Linux Distributions – An overview

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 the best Linux distributions for the PowerPC Platform. It is available by Terra Soft Solutions, available at www.terrasoftsolutions.com

Installing Yellow Dog Linux on Apple hardware does retain any hardware warranty provided by Apple.

This Linux distribution is based on the Fedora Core, so offers many similarities. Basically, if you have PowerPC hardware and want to migrate to Linux, Yellow Dog Linux is the distribution for you.

Gentoo Linux

Gentoo Linux is one of the most rapidly growing Linux distributions available. Gentoo is very popular with technical knowledgeable persons, and not exactly ideal for computer novices. Gentoo is very easily configured and tuned. Most Gentoo Linux installations are built from source code tailored according to the exact hardware the operating system will be running on, resulting in a highly tuned, very fast O/S.

You can get Gentoo Linux free from www.gentoo.org

From the same place you can find links to documentation, forums and mailing lists.

Slackware Linux

Slackware Linux is the oldest Linux distribution still actively developed today. It does not have any fancy graphical installers, but is one of the best way to get a basic Linux system that is secure and stable.

Slackware Linux is ideal for low end computers. In fact, it can install even on 386 based computers with a minimum of 4 MB of RAM.

The idea is to keep the user in control as more as possible. Most configuration is done via the command line editing configuration files. The reason is that by using a graphical user interface many of the possible advanced options are hidden. With configuration files, you have full control, and it’s usually also a lot more easy to debug and solve problems.

Users of Slackware are those users that want control over everything, and want a simple, very stable system to run.

More information and the Slackware distribution can be obtained from www.slackware.com

Linspire

Linsipire is a commercial Linux distribution aimed at desktop installations. Linsipre markets itself as a direct competitor to Microsoft’s Windows.

Originally named Lindows, the name was changed to Linspire after several disputes with Microsoft corporation over the similarities between Microsoft’s Windows name and Lindows name.

It’s one of the most easy to install and use Linux based distributions. It’s easy to use even for a person that has never used a computer before. Even installing applications is extremely easy thorugh it’s click-N-Run application. To try it out, you can download a live CD from the Linspire website at www.linspire.com

Linspire also offers Freespire, which is a free, community involved, Linux based operating system, sponsored by Linspire.

Linspire is based on the Ubuntu Linux, with added proprietory software. Actually, the Ubuntu Linux distribution is itself based on the Debian Linux reviewed above.

If you are looking for an easy to use alternative to Microsoft Windows, Linspire or Freespire are an ideal choice.

Ubuntu Linux

A very popular Linux distribution based on the Debian GNU/Linux. ‘Ubuntu’ is actually an African words meaning “humanity to others”. This free distribution is sponsored by a South African businessman named Mark Shuttleworth. Ubuntu makes this distribution very accessible, and will even send you a printed CD free of charge with the Ubuntu distribution on it.

There are also other versions of Ubuntu, such as Kubuntu which uses the KDE Graphical User Inteface instead of the Gnome GUI. Edubuntu is aimed mainly at educational institutions and come with several educational applications by default. Xubuntu is aimed at lower end computers, bundling Xfce window manager instead of Gnome or KDE, which require less computing resources to operate.

Ubuntu and Kubuntu are also popular choices for first time Linux users migrating from a Microsoft Windows environment, mainly because one of Ubuntu’s main aims is to offer a very easy to use and accessible Linux distribution. It’s Debian GNU/Linux roots and software packaging system offers thousands of software products free of charge.

Conclusion

I hope that this article may help you in deciding which Linux distribution you will try first. Linux is a wonderful Operating System, and do not be scared of the learning curve, as the efforts will be very good rewarded.