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Newbies: What to Look For

As a Linux newbie sure you have a lot of choices out there but what should you look for in a distro? I’ve come up with a few tips to help the new guy decide what he’s going to try first.

Hardware
From full Debian DVD sets to lightweight Mini distros, Linux distributions come in about every size possible. So one of the first things you’ll need to decide is what you’ll be installing this disto on. If it’s an older computer or your hardware is outdated be sure to look at the large selection of lightweight distros like Damn Small Linux, Tiny Core, xPUD, Puppy and many others. Linux distros like this are known for getting the most out of older hardware so you should see some significant improvements on computers that were previous running older versions of Windows.

Desktop Environment
You may have noticed that many Linux distros offer releases that feature GNOME, KDE, Xfce, and many other desktop environments. These desktop environments are basically the interface of your Linux desktop. It is important to decide what environment will work best for you so you can be matched to the best distro. Once you’ve experienced KDE on OpenSUSE for example, that knowledge will be useful while using other distros that offer KDE. Most users find a desktop environment they like and stick to it regardless of distro.

Language
This one seems obvious but needs to be mentioned. Not so much for English speakers but for everyone else. A Linux user that speaks Spanish may have a much more gratifying experience on Mandriva because Spanish languages support has been included in Mandriva for a long time. Some distros have been optimized for specific languages like the recent version of Greenie Linux which focuses on Czech and Slovak speakers. If you’re more comfortable in another language check around to see if distros optimized in your language are available.

Support
I see Linux newbies selecting distributions that aren’t very popular based on one or two things they like about them. Keep in mind that you can make distros like Ubuntu and Fedora do just about anything. How? Support. Without a base of other users that you can talk to in the forum, chat room or at your local LUG, it’s pretty hard to figure things out when you’re stuck. With such a huge number people using distros like Ubuntu finding help will be much easier than if you pick the latest and greatest from distrowatch and try to figure it out on your own.

Many factors go into choosing a distribution, taking some time to think about your needs first may save you some time in the long run.

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  1. June 12, 2009 at 4:19 am

    I agree with you: language and support are two factors that newbie users tend to forget when choosing their first distribution, but these are important. Having a support forum in your own language is a big advantage if you are not fluent in English.
    I personally consider Linux Mint as the easiest distro for new users (with Ubuntu and Mandriva are battling for the second place), but if the person wants to have professional support Ubuntu or Mandriva are better, because Mint doesn’t offer paid phone support.

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