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(?) How do I choose?

From Serge Wargnies

Answered By Heather Stern


I may confess that I am coming from another platform and wants to migrate to the open world ...

My question which distribution choosing ... I am lost between caldera, redhat and other SuSe ...?

(!) [Heather] Nope, not a stupid question at all. You actually want to take a look at the differences before picking one; sounds wise to me.
We have had this question fairly recently and discussed it in some detail. Basically, you need to know what kind of things you want to use your Linux for, and what things various distros are aiming to be -- then, you can pick one that is trying to head your direction, and you have a much better chance of picking usefully.
The Gang expounded on this in Issue 60, "Best Linux Distro for a Newbie...?" (http://linuxgazette.net/issue60/lg_answer60.html#tag/4) and I hope you'll find that answer useful too. If these aren't quite enough, let us know what you're thinking of, and we'll try to help out a bit more.

(?) Thanks very much in advance... Regards Serge Wargnies

(!) [Heather] Welcome to the world of Linux, Serge. I hope you'll find your first forays here pleasant.

(?) Thank for you answer, I read the Gazette but I am still a bit confused so ...

(!) [Heather] I have cc'd back in the tag@lists.linuxgazette.net address, so the rest of The Answer Gang can see, and reply if they also have more comments.

(?) I am coming from the Windows world, started as a developer on Windows 2, 3, 3.1, 9X and NT/2000. I also did a lot on the system side as well as acquired a certain knowledge on Databases ...

As you mentioned, it depends what you want to do with it. I don't search for a new graphical environment, I look for acquiring some new knowledge on a growing system that - if I am not that wrong - is quite close to UNIX. Because as my experience should tell that I am not too much into console mode only, I want something with a GUI which is not available on my home PC at this time...or I am wrong...???

(!) [Heather] Well, you can take a look at a bunch of the screenshots over at LibraNet, because they give a very clear sense of what the K desktop looks like. The Gnome desktop also looks very similar. (http://www.libranet.com)
If those are close enough to a usable GUI for you then you can probably do okay with most of the nicer distributions, and the next concern would be making sure that you have a decently safe bet on a clean install, followed by an interest in good access to developer tools.
If that's too different from the GUI you enjoy, there's a Window Manager named fvwm95 that's designed, as you might guess, to be a really close match. That means the task bar acts the same, for example. There will still be slight differences.
Once you start to get used to a few applications, you can play with loading a few other Window Managers and see if you like some of the others; many have interesting extra features.

(?) I plan to learn about the environment but once it is installed, I don't want to spend 10 weeks - I am not often at home - to have the PC installed...This has to be done in one shot. I will learn from the system after...as well as starting to do some development - porting application from Windows to LINUX/UNIX ....

(!) [Heather] So you probably want to try following the Willows Software Twin API (http://www.willows.com). Or stick very closely to GTK+ and follow the same style that The Gimp did, since it has a win32 version as well as a linux one you get a successful example to study the similarities and differences. GTK has its own site, http://www.gtk.org and so does the Gimp, http://www.gimp.org
...and if having to run an occasional, but possibly well behaved Windows binary on your Linux is interesting, you'll also want to keep an eye on the WINE project (http://www.winehq.com) which is trying to provide a support layer for win32 binaries to be run directly within Linux and a few other OS'.

(?) So what can I do, doctor?

Serge Wargnies

(!) [Heather] Okay, so we want to get you into a developer-friendly install, but not one that expects you to be a guru during the installation itself.
Most packages available out there are available in at least one of 4 states: source tarballs (you get to build it yourself; if you're lucky that's only 3 commands, not very hard, and listed in the README or INSTALL textfile for the package), Redhat style rpm files, rpm files for non-redhat derivitive systems (like SuSE or TurboLinux), and Debian packages. Mandrake and some other Redhat derivitives can share Redhat style rpms. Stormix, CorelLinux, Libranet, Progeny, and Debian itself all can share deb files.
If you decide that a debian based system works for you, then I'd definitely choose either Libranet or Corel, instead of "the real debian" installer, because in your case, you're not a Linux expert; even though the Debian installer is ok, the boost in helpfulness that these commercial distros provide during the install would be extremely worthwhile for you.
If you're afraid of repartitioning but still want an fairly easy install of a "big name" Linux distro, consider BigSlack... the version of ZipSlack (http://www.slackware.com/zipslack) that includes X and Gnome, but can be installed directly into a FAT filesystem just using PKunzip. Slackware has been around a long time and is well known as being friendly for people who like to work directly with source code.
If you decide that because there are lots of Redhat-style packages out there, you need a redhat compatible system, I guess Mandrake would be worth a try. Make sure to get a really recent version or buy it direct tho, because they had some bugs during install that they fixed recently, and you wouldn't want to get nailed by one just because the local store had a dusty copy.
I notice you're not in the U.S. so if English isn't your native language, maybe there's a localized variant that would be handy for you. Linux Weekly News lists a whole bunch of them (http://www.lwn.net) in its Distributions sidebar. Some of the major distros support many languages too.
Backing up the system in its current state is a good idea, not so much because of the risk (well, yes, there's some, not horridly bad) but because now is a good time to decide what's important and not on your machine; it will be good to have if there's any sort of trouble, not just linux install issues. For example, a power outage right when you've almost got things humming :(
Let us know if you need more!

(?) Thanks very much fir the answer, I guess you have summarized the situation pretty well ...

I will follow the links...

Serge Wargnies

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Published in issue 65 of Linux Gazette April 2001
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