to be turned on, but I have literally no idea what to do with it. So, this is where you, loyal readers, come in. Recommend the best possible distro to get me, a complete newbie and relative technophobe, started, and furnish me with your handy tips. And each day after I've completed my stack of pages for the magazine, been thrown my scraps of food and had my shackles loosened, I'll spend a little time attempting to get to grips with the world of Linux. Be gentle.

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Your comments

Distro or Desktop?

I recommend distros based on the desktop that fits best for the user.

Gnome-Shell: Suse 12.1
Unity: Ubuntu
KDE: Fedora (spin)

All of these Distros target the i-don't-care (much) about partitions, compiling and building source codes. Go for Gnome if you want something simple and different, KDE for Windows fans and Unity for something in between them.

Good luck!

Pour yourself a mojito, plenty of Mint

I would prescribe a large dose of Linux Mint for a new user. It gives you a familiar looking desktop, easy to navigate menus and plenty of programs bundled as standard to serve any day to day desktop purpose. If you find yourself needing something more; finding, adding and removing software is made simpler by incorporating the Software Manager which is a "pick and click" affair with stacks of choice and it will take care of requirements or conflicts for you. Mint in general does quite a good job of shielding you from the command line, but its there as and when you have found your feet.
Alternatively, Fedora 16 XFCE (which I am using on my work computer) gives you a decidedly "Windows-like" feel to the desktop environment and a similarly competent software selection.
Best advice I can offer is to get a stack of DVDs (or get your hands on some LXF bootable DVD's - they are ace) and try as many different flavours as you can. Then settle for a while with whichever suits the hardware and your needs the best. If it doesn't work out long term, back up the Home directory and give another a run out.

One more thing...

I'm sure I'm not alone in wanting to hear how this pans out. if you can spare the time, let us know where you end up!

Best of luck

Nothing good for newbies

Since the fall of Ubuntu, there is no really excellent starter distro for Linux newbies.

Linux Mint is passable. It lacks the beauty and finesse that was once the hallmark of Ubuntu, but one does eventually learn to live with Mint's quirks. The Cinnamon desktop GUI shows promise, but looks crude and has some rough edges at the moment.

Fedora is also passable, but is a little bit less friendly for newbies. Fedora still makes installation of media codecs inconvenient. Because it depends on Gnome 3 or KDE, it lacks an elegant, easy-to-use desktop GUI. It has a large repository of available software, however, and you can get a lot of support from the large user community.


It is a good distribution, even if it is a slightly complex install.

Standard advise.

I'd say go to Distrowatch and have a browse to find a short list of distros that catch your eye. Get hold of the relevant live CD/DVD/USBs. (Magazine cover DVDs?) Try them out and install the one you like best.

For the least hassle

Go with Ubuntu or Mint!


I would recommend mint12 with gnome shell. I absolutely love it. Gnome shell is so much better than unity. I like that I can finally have a desktop that is not crowded with icons. Shell is awesome and with Mint it is even more so.

openSUSE or Gentoo

If you want an easy way in, I would recommend openSUSE. If you have experience with Windows, you wouldn't get lost in KDE or XFCE. Gnome Shell also works, but offers quite different experience. All these you can install from the same media, so you can try it again and again and again :-D Or you can install all three (or even add LXDE) and try one after another to see which suits you best.

If you want a hard way but to learn something, Gentoo installation will get you from newbie point to to the skilled user pretty fast, if you'll get through ;-) Pretty steep learning curve at the beginning if you don't fall off ;-)

lxf remix

Why not try Ubuntu 11.10 LXF remix! A brilliant distro remix from your colleagues!

Mint is not my

Mint is not my recommendation. There are a ton of tiny "paper cuts" that they didn't bother fixing, telling me there's not much quality assurance effort, and it literally has this Frankenstein interface cobbled together in Clem's basement. I honestly don't understand the praise for it, when stock GNOME 3 is so much easier to use. Its software management tools are also pretty abysmal.

At any rate, I don't think OpenSUSE 12.1 is a bad place to start. Nice upstream interface (that is, they didn't take GNOME 3 and ruin it) and some nice GUI tools for fiddling with various settings. Stable, too. And if your hardware is a bit older, start with Debian 6. Your very own Linux Format crowned it best distro not long ago. People say it isn't the best for new users, but I disagree entirely; it's a clean, simple, straight-forward OS and UI, not marred by the tinkering of amateurs (e.g., they leave the UI up to the professionals who developed GNOME).

LXF155 Ubuntu 11.10 LXF

LXF155 Ubuntu 11.10 LXF remix, I quite like Gnome3

KDE or Gnome

totally agree, do you want KDE or a Gnome 3 desktop...

Gnome3: Mint


Me PCLOS+KDE it's awesome!


I've been running the new Windows 8 Consumer Preview beta thingy all day long and I have to say, I quite like it.

Ubuntu 10.04 LTS

Yes, that's right - go for a 2-year old Ubuntu distro: Ubuntu 10.04 LTS.

It still has a remaining shelf life of 13 months and you can enjoy the easiest, simplest, yet most rounded distro there is. Worry about getting to grips with another interface in a year's time.

OpenSuse with

OpenSuse with Xfce



Linux Mint or PCLinuxOS

Try LinuxMint with Xfce or Lxde or PCLinuxOS with Xfce, Lxde, or Openbox. Either of these two distros will get you headed in the right direction with plenty of support and "room to grow" as you gain Linux experience. Good luck and keep us posted on your efforts and accomplishments.

Good Newby distro

Welcome Gary to the wonderful world of Software Freedom and choice. Enjoy your journey of discovery.

Puppy Linux is great choice for a newby.

Back to grade school: Elementary OS

When we're talking about the easiest distro for starting out, I've got to take it back to school with Elementary OS.

Built on Ubuntu, so you can branch out if you want, but otherwise a clean and clear desktop for your daily computing needs.

Mepis, PCLinuxOS and Mint

Mepis, PCLinuxOS and Mint has a nice KDE DE and are rather newbie friendly.
As you state you are somewhat of a technophobe I would probably stay away from Gnome 3(either shell or unity), at least until cinnamon is up to a higher standard. XFCE would probably be a better bet, but I haven't used any distros that run it from the start so I can't give you a tip of one and feel good about it.

newbie startup

For distros that 'just work':
PC Linux OS - e.g. LXDE, KDE
Mint - LXDE, KDE

If you want to see what Linux is all about without installing, try Slax.

So much choice.

My recommendation? Get a selection of the "popular" distro's on disk and try each one. Most these days allow a LiveCD mode, so it's ideal to see if you "get" it's way - especially the UI (desktop front-end). I'd look at Ubuntu, Mint, Fedora and SUSE - all excellent, well-rounded distro's.

Previously, I would have said "Ubuntu" and left it at that, but the standard Unity front-end in the current releases is a real Marmite UI - either you like it or hate it. I hate it because I find it does things in the least efficient/obvious way.

Last distro I installed was Mint (2 copies) and it looked/worked pretty well. My 10 year old got on with her copy with no problems.

Of course, I'd also agree with Les_Waters - pre-Unity Ubuntu's might also be worth a look. Like Les, I run Lucid (10.04LTS) and have precious few problems with it.

Mint KDE

If you're not particularly interested in exploring, and would prefer to get work done, I'd suggest standard Mint.

If you want to have a little fun exploring and tweaking, try Mint KDE. Right now, I don't think there's any other distribution that I'd recommend to a new user.

I might stretch to suggesting OpenSUSE, but my experience of it is that it's generally a little slow and clunky; otherwise it should be OK.

Wrong Production Editor?

Is there something just a little, teensy, weensy bit wrong in your intro there? You are a Production Editor and you know sweet FA and care even less about the content of the Production?!

I can not imagine a music magazine, fashion magazine, camera magazine, etc ad total boredom, who neither knew nor cared about the content.

Scoot over and let one of the gnarly pups take your nicely warmed seat. They might even let you keep the new computer, and come back when you DO have an idea.

Definitely Mint

Mint is pretty, and easy to use. Those are the most important features for a newbie, I think.

All the same?

Jon and Ben say that all distros are essentially the same. Is this true?

Like a virgin...

...Tux for the very first time...

When push comes to shove;

When push comes to shove; when everything is said & done; what it all boils down to is YOU have to decide what to use.

Trust me. Which distro is good for you is your decision to make. It's just like what brand of shoes you like or which car to drive. It doesn't matter what everybody has to say other than to use their guidings as a starting point on your journey down the yellow brick road to the emerald green palace of freedom.

Myself, a longtime windows user, which I originally based my computer company on, got tired of M$'s OS and the constant dolling out of hard earned capital to those barons of sanctimoniousness, despisers of freedom and individuality.

I had tried many Linux distros over the years. But just over a year ago, I finally took the plunge to totally convert to Linux. I tried almost every one of DistroWatch's top 20 distros. I made Live CDs (actually USB drives) to boot from and tried them on every kind and brand of hardware possible - Asus, Toshiba, Dell, IBM, Acer, etc., laptops, netbooks, Ultralights, desktops. You name it, I tried it.

I wanted a distro that would boot & recognize all of the hardware on any computer without incident. And why not, wasn't I spoilt by MicroShaft's OS? I'd grown to expect that from other OSes too.

I wanted a turnkey OS that had the majority of desired software and codecs pre-installed thereby eliminating the hours of DLing everything afterwards (always the problem of that other company. Rebuild my PC, take a week installing all of the software and OS updates).

In the end, I settled on 3 distros: PCLinuxOS, Sabayon and Mint to which I spent weeks testing for usability, looks, feel, etc.

After all the testing, I finally decided on Linux Mint 9 and it's Gnome 2.xx interface. I don't/didn't like KDE (although I may switch to it because Unity & Gnome 3 discusses me). Sabayon as well as PCLinuxOS had, at times, problems recognizing many of the pieces of hardware in many PCs/laptops. Plus their desktop/interface weren't as inspiring as Mint's. Mint 9 had no problems with any hardware I tried it on. Either booting from LiveCD or installing it, it recognized everything.

I still use Mint 9. I've tried the newer versions of Mint but dislike them because of their use of Gnome 3 and because they are all short life spanned (Mint 9 is LTS). I still, from time to time, test other Linux distros via LiveCD (flash drives). I've even tested the BSDs - PC-BSD & FreeBSD & DragonFly & Fessbie & OpenBSD.

Why do I still try others? Well, it's because when the support period for Mint 9 runs out, I know I'm going to have to upgrade to something and I dislike Gnome 3 shell or Unity (what a kludge - even early on I hated Ubuntu's laptop/netbook remix not to mention their sick, gross color pallet which reminds me of a soiled baby diaper). I'll probably stay with Mint and use the KDE interface if Cinnamon doesn't shape up.

What does all of this boil down to? Simply this, adopt the distro YOU like. Find it through rigorous testing and evaluation, NOT by hearsay. Be an informed consumer. Look at all aspects of the distro. Take what others say with a grain of salt. But use their proddings as a compass pointing to where you should start your testing. For if enough people use something, there must be something good about it.

Don't be afraid to be different. For, what you may like may not be what everyone else likes. Be bold, be daring be adventurous. Dare to be you on this journey down the yellow brick road to the emerald palace of freedom and individuality that Linux provides you.

Happy computing,

Easy - The Anonymous Penguin

Many thanks for all the

Many thanks for all the advice so far. There's much to take in, and we're really busy finishing LXF157 at the moment, but just as soon as I get a spare afternoon, I'll begin testing some of the disros from our coverdiscs, and let you know how I get on. Cheers everyone for taking the time to guide me in the right direction.


Gentoo would gentoo gentoo.

It doesn't matter

Look, it's Linux, which means they're all Linux. You can make any of them look like any of the others. If you end up liking KDE, or Gnome 3, or Cinnamon, it really doesn't matter which distro you use. (Right now you can only run Unity on Ubuntu, although even that might change in the future. I know it's not "politically correct" but I like Unity, and I've tried them all.)

The point is, pick one and try it. Hell, try them all! After awhile you'll find out that they're all Linux and you can put any interface on them that you like, tweak the appearance however you want, and then they're all essentially the same! KDE on Kubuntu looks like KDE on Mint which looks like KDE on OPENsuse which looks like KDE on Fedora, etc.

Where distros differ - and even then it usually isn't too much - is underneath. Do you use apt-get for updates, or rpm? For most users, does it really matter? For ease of setup, choose Ubuntu or any of its derivatives (Kubuntu, Xubuntu, Lubuntu, Mint, etc.) and then just mess with the interface, try them all and take the one you like best. (I use Unity but I can also boot into Cinnamon or MATE or a couple different versions of Gnome, and I've also used a couple KDE distros - Kubuntu and Mint. They're all good and so it's just a matter of taste.)

What I'd REALLY suggest is that you have some space on your HD that you reserve just for testing. Install whatever you want, and when you're done testing and messing with it you can just use GParted and wipe it clean and then try out another (all without touching the one you decide you prefer and will keep for real work and play).

As for if they are all the

As for if they are all the same, kind of, it's a bit like Adidas and Nike are both shoes. The look and feel of them are slightly different making them either more or less suited to your ideal shoe, you can change the shoelaces and the insole to make them pretty much the same.

Trying a few(or to keep with the shoe analogy run a few miles) while keeping a somewhat objective mind is really the only way to find one that suites you best.

Try them all

In spite of the general view that Ubuntu is finished I,and many others, still think it's great and like Unity, finding intuitive and straightforward to use. At the end of the day it's a matter of personal taste.

Use Live CDs to try


I'm using Linux...

After reading through all of your helpful comments and pondering where to start, I decided to make this democratic... or leave it to chance. I have took the pile of LXF coverdiscs on my desk, wrote the name of each of the distros onto pieces of paper and placed them in a hat. Whichever one emerged, I would try first, before cycling through the rest one by one and reporting back my findings. Jon was entrusted with drawing the winning ticket and it turned out to be..... the Ubuntu 11.10 LXF Remix from issue 155. I've installed it, had a little play and downloaded some stuff from the Ubuntu Software Centre. So far, so good.

Do Tell Us How You Get On

Good work, Gary! I'm absolutely fascinated to hear how you get on. Is there likely to be an article in the magazine on this? I'd be really interested to hear what problems / frustrations you encounter.

I hope you're having fun!

That was an interesting way to choose, and perfectly reasonable. I hope you're having fun playing with it and learning things. (I was in the same situation last April, and I've had a blast with it.)

After awhile - give it a chance - you'll need to try out some other distros, too, and other interfaces. Maybe even some specialty distros built for certain niches; it's surprising how many there are. And they're ALL Linux!

Ubuntu 11.10 LXF Remix - first steps

I've spent a couple of hours playing around with the Ubuntu 11.10 LXF remix with Gnome 3.0 now, carrying out some very basic tasks. I've listened to the latest edition of the LXF podcast in Firefox in order to compile the back page of next month's mag, found the Ubuntu Software Centre and fitted in a couple of rounds of SuperTuxKart. I had a quick play with Stellarium on my lunch break and downloaded and set up Last FM. I've customised my desktop, ridding myself of the functional but uninspiring default plain blue - so far, so straightforward. I really enjoy the Software Centre approach, making downloading apps simple, and haven't found anything yet that I would normally do on my PC/Mac and can't here. It's difficult to know how to be much more critical/analytical than that, so perhaps I'll come up with a list of 10 basic tasks/functions that a newbie/beginner would want to carry out with a new machine - ie importing a music collection, changing the desktop, setting up email etc, and then judge each of the distros against how simple and fulfilling that list is to complete, as well as their appearance and functionality.
All ideas welcome.

So, any updates on your

So, any updates on your progress? Likes, dislikes, etc.? How are you getting along with your adventure?

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