Linux Distributions: How to Choose One

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While there are certainly many versions ("distributions") of Linux to choose from, picking one that is right for you can be straightforward as long as you know your needs and are willing to do some research.

  • The balancing act: Ubuntu Linux, Red Hat and Fedora Linux, Mandriva Linux, and SuSE Linux offer reliability, flexibility, and user-friendliness. They are the most popular Linux distributions.
  • Simple and easy: Lycoris Linux, Xandros Linux and Linspire are good first-time choices.
  • For those who are willing to give up convenience to experience the natural, unspoiled simplicity, stability, and security of original Linux distributions: Slackware would be a logical choice.
  • Want to try Linux but don’t want to deal with the hassle of installing a new OS? CD-based distributions may be your answer. Knoppix is a popular choice in that category. Ubuntu and many other distributions offer this option as well.

A quick look at the distributions mentioned above:

  • Ubuntu Linux is now perhaps the best-known and most popular distribution of Linux. It is well designed, easy-to-use and has advanced the use of Linux as a desktop operating system more any other distribution.
  • Red Hat Linux has been around for a while and has acquired a reputation for consistency and reliability. It may not be the easiest to use or the most cutting-edge distribution, but it provides the type of high-quality support that is valued by companies, which made it the de-facto standard in corporate America.
  • Fedora Core is a Linux distribution sponsored by Red Hat. The objectives of Fedora Linux differ from those of Red Hat in that Fedora engages the Open Source community and is more experimental in nature.
  • Mandriva Linux has been very popular among new and home users. Installation is particularly user-friendly, and it runs by default the KDE Windows-like graphical desktop environment.
  • SuSE Linux is a serious alternative for Windows users, with solid, user-friendly installation and configuration tools. Its popularity is held back a little only by somewhat “un-Linux like” business practices, such as not providing ISO installation images for free download. They do, however, offer free FTP installation.
  • Lycoris is designed to be a user-friendly Linux distribution with particular emphasis on transitioning from Windows operating systems. Good choice for beginners.
  • Xandros Linux is a great choice for beginners who don’t mind to fork over a few dollars to get a worry free product. It is refined and reliable but with proprietary components that prevent re-distribution. No free download.
  • Linspire’s one-click web-based software installation is quick and easy. An annual fee is charged for accessing Lindow's software pool.
  • Knoppix provides an excellent run-from-CD solution, with its powerful hardware detection features and pain-free set-up. If desired, the system can be optionally installed on the hard disk to improve performance. It also comes with plenty of software.
  • Slackware Linux is a good opportunity to learn about the Linux operating system. It gives you back a long-lost sense of control and empowerment. No longer will you be at the mercy of graphical set-up wizards and mysterious background demons.

    If you still don’t know which distribution you want to start with, pick a middle-of-the-road distribution such as Red Hat or Mandriva. SuSE appears to be somewhat more popular in Europe. Try one and have fun with it. If you don’t like your first pick, try another one. Once you have a distribution up and running there is generally not a big difference between the common distributions; they share the same kernels and use mostly the same software packages. You can easily add any software packages not included in your original installation.

    Important Note: Whenever you experiment with operating system installations you have to be prepared that all content of your hard disk may get lost. Always make sure you have backed up all your important data and software! The easiest way to install a new OS, such as Linux, is to install it on a new (unpartitioned) hard disk, or on a hard disk that still has unpartitioned space (at least several GB).