Linux Distributions – An overview

There are many Linux Distributions available, and it’s quite confusing for somebody that wants to try out Linux to decide on which one to install. In this article we give a brief summary of the most popular distributions available.

First, we need to distinguish between two different types of Linux distributions available:

  • Bootable Linux CD / DVD – This type of Linux distribution allows you to insert a CD/DVD in your drive, and boot Linux from it without installing anything on your hard disc. It is a very good way to:
    • Try Linux for the first time
    • Test if your hardware is compatible
    • Troubleshoot a damaged Linux installation
    • Analyse a system with security concerns
  • Installable Linux Distribution – The most popular type of Linux, you will install and boot the distribution from your hard disc. This sort of installation gives you more flexibility, as you can customize what you want to install and how.

Most Linux distributions are available for free to download, and some will even send you a CD/DVD with a copy free of charge. A good resource is www.distrowatch.com that gives you news regarding the latest distribution versions and the links to where you can download the specific Linux distribution.

Another way to try out Linux is install it in a virtual environment. You can use software such as VMWare Workstation (www.vmware.com) to install a Linux distribution in a virtual environment without risking of loosing any data.

In this article we will give brief information regarding the major installable Linux distributions available.

Fedora Core and Red Hat Enterprise Linux

Before 2003, the leading Linux distribution was Red Hat Linux. The last version released was 9.0. Then, Red Hat took two directions – Red Hat Enterprise Linux is not free, and offers more stable, supported operating systems. The Fedora series is free. The Fedora is mostly aimed at encouraging open source developers interested in helping developing software that will in the future be included in the commercial Red Hat Enterprise Linux.

For home users, Fedora Core is an excellent operating system. It’s based on the Red Hat series, and has contributions from both the open source community and also by Red Hat. It comes with a graphical installer (Anaconda) and is very easy to use.

A good place for help with this distribution is the Fedora Forum available at fedoraforum.org

The Unofficial Fedora FAQ available at www.fedorafaq.org also provides very relevant information.

And naturally the main websites are fedora.redhat.org for the Fedora distribution and www.redhat.com for the commercial versions.

Linux Distributions – An overview

Debian GNU/Linux

Debian GNU/Linux was created by the Debian Project, founded in 1993 by Ian Murdock. It is a free operating system developed and maintained by the community. Debian is a very stable Linux distribution. There is a wide variety of software available for this distribution using it’s own software packaging technique available through the APT (Advanced Package Tool).

Consider the Debian GNU/Linux as a desktop operating system for a programmer, and an ideal server Linux distribution. Though it can be used as a normal home desktop operating system, there are other distributions that serve a bit better for this purpose.

The official website for the Debian distribution is available at www.debian.org

www.debianhelp.org offers connections to a vast range of information about the Debian distribution, such as Debian forums.

SUSE Linux

SUSE is one of the most popular Linux distributions, both as a home operating system, on workstations used in business environments and as servers. Novell, Inc. purchased SUSE in November 2003, in order to compete with Red Hat. In fact, Novell now offers similar products to Red Hat.

Similar to Red Hat’s Fedora, Novell’s SUSE has OpenSUSE Linux which is available free. It’s a very popular choice for first time Linux users, as it is very user friendly. It comes with a very easy to use graphical installer, and the YaST tool allows powerful administration through a graphical interface.

Most operations can be done easily from the graphical interface, and this attracts many people migrating from Microsoft’s windows.

You can download OpenSUSE from www.opensuse.org and you can get more information about Novell’s commercial Linux versions from www.novell.com

Yellow Dog Linux

Yellow Dog Linux is one of