need suggestion choosing Linux

Hi all. I've decided to finally get serious and buy a new machine and install Linux. I'd like to know if it really matters which one I install.

I'm tending towards Red Hat just because it seems to be the most popular and I hear installation is not so difficult. But I've also Heard that Debian is really easy to upgrade. And what about Corel's Linux which seems to be able to run a lot of apps? (which makes me ask, would corel's apps which run on it's version of Linux run on RH?)

Also since I will be buying new hardware and want to do the installation myself I have to look into hardware compatibility. How do I do this? (Do I print out a list of what my chosen Linux supports and go shopping for only those components?)

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mklpConnect With a Mentor Commented:
Hi totsubo,
     I'm mklp and just got done fighting the same battle. First I'll cover some fundamentals.
     Linux is free. Totally. It is available on the WEB and vendors can not legally charge for it or license it. What they can do is package it as a "distribution". (RH, Suse, Caldera etc.)  This is perfectly legal and makes a great deal of sense. You or I for example could go get the Kernel (important word I'll follow up) and any of the literally zillions of utilities, applications, bug fixes, device drivers, games, mail servers etc. written by people from all over the world for Linux. Then we burn it all to a CD with a nice GUI installation program and sell it to Best Buy to market and make our fortunes. That's what they did, and are for the most part, very good at it.
     The advice is don't do it yourself in this day and age. Do continue on the path you are on and choose a distribution. You will learn a lot more about Linux if you do it yourself but only because you will HAVE to. Unless you're a Tech and configuration issues thrill you I suggest you get a distribution. The old way used to be the only game in town and with RH, Caldera etc. it's simply worth the 20 bucks or so they charge for everything they have put together for you in addition to (usually) free Tech Support for a while.
     That said I'll move on to more technical issues. The Kernel IS Linux. Everything else is necessary to make the Kernel work for you and your hardware, but the Kernel is the animal. Linux has had several Kernel revisions since Linus Torvalds wrote the initial one, but Linux is Linux for the most part. I know I said "for the most part" again and it is confusing. What I mean is that newer Kernels may support more stuff than older ones. For example, I choose Caldera Open Linux 2.3 and all was well 'til I went to install it. It could not see my shiny new ATA-4 (UDMA66) hard drive. The Kernel they distribute (2.2.10) didn't support UDMA66. They will be releasing, in three weeks, a new distribution that will. No kidding, this information is that fresh, I just fought this battle this week. I purchased it back in Aug.99 and just never got around to installing it. I was (oddly enough) waiting 'til my new hardware was up and running. Well now that it is I have to scramble to find a Kernel patch for UDMA66 IDE or wait and find another. Thus your question about your new hardware is VERY valid. My 8MB SiS 6326 AGP video card (not uncommon) was also an issue and wouldn't let KDE run, this is Caldera's GUI (Graphic User Interface) that makes Linux or Unix look like MS Windows, aka Xwindows.
     My recomendation is Caldera for the distribution. No specific reason as far it being better, but in my case I needed Tech Support on the issue BEFORE I had even registered the product AND GOT IT!!! They sent me my $10 rebate check in October and I had not regestered it because I knew I would'nt need the free 90 day Tech support 'til I installed it. They seem to be pretty darn good at being willing to make this little $20 customer happy and that goes a long way in my mind. Imagine Tech support before you register the product. Unbelievable. Enough about my problems, just my observations.
    There are many resources on the WEB for Linux concerning hardware compatibility lists, How-To's, installation check lists and the like. Linux was born on the WEB. Type Linux into Yahoo or Metacrawler or Google and you will see. A good resource is the Linux Documentation Project. This is a global effort at consolidating all of the Linux documentation available and making it coherent. There are sites that specialize in nothing more than providing links to other Linux resources on the WEB so it is really the best place to start.
    When it comes to purchasing your hardware you need to be aware that NOBODY supports Linux. NT, 95/98 yes, but they will not provide a device driver for Linux except in rare cases. For example the modem you buy will not, so you will need to find your own driver (it's probably out there) or use the drivers that RH, Caldera, Suse etc. include (which is another good reason to go with a distribution). The newer and niftier the hardware the less likely it is that there will be a driver specific to the device, however there is probably a generic driver that will make it at least work. So before you buy the new CD Burner be aware.
     When choosing a distribution be aware that there are many out there. Debian, Caldera, Suse, Red Hat are names that are repeated often in the Linux world and all seem to be serious players with fair to excellent support of their product. McMillan (yes the publisher) has theirs but I would rather let them have the book market. I'm waiting for the people that make Draino and M&M candies to get into the Linux distribution game.
    As far as letting your chosen distribution dictate the hardware you buy remember what I said about the Kernel. If the driver is available for your device it will work for whatever "distribution" you buy so approach the package from the standpoint of features it has bundled with it that you may like, and most importantly how they support it. You are not tied to the distribution vendor for bug fixes and updates as you are with Microsoft products or even UNIX. They all cost about the same, around $20 after rebate. As far as software, if it runs on a Linux Kernel it will run on whatever you have.
Hope this helps,

totsuboAuthor Commented:

Thanks mklp! Great answer. Here is what I seem to understand, if I'm wrong please let me know.

- Any Linux software should run on any Linux distribution
- For hardware it doesn't matter what distribution I choose, as long as I can find a Linux driver for the hardware.
- So before buing a new computer (or building it) I should make sure Linux drivers exist for each and every piece of hardware

This sounds a bit inconvenient actually, seems like the steps are

1- go to computer store, find some hardware I want
2- check to see if I can find a Linux driver
3- if there is then buy it, if not repeat 1
4- do this for every piece of hardware I want

(and if I am interested in a pre-built system, like a Compaq machine, try and find out what each piece of hardware in the machine is, not an easy task)


PS Would KDE run on any Linux distribution?

    Yep, you've got it. I realize I tend to be a bit wordy but only in the interest of clarification. When you say "each and every piece" you are mostly correct. However, it is simpler in some areas and more difficult in others. Starting at the base:

Case/Power Supply: AT or ATX no problem.

Mother Board: Linux will run on just about anything.

Processor: No problem.

RAM: No problem I'm aware of. I've read some stuff that might affect you if you're going to run a Gig or more :)

Drive Interface: IDE or SCSI no problem. Watch out for IDE UDMA66 (ATA-4 standard) support. If you are buying a machine today you would be crazy not to consider it, drives are cheap and a motherboard that supports it cost $5 more. Win98 boots in 45 seconds. The Linux support for the standard depends on the Kernel and/or patches available for it.

Floppy: No Problem

CD: If it supports a standard ATAPI interface (and it will) no problem. It supports both my generic 44x and my HP 9100i burner (for read only) just fine. I have not researched enough to find out how to burn with it (or even if it is possible) at this point I just know HP does not offer Linux support.

Video Card: Tricky. Use the WEB and info from the distribution vendor for this. A generic driver may make it work but a driver specific to take advantage of all of the capabilities (linear accel. etc) of an individual card needs research.

Sound, Printers, Network Cards, Mice, Keyboards, Joysticks, Modems (include DSL routers, ISDN and Cable in this class because as bandwidth gets cheaper you'll want it), are all mostly the same as Video.

     No Problem but BE CAREFUL. Linux requires very specific Horizontal and Vertical Refresh rate information to be supplied by you at install and you can allow all of the smoke to leak out of your monitor if you tell it the wrong numbers. Monitors work better when they are fully charged with smoke.

Other observations:
     You mention Compaq. I come from the old school and really don't like fully integrated systems yet. Many manufactures integrate the sound, video, and as much else on the motherboard as they see fit. This often leads to propritary drivers. Some even use system RAM for Video RAM. Slow as molasses in comparison to on chip, so when you consider a packaged system be aware that you could be locking yourself into that video, sound etc. forever. I'm not a gamer, but if I were, I'd sure like to know I could easily go to the newest neatest Voodoo (or whatever) I could buy. Not to mention potential problems finding Linux support.

     As far as KDE is concerned I don't see why not. My understanding is that it is simply the X-windows GUI (and there are many) that they provide and I don't see any reason why it shouldn't run on anyone elses distribution. Remember the word Kernel. It is Linux, not the "distribution". I'm as new to Linux as you are so please remember this in your decisions. I am an experienced Tech though so I kind of know what look for and ask.
Hope this helps some more,

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