Linux newbie advice



I’m planning to begin using linux… don’t know anything about it at all.
At the moment I’m reading through tutorials on, but want to know if any of you linux users can recommend good sites / information that you’ve found useful.

I have an old notebook that I plan to use for messing about with - does anyone know what the minimum hardware requirements would be to begin running Linux?

Basically, any idiot level knowledge that you can provide would be great :iagree:

good site that shows current ratings on major/minor distros.
You can find links to reviews and updates.
Good starting point that you will find other useful sites to learn from.

Linux can be alot of work if you’ve had no exposure to it, but also provides many fun/technical challenges as well. If you enjoy that kind of thing you will find yourself immersed quickly.

Have fun.


Assuming you want to run with a modern GUI like Gnome or KDE, a Pentium II with 384 MB of RAM will work well (256MB might be ok). A Pentium III with similar or better RAM will be better.

RAM is really the key, just like with Windows.

Basically, if a machine will run XP well, it will run a modern Linux distribution well too.

If you don’t mind learning command-based Linux, you can run it without a GUI on a very modest machine -even a 486 if you want.

You can put more lean GUIs on Pentium 1s or on machines with little RAM, but I don’t find those sorts of systems to be particularly enjoyable.

My PII-400 with 384 MB is very usable with Ubuntu.


Hi Prof. - you’ll learn as you go, just google whenever you’re stuck :slight_smile: . Well I must admit that I don’t have an academic mind at all and you may want a more methodical approach and quick results :rolleyes: .

The trouble with Linux is that it’s so fragmented with hundreds of so-called “distributions” to choose from. Everybody’s talking about Windows vs. Linux vs. Mac, but there isn’t “a” Linux available (Lindows was a wannabe, but got crushed hard by M$ :doh: ). So the first thing you have to do is pick a distribution and as a newbie you’ll want one with an easy installer and the best possible hardware detection (cause manually setting things up [I]is[/I] a pain). Look at DistroWatch as mentioned to get an idea of the most popular ones.

Now, since a couple of years, most distibutions have what is called a “Live” CD/DVD that you can download & burn and which lets you try them out without installing anything to your hard drive. If everything works to your liking, you can often do the actual installation to HD from that same CD/DVD as well. But since you’ll have a dedicated laptop for experimenting, I’d go for the full install immediately (and if it doesn’t work first time, try again - having a floppy that can wipe your HD is handy). The hardware requirements have been explained very well above.

What I did in the beginning was buy magazines with a CD/DVD. They give you step-by-step installation and configuration instructions. Now with broadband it’s probably easier and cheaper to download, but the written instructions would still be useful.

As you’ll see from the ranking, the distro-du-jour is Ubuntu. Being actively maintained and with a wide user-base annex forum, it is highly recommended for a first experience. My personal preference would go to Kubuntu since I’ve always worked with the Windows lookalike GUI called KDE (K Desktop Environment) and not with its more eccentric competitor Gnome. My own more permanent installation is an older SuSE 10.0 release. I started out with Mandrake as it had one of the first installers that hardly required any Linux knowledge to get up and running, but meanwhile they’re all pretty good.

Hope this helps as some background to venture into the magical world of Linux. :slight_smile:


#6 … “The page cannot be displayed” it appears.


Something visual:


@Prof. Honeydew: if the old laptop is low on RAM (<256MB), you can take a look at xubuntu, with the lightweight XFCE desktop (vs. KDE or Gnome).


Hi all,

Many thanks for the advice :flower: - I’ll be cheking it all out over the next few days.
The lap top is an old Pentium II notebook that is low on RAM and currently running Windows 98. I also have an old desktop system with 512MB RAM that would be better.
However, because I will be spending a lot of time in hotel rooms this year with my job, the notebook will be much easier for me to use.

I want to keep myself amused by learning about linux and messing about with it - I have other computers with 1 and 2GB RAM to install it on for “real” use - this will just be playing to start with. I guess I just find learning new things fun :iagree:


OK, didn’t you get a new laptop for travelling? If you’re only slightly careful and you can spare 10-20GB on the HD, it’s actually quite safe to set up a dual boot with XP. You don’t want to carry around two “electronic bricks” (I know I wouldn’t). Linux will install a “bootloader” showing you a selection screen to choose between XP and L at start-up. A good partitioning tool (and some confidence in using it) is recommended as well, I have this older Acronis bootable floppy which doesn’t require any installation - if only it weren’t in Dutch… For deleting the bootloader, in case you want to remove Linux, you need to be able to get into the XP recovery console (you know the “type R for Repairing an existing installation…” thing when booting from the XP-CD), so you want to test if your OEM recovery discs will allow this first. All you have to do is type “fixmbr”, confirm and you’ll boot straight into XP again, no harm done.


For a linux newb with an ATI video card … Suse10.2 … easy peasy japanesey!
I’m still learning … but it’s nice when things just work :wink:

Kubuntu (Ubuntu with default GUI as KDE, rather than gnome) was a goddamn nightmare! And for some reason kept reverting back to Mesa video drivers … purely randomly (at least as far as I can see).

And as Cressida said, WinXP’s “FixMBR” will remove the linux boot loader.
If it’s a slow PC, rather than go KDE, you might use Gnome which is light on the eyecandy. KDE is graphically intensive, and will provide a sweeter linux experience for you :wink:

Two commands you need to know.
su = login to super user account (to perform some installations)
sudo (command) = super user do (command)

The rest you can look up :wink:
And linux is FUNKEEEE! If you feel like something different today, at the login prompt (if you’ve installed both gui’s - and why not?) you can choose between gnome or KDE :wink:


I’d grab a LiveCD to start with such as PC-BSD or Knoppix to “try it out”.


For something like a PII/233 with 128MB or less you can even go one step further down to Fluxbuntu with the flyweight window manager called Fluxbox. Very sparse and not intuitive, yet strangely attractive. You see, it gets confusing with so many things to choose from :wink: .

The problem with a LiveCD is that you get to dabble around in the desktop alright, but it’s slow and seems less permanent, so you tend to lose interest easily and lack the stamina to persist and start configuring your system. For the more adventurous, there’s also the likes of DSL (Damn Small Linux) or MCNLive, which are booting from/running in USB flash memory/RAM to speed things up.


LiveCDs works perfectly fine (and on “old” hardware there’s little difference), perhaps you need a new drive better media next time.


Yup, I do have a nice shiny laptop for travelling :iagree: But I’m kind of nervous of doing anything with it just in case I mess up. It would be ok at home, but while I’m in China it’s my only source of contact with the oustide world :eek: LOL!
The old laptop is a Toshiba Portege 3110CT - very, very small, so only half an electronic brick really.
It’s a discarded laptop from my work place, so comes as is with no manuals / disks etc. Just for mucking about with :iagree:

I’ve been reading a lot (my head hurts) and it seems that most info on Toshiba Linux installations is for Suse - that may be a good starting point for me due to the amount of info available. I still have loads of the other links to read though.

I may have a look at the LiveCD option as DiiZzY suggests - just to feel like I’m doing something rather than reading :slight_smile:
Again - thanks for all info :flower:


Kubuntu’s boot/installation CD is a live CD also.


Took a trip to the bookstore this afternoon to check out the Linux magazines and books - loads of easy access information. :iagree:
I now have some CDs and DVDs with a range of distributions, including Suse and a collection of the smaller / lighter ones.
I’m also downloading the torrent of Knoppix at the moment too.
Should give me plenty to work with.

Looks like I’m going to have to work with system No 3 for a while (512MB RAM) as the annoying Toshiba laptop doesn’t seem to be bootable from the CD ROM :a It’s taken me all evening to figure out how to get into the BIOS set up and hasn’t really achieved anything much :rolleyes: Needs a bit more work.


F2 or F12? To select the (single instance) boot medium?


No problem for the help Prof. My interlude with free Vista is running to an end and I want to spend more time again with Linux myself :iagree: . So is it popular in China at all that you’ve noticed?

A little Portégé, that’s nice. I have an even older PI/120 Satellite Pro and I think it’s Esc or F1 to get into the BIOS (never could remember which). When I retired it from daily use, I installed CorelLINUX (now Xandros, there’s a Canadian one for you! :wink: ) but it was really slow with that proc. and only 48MB RAM. It couldn’t boot from CD either, but there was a boot-floppy image on the CD to get setup started. Unfortunately 64 or even 128MB RAM isn’t going to run any modern Linux with a full-featured & beautified desktop suite like KDE or GNOME (256 or more are needed). I’ve used SUSE 9.1 with KDE on a PII/266 with 256MB and it was just about bearable to explore and play around with. I guess you could take a step back in time and install an older SUSE 8.x release, but an ISO for download is gonna be hard to find now and many new programs will not work with it any more. So on second thought, not really :disagree: .

Another option is SUSE 10.x with a minimal graphical install (you get the bare-bones window manager FVWM), then try to add a lighter desktop environment like Xfce ( - via YaST Software Management. Not so easy and it’s still going to be slow (even this requires 128MB RAM I think). Note that you’ll want to be online and must configure the necessary ftp-sources for installing things in Linux, cause not everything’s on the CDs and you want to avoid ending up in “dependency hell” :a = packages requiring other packages requiring others, etc. You can use YaST in FVWM to set up the installation sources first (will require some research to get a good list including PackMan, Guru, etc. - - why do they have to make it so complicated :doh: ).

You’re not choosing the easy route with the old laptop, that’s for sure, but you’ll probably learn more this way. A least take Xubuntu (or SAM or Zenwalk…) with you as a second option to SUSE. They will install Xfce as standard (and are therefor probably better geared for it than SUSE). Well you still have some time to familiarize yourself with the Linux installation routine on the desktop at home. Maybe even enough to feel comfortable about dual booting with XP on the new laptop. Out-of-the-box Linux can only read from and not write to NTFS partitions, so you can’t do much harm really as long as you leave the XP partition alone (once you’ve shrunk it to make room for Linux on the hard drive). By the way, you know Audacity don’t you, make sure to check out ReZound when you get up and running, if only to try something different :slight_smile: . Sorry for rambling on a bit, it probably doesn’t make much sense right now :flower: .


LOL @ Cressida, rambling on :bigsmile: I did understand some of it, but not all. I have a lot to learn :iagree:
In answer to your questions, no I didn’t see anyone using Linux in China, and yes I do use Audacity (a lot) so would be very interested in ReZound.

Ok, my current achievement of the day is that I have Knoppix running from the boot CD on 3 out of 4 systems :bigsmile:
Of course, the one that it doesn’t work on is the flippin’ Toshiba laptop :a

However, I have sussed out the boot from CD ROM thing, after a lot of googling and hours of restarting the computer with different keys held down. The BIOS can be accessed by holding Esc on startup then F1 when there is an error message. You can boot from CD ROM by holding C.

I managed to boot Knoppix from the CD using the Toshiba, but it gave me an error related to an unidentified mode number for the video adapter - I tried all selections available but it didn’t seem to make much difference and boot up continued.
The second error was a simple “can’t find knoppix filesystem”

Does anyone have any ideas how to overcome this?

I think that I’ll be doing a full install of Suse 10.1 on the Pentium III, and then trying one of the light distributions on the laptop, as a character building experience :wink:


I don’t know if it can be useful for you, but there is a distro suited for old systems that maybe will recognize your hardware correctly: Damn Small Linux. It is 50 MB only, but it contains almost anything to let you use a computer with an internet connection.

Another small distro is Puppy Linux, again suites for old systems with very few memory required.

Give a try also to these distro, maybe you can find something useful :flower: