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I have no experience with Linux. I'm looking for a distribution which is beginner friendly. Ubuntu looks great.

My usage for this system will include web development, and possibly application development.

However, I would prefer a system where I can design my own theme, alter the interface. Think "theming".

What would you recommend?

EDIT I'm looking to run this on a 2008 MacBook Pro 2.4Ghz C2D, 2GB GDDR3.

Will it be okay performance wise through virtualization such as VMWARE or should I use BootCamp?

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Yes, you could use VMware Fusion to run it as a VM on your Mac. It's also possible to dual-boot it, but that's more effort. –  Keith Mar 5 '11 at 8:29
    
An issue you might run into with a VM is memory. You would want to dedicate ~512 MB to the VM. With 2 GB of RAM that is a large chunk. On the other hand I don't run OSX so you may just be fine. –  Justin Ethier Mar 5 '11 at 13:34

4 Answers 4

Ubuntu is a good choice for a first distribution, if you want something you can get up-and-running quickly and easily. You might also consider fedora as well.

You can certainly theme an Ubuntu installation. See this thread for a good starting point - HowTo: theme your desktop

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Ubuntu offers all of that:

  • It was designed from the on-set to be a newbie-friendly Debian; I've used both, and it certainly is easier, at least on the surface (i.e. the basic stuff).
  • It has some of the largest collection of software of all distros; this includes a whole bunch of development stuff (all major programming languages, a whole bunch web frameworks, and a lot of developer libraries and tools).
  • You can even change Desktop Environments if you please, or theme the default one.
  • A very large user base (it's the most popular distro for several months now), and therefore huge resources at your disposal. It even has a dedicated Stack Exchange site.
  • It officially supports a number of CPU architectures, including yours.
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I would regard distribution and appearance practically as two separate matters.

On the one hand the distribution provides a default look and shell, but these are interchangeable. What matters with distribution is what you expect from it in terms of performance. Some distributions are more experimental or more technical (like ArchLinux), some change a lot from version to version (like Ubuntu), others much less (like Debian).

On the other hand, themes are related to the shell / desktop environment. There are many available out there, most are compatible with the commonly used distributions. Some offer stunning default themes but are somehow heavier, like KDE, others are lighter are require some more work to tweak like Gnome 3. I like XFCE because it is light and very customisable, while remaining modest and efficient.

To be honest, I would worry about the former first, see How to Choose a Linux Distribution.

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If you have to ask, you are a relative newbie. So I's recommend going with one of the mainstream distributions (Debian, Ubuntu, Fedora, OpenSUSE). Look around in your environment, choose whatever is most popular among them (it is much easier for an experienced user to help out installing, answering questions and fixing things on what she uses day to day). Take a look at the homepage for your selection, check if their goals agree with you. Consider their average lifespan for a version: Short means you get new bling soon, but also that you have to upgrade often (not as scary as it used to be anymore, but still). There just isn't a "best" distribution, they are all built on (more or less) the same upstream packages, one might be a bit better for one thing and worse for something else. Avoid the distribution hopping common among newcommers: as I just said, when you find some non-optimal behaviour on distribution A and they tell you it works fine on B, by moving to B you discard all you've learnt about A, have to start over learning B, and then find out its own quirks. Better help out fixing the problem in the first place (and if you get it fixed for A, the fix will probably diffuse to the other distributions in due time anyway). Above else: Don't forget to have fun.

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