Posted by ajt on Sat 11 Jun 2005 at 20:02
A common question for new users is to ask, "what is best the Linux distribution for me?". I believe that the best Linux distribution is the one you personally like best: see Best Linux Distribution, however for a user new to Linux, this is no help. First, I would like to begin with a true story.
A Tale Of Three Windows Users...
Once upon a time there were three unhappy Microsoft Windows users. All were worried about the long term running costs, and security problems associated with Windows, and searched for an alternative solution.
The first one went out and bought a boxed Linux distro & manual and installed it on his computer. There were a few problems, but in the end everything worked just as well as it did with Windows: not quite perfectly. He was not a happy person, neither system was perfect and thus to get all the functionality, he required both systems running side by side. It was inconvenient to share data between them and to switch between the two. Later he met a happy Linux user who offered to help. They installed a different Linux distribution and all the problems were overcome quickly. Soon Windows was but an unhappy memory.
The second Windows user heard of the first user's conversion, and he too, went out and bought a boxed Linux distro. Like for the first Windows user, there were some problems and since it did not do things the way that Windows did, he gave up and went back to Windows. He still is an unhappy Windows user.
The third Windows user, asked the first Windows user what he had done, and installed the same Linux distribution. Things did not always work first time, but he asked the first Windows user for help, and in no time at all, he was running Linux on every computer in the house.
The moral of this story is: "The best distribution for a new user is the one that they can get the most help with. While there are some new user specific distributions, this is less important than the help".
Phone a Friend
When you are new at something, it really helps to have someone to turn to, who knows more than you do. I believe the reason why the first user struggled initially was lack of help and I am sure that was a key reason why the second user failed. The first user had better luck the second time because of the external help he received; and help was a significant factor for the rapid progress of the third user.
It is more important to choose a Linux distribution that you can get help for, than one that is specially designed for new users. Both boxed Linux distributions in the story were perfectly fine. The distribution that was installed successfully and with the fewest problems was the one that local help was available for.
On of the best way to find a Linux guru if you do not already know one, is to join a local Linux User Group (LUG). There are groups all over the world, and there is probably one near you. Most groups have a web site and an emailing list. It is not important to be physically that close, but it does help in the initial stages if you can take your computer to a meeting so that people can help you install. Some groups meet "virtually" using Internet Relay Chat (IRC) as well as in reality. In this context it is possible to try out a few distributions with help and it is much easier to form an opinion of which Linux is best for you.
Ask The Audience
As long as you have a live connection to the Internet with a computer, you can use Google to find the answers to many problems. Often your problem will have been experienced elsewhere by someone who will have asked for help and there will be a few answers given already. Simply typing in the error message will find you pages about the same problem and, if you are lucky, the solution. The answer may not always be complete, but it may point you in the right direction.
Sometimes it is worth having a go anyway. A guess may be good enough, and if you do not try you will never know. Playing with something, and sometimes breaking it, is a good way of learning how things work. However it helps if you are learning on a spare system so that you have a working system from which you can get help if you have a problem.