Basically, I tried Fedora and while the graphics worked everything else was horrible - couldn't get the network to work properly, which meant I couldn't access a lot of my files or print. Not exactly what I wanted. Also, the front end doesn't feel as nice as Ubuntu.
So after messing around for a couple of hours went to bed about 5 AM, and out of desperation reinstalled Ubuntu this morning. And lo and behold 3D graphics are working, except that Celestia feels a bit sluggish. There appear to be two versions available, for Gnome and for Glut, so far I've tried the Gnome version, is Glut likely to be faster / better.
Obviously I need to get my act together on this. With SCSI cables the trick was said to be sacrificing the right sort of goat, how do the Linux gods like to be placated?