Nice explanation of difference between X86 and ARM CPU's. It tells me a lot. Does this then mean that most of the downloadable packages in common use will not run on RPi?
No most common packages have been recompiled and tested for ARM. When you use the Package manager on your choice of distro it will pull the ARM version. If no ARM version is avalible then it will tell you that the package does not exist, this at least is my exp using Archlinux ARM.
If so this would mean a loss of support found in most other Linux based systems. It also seems that unless one knows specifically by name which distros are ARM, one can not tell ARM from X86. by the Kernel designation.
Most Linux users are not like most Windows users. They know the diference between ARM and x86. This may change with such inexpensive devices like the R-Pi, but as it stands right now I seriously doubt that most Linux users will be confused why an x86 distro won't work or install on an ARM Based machine. Furthermore the case you are making right now dosn't even make much sense. Most distros out there are compiled to run on SPARC, PPC, MIPS and many other processors for many years and it hasn't caused any confusion that I have seen.
It seems to me that ARM is still Linux but completely different from most other Linux distros. It is like the difference between Asian and African elephants.
ARM is not Linux. Linux is software. ARM is RISC hardware. After setup the OS dosn't behave any differently on an x86 based system than an ARM system (other than the performance differences.) Config files are in the same places, Samba acts like Samba, miniDLNA acts like miniDLNA regaurdless of hardware. The CLI commands work the same.
The difference here is just that the binarys have to be compiled for ARM and be Linux binaries, x86 binaries will not work. Software that is low level coded for x86 processors will not work without major re-writes. Most of the common software has already been rewritten for ARM. You can go through Debian's, Arch's, or Fedora's Pacage repos to see what they officially support. By all means this dosn't mean that just because a package isn't there that it won't work just that anything outside of the repo will either have to be community supported or user compiled. Here is Arch's package list. http://archlinuxarm.org/packages
I list Arch's website because that I what I use, I find their community the best and thier distro easiest to implement. Everyone has their own opinions on what they like. At any rate you can go through that package list and see that some are listed arm v5 and arm v7. The processor in the R-Pi is an arm v6 based processor. Anything listed arm v5 will run on it, stuff listed as arm v7 only may or may not. Going through their repo I see Gimp, various desktop front-ends, Samba, miniDLNA, word processors, internet browsers, ect all the basics.
For the basic user all they will need to know is that they update the package manager and then get the package they want. The manager won't grab an incompatible package (as far as I have seen.) I have a different ARM based machine and I have yet to have it pull an un-useable package (aside from experemental in-development stuff.) I would also venture to say that most of the distros will come pre-configured with all the common software for the user. It will be a matter of formatting the SD card and ploping the image onto it. Again here is Arch's installation instructions for the R-Pi: http://archlinuxarm.org/platfo.....spberry-pi
click on the installation tab. It is dead simple, and pretty much the same for whatever distro you download for the R-Pi.