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I'm wanting to set-up my old computer as a dual-purpose machine. These purposes are 'media centre' and 'web server'. As a media centre, it'll play MP3s and videos (from the ...
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    Which distro for a dual-purpose machine?


    I'm wanting to set-up my old computer as a dual-purpose machine. These purposes are 'media centre' and 'web server'.

    As a media centre, it'll play MP3s and videos (from the web, or the DVD drive) to my TV via the s-video out on my old ATI 9700 Pro.

    As the web server, I want to use it for web projects (I'm a web developer, so my own dev server for showing stuff to clients would be nice) with passworded access. I'd also be using it as a secure access point into my local network via SSH, and might run some little virtual servers on there for the experience's sake (connected via DynDNS).

    What I'm wondering is which distro would be best for me. I'd imagine that the hardest thing would be getting the various media bits and pieces set-up, as I've set-up apache before and that was OK (albeit without the virtual servers, but that doesn't look too hard). Is there any distribution that I might be better-off with for security reasons? I've been flaffing around for a bit trying various Live CDs, but now it's getting towards the right time to actually choose one and put the work in to set it up. I don't want to make the wrong choice and put that effort in twice, y'know?

    The distribution that I'm looking at right now is the Ubuntu Media Centre edition, but that doesn't really seem to be quite ready yet. Any other suggestions?

  2. #2
    Linux Guru techieMoe's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by lilt View Post
    What I'm wondering is which distro would be best for me. I'd imagine that the hardest thing would be getting the various media bits and pieces set-up...
    That would be my guess too. However, you didn't mention wanting any kind of special DVR setup (which would require something like MythTV) so I'm not convinced you'd need anything special. What you're trying to do just sounds like using your TV as an S-Video monitor. That can be done.

    Is there any distribution that I might be better-off with for security reasons? I've been flaffing around for a bit trying various Live CDs, but now it's getting towards the right time to actually choose one and put the work in to set it up. I don't want to make the wrong choice and put that effort in twice, y'know?
    Understandable concern. To the best of my knowledge, all Linux distributions are relatively even as far as vulnerabilities and strengths. Just make sure you have a nice firewall on your server and strong passwords. If you're particularly concerned about security, there are security-centric distros like EnGarde Linux. I did a search on DistroWatch for "Security" distros and got this list:

    DistroWatch.com: Put the fun back into computing. Use Linux, BSD.

    The distribution that I'm looking at right now is the Ubuntu Media Centre edition, but that doesn't really seem to be quite ready yet. Any other suggestions?
    Do you really need a "Media Center" specific distribution? Are you going to be using this computer as a DVR/TiVo kind of deal or just playing back stuff you download?
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    Quote Originally Posted by techieMoe View Post
    That would be my guess too. However, you didn't mention wanting any kind of special DVR setup (which would require something like MythTV) so I'm not convinced you'd need anything special. What you're trying to do just sounds like using your TV as an S-Video monitor. That can be done.
    True. I have no TV-in. With the computer positioned as it is, I'm tempted to try and get a second-hand TV card from eBay.

    How exactly is the TV treated anyway? Does it show a pixelated version of the normal screen, or could it be set-up as a genuine 320x240
    Quote Originally Posted by techieMoe View Post
    Understandable concern. To the best of my knowledge, all Linux distributions are relatively even as far as vulnerabilities and strengths. Just make sure you have a nice firewall on your server and strong passwords. If you're particularly concerned about security, there are security-centric distros like EnGarde Linux. I did a search on DistroWatch for "Security" distros and got this list:

    DistroWatch.com: Put the fun back into computing. Use Linux, BSD.
    Hmm... On closer investigation I'm not sure if I really need a security distribution. Don't normal Linux distributions face the web everyday and not worry about security too much? I'll run a firewall, and some intrusion detection... That should suffice, no?
    Quote Originally Posted by techieMoe View Post
    Do you really need a "Media Center" specific distribution? Are you going to be using this computer as a DVR/TiVo kind of deal or just playing back stuff you download?
    That's the thing... I might want to get the hardware and make it do that. I think that I'll say I don't really need TiVo-like functions for now. I do have a buggy appliance for recording TV to an internal HD already, and I never use it (second-hand gift from a family member).

    Then-again... The reason I was thinking about going for a Multimedia distro was that I'd heard it could be quite bothersome going round and downloading all of the codecs for audio and video formats. If I got a distro where that was sorted already, That'd be nice. I'd also like a distro where the creators have considered that I might be wanting to view stuff on a TV out rather than configuring it manually.

    Looking at the front page of Distrowatch, I'm noticing that the second release candidate of "StartCom MultiMedia Edition 5.0.6" is out. I'm downloading that, just to have a look and see if it does what I want it to. It sounds like it has multimedia options, and with an enterprise server big brother I hope it'd have the server credentials I want. I'd rather not burn a release candidate, but I should be able to handle the network install.

    The only problem is that I've heard Debian-based distributions are better than Mandrake/RedHat-based ones. How much truth is there in that?

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    Linux Guru techieMoe's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by lilt View Post
    True. I have no TV-in. With the computer positioned as it is, I'm tempted to try and get a second-hand TV card from eBay.

    How exactly is the TV treated anyway? Does it show a pixelated version of the normal screen, or could it be set-up as a genuine 320x240
    Well, when you hook up a computer to a TV the screen will only show the highest resolution that particular TV can show. For most traditional TVs that's 852x480 (480p). For HDTVs it's somewhere in the 1920x1080 (1080p) or 1280x720 (720p) range. I assume since you're talking about S-Video that you do not have an HDTV.

    If you open up a media file and tell it to go full screen, it should show up relatively unpixelated since your computer isn't going to need to blow up the picture. This is all theoretical though. I haven't played with a TV as a monitor in several years.

    Hmm... On closer investigation I'm not sure if I really need a security distribution. Don't normal Linux distributions face the web everyday and not worry about security too much? I'll run a firewall, and some intrusion detection... That should suffice, no?
    Yes, most Linuxes get by just fine with a firewall and some good passwords.

    That's the thing... I might want to get the hardware and make it do that. I think that I'll say I don't really need TiVo-like functions for now. I do have a buggy appliance for recording TV to an internal HD already, and I never use it (second-hand gift from a family member).

    Then-again... The reason I was thinking about going for a Multimedia distro was that I'd heard it could be quite bothersome going round and downloading all of the codecs for audio and video formats. If I got a distro where that was sorted already, That'd be nice. I'd also like a distro where the creators have considered that I might be wanting to view stuff on a TV out rather than configuring it manually.
    True, if you could find a distribution that includes all the playback you need out of the box it will save you some time. However some of those media-centric distributions aren't the most easy to use in the world. The latest version of Ubuntu has a utility that will run the first time you try to open, for instance, an MP3 or MPG and it will search, download and install the codecs for you. You get the added bonus that Ubuntu is pretty easy to use in general.

    Looking at the front page of Distrowatch, I'm noticing that the second release candidate of "StartCom MultiMedia Edition 5.0.6" is out. I'm downloading that, just to have a look and see if it does what I want it to. It sounds like it has multimedia options, and with an enterprise server big brother I hope it'd have the server credentials I want. I'd rather not burn a release candidate, but I should be able to handle the network install.
    Yeah, I'd give it a shot. Worse case scenario you're out a burnable CD.

    The only problem is that I've heard Debian-based distributions are better than Mandrake/RedHat-based ones. How much truth is there in that?
    None. To say one distribution is "better" than another is an exercise in stupidity. Every distribution has a particular market they're going after, and just because one works beautifully for you doesn't mean it will work for everyone.

    That's the real challenge with Linux. It's not getting it to work; it's finding the distribution that works the way you want it to. If anyone tries to tell you "XXX Linux is the best in the world!" or "YYY Linux sucks!" just ignore them. Form your own opinion based on your personal needs and experience.

    A good example of this is Slackware. I unabashedly hate it. It doesn't do what I want it to and doesn't behave the way I expect. However, there are plenty of folks on this forum and out there in the world that absolutely love it. We just have different needs and expectations.
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    Well, The TV I've got is neither wide-screen nor HD, so I'm looking at 640x480 (rather than 320x240 as I said in my earlier post, remembering what my old Atari used to run at).

    I'm reasonably good at making secure passwords. The 'first letters of words in a phrase' technique works quite well, particularly with a few punctuation marks and numbers.

    I wasn't aware Ubuntu had such a utility, I'll give it a shot.

    The reason I'm wary about distributions not really designed for what I want is that my flatmate advised me to go with Gentoo for my main system (alas, I'm still a windows dual-booter though). Although I like the concept of Gentoo and the portage system, I think it was a mistake. With any other system, I'd get the CD, install it, then use it. Even though my machine may run slightly better at the end of it, I don't have the time to download and compile Firefox, KDE, ETC.

    I knew it didn't sound like exactly what I wanted, and didn't work well for me, thus I'm now looking for something that sounds like what I want. See? Anyhow, the majority of other advice I've been getting has pointed to a Debian base, and I would agree with those who say that the aptitude system is probably the way to go. That said: I just tried SuSE 10.3, to see what it was like, and found it relatively painless. Still not settled on anything though.

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    oz
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    Quote Originally Posted by lilt View Post
    Still not settled on anything though.
    lol... I've tried nearly 50 different Linux distributions over the years, and finally settled in with Arch Linux. It's not for everyone, though. techiMoe doesn't like it!

    Keep experimenting with Linux and having fun while doing it. Eventually, you'll develop a feeling for what you are looking for, and what feels just right for you and your machine(s).
    oz

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