Very low maintenance Linux distro?

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Very low maintenance Linux distro?

Postby huw » Fri Sep 05, 2008 7:20 pm

Firstly, hi all! I have looked in here very occasionally since I left my Scalc heavy job, and it's good to see things continuing to go well. I'm now leaving my "new" job, and heading back to live in Australia again. Which brings me to my question...

My elderly parents would like to get online to stay in touch once I'm gone. Is there such a thing as a Linux distro that rarely needs updating for security? Or that keeps itself up to date requiring only dial-up bandwidth (at pay-as-you go prices, so no long connections)?

It would only be for webmail and the odd bit of browsing. Probably OpenOffice too.

If not, then what if they got broadband (not likely in the near future, but possible)? Is there a distro that completely automatically keeps itself up to date with security patches?

Obviously it would need to be fairly beginner friendly, but they have used Windows before, and they are not in the slightest interested in fiddling and tweaking, so I expect almost any GUI Linux would fit that criteria (or am I wrong?).

I would be the one installing and setting up, so it would need to be fairly straight forward - I've never done Linux installs or config, but I have reluctantly managed a few Windows ones. I intend to set them up with dual boot, so that must be straight forward too. The Windows install would be for some very old software my dad runs on Win98. I'd stick ZoneAlarm on and forbid any internet access at all. Just in case they ever got mixed up.

Ideally I would be able to send them a CD or DVD every few months, or better years, with any large updates.

I hesitate to recommend Windows to them for internet use - for one reason because of the huge bandwidth Windows Update frequently requires, and two because I've found it a real hassle to keep secure even with the Windows Updates updates - ZoneAlarm does not auto update, and AVG only auto updates the virus definitions, not the binary.

Thoughts? Is anything like this possible? Am I dreaming?
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Re: Very low maintenance Linux distro?

Postby rcdeacon » Fri Sep 05, 2008 10:20 pm

This thread could easily open up a can of worms because of the various tastes and expectations of individuals. As a linux user for a number of years it is my opinion (which isn't worth much I admit) that there are a select few that can be called "easy". Ubuntu or better yet, Linux Mint (an ubuntu derivative) certainly gets a vote in my book as well as PCLOS. A couple others that need to be mentioned are Mepis and Mandrake. I have actually used all of these at one time or another and if I had to pick one and only one to install on a person's computer who has NO linux experience I think it would have to be Linux Mint. Mint has all the codecs for multimedia and Gnome which seems to be more "windows like". KDE is actually more powerful but Gnome seems to be more like windows and so the adjustment should be easier. This is only my opinion and I made these recommendations based only on my personal experience as I have tried to migrate from windows and wanted an os that simply worked "out of the box".
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Re: Very low maintenance Linux distro?

Postby EdH » Sat Sep 06, 2008 10:07 am

I would not say that security updates are actually that important in this usage case. If you're running a server, yes, it's a big concern but if you're running a computer that is only occasionally online via dial-up, there simply isn't the time for someone to compromise it. Updates to core libraries are also the sort of thing that is most likely to break an entire system and this does happen even when it has supposedly been through the QA systems for a distros repositories. Security updates are overrated. Can of worms officially opened.

I also disagree with your fear that Windows 98 is too dangerous for them to use on the Internet. Yes, 10 years ago, it was a security risk but no one writes viruses for Windows 9x anymore. Windows 9x simply doesn't meet the system requirements for most modern malware. It's the complete inverse of how the security of Windows 2000 went down hill after Windows XP was released because it meant they both ran the same viruses.

Both of my parents run 98SE with Firefox, Thunderbird, OOo and no antivirus software whatsoever. They're both behind the same router that has a built in firewall and have never had any kind of virus infection. There are also no more updates from MS for it, but this is pretty irrelevant.
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Re: Very low maintenance Linux distro?

Postby Villeroy » Sat Sep 06, 2008 1:11 pm

Boot *ubuntu from a live-CD (mind the minimum requirements), start browsing, print something, play some audio/video from the "Examples" folder. If you can browse, print, watch and hear something this indicates that the hardware is supported without any hazzle out of the box.
If multi-media support is important add medibuntu to the list of software sources. This includes MP3, encrypted DVD, mpegs and other most commonly used proprietary streams. Flash (youtube) has much higher system requirements than under Windows, I have no experience with things like Google earth, which could be a funny extra in your situation.
I would recommend the XUbuntu flavour because it comes with a very simplified desktop environment called "xfce" (like a logically structured Win'98 GUI).
Whatever distro I used until today. They required no considerable amount of maintenance (SuSE, Mandriva, debian, Xubuntu). I would use any of them at any time again. When I bought my first SuSE (in a nice box with a thick manual) I learned about half as much about Linux in general ("everything is a file") as I learned the hard way about Windows ("everthing is in the registry"). SuSE was extremely impressive (while beeing easy to use at the same time). Ubuntu is somewhat sloppy and really hard to fix if something does not work as expected. But it works with my hardware, which is all I expect from an operating system.
Please, edit this topic's initial post and add "[Solved]" to the subject line if your problem has been solved.
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Re: Very low maintenance Linux distro?

Postby ccornell » Sun Sep 07, 2008 10:13 am

As a long time openSUSE user (since the days of 6.0), I still recommend to a totally green/new user that they start with LinuxMint or Ubuntu/Kubuntu. openSUSE11.0 works very very well, but it is definitely targeted at a slightly more advanced user than Ubuntu, PCLinuxOS, or LinuxMint. As was suggested, boot a LiveCD (of whatever distro you pick) and see if everything works. If it all works, you can fairly safely "just install" and everything should continue to work fine. Once you have the Firewall running, and full multimedia support installed (either by adding the repository or by using a distro with it already included like LinuxMint) and OpenOffice.org installed... there is little more needed. Certainly in terms of updates, if the install is working, there really is no need to do any significant updating - most updates are fixes/rebuilds of apps... only a few are security, and almost all security updates are in external facing services.. like pHp, Apache2 etc, With the usage pattern you describe, I would be completely comfortable setting the computer up to not do any auto updates at all once I had it set up and working stable/correctly.
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Re: Very low maintenance Linux distro?

Postby huw » Fri Sep 26, 2008 1:18 pm

Thanks for the interesting & informative replies.

Can I take it that an un-maintained installation of Linux will remain roughly as secure (at least) as a fully patched & maintained Windows install, because of file access privileges, & lack of unnecessary background services running?

I've had a play with a Mint live CD with promising results, but don't yet know what hardware will be used in the end.

Thanks again,
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Re: Very low maintenance Linux distro?

Postby ccornell » Fri Sep 26, 2008 1:41 pm

huw wrote:Can I take it that an un-maintained installation of Linux will remain roughly as secure (at least) as a fully patched & maintained Windows install, because of file access privileges, & lack of unnecessary background services running?


In many respects.. yes. Most exploits that the generic user encounters are Windows specific, and even more so, Outlook and IE specific. Emails that have an attached executable cannot be executed in a Linux environment. Most exploits on a webpage are either looking for holes in older browser or are explicitly blocked by the new features of Firefox3.0. Viruses... the common ones... do nothing to a Linux machine in most cases... so for the vast majority of the problem spots, you are free and clear. (there are still potential viruses, exploits etc. for Linux, but they are few and far between)

In the usage pattern you described, they should be fine assuming you do the initial setup "correctly". Make sure that it is fully updated before you turn it over to them. Set them up with the latest Firefox release. Add it as an icon to their desktop so it's easy to find. Make sure the built-in firewall is set up and working.

At that point, you could in theory, quite safely leave it as is... probably until the next time you are in for a visit.. by which time the next full release of whichever Linux you select will likely be out. You can then either do a full update, or simply apply the security patches.

You cannot say that this is a 100% foolproof solution - turning off all updates... but it's not filled with the dangers and problems doing the same with Windows presents. It is something I would be willing to do for family members if I was in a similar situation.
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