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Ideal Linux System for Newbies? 486

spiffyman asks: "In the next year, I'll begin advanced work in mathematics, and I'll also be upgrading my desktop box. In light of the advantages of Linux and FOSS in the area of science and mathematics, I want to convert from a Windows system to a dual-boot one with Linux. Primary tasks aside from math/logic activities will include learning intermediate programming, web maintenance, some computational linguistics (in Python), and LOTS of LaTeX work for my publishing activities. What do Slashdot readers recommend in terms of hardware, OS, software, and perhaps reading for a quasi-power Windows user (with no previous Linux experience) to convert to an all-Linux system?"

I've got a bad feeling about this.