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For my work laptop, I think I'm going to make the switch to linux from Windows XP. There are a couple of things I need:

  • Good multi-monitor support. I'm constantly changing setups (ie laptop monitor + 1440x900 monitor to laptop monitor + 1400x1050 monitor to just the laptop monitor), so I'd like to be able to configure it without too much time.
  • Emacs with ropemacs (this is pretty standard, but it can be time-consuming to set up).
  • A good XMPP (jabber) program.
  • Either good 64-bit support or support for PAE (I get close to maxing out virtual memory in Windows sometimes).

I've worked with linux before and am fairly confident that I can learn whatever I need to get things working. The thing is, I can't really justify spending a whole lot of time on this to my job. Any advice? I'm most used to Debian/Ubuntu, but our clients use redhat, so I'd give redhat-based distros preference in the event of a tie.

Also note that I'm not necessarily a command-line-aphobe, so I'd be willing to accept less GUI stuff if the command-line route is less work.

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A lot of distros now are very easy to install. The time sink now is working with the system once you have it installed. –  James McMahon Jul 21 '09 at 14:03
    
I've raised meta.stackexchange.com/questions/45439/… to discuss creating a faq about linux distributions. Please add any comments you have. Thanks. –  Douglas Leeder Apr 18 '10 at 8:49
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5 Answers

up vote 14 down vote accepted

If you're used to Ubuntu, then use Ubuntu.

Also, any distribution that's modern and up-to-date are pretty standard in what they offer. The big thing that sets them apart however, are the package managers. Red Hat based distros use RPM packages and Yum-based repositories, and Debian/Ubuntu based distros use deb packages and apt.

Personally, I prefer Debian based distros. If you have doubts, there is a quiz you can take that will recommend the best distro according to your needs. http://www.zegeniestudios.net/ldc/

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+1 for the quiz! –  KovBal Jul 21 '09 at 14:46
    
Wow! Apparently, I'm a perfect match for Fedora, SuSE, Debian, Linux Mint, Ubuntu, AND Mandriva! –  Jason Baker Jul 22 '09 at 3:06
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Linux Mint is a nice, easy-to-use, distro worth considering.

From the about page:

Linux Mint is one of the surprise packages of the past year. Originally launched as a variant of Ubuntu with integrated media codecs, it has now developed into one of the most user-friendly distributions on the market - complete with a custom desktop and menus, several unique configuration tools, a web-based package installation interface, and a number of different editions. Perhaps most importantly, this is one project where the developers and users are in constant interaction, resulting in dramatic, user-driven improvements with every new release.
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I like Mint, but Ubuntu is well documented. You can't beat the official wiki for step by step instructions. –  M4dRefluX Jul 21 '09 at 13:44
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Newer releases of Ubuntu are amazing for getting set up quickly. Download, burn, run Wubi, and 20 minutes or so later you have a working install. Ubuntu puts a high priority on making itself easy to install and remove and is designed to "just work" as much as possible, without dropping to the command line.

Ubuntu Server is also great for setting up common server roles (mail, LAMP, etc.) with scripts that set up roles on installation/first boot.

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I'm just going to make the most obvious answer as it pertains to "Fastest to get up and running with"...

Anything with a LiveCD.

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While Ubuntu is a fantastic distro, if you are planning on going 64 bit, be prepared to learn to compile programs. Some devs do not release packages in 64 bit yet. Many times, the process is as simple as "wget, tar -vxzf, /.configure, make, make install" but you will have to learn how to deal with dependencies in time. There are plenty of tutorials out there that will help you out, though. If you don't want to risk needing to compile programs, your best bet would probably be to stick with 32 bit.

Overall, it's not that hard to get used to compiling programs every so often, but running 64 bit, it becomes a little more necessary.

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The 32-bit version supports PAE, correct? –  Jason Baker Jul 21 '09 at 14:29
    
Pretty sure it should, however, it also depends on your hardware setup. –  phuzion Jul 21 '09 at 17:18
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