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Which Linux Distro should I use?

This is also provided as part of a Penguin Tutor, Tutorial Document, on Linux Distros

One of the first questions for people starting out in Linux is which distro should they use, so this hopes to give some info to anyone wondering "Which Linux distro should I use?"

What is a Distro (Linux Distribution)

Unlike some other operating systems you can't just go into a shop and buy a "standard" Linux operating system. In fact Linux only really refers to the kernel and so at the very least we should be referring to GNU/Linux, but that's getting a bit complex for a guide for new users.

What you would get instead is called a Linux Distribution (Distro), which is the Linux Kernel, and a bundle of applications that run on top of Linux. With so much different software available, and different ways of putting this together, there is no one solution that meets everyones requirements. Therefore different organisations have been created that create different distros or flavours of Linux. Some of these are created by commercial companies, and other from volunteer organisations.

Does this change?

The different distributions change on a regular basis. Often this is as frequent as every 6 months, although some distributions can go a few years before they get updated. This list will no doubt become out of date. I will try and maintain a fairly up-to-date list at: Penguin Tutor Linux Tutorials Page.

This is not a fully comprehensive list, but it gives someone new to Linux an idea of the different distributions available.

The Linux Distributions

Here are some of the most popular distributions.

Ubuntu

The Ubuntu distribution, was only created in 2004, but has risen to become one of the most popular distribution around. It uses the Debian Package Management System for software installation. It is normally provided as a single CD, which includes the main software, which can often be run as a Live CD, and then optionally installed onto the hard disk. It is particularly suitable for new users. Rather than asking a lot of questions during the install the choice of applications has been made for the user. Some others believe that this has taken some of the choice away from the user, however most other applications can be installed afterwards if preferred. If you want to install additional software then this can easily be done over the Internet. It is not so good if you do not have a fast Internet connection. You can even get a copy of the CD shipped free from the Unbuntu Linux Web Site. It has a lot of community involvement but is sponsored by Canonical Ltd. a company owned by Mark Shuttleworth.

Fedora Core and RedHat Enterprise Linux

Fedora is the community driven Linux distribution sponsored by RedHat. It uses more recent software than the RedHat Enterprise Linux, and is considered the test bed for software before it goes into the Enterprise version. Despite this it is still a stable distribution. It is RPM based. The RedHat Enterprise Linux is a commercial version designed to be stable for use in Linux Servers.

Mandriva Linux (Formally Mandrake, Lycoris and Conectiva)

Mandriva is a RPM based Linux distribution from the French Company Mandriva, created after the merger of Mandrake, Lycoris and Conectiva. The Mandrake distribution was particularly popular a few years ago, when it used to have particularly cutting edge software, and had excellent hardware detection which other distros were lacking. In many ways the other distros have now caught up with Mandriva, but it is still a user friendly distribution popular with new users.

SuSe Linux

SuSe Linux is another RPM based distribution. In the past it was not possible to download the operating system for install to a CD or DVD, which was only available as individual packages or a Live CD. This has been reversed since it was bought out by Novell. The distribution is available as a free (community) distribution or as SuSe Linux Enterprise Server, or SuSe Linux Enterprise Desktop.

Debian Linux

The Debian distribution is completely community based, and is not tied to any one company. The current release has taken a long time coming, perhaps partly due to the large number of software packages it includes in the debian format. The installer does not have the same level of auto-detection as the other distributions and you therefore need to know a lot about your system to be able to install it correctly. It is therefore not recommended for new users.

Glossary

Debian Package Management System (deb)

The Debian Package Management System (hereafter referred to as DPM), is a way of providing Linux software in a package that can be easily installed. The files can be recognised by their .deb extension, although normally they are installed from online repositories using automated tools such as apt-get or the Synaptic Package Managment tool. This is a rival to Redhat Package Management format (RPM). It is often regarded as being superior to the RPM format as it has included proper dependency management from the start. The RPM format is used more, and has addressed some of its shortfalls in recent versions of the software.

Live CD / DVD

A Live CD or DVD is a disk with the Linux Operating System that can be run without installing onto a hard disk. There are even some very small distributions that can be run off a floppy disk. Often these provide a complete operating system that can be used as a fully working computer. Sometimes they have the ability to install directly onto a hard disk instead, or sometimes this is provided using a separate disk.

RedHat Package Management (rpm)

The RedHat Package Management System (hereafter referred to as RPM), is a way of providing Linux software in a package that can be easily installed. This is a rival to Debian Package Management format (deb). It is often regarded as being inferior to the Debian format which included proper dependency management from the start. The RPM format is used more, and has addressed some of its shortfalls in recent version of the software. RPM packages are normally downloaded and installed using the rpm command, or a package manager. They can be found using rpmfind.net. This is also provided as part of a Penguin Tutor, Tutorial Document, on Linux Distros

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