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which flavor of linux

I am trying to setup 20 used dell workstations, mostly piii with 256 mb of ram.  I am setting them up for a nonprofit with no money for pc.  I want to put on a version of linux and then openoffice.  I am an msce and know my way around a MS based machine fairly well.  But I have never realy played with linux before but am willing to learn.  My first question would be what flavor of linux should I use.  I have seen many different ones out there.  Of course there are many factors to consider, drivers, ease of setup, learning curve, end user interface.  I would prefer to download the software, but purchasing media is acceptable.  The ability to run windows apps (if possible) would be a bonus.  
7 Solutions

I would suggest you try either CentOS ( or Fedora ( these two distrobutions
have excellent driver support and provide a ease of setup. They also provide graphical tools for configuring alot
of services such as, samba, NFS, mail server, DNS and many others.
You can't ask a question "which linux distribution is the best" because everyone has his/her own favorite disribution, so it's like asking "what's the best book" or "what's the best movie"...
Personally, I use Debian Linux because it comes with a huge integrated software library and is pretty flexible when it comes to configuration, however it's not really easy to install and configure so generally it's not recommended for total newbies (though if you have some general computer knowledge it shouldn't be too of a problem).
I believe the most popular distribution today is Fedora Core (which is actually Red Hat), and there's also Mandrake Linux, in both of which pretty much everything can be configured via GUI (Mandrake is considered one of the most newbie-friendly distributions). People say SuSE is also a good one, though I've never used it.
About running Windows application - There is an application called WINE that allows you to do that. It's not perfect and won't run every Windows program but it does run many programs, even Microsoft software like Office and IE (although I have no idea why would you want to run IE on Linux or at all...). Also check-out SAMBA, which allows you to share files and printers (and access shared files and printers) with Windows machines.
There's a huge choice available:

The whole 'choice' process is a very personal thing, however, in order to guarantee 'mainstream' support, I recommend that users (at least initially) choose one of the more common distributions. In particular:

RedHat Enterprise Linux - Not sure that we're even allowed to post links to this vendors site:

What the heck (  (commercial distro - but can be obtained without commercial support if required.) As the default auto update process requires registration, unless you do a bit of 'tweaking', I normally recommend that people pick one of the 'Redhat clones' if they don't wish to pay for support:
CentOS (already mentioned)
White Box Linux -
LEL and others.

Other mainstream distros tend to be Debian and Suse.

Fedora Core is also relatively similar to the Redhat product, but tends to be more 'bleeding' edge/developmental - possibly more bugs?

A big advantage of the Redhat clones is that they have an extended cycle of 'support'/upgrades, making them attractive if you want to use the product for a server. However these distros also make good desktop systems. It is worthwhile mentioning here that most distributions use the same kernel code (OK - there is the BSD and a few other kernel 'bases'), but the only difference is what software is installed on it. For a server...Samba File server/ Apache Web Server etc, and for a workstation - Open Office etc.

Another point worth bearing in mind for end users is that RH tends to be for the more 'serious' individual, and there are less 'leisure' packages in the main distribution, than for some other distros. There is nothing to stop you installing them of course.

Interfaces in the majority of distros tend to be Gnome ( or KDE ( There are others, but again, you probably want to stick with the mainstream. However, you may wish to look at the more 'Desktop' orientated distros such as Ubuntu/Kubuntu ( as they have more for the user to 'customise, and more associated options.....then again you might not want the user doing that?

Windows compatability. The following are probably going to be of interest:

DOSEMU - Dos emulator (
Wine - Windows emulator (
Crossover office - (A commercial product associated with WINE - Enables some very impressive results with respect to running windows programs under Linux)
VMServer - Enables the running of a virtual windows system (or indeed another OS) under Windows or Linux - Note here that although this is an excellent product, you will need at a minimum 512MB, if not 1GB to use this product to its potential.

Although your systems are capable of running with 256MB, I think across the board, they would benefit from an upgrade to 512MB, and if you are having one of them operating as a server, then 512MB is probably a must.

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PClinuxOS would be my choice in case I have to deploy 20 workstations in small business/small office environments.
-It is very easy to install SINGLE CD distribution ( Fedora/RedHat are 5 CD )
-It is distribution with the best customisations and feature rich Linux - OUT OF THE BOX I've ever installed on my PC.
-Excellent synapitc/kynaptic software/package management with really good repositories ( application sources)
-PSlinuxOS Control Centre ( based on Mandrake CC) put  one-click-system-administration tools at your disposal
( you don't want spending to much time configuring workstations in non-profit org with tight or no IT budget )
-User friendliness , manageability , completenss and easy learning curve makes PCLinuxOS distro of choice even
for Linux savvy users.
-Running Live CD gives you an opportunity to test your workstations without having to install it ( which will save you time,
money and hassle with testing various other distros)
Everything you need for day to day home desktop or small business computing is available in PCLinuxOS. From a complete replacement of Microsoft Office to chat and multimedia applications, PCLinuxOS either meets or exceeds a Windows XP system. The software choices alone are staggering and are probably more than anyone could ask for. We think you will find that PCLinuxOS not only exceeds your computing needs, but it also makes using your computer fun again... and that in itself justifies the little bit of effort you may have to expend to learn Linux.
<end quote>
This might sound bold statement but it turned to be true.
I like Fedora 5 ( but it's still more buggy than outdated RedHat 9 ) I  like SuSE 10 but it is  just overkill for older hardware and that's why I use PSLinuxOS ( on Duron 850 MHz , 256 Mb SDRAM and nVIDIA TNT2 32 Mb RAM) . PS Linux OS will outperform both Fedora and SuSE on same hardware.

good luck
For something like that I'd use a liveCD version of linux, like knoppix. That way you don't need to install anything to the HD and the users won't be able to break the OS by installing something wrong or manipultaing things in the configuration. This would reduce your time to fix things to a minimum. LiveCDs are also perfect to first test your OS with your hardware, and it is installable to the HD if that is necessary. Knoppix includes many apps, like openoffice, the gimp etc. It also comes in a DVD version with even more apps.
I have used both RedHat Desktop and SUSE Linux Professional (now OpenSUSE, the "free" version of SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop, or SLED).

By far, I prefer the SUSE product. The installation was better, the desktop environment is far richer, there are a lot more software choices, and the administration tools are superiour. SUSE also does at least as good a job with hardware detection and driver selection as does RH.

Further, if you start out with OpenSUSE, and later your non-profit does land some money, it's a very, very short walk to SLED, which is the "commercial" (i.e. formally supported) version. Check out -->
I'd go for a Debian based systems. Initial setup is more difficult but keeping the systems up-to-date (which you will do for a much longer time) works like a charm.

lrpageAuthor Commented:
Since there is no right or wrong answer here... and everyone gave me just what I wanted, I will award everyone the same amount of points.  Thank you for your help.  I now have a direction to go in.  I also have a lot of work ahead of me deciding which dist to use and learning how to use it.  
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