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I bought a new notebook (HP Probook 4530s - i5, 4gb RAM) which has just DOS on it. The idea is to install a flavor of Linux which can serve as an alternative to Windows for my regular work (software development and net surfing) plus gives me a chance to learn the "coolest OS ever", as a kid in my company calls it (he's suggesting that I go for Debian, BTW).

What distro should a beginner use?

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up vote 8 down vote accepted

This will vary from user to user and is subjective, but I think Ubuntu is very easy to install and use (certainly a far cry from the good old days of 20 floppy disks and slackware :-)

Specifically, Ubuntu has never let me down in detecting and configuring itself to the host hardware, so that's a definite plus. Also, it comes with a live CD, so you can try it before you install it.

This Comparison of Linux distributions might be helpful.

My opinion (and it's only that) is based on using Linux since the early 1990s from slackware, Red Hat, Debian, Gentoo (compiled from scratch) in addition to Ubuntu for the last few years.

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thanks @Levon, thanks @Kevin! this gives me a start – meer Jun 9 '12 at 14:55
@meer Happy to help, have fun exploring, Linux is a great OS. – Levon Jun 9 '12 at 15:05

Since you're not familiar with Linux (and especially the command line) yet, the things you want to think about are out-of-the-box hardware autodetection and support, the default desktop environment, and a graphical package manager. In general, I find the Ubuntu family to be most beginner-friendly in these areas (and sometimes overly pedantic for experienced users). To that end, I suggest you try Ubuntu first (perhaps a live cd like Levon said), if you don't like the new Unity interface (and you wouldn't be the first), check out Mint or Kubuntu.

Stay away from Arch and Gentoo until you're very comfortable at the command line.

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Ubuntu Linux 12.04 is the version I learned on which was super easy to understand and use. It offers all of the basic programs like a simple firefox web browser, Settings Panel, Terminal (of course), File Browser, Desktop Environment, and basic Office style applications.

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