SuSE and Ubuntu
In the last ten days I've been trying some different linux distros. First of all at work we needed to investigate the possibility of porting our .Net app to Mono. Since I'd recently received the 'Novell Linux Technical Resource Kit' containing a SuSE 9.1 DVD, and Novell own the Mono project, I figured it was a good chance to try it out. We stuck a spare 10Gig HDD in a colleague's machine and ran the installer. It was quite a slick process except it seemed to bork the X install so we got to experience the command line installer, and it completely failed to make a boot floppy (we were unwilling to overwrite the Windows MBR on the main HDD). Fixed the X problem by manually running the config program and managed, after a quick Google, to make a GRUB boot floppy on my FC1 install. A bit of trial and error getting the parameters correct and we were up and running. I'd chosen Gnome as the desktop environment, since that was what I'm most used to and Monodevelop is a GTK app. Having managed this at work I thought it was worth a try at home so I cleaned up the second HDD on my old desktop machine and created a 20Gig space. This time I let it install KDE, it got the X config right and also created the boot floppy perfectly. In KDE all the sysconfig tools were a lot more obviously positioned and I managed to do an online update and get Firefox and Thunderbird installed with little difficulty. The default theme is very slick and manages to look quite professional which wasn't my previous experience of KDE, the Yast2 tool is also very nice for system maintenance and there was a wide selection of useful things pre-installed such as RealPlayer and the Flash plugin (presumeably because this is a 'professional' version). I haven't had much luck since then, however. The website seems to offer no way of getting updated versions of KDE etc. apart from manually downloading all the packages, and I've not yet figured out how to get the mpeg codecs and other 'non free' stuff installed. Wine seems to struggle a bit with gp_vcon too, fonts are missing off the dialogues (or the fonts are too small to be seen). Overall a reasonable distro for an newbie, very easy to setup and use, but the online support seems weak in comparison to what I'm used to with Red Hat/Fedora.
Ubuntu is based on Debian, the most Gnu of all Linuxes, except without so much political baggage and an up to date selection of packages. It comes on just one CD, because the authors want to concentrate on getting one selection of rock solid packages rather than providing three or more options for everything in the usual Linux fashion. I've never had much luck with Debian before but I started by installing over my previous best effort, an old laptop I'd done a Knoppix drop to HDD install onto. Aside from some unrelated hardware difficulties with the laptop the install went smoothly, I was booted into a nice looking Gnome desktop in just more than half an hour. I was slightly confused at first because I couldn't su to run things as root, but then I discovered there is no root user, the Ubuntu way is to use sudo for everything. After a week's intermission for yet more laptop hardware difficulties I now have it updated through Synaptic and have added on the optional repositories and got most of the stuff I want installed. Still searching for libdvdcss and the win32codecs but I think it's mostly there. All in all, an excellent distro for someone new to Linux, well organised and presented, though it might be worth waiting for the next release so you don't have to spend an hour downloading updates after the initial install.
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