Personal Edition - Linux for the whole family.
November 15, 2001 6:11 PM   Subscribe

Personal Edition - Linux for the whole family. I was wondering when someone will make a version of Linux directly marketed at the personal home user, and it looks like someone has.
posted by Zool (31 comments total)
I just want a distro that comes with a Linux geek included. While I do want to acquaint myself with the system over time, right now, I just need someplace to use as a little dev platform so I can mess around with web stuff and not have to bounce in and out of my site constantly.
Instead, I've managed to repeatedly crash three different distributions, and no, it's not by doing stupid things logged in as root.
posted by Su at 6:20 PM on November 15, 2001

This was also discussed in a thread here recently. No, this isn't a "double-post" comment, just more info. Look toward the bottom of the thread.

posted by NsJen at 6:32 PM on November 15, 2001

Linux at this time is hopeless for the home user. While it has made some strides (I am quite happy with the new KDE) I have yet to have an install that didn't require a download and compile of the kernel to get something working. This is WAY beyond what joe average wants to do. Why the heck aren't there device drivers? Modules sore of work, but they are kernel-version specific.

I have always told people who ask me about linux "If you don't know why you need it then you don't".
posted by phatboy at 6:34 PM on November 15, 2001

Hmmm. Maybe I've just been really, really lucky. I've had exactly the opposite experience. With both Mandrake and SuSE (and I just did a clean install of SuSE 7.3 this weekend) I've been delighted at how easily they installed...configured...and recognized my hardware/found all of my drivers. Now admittedly I don't have a really posh, personalized and tweaked system. It's a bog-standard Compaq Presario 5000 (that means "cheap machine for students"), but I've also installed Windows ME, NT Server AND Workstation, 98 and 98SE on this thing. Ahhh, the joys of being an IT student. Anyway, none of them have even come close to recognizing everything. I tried to install 2000 and it just flat refused.

My safety-net when I first tried it is that both distros give you 30 days (60 on the new SuSE) of FREE telephone installation support. Never had to use it, but it's nice to know it's there to get you up and running.

posted by NsJen at 6:45 PM on November 15, 2001


I have a "bog standard" Intel motherboard (815) with onboard video audio and networking. Neither the audio nor networking worked with RH7.2. As a bonus, every other boot for some reason would hang. This all required an update the the latest kernel and now works well, but this sort of thing is not user friendly. To be honest, this sort of thing doesn't bother me, but I think geeks really underestimate how user unfriendly Unix still is.

Another example: I needed a math package that required a specific version of gnuplot. Gnuplot doesn't appear to be maintained anymore, so I needed to grab the source code and compile it. It wouldn't compile because gif support had been removed from some library or another. I then needed to edit the source code for gnuplot, manually removing some code, and recompiled.

My main usability gripes with linux:
1. No drivers, updating the OS generally requires a kernel recompile. Some default kernel options are idiotic (no printer support for example).

2. Massive overuse of shared libraries. I can see the theoretical point of this, however in practice it just leads to a confusing hell of mutually dependant packages.

3. Inconsistent user interface. This has gotten better over the last couple of years. I still can't reliable cut and paste. Keys to do standard tasks (i.e. copy, close, etc...) are different for each application. The old "cursor has to be in the text box to edit" xlib behavior is truly awful.

Note: I have run linux for 6 or 7 years quite happily, however there is no way in hell I would recommend it for a novice. The linux community is misguided in even aiming for that market.
posted by phatboy at 7:07 PM on November 15, 2001

I also heartily endorse Suse... and while I don't think I'm ready to ditch my mac and go all linux, I use it quite extensively. Install was no problem (it auto recognized everything on my eMachines 433 celeron development box). Got sharing up and running in about 30 seconds for both my mac and windows machines, and KDE is a lovely window manager.

Plus, suse reminds me to "have a lot of fun" everytime I log in.
posted by ph00dz at 7:10 PM on November 15, 2001

OK, kind of a side comment, but is there a Windows program out there that has some way to detect whether or not RH linux will detect my drivers (i've checked their web page, but it only lists limited info about this)? I have a new HP laptop and i know that they have a history of "odd" drivers that aren't easily detectable. i have come to HATE windows (ME) as it crashes at least once a day (i use my computer to hell) and i NEED to get something else before i throw it through the wall
posted by jmd82 at 7:28 PM on November 15, 2001

jmd82: Have a look here.
posted by NsJen at 7:41 PM on November 15, 2001

hardware novice: can linux be installed on powerpc machines?
posted by o2b at 7:44 PM on November 15, 2001

NsJen: You are my hero, thank you! Ironic, though. The one link broken is for my laptop. Thank you, though.
posted by jmd82 at 7:48 PM on November 15, 2001

Because I'm lazy and don't want to make a lot of links. Yes, o2b.
posted by whatnotever at 7:48 PM on November 15, 2001

I've tried Mandrake, and it was beyond easy to install, but still could never get my DSL connection up. Additionally, it would never let me log in as root(useful!). I'd get to the prompt, enter the info and be faced with a blank red screen. If I tried to switch to the superuser account from my regular one, it wouldn't accept my password.
I don't think I even finished the Debian install. Redhat is doing okay, but I still can't get DSL going. In fact, I'm not even clear where I'm supposed to put some of the information.

Maybe I should just get someone I know with an installation to send me a backup image of theirs. Thassit!
posted by Su at 7:55 PM on November 15, 2001

Su -- do you have a pppoe connection?
posted by ph00dz at 8:01 PM on November 15, 2001

I'm a pretty techy sort of guy, and so was a co-worker of mine. I'm a programmer (sadly, just COBOL and SAS, but I'm learning Java) and he's a tech-support-guru (WinNT and networking). We decided to split on a distro of Red Hat and install it on an extra computer, just so we could have practise/fun with Linux.

Bad idea jeans.

After about 6 hours of frustration (network card? Don't know ya! Sound card? Who are you?) and not really understanding what the instructions meant sometimes (at the end, the word "mount" became a swear word to us). We finally got a desktop for Linux up and going (no sound or networking to the internet). Yawn. After playing with that for a couple of days, we've never gone back to it and just wiped the computer clean.

I'd had hopes that Corel Linux was going to be the user-friendly version, but it's dead in the water. Maybe I'd give this Suse a try in the future, but with compatibility problems and a very uneasy install method (usually), I don't see myself doing that unless I have a LOT of free time.
posted by Grum at 8:20 PM on November 15, 2001

I've been using SuSE almost exclusively at home since release 6.4. One of the things I really like about SuSE, especially since 7.0, is the YAST2 installer -- much maligned for not being open-source, granted, but overall it makes Linux as easy to install as Windows, only without warnings like "if your computer doesn't respond for several minutes restart your computer". Apparently Linux isn't expected to fail quite as often as the Redmond product :-)

Anyway, I have done installs on desktops and laptops, Intel and PowerPC (there is a PPC version of release 7.1). Snags CAN occur if you are using cutting-edge, non-standard hardware (Sony Vaio's require a bit of tweaking) but this is not usually a concern with the usual Dell, Gateway and even Compaq systems. Obviously your mileage may vary, but I've had nothing but good experiences with it so far.
posted by clevershark at 8:25 PM on November 15, 2001

Grum, Suse has been the most user friendly version of Linux that i have had the pleasure of trying.

I am not that concerned about Linux in general as it will grow better due to it's open source nature, but this seems like the first step in challenging Microsoft's desktop domination in the home as previously there really has not been an effort to market Linux towards home users.
posted by Zool at 8:39 PM on November 15, 2001

The web browsers for Linux really suck. Thats my biggest complaint (big enough that I ditched the OS completely). Although, I did have some of those network card and sound issues mentioned above, but my good friend Mr. Linux Stud helped me out.
posted by howa2396 at 8:44 PM on November 15, 2001

howa2396: if you ever decide to give Linux a go again, try Galeon. It came with RedHat 7.2, I tried it once (having used Opera for everything but my bank, which for some reason specificially recognizes Opera and refuses to run) and was so pleasantly surprised that it became my primary browser within a week. The RH7.2 stock install even comes with a fairly recent Flash plug-in.

Galeon is based on Gecko (the Mozilla rendering engine, which is the fast, lean heart of Netscape 6 that lies encrusted in the cholesterol that is XUL and AOL-added "extras") so it's passably standards-compliant, relatively fast, and not too piggy with the RAM. In my experience, most "IE-compliant" sites render very well in Galeon.

The problem with web browsing on a Linux box is the proliferation of closed-standard content on the web - RealVideo/WindowsMedia for video, WindowsMedia for audio, Flash/Shockwave/applets* for interactivity, and various other drek that sums to vendor lock-in.

* Java is a semi-open standard, but the real thing that killed client-side Java on the web was the nonstandardization among browser VMs. The Java plug-in solves this problem fairly well; alas, there's too much stigma associated with applets nowadays for them to make much of a comeback. Besides, Flash is far easier than Java for producing crappy animation. :)

posted by Vetinari at 9:04 PM on November 15, 2001

great post and thread - am furiously bookmarking everything - keep 'em coming!
posted by thatwhichfalls at 9:11 PM on November 15, 2001

jm82 -- what HP laptop do you have? I've installed both Mandrake 8.0 and RedHat 7.2 on a HP Pavillion 5350 without any problems at all. It detected and set up my cheap-o dlink pcmcia network card as well, and video is good too. I was impressed to see that the battery monitor worked as well.

Incidentally, my Linux installs have always been way smoother than Win2K installs. My home computer is a white box 'heinz 57' with a tonne of wacky crap, and Mandrake runs great on it. The only glitch was with my aureal video card, but the install told me where I could download the driver (sourceforge). A quick compile and modprobe, and I was off to the races. I haven't had to build a kernel since '98 or so, and I do a lot of Linux work...
posted by kaefer at 9:21 PM on November 15, 2001

kaefer-> um, you must be reading my mind or something like that. tha pavilion n5350 is the model i have...thanx for the confirmation that linux will detect my drivers.
posted by jmd82 at 9:39 PM on November 15, 2001

There's lots of good points scattered throughout this thread...and I pretty much agree with all Phatboy's comments far far above; Linux has come a long way and is still progressing - for my servers I use about 50% FreeBSD and 50% Linux, and on my home PC I'd say I boot into Mandrake-Linux 50% and Windows 2000 50%. But there are still some problems that Linux developers seem reluctant to handle...

I don't know how many Linux distro's i've seen that claim to be the FINAL SOLUTION for a SIMPLE DISTRIBUTION FOR HOME USERS....but they still come packed with all that Latex/Tetex/all this kind of crap that just fills up your system but no "home" user would ever bother with. Compiling software is a joke - it's NEVER as simple as just untarring something, configuring, and making...why don't people use intelligent executable install files? Just because the source code has to be available doesn't mean you can't offer compiled downloads as well! And yes, cut/copy/paste is a total pain in the ass, not to mention file type managing and drag-and-drop.

BUT Linux really isn't all that's true that you probably shouldn't bother unless you know you have a reason to. Someone needs to do something REALLY radical...take the Linux kernel and build a really NEW OS from it; like BeOS or something. Scrap XFree86 and put in a nice simple combined graphics/window manager. Get rid of all that useless development software and console utilities that modern users aren't interested in, and offer simple binaries to install. No-one has done this yet, and I wonder why.
posted by Jimbob at 9:50 PM on November 15, 2001

SuSE 7.2 (what I run as well as Mandrake 8.1 on a laptop) is quite honestly your computer illiterate and everyone else's distro. My mother knows next to nothing about anything digitally related, yet absolutely abhors XP (just returned a computer where everything "went wrong" [ME] and was given a brand new fluffy XP box). I explained to her that SuSE 7.2 is almost there. I told her to wait on it till I was able to check out 7.3. If 7.2 is any indication, 7.3 has got to be the bomb. I can't say enough good things about the ease, configurability and stability of SuSE 7.2. It convinced me to never return to anything MSFT. I'll wait till games are ported and any of the other multimedia apps Linux currently has proprietary problems with. Untill then, there literally are thousands of exquisite apps that do everything under the sun and only continues to get better.

As a fairly new Linux user, I literally look forward to every new advancement and am excited to be a part of the great digital revolution that I think is naturally, Penguin Powered.

Furthermore, I never quite understood what my coder friends meant when they described the power of the command line (which with SuSE 7.2 you rarely need to resort to). I learn more and more everyday. There's plenty of online documentation. And frankly, playing with XP gave made me feel claustrophobic and earthbound. No command line. No changing anything they don't want you to change.

Bookmarks? An indispensible command line application that I use is Princeton's wordnet. Believe me it's easy.
posted by crasspastor at 9:55 PM on November 15, 2001

o2b: LinuxPPC
posted by andrewraff at 10:32 PM on November 15, 2001

crasspastor: No command line in Windows XP? Huh? Start->Run->"cmd.exe".

And you can change essentially anything in XP. What is it that you were having a problem with?
posted by JasonSch at 11:48 PM on November 15, 2001

I don't know why so many people are having trouble with Linux. I had a problem with my network card, but it was an old one. When I upgraded to to a newer PCI card, it was fine. As to actually using it, KDE2.2 is much nicer than Windows98 in my opinion. The latest versions of Mozilla and Konqueror are both perfectly adequate browsers.

Grum: Did you use 'sndconfig' to get the sound working?
posted by salmacis at 12:33 AM on November 16, 2001

I haven't been able to hit Linux for a few days now. Dunno if it's just me but *shrug.* Got an extra Powermac 7200 that I'm willing to experiment with.
posted by Tacodog at 1:38 AM on November 16, 2001

hehheh the irony. i consider myself pretty geeky and got RH7.2 running pretty well and pretty easily on the P4 machine i built specifically for linux. of course, i made it a point to put hardware in there that's documented as supported by linux.

BUT ...

when the average jackass picks up his sony vaio from compUSA ... installing linux is going to be the biggest pain, simply because of major manufacturer's tendency for propreitary hardware. and while there MAY be a module out there for his webcam ... this poor bastard isn't going to have the first clue what a module is, let a lone a kernel or a recompile or any of the *nix specific terms. it has indeed come a long way, but it's still not even sort of close for the average home user.


mac os x. which is, by all means and purposes, a *nix based OS. and it has what no collective of open source developers have been able to do or, in my opinion, ever be able to do as well. and that's build a smart, easy system for the home user with an absolutely beautiful and intuitive interface. if apple were to port OS X over to x86 ... i really think it would have a huge chance of toppling windows. problem is ... it would really hurt their hardware market, and steve wants to keep making pretty machines.

so ... yeah. an impasse. fuckit. i like my titanium powerbook and i love OS X ... you should all go out and get it. :)
posted by aenemated at 1:44 AM on November 16, 2001

One last thing and I'm outta here...I promise *grin*

Found this on The Register this morning. It's an interesting read about SuSE, especially if you've read his previous article on installing WinXP and RedHat.
posted by NsJen at 6:42 AM on November 16, 2001

Vetinari: thanks for the tip on linux web browsers. I have a roommate that is fixing to try linux again, and I'm sure he will appreciate the knowledge.
posted by howa2396 at 9:58 AM on November 16, 2001

Someone needs to do something REALLY radical...take the Linux kernel and build a really NEW OS from it; like BeOS or something.
And AtheOS
posted by davidgentle at 12:14 PM on November 17, 2001

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