Choosing a Linux Distribution

For new Linux users, the hardest thing can be trying to get an answer to one simple question: "Which Linux distribution should I use?" Back in the world of that other OS, the choice is pretty simple since you had no choice, or as Henry Ford might have put it, you can have "any color you want as long as it's black". In the Linux world, you can get black, yellow, red, blue, green, and every color in between. I personally think it is a wonderful thing that so many Linux distributions exist. Aside from creating a rich OS landscape, it furthers creativity and fosters innovation in software design. This can only be a good thing. While this makes for a colorful world, it can be very confusing for the new user. The DistroWatch Web site alone lists over 350 Linux distributions.

So which distribution should you get? Well, every Linux vendor does things a little differently. If you think of this in terms of cars, it starts to make sense. Every single car out there is basically an engine on wheels with seats and some kind of steering mechanism so that drivers can get to where they want to go. What kind of car you buy depends on what else you expect from a car, whether that is comfort, style, the vendor's reputation, or any great number of other choices.

If you've come this far and you are reading what I'm writing here, then you probably want me to do what no sane person is willing to do, go out on a limb, take sides, and recommend something. All right, here goes . . . but I'm going start by dividing all of you into two groups.

Those of you in the first group haven't yet decided whether they are ready to give up on Windows. You know it's a good idea and you're going to switch at some point soon, but you would like to try Linux without having to actually commit to anything. For you, I'm going to recommend Knoppix, a wonderful Linux distribution that runs entirely from the CD without the need to install. There are other so-called live CDs out there (and I invite you to try others) but Knoppix is a great place to start. Download and burn a copy or pick up the first issue of TUX which will include a special version of Knoppix, remastered to include all of the software we are covering in the first issue.

Incidentally, because Knoppix can boot and run entirely from the CD and it can read the files on your hard disk, it has saved many a system and recovered many important files that would otherwise have been gone forever.

It's also a great item to carry with you when you go PC shopping. When you're looking at that spiffy new PC, ask the salesperson to let you boot it up with Knoppix to verify that your system is well supported.

Those of you in the second group have decided to just go for it and install Linux. It's a done deal and now you just need to know which Linux distribution to pick. If you are just getting started with desktop Linux, I would probably suggest that you look at either Mandrake or SUSE (now owned by Novell). Both are excellent, well-engineered, and beginner-friendly Linux distributions. Mandrake tends to be more geared to home users with excellent multimedia and game support (it's the one I usually install for friends and family). SUSE, meanwhile, tends to feel more polished and is certainly more business friendly. In both cases, you can buy boxed sets or download images which you can then burn to a CD.

This is by no means an exhaustive list and it certainly doesn't imply that other distributions aren't great and worthy of all the accolades that come their way. RedHat, Fedora, Xandros, Libranet, Linspire, and MEPIS are all great beginner friendly Linux distributions. Rest assured that under the skin, all of these remain Linux distributions.

Which brings me to what might be the single best suggestions for selecting a distribution. Sometimes, the ideal choice is to install what your friends running Linux are currently using. After all, one of the most powerful attractions to Linux is the enthusiastic and knowledgeable community support that is available. There's a lot to be said for taking advantage of an existing community of support, in this case, your friends and family.

Getting Linux

Getting Linux is the easy part. One way to get Linux is to buy a copy. Head down to your local computer software store and ask for your favorite distribution. Alternatively, visit one of these vendors' Web site, whether it be Mandrake, SUSE, Red Hat, or any of the many different distributions listed on the DistroWatch DistroWatch or LinuxISO.org Web sites and order one online.

You might be asking the question, If I can get a free copy of Linux, why would I want to pay for one? As it turns out, there is more than one answer to that question. The first is that buying a boxed set usually gets you some amount of technical support from the vendor. If you are feeling nervous about your first Linux installation, this might be a good reason. Furthermore, working with a vendor may offer other advantages such as certification of certain enterprise applications (eg: Oracle) to run with your specific platform. You'll often see messages stating that this database or this CRM system is certified to work on a particular version of Red Hat or SUSE.

Second, the boxed set usually contains some kind of manual or manuals specific to that version of Linux. That will inevitably lead to another question as to what makes this Linux different from that one. Finally, in purchasing a boxed set, you are supporting the company that put leather on the seats or tinted the windows. It's a way of saying, "Thanks for all the hard work."

Because it is possible to get a free copy of Linux, you don't have to shell out the dollars if you don't want to. At most, you'll need a fast Internet connection, a CD burner, and some blank CDs—or a helpful friend who has these.

The final option is to buy a PC with Linux preinstalled. A number of companies now offer systems with Linux preinstalled and that may be the way you want to go. Best of all, Linux PCs are often much less expensive than those preloaded with that other OS.

Marcel Gagné - Tue, 2004-12-14 18:07.
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Just do it

Most windows users hesitate to migrate to Linux...why? Well, Linux looks to complicated, right? Well that is because you have not played with it!!!!!!
You're probably asking "what version do I get?".... Answer: just pick one. All of linux's distros or "versions" have the same engine, the things that change with different distros is the way the engine runs. You are probably wondering "what about the software? Are there download managers, picture editors, messengers, for Linux?......Answer: Yes. When you download Linux you get all of these and yes they are powerful, if not you simply download it and get the full software!! Unlike windows where you get a demo. Different distros have different software, but all have same basic software such as gimp (pic editor), gaim- (messenger) etc. And there is where the journey begins. You will find in a few weeks that it is not that hard. You will get fustraded and you will have to push your self to make something work sometimes, after all you are going to the next level (congrats you past basics, basics = windows..LOL :) ) but you have to install first. So, my first advice = read..read..Read. You will find that your fellow Linux users are a friendly community that helps each other via forums, chat, IRC, etc. So without more delay..Download any distro and JUST DO IT!!
And if you need help with initial install use this edwin10228@yahoo.com
Trust me when you get it up and running you will not look back, kinda like dialup and cable :)

so..
JUST..DO IT!

Edwin S. (not verified) - Tue, 2005-12-27 14:36.

still looking for the right Linux distribution

Which is the best disribution? I've been dealing with
Linux since I swore off microsoft (about the time windoz me
came out). I'll switch to a Mac before I come back to windows.
I really like the concept of open source software, and wish
I was smart enough to give something back to the Linux community.

I've tried several distributions over the past several years,
but have yet to find one that is perfect for me. I've installed
RedHat, Suse, Xandros and Fedora core 3.

Each one seems to have some quirks with it. RedHat seemed to
work the best, but since they've decided not to support the
desktop, I had to move to another distribution.

Suse is pretty good, but has several issues. The main ones that
I've found: the hotplug feature does not work when I plug a device
into a usb port, and sometime causes a reboot of the system; I am
unable to use my Kingston flash drive with it; the system freezes up
(I thought that this feature was suppossed to be unique to windows)
when I try to rip a CD unto my hard drive using my NEC dvd drive;
my sound Blaster Live! 24-bit PCI sound card refuses to work (I
had to install an old Yamaha card in the system to get sound);
the scanner on my HP psc-750 all in one printer is not recoginized,
although the printer works fine (I am able to use the scanner by
installing the HP software using the WINE application).
Sometimes the system seems to hang up during boot up durning the
hardware detection phase. I have version 9.2 installed on my
computer (Athlon 3000+ 64 bit processor with 1G of DDR333 ram,
120G IDE hard drive, ATI Radeon 9200 pro graphics card,
NEC ND-3500 AG 16X DVD-/+/R/RW dusal layer drive).
Suse seems to be pretty stable, but is not that user friendly.
They do a very good job of making updates available online!

I read an article about Xandros which sounded pretty good, so
decided that I'de like to try that. I had a friend with a fast
internet connection download the OCD version and burn me a cd.
I installed it on my machine, and was so impressed after a month
that I purchased the Deluxe desktop version (version 3). It didn't
have the flexibily of Suse, but was very easy to use (the file
manager is one of the easiest I've ever seen). When I tried to rip a
CD to my hard drive however, my system froze up. Also, when I tried
to install the firewall, I was unable to send or recieve email or
even get to my ISP (even with all of the available services enabled -
very secure indeed, but totally unusale). Also, my dialup connection
was disconnected periodically, even during downloads (I thought this
might be the fault of my US robotics model 5610B modem, but I never
get diconnected during the middle of download when I am using the
Suse distribution). The thing that caused me to quit using Xandros
was when my system became unbootable after I installed their
service pack 2 upgrade (which I had to have downloaded and burned
to a CD by a friend - my dialup connection was unable to handle a
300M download). Xandros has a very good support forum, but I hate
to have to fight every piece of hardware or feature I try to use!

I recently installed Fedora core 3. The desktop looks intriguing.
However, the hardware detection leaves something to be desired:
neither my modem nor my printer were detected during installation.
Also, when I shut the system down, the computer doesn't power down
(even though a message is printed on the screen saying
SYSTEM POWER OFF)

I still consider myself a linux newbie, even though I have lots
of experience with the OS. I have a pretty good understanding of
the filesystem, but lack an understanding of device drivers or how
to install them.

tricky dick (not verified) - Fri, 2005-07-29 23:59.

For downloading ISO-Images yo

For downloading ISO-Images you may also use
The Linux Mirror Project (TLMP).
It offers BitTorrent downloads of the major distributions.
http://www.tlm-project.org/

An - ymous (not verified) - Tue, 2005-02-08 16:25.

I made something to help deal with this question

This was a common question of a forum I visited quite a bit, and not being satisfied with tuxs.org chooser, I decided to make my own located at http://eedok.voidofmind.com/linux/chooser.html
Just another way to easily answer the which distro for you question.

Cody(EEDOK) (not verified) - Tue, 2005-01-25 00:12.

Choosing a distro

I have not tried Ubuntu, but it is a relative newcomer in the 'easy to use' category, which I what I was looking for. I am surprised that your 'distro chooser' did not mention the more mature Linspire, Xandros, Libranet possibilities.

Am I right in assuming that you live in England? :)

Thanks.

Frank.

Frank Billingt - (not verified) - Thu, 2005-03-03 19:33.

Nice tool for deciding which

Nice tool for deciding which distro to use--came up with ArkLinux, which I've never heard of--I'm a Mandrake user, and that also received high marks.

An - ymous (not verified) - Sat, 2005-01-29 22:04.

To install a distro, or not to install

Which distribution I install depends more on what I'm trying to do than the hardware I'm working with, but there are some very valid points already mentioned.

If you don't know about things like compiling source code then you'll probably be less attracted to distributions which are more source-oriented. If you're looking for uptime and stability you might look to something like, gasp, FreeBSD. I used FreeBSD for years after my Slackware 96 experience, but I eventually came around to Linux again. (Drivers for a HP Deskjet 710C which FreeBSD didn't have at the time)

At home I run Fedora Core 3 and Mandrake 10 on a dual boot system. On my notebook I run S.u.S.E. 9.1. And at The Working Centre we use a customized version of Debian GNU/Linux, our own hacks. But, when looking for my notebook I brought along a Knoppix 3.6 CD and that CD made my notebook purchase decision easier than it would have been if I had to research each notebook.

The great thing about the open source world is that we have all this freedom of choice. And I'm celebrating this even more since noticing an article a few days ago on Slashdot which said that California courts are forcing software makers to either include EULA's outside the software packaging, or forcing retailers to accept returned software where EULA's are contained within.

Charles (not verified) - Tue, 2004-12-21 13:38.

So many Distros. So little time.

What can I say? I love Linux. I keep a "Linux Flavor of The Month" machine just to try different distros. Well, since I downloaded and installed Slowaris x86 10 on it, I gues it has actually become a Linux/Unix Flavor of the Month machine. But that is a whole 'nother story.

Anyways, it is hard for me to pick a favorite. And I tend to suggest diff distros to different people based on thier individual needs. I do have some distros that I refrain from suggesting to others though.

I do not recommend the Fedora Cores. That is too much of a moving target. I used to recommend RedHat. And will still recommend RedHat professionally. But FC is a developement Distro and should be treated as such. I would never recommend RedHat release candidates to others even though I would often use them myself. And that is exactly what the Fedora Cores are. Only without the non-libre 3rd party add-ons.

Also I never, well rarely actually, recommend Gentoo! And Gentoo is personally one of my favorties. But, the initial install can try even a *nix veterans like myself's mettle. Infact, installing Gentoo and getting it working in and of itself should be worthy of a certification. I have recommended it though to a couple of those who actually requested an baptism by fire.

For most of those with cold feet, I give Knoppix. I personally prefere GNOME to KDE. But Knoppix booting from CD-ROM just works so well, that I can't let my personal preferences cloud my Judgement for others.

However, once one does decide to bite the bullet and do a permanent Dual Boot or Linux only Install, Knoppix just doesn't quite cut it. It behaves so differently after a hard disk install than it does running from the CD, that I can't even believe it is the same distro. On my Linux Flavor of the Month machine, some of the hardware that worked just fine running from CD, refuses to work after HD install. Therefore, I usually recomend Xandros to those who use Knoppix from first, then decide to go to a fully HD installed Linux.
FWIW, I keep a copy of Knoppix in my computer bag for myself. It is a great rescue/diagnotic distro.

Gnoppix is slated next for my Linux this may become my new "cold footed noobie"/Rescue distro. Simply because I prefere GNOME. But, the last time I tried it, a couple of versions ago, it was not up to par with the KDE centric parent Knoppix distro.

I would recommend DSL (Darned/Danged/D@mn3d Small Linux), for those with older, slower and lower resource machines. My one fault with it is it's wireless support. It has it. But some of the drivers for the older 802.11b cards (Mine is a PRISM II PCMCIA Type one or two card) do not work out of the box. And I have all kinds of problems finally getting the pathced kernel modules to compile on a 486DX2/50 laptop with a maxed out 20 Meg RAM configuration. I would get anohter wireless card, but it is becomming increasingly difficult to find a 16 bit PCMCIA Wireless card. I am still looking for the distro to recommend for such a configuration.

Finally there is the distro without a name. I got the initial ISO from http://home.eunet.no/~pnordahl/ntpasswd/ It is only 2.25 MB. And it's only purpose in life is to boot up, mount an NTFS filesystem Read/Write, load the NT SAM database into memory, blank out any users passwd field including Administrator and write the edited SAM file out to disk. I recommend this distro to all Windows Users and Administrators. Regardless to whether they are considering moving to Linux or not. They will end up using this distro at some point. Or wishing they had held onto it when I gave it to them.

Basically, to me there is no "one size fits all" distro. Nor should there be. The fabulous thing about Linux is that there is something out there for everyone. If you are the techno-geek that everyone else comes to for help/advice, then chances are you have a room or area in your house/flat dedicated to computers. And you probably have a machine or two lying around doing nothing. Try different Linuxes one of them from time to time. You just might find that you find a new favorite distro. And you might find several, that while not right for you, might be right for Aunt Polly.

KH
PS. I absolutely &quot Love &quot (In a strictly plutonic, heterosexual male and tend to keep it that way sense of the word) Marcel Gagne' though we never met. And for reasons I won't bore y'all with in this forum, (Lets just say that Oklahoma bred Long Haired Texas Red Necks and French business culture mix kind o' like hydrochloric acid and kerosene) that is something significant for me. I especailly love "Cooking With Linux"
My E-Mail address does not contain nospam. <== Correctn use of a double negative.

Kevin (not verified) - M - , 2004-12-20 13:44.

Linux Distro of the Month

Distro of the Month is an alternative for your users that ships a new distro out each month. This allows for people with low bandwidth, or people who don't want the hassle of downloading and burning a disc the ability to try several distros and decide on one or keep a "flavor of the month" computer as you do.

thanks,
Staff @ distroofthemonth.com

An - ymous (not verified) - Sat, 2005-07-30 14:10.

Contrary to what my website might lead you to believe

I would advice differently. Meaning: I don't tell people they should go for Mandrakelinux per se.

The most important thing is to choose that distro that people around you are using and can/will help you out with. If someone close to you uses Debian Testing, but they recommend to use Ubuntu, and can/will help out with that, follow _that_ advice. (But yes, if someone around _me_ asks what I recommend, and it looks like I'll be the one they'll come to for help, I recommend Mandrakelinux and pass them the install media. However, if they're already on SUSE or so, that's fine too.)

As next priorities (for new users), one should (or: may want to) look at:
- 'free'-ness of a distribution (in the sense that the distribution itself - i.e. the distribution specific tools/programs - are Free(dom) Software - having the distro come with nvidia drivers or so is not an issue since they will usually want those anyway)
- the online community around the various distributions, how forums deal with complete newbie questions (as in: "I don't like the font on my desktop! How do I change it? This Linux thingy is really weird, I don't think I really like it.") - if they get answers that help out and guide new users or not (A: "UTFS" - followup Q: "What does UTFS mean? Why are you mean to me?" - or: A: "on KDE, ... and if you're on GNOME, ...")

On a side note, about knoppix and things potential users should do:
- knoppix (live cds, there's also Mandrakemove, SUSE live eval and lots more) is a great way to try if you like Linux, but by nature they can not offer the full experience (knoppix sports KDE, some may prefer GNOME, or on slow machines: icewm, etc)
- before switching, use applications that you will have on both sides: OOo, FF, etcetc. Then, the change of OS will be below the applications, so the only thing to do to be able to use Linux is to make sure the hardware is compatible and properly configured.

aRTee (not verified) - M - , 2004-12-20 04:21.

in your short list, replace debian with ubuntu

debian is by no means a good distro for a newbie but I have given ubuntu disks to 3 or 4 newbies now with great success. The only consistent problem is non-free stuff like mp3 playback but that's a problem for fedora and a few others as well.

Ubuntu live CD is also much better choice than Knoppix because Gnome is much less intimidating than the geeked-outedness of KDE.

An - ymous (not verified) - Sat, 2004-12-18 22:07.

in your short list, replace debian with ubuntu

> Ubuntu live CD is also much better choice than
> Knoppix because Gnome is much less intimidating
> than the geeked-outedness of KDE.

Well, there are good reasons why Knoppix is very popular. And one of the reasons is certainly the user-friendly KDE desktop environment.
If you look at the list of user-friendly distributions you will realize that except for one or two distributions _ALL_ of them default to KDE.

While we were evaluating desktops for our migration project with several dozen users we also quickly found out that former Windows users had much less problems to rapidly get accustomed to KDE than with any other desktop environment. That's why we chose KDE. And so far we have a few hundred happy Linux desktop users.

An - ymous (not verified) - Sun, 2004-12-19 13:31.

windows users are used their

windows users are used their desktop behaving in a clunky kind of way, producing menus full of program listing, very few of the of any use to that particular user. This is why migrating Windows users gravutate to kde. I personally prefer functual and minimalist, Gnome

An - ymous (not verified) - Sat, 2005-04-16 13:34.

One thing I can't agree with

"This is by no means an exhaustive list and it certainly doesn't imply that other distributions aren't great and worthy of all the accolades that come their way. RedHat, Debian, Fedora, Xandros, Libranet, Linspire, and MEPIS are all great beginner friendly Linux distributions"

Nothing wrong with the Debian-based distros you mention there, but at least until sarge comes out (presuming its new installer is a step up from the previous one in terms of noob-friendliness) I can't agree that debian itself is a good distro for the linux newbie - simply because too much prior knowledge of how a linux-based system itself works is presumed (of course the fact that its a text-based installer and uses cfdisk for partitioning doesn't help, but these things could be put up with by a linux noob, as long as they aren't a computer noob too :) )

-d

d (not verified) - Sat, 2004-12-18 21:24.

I agree about Debian, the new

I agree about Debian, the new sarge installer is a big improvement, but I still think the other distros are easier for a newbie to install.

jw (not verified) - Sun, 2004-12-19 08:12.

Debian, not so bad

Let me start by saying that I'm a linux n00b. I chose Debian as my first linux distro because, honestly, I saw a link to it from another website. I have to say that I don't think the installation was all that difficult - even though it is primarily text based. I didn't think cfdisk was that bad either, although having a good understanding of fdisk I think helped with that.

And since I installed it, I've been trying to stay away from the desktop enviroment because I want to learn the ins-and-outs beforehand. I have messed with both Gnome and KDE and I have to say I definately prefer Gnome. I like the layout and the functionality.

I havn't tried any other distros yet, but after taking that handy test that someone above posted, I may try Ubuntoo (that's what it suggested for me). All in all, I don't think moving to Debian was all that difficult. From what I can see, if you have a solid understanding of DOS and windows, it's not all that bad.

cr33p (not verified) - Sun, 2005-02-13 20:03.

Eh??

"This is by no means an exhaustive list and certainly doesn't imply that other distributions are great..." Oooooops. I think you said something you do not mean...at least I hope so.

L. Barnes (not verified) - Thu, 2004-12-16 20:35.

MetroPipe USB

Another option to consider is the FLASH-USB-based "distro" (DSL -- Damn Small Linux) as configured by Metropipe.

Copy about 128M of files onto a USB Flash Drive, and you can carry
your personal LINUX around in your pocket.

What is great about this is that it boots *from the USB stick* without having to reboot the "hsot" operating system.

This is accomplished via a nifty X86 emulator that's built-in to the
files in this distro.

Metropipe's reason for doing this is that they provide a VPN
proxy service. If you buy their service, then you can walk
up to just about ANY PC connected to the net, boot from your
USB, and surf to your heart's content WITHOUT the host machine
knowing anything about what you've done (all traffic is encrypted
via VPN to their servers).

Pretty slick, and a totally painless way to get a feel for LINUX.

Caveats:

1) It is pretty slow at present (about 1/2 speed, roughly).
2) Really requires running on a machine with at least 256M of RAM
3) Only runs on X86 machines

But worth a look.

Metropipe
http://www.metropipe.net/ [main site]

Look for "Portable Personal Privacy Machine"
http://www.metropipe.net/ProductsPVPM.shtml

Charlie

cyberchucktx (not verified) - Thu, 2004-12-16 11:25.

There's a new release!

I just downloaded their latest version - it's very cool and worth another look. Its so much faster and things appear to be working now.

I'm thinking about purchasing one of their tunnelers too. An xterm appears when it boots up so i think i just need an access code or something.

The homepage for this looks to be http://www.metropipe.net/pvpm.php although i downloaded mine from torrentspy.

Enzel

Enzel (not verified) - Tue, 2006-04-18 22:21.

For users/admin./dev. who wan

For users/admin./dev. who want's total control and flexibility try http://www.gentoo.org :-)

Bengt Frost (not verified) - Thu, 2004-12-16 18:08.

distroz

Hello! Slackware, anyone...

A-n - -y(es)-mouse (not verified) - Sun, 2004-12-19 16:04.

Slack is great for everyone

Slack is great for everyone. Beginner have a nice point-n-click interface (KDE, GNOME,fvwm,icewm, ...), and they _have_ to learn what the hell they are doing before they can start f**king up the system (there are no nice admin-gui-tools in slack, gotta love that :-D ),
and the experience only gets better from there on for more experienced ppl.
Not only that, slack is consistent in every way, and very standards-compliant. What you learn on slack, ports to just about any *nix-like thing out there.
/plug

slacker (not verified) - M - , 2004-12-20 08:10.