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What would be the easiest linux for people who are new to computers?

The computers here have 256Mb RAM with 40GB hard-disks.

UPDATE: Most of them apparently have more than 265MB of RAM with some having 1GB.

I've installed Linux Mint Debian Edition (LMDE), which the users could figure out after a bit of messing around and a little help from me. I picked it because it is a rolling distribution and all the great things I've read about Linux Mint. Also I had used Ubuntu before and Mint seemed like Ubuntu+ .

I'm not sure if it is the easiest distro for them to use, since people who have tried to use the default Libre Office, found it confusing with all those menus. (The program they seem use the most is the web-browser and they found chromium to be fairly simple).

As a side note, the installation wasn't very smooth and the printer (HP LaserJet 1020) took a bit of work to setup, but once it was done and the OS upgraded, it works very well.

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A Linux with at least 512MB, better 1GB. –  user unknown Jan 24 '12 at 10:13
    
Just use Google Docs. –  Rob Nov 8 '12 at 16:44

10 Answers 10

I'd recommend Ubuntu 10.04. It's the latest "long-term support" (LTS) release, which means that usually it'll be the most stable release available, the usability is very good, and it'll be supported until April 2013, plenty of time to get familiar with the interface before upgrading to get all the shiny new stuff.

Ubuntu 11.10 is available, but after using it and the intermediary releases I can't recommend it - The new desktop environment is not production ready, it does not work at all on 2 years+ old hardware in my and several friends' experience, and Canonical is in denial about the state of affairs. Hopefully it'll be better in the next LTS, 12.04.

Other recently tried distros which I can't recommend for new users, because of stability or usability problems (YMMV):

  • Debian
  • Linux Mint
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Does really Ubuntu (i.e. with Gnome desktop) can fit with 256MB RAM? –  neurino Nov 1 '11 at 21:18
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Depends which one you install. Looks like there is no Canonical-maintained version with less than 512 MB as minimum RAM requirement (Xubuntu), but there's Lubuntu which is expected to run with just 128 MB. –  l0b0 Nov 2 '11 at 7:54

Linux Mint is, for me, the most user-friendly Linux Distribution, the UI is almost the same as Windows, on the contrary of Ubuntu's Unity. Plus, for me, it's much more stable and "better", in my opinion than Ubuntu.

You may also want to take a look at Mageia, a fork of Mandriva, the old Mandrake Linux.

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"UI is almost the same as Windows" - hardly as basis for recommending it. –  symcbean Nov 1 '11 at 14:16
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depends on your background. For most (read nearly all) people, a familiar UI aids greatly in the learning process and reduces culture shock. –  Sirex Nov 2 '11 at 13:38
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The implication, that the users are familiar with Windows, is not to be found in the question. –  user unknown Jan 24 '12 at 10:15
    
Linux Mint's version numbers confuse me. Which one is current "Linux Mint 3.0" or "Linux Mint 12"? And what's the difference between "LXDE" and non-LXDE? And what's "Linux Mint Debian"? –  Andrew J. Brehm Feb 16 '12 at 11:02
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@Sathvik Linux Mint LXDE is not the standard desktop based on Ubuntu and Gnome. Although still based on Ubuntu, it uses LXDE as its desktop environment (hence the name), which is completely separate from Gnome. –  John Bensin Mar 14 '13 at 19:51

Your primary concern will be finding a distro which runs happily in 256Mb - its not a lot of memory these days.

IMHO (and personally I prefer KDE) for non-techies, I'd favour a Gnome 3 based desktop (although an icewm/xfce will fit better into the available memory). I'd also suggest having a look at the distros targeting netbooks - the program selection is much less intimidating, but still relatively easy to configure.

Meego seems popular - but a bit unconventional. Puppy works well on basic hardware.

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Puppy is probably the baest solution for that kind of hardware but not the best for people new to computers I dived into linux with Puppy Linux (I suggest Wary for old hardware) but I had to face a hi learning curve –  neurino Nov 1 '11 at 21:22
    
"Computers here are..." rather implies that they won't be installing / configuring the systems themselves - Puppy is different from conventional Linux in a number of ways (which IMHO add value) but the UI is what you tell it to be. –  symcbean Nov 3 '11 at 12:45
    
I keep on thinking Puppy is a bit hard even on the simple user side, moreover there is no automatic updating/fixing of security flaws, being root (no evil in that) can make you flip away all your data in a while or make your system unstable. I do love Puppy in all its variants but it's not quite for people not willing to learn something about it. –  neurino Nov 3 '11 at 15:47

If you're setting it up for them, debian is a great way to go with this. I recommend CrunchBang linux (#!) which is debian based. It's highly configurable, lightweight by design. There are plenty of things you can take out of it, or things you can add to it, but at startup I use ~80 MB ram.

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Ubuntu is a standard suggestion for beginners in Linux. As far as memory is concerned, go with a lighter version of Ubuntu.

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+1 for Ubuntu, it's a very easy install. –  MaxMackie Nov 2 '11 at 0:04
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Lubuntu will be very well suited for this situation –  rigved Nov 8 '11 at 11:23

From my experience of looking at new, untaught users: their main problems are with understanding and having a grasp on what is what on the now common Windows/KDE/Xfce/IceWM-like desktop -- they get confused by the elements of the DE and afraid.

After thinking this over, I arrived at the conclusion that a Nextstep/WindowMaker/(perhaps Gnome 3)-like desktop is much more logical in its concepts, and simpler, and hence must be easier to understand for new users. So, I suggest a distro with a well set-up DE of this kind for users new to computers.

More details about the problem (as I see it) and the concerns I noticed:

to devise a more clear and convenient desktop environment for those users at home who can't grasp all the concepts of a usual modern complicated (= bloated) desktop environment (windows, window titlebars, minimized windows, applications in the tray) and hence can't keep track of the running applications and manage them efficiently.

(When I set up the system, I used to think that an XFCE would be a more or less acceptable choice (...), but I have noticed quite a lot of confusion. The problems:

  1. (minor) The titlebar is not grasped as the control for the window (i.e., not part of the application, but a standard application-external control); rather, just it's just some confusing unpredictable text, even perhaps not associated with the window.

  2. (minor) The usual application-specific menu at the top of the window is not seen/found (an application-specific menu is expected anywhere: in XFCE's elements, or deep inside the window).

  3. (important) Taskbar does not give the needed information about the running applications (which might be in minimized windows): as I understand it, the rectangular regions with some text in them (the window titles) don't seem to be understandable, noticeable.

  4. (related) Applications represented by icons in the tray only confuse things and exaggerate the problem with the taskbar: an application may be represented either there or here, no straightforward way to check all running applications.

Additionally, "simplified" window management means that there is no need to resize and move and fit windows, so something like a tiling window manager with one main large tile inside which the active window is always maximized can be thought of as an ideal (although, there are complications in practice: multi-window applications like Skype).

Solutions:

I thought of

  • either xmonad with one large main tile and all other windows represented by small (square) tiles aside--every running window is visible then and represented always the same way (no other representations: in the taskbar or in the tray); and very bold window decorations (so that windows are clear to be separate entities); and window-switching by selecting one of the small (square) tiles (wish: with the mouse); optionally: a window-switching layout (invoked with a simple key press, say, the Win or the Menu key), where all the windows are equal squares;

  • or WindowMaker--conceptually, the resulting solution will similar to the one with ''xmonad'' described above (but the single representation concept is broken: either a window or a big icon); a plus is that WindowMaker is a ready-to-use solution; some things will need to be tweaked: add an "applications" menu to the dock or another place, disallow window minimization (only iconification), try to make new windows maximized by default, make window maximization (or iconification if maximized?) the default action of a double-click on the title. (To distinguish this customization of WindowMaker from the standard one, I'll call it "automatic"--when a name is needed, e.g., in a pkg name.)

  • (What about Étoilé? GNUStep-based, similar to WindowMaker, but with a "global menu" (like in Mac OS). Is "global menu" more clear than per-window menu? Perhaps... But do distros support and care about Étoilé?..)

  • (What about Sugar? Can it be the base for a DE for grown-up, i.e., combined with the programs grown-ups use: the usual browser, mail client, OOo, etc.?)

With either solution, we will need to represent the files that previously (in XFCE) were on the desktop by a special invokable window (either a running file manager in xmonad, or a docked file-manager in WindowMaker). As for the file-manager choice, we'd better leave the tested and customized (as regards file associations) one from Xfce. (Or try the WindowMaker's one afresh? File associations could be not essential in WindowMaker, because one can drop the file onto the application in the dock, couldn't they?)

Kinda conclusion:

WindowMaker appears to have a very nice concept for non-professional users!

(Read some more bits of my elaboration on this topic...)

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Some distributions with a set up WindowMaker (I should check them out before suggesting to new inexperienced computer users): WM-Children, wmsmall -- based on ALT Sisyphus. –  imz -- Ivan Zakharyaschev Nov 21 '11 at 14:18

I share imz's view that what's more difficult for newcomers to the computers world is the Desktop. In that optic, I like KDE's "search and launch" desktop mode, see http://ychaouche.wikispot.org/LinuxForComputerIlletrates

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Debian GNU/Linux can be installed on different architectures, it's perfect for old computers.

Probably Fedora, OpenSuse and Ubuntu are the best solutions for new users and for many reasons:

- Large communities of users and developers:
- Howto, docs, books, etc...
- Package management system. (rpm, yast and deb)
- Easy installation process.

I think that the third point - Package management system. - is essential for new users.

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Puppy Linux should fit your needs

Among Puppy Linux goals there are several that suit quite well your needs, I've remarked the most interesting ones:

  • Easily install to USB, Zip or hard drive media.
  • Booting from CD (or DVD), the CD drive is then free for other purposes.
  • Booting from CD (or DVD), save everything back to the CD.
  • Booting from USB Flash drive, minimise writes to extend life indefinitely.
  • Extremely friendly for Linux newbies.
  • Boot up and run extraordinarily fast.
  • Have all the applications needed for daily use.
  • Will just work, no hassles.
  • Will breathe new life into old PCs
  • Load and run totally in RAM for diskless thin stations

So I think this would be a very good choice.

Other Options

Also, LMDE and XUbuntu (I had an old computer with it and It worked very well) are also very good options for the user friendly point of view... and for the support and stability I'd go for Debian.

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If the problem is that they find LibreOffice too confusing, changing to a new distribution is not going to help with that. You users shouldn't care what distribution you use, it's the window manager and applications they interact with most.

With your hardware constraints, going with a simple window manager would probably give the best experience. Something like Xfce, but there are other lightweight window managers out there.

You don't mention who your target audience is, but if they are confused or overwhelmed with the options offered by LibreOffice, then go with a simpler word processor.

If all they want to do is write and just want a simple editor, there are lots of minimalist text editors out there like FocusWriter that are designed for someone like an author who just wants to write and have minimal interaction with the software.

If they want something a little more powerful, they may find Kwrite, abiword, or KWord to be a little simpler to use than Libreoffice.

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