Here recently I received an email asking me for a roundup of my preferred free Linux distributions to try.
OpenSuSe- Without question, one of the better distributions. Fairly simple for those who are comfortable with computers and are willing to put in a little work to get things set up.
Strengths include a fabulous UI and decent wireless support. Also, the package installer via YaSt is pretty intuitive. As for weaknesses, I’d say the biggest is the nonexistent multimedia support. Since this is the open source version only, you will need to add these packages yourself. This can be a hassle.
Please don’t misunderstand, this is the distro that I use along with Linspire on my notebook. But it is not as easy as some of the alternatives out there for the new Linux user.
SimplyMepis- This is the distribution that I had at last year’s Gnomedex. The version at the time more than met my needs. Unfortunately the most recent version I tried did not have near the wireless support that the older version had. That and if you are not careful, you can update packages from the included repositories that can end up making your installation unstable.
Still, they have a new beta out now that is looking really promising. Just so long as you understand that beta means that it is going to have bugs, just as with any beta software. And besides that, you can run their version known as Mepis-Lite which is designed for older machines with as little as 128 MB of RAM.
Ubuntu- Right off the bat I should explain that I have had very limited exposure to this particular distribution. Having said this, I have been hearing a number of good things about Ubuntu. Decent hardware support, easy software installation and frequent updates. I think this is a great choice so long as you can handle the bland Gmome UI (I like KDE myself).
So now the big question? Which one is right for you? Well, that is largely why I selected the previously mentioned distros. All of them will run from a Live CD before any installation is needed. This means that you can make sure that they are going run alright on your PC. Why does this matter though? Well some Linux distros do not do well with certain types of sound cards and wireless cards. Besides, no sense in installing an OS that will not allow you to do what you’d like with it, right? Linux is not for everyone. That’s fine, but I am glad to hear that people are willing to try the alternatives just to see what’s out there. Hey, the worst that happens is that you’ll come to appreciate your old OS that much more.