TL;DR I’m going to attempt to migrate from Windows to a Linux distribution as my main OS. I’ll probably have to dual boot with Windows because of a few apps that don’t virtualize or handle WINE well (Photoshop, Steam, etc.). I’ll virtualize Windows within Linux for the Windows apps that I can’t live without but do virtualize well. My only problem now is settling on a Linux distro. Care to offer a helpful opinion?
The Time Has Come!
The time has come for me to consider branching out and learning more about Linux than the crumbs that I’ve gathered from glancing interactions with the OS over the last few years. I’ve been more or less happily using Windows for years now. I haven’t had any terrible experiences with it. I actually liked Vista. Windows Server does a great job and Active Directory makes me happy. I’m not a Microsoft basher or Richard Stallman cheerleader. I don’t really care one way or the other about the OS that a person uses, as long as it was chosen for a good reason and it gets the job done well. I just think it’s time to get out of my comfort zone and attempt to be more of a polymath in my profession.
My first exposure to Linux was only a few years ago. My experience with computers was as a casual hobbyist from childhood until age 22 in 2004. As a result, I didn’t even know about such a thing as Linux until 2005 or so when I touched my first Linux distribution which was, to the best of my knowledge, a Fedora Core 4 Live CD. At that point in my life I was up to my eyeballs learning Windows Server and Active Directory so I paid little attention to it. Over the years I had more glancing encounters with the enigmatic penguin. Once I moved to Debian 4 as my main OS on an old Desktop for about 5 weeks in ’07 while my main Windows laptop went careening through the halls of Dell’s technical support complex in Dallas. (I dropped a ProCurve on it and funny things started happening. Three cheers for no-fault warranties!)
As you can see, I’m not totally clueless about Linux. I once knew a person who was something of a hobbyist and could do a decent job building a new home-use PC, however he looked at me straight-faced in ‘06 and asked “Who makes Linux? Didn’t Microsoft buy them?” I’m not that out of the loop. I can putter around in the terminal (partially helped by supporting about 40 Macs at one workplace) and definitely know how to RTFMan page and UTFGoogles.
Now, in 2011, I’ve decided that I need to become more fluent in an OS other than Windows. What caused this change in direction? An array of things building up over time, however recently it’s been due to me writing my competencies out for prospective clients and in the process I have to explain that I’m not competent enough with Linux to accept jobs that involve significant interaction with it. I don’t like the way that sounds. It doesn’t seem right for a SysAdmin generalist to count out a significant portion of possible machines to support. Saying I don’t know AIX or BeOS is one thing, but Linux isn’t a sidelined OS like those are.
Also, my grandmother’s laptop running Windows 7 was hosed with a rather nasty virus. She overnighted it cross-country to me to fix. I promptly installed Ubuntu 10.10 and in the process of setting it up I realized how sharp Ubuntu is. I also realized how familiar I was with the terminal and various Bash commands. I guess I absorbed more than I realized over the years. It was then that I realized that I could easily see myself using one of the more user friendly Linux distributions as my main OS.
So What’s the Problem?
My main problem is that I’m not sure what distribution to choose. I’ve narrowed it down to the following:
- Fedora 14 (That would get me familiar with an RPM based distro and perhaps I could parlay that familiarity onto studying for RedHat certs)
- CentOS 5.5 (RedHat without the Red Hat. If I went this direction, I’d have familiarity with the most popular enterprise Linux distro and be poised to get certified in it. It seems too good to be true. The downside is that I won’t be as bleeding edge as Fedora. Or is that a good thing?)
- Ubuntu 10.10 (All the cool kids are doing it!)
- Wait for Ubuntu 11 to drop in April (I’m so impatient. I want Linux now! Plus the new Gnome shell looks freaky.)
- Mint (Looks sharp, and it’s also mainstream so I’ll have good community support)
- Mint Debian (Same as above, except it’s a rolling distro so no major upgrades. Wewt!)
I’ve remove the following from my consideration
- Debian (I had too much trouble with the GNU-only nature of the OS a few years ago. I do like the rolling nature of it though. I remove this from consideration with grief. Maybe I’ll put it back on the list to consider if I find some compelling reason to.)
- Sabayon (Gentoo based, looks awesome and it’s rolling, but it’s not mainstream enough for a noob like me.)
- OpenSUSE 11 (SUSE was supported on my laptop model at one point. Drivers seemed to work great. However, after using it for a few days recently I noticed a lot of weird redraw errors in the desktop environment and it also didn’t see my LaCie 2Big hard drive. I’m also concerned about its future with Novell.)
- Gentoo (Maybe someday I’ll be cool enough to run Gentoo. Then, I will be rightly said to have arrived.)
- MEPIS (It looks like a fine distro, but I have no compelling reason to choose this over a more mainstream distro like Fedora or Ubuntu.)
- Mandriva, PCLOS, Linspire, etc. (Same as MEPIS)
There are two minor ussues that are further complicating my choice. Do I choose a rolling distribution or not? 64-bit or 32-bit?
The debate between choosing a rolling distribution or a rip-and-reload version design is causing me some consternation. Being a Windows person, I’m more accepting of the rip-and-reload method. However, the idea of never having to reinstall an OS to get the latest version is intriguing. Very intriguing. However, part of me knows that nothing is ever that simple. There are so few true rolling distros that the pickings are slim.
Once I decide on a distro, should I use the 32-bit or 64-bit edition? I’ve been running 64-bit windows for a while now and am happy to see continuing support for the platform. However, I’m not sure how that will complicate things in the Linux ecosystem. The fanatic in me wants to throw support behind the 64-bit platform. The pragmatist sits back and sips 32-bit milk.
Please Help Meh!
I’d appreciate any insights that you could give me about the major points to consider in a distribution. I know that in most scenarios people simple say “pick the distro that you’re most comfortable with”. Also, hardware compatibility is another consideration. My Dell XPS m1530 with an Nvidia m8600 GT seems to be well supported by Linux distros these days. So far, I think Fedora and Ubuntu are the top two contenders with Mint/LMDE as a third place option.
With any luck, I’ll be running a fine Linux distro by this time next week. That is, if I don’t have any more trashed partition tables, bombed Joomla installs and virus riddled family computers… but those are for entirely different blog posts.