Best Linux distribution for new users?
Rikki Endsley just put up a blog post on picking a Linux distribution: Which Linux Is “The Best Linux” for Windows Users? There's a quote from me in there, which I based on this thing I wrote a while ago: How to pick a distribution, for hobbyists. My humble opinion here is that the best distribution for a new user is the one that's easiest to get help on, which means something that your source of Linux help is familiar with. Much of the stuff that's trickiest for new users is the stuff that's different from distribution to distribution.
But I think I'm probably just pushing the problem up a level. I have no idea how I would find a productive user group or other forum, starting from scratch today. Work outward from my regular social network, I guess. Or go to a community conference such as SCaLE, and see who has a good presence there.
Benjamin Mako Hill covers A Model of Free Software Success, and points out that the ethical component of the choice to work on Free Software is vitally important, especially if you're at the stage that Linux was, pre-1998. "Essentially, a few hackers are motivated enough by the ethical principles behind free software that they are willing to contribute to it even when it isn't clearly better than proprietary alternatives."
To me, it looks like the appeal has three components: pure hack value, or the desire to build something fun and elegant; freedom value, the desire to develop/legislate (Code is Law, remember) a better technology layer for society; and the desire to make a living. Everyone I know in the Free Software scene has some of each. How well does today's Linux scene, as seen by a new user, appeal to each of those? I don't think the making a living is a problem, since there are plenty of good Linux and free software job opportunities, but how well does the public-facing community show the appeal of hacking and making Freedom? Maybe the availabilty of the Dell Sputnik, plus the ambitious Ubuntu community will be a positive step.