How to choose your linux distro ? which distro is best for you … P1


The 2013 Top 7 Best Linux Distributions for You 

Back in 2010 published a list of the year’s top Linux distributions, and the popularity of the topic made it an instant annual tradition.

There have been several shifts and shakeups on the lists presented since then, of course, and -– as you’ll soon see – this year’s offering holds true to that pattern. In fact, I think it’s safe to say that the past year has seen so much upheaval in the desktop world – particularly where desktop environments are concerned – that 2013’s list could come as a surprise to some.

Let me hasten to note that the evaluations made here are nothing if not subjective. There also is no such thing as the “one best” Linux distro for anything; in fact, much of the beauty of Linux is its diversity and the fact that it can be tweaked and customized for virtually any taste or purpose. The one best Linux for you, in other words, is the flavor you choose for your purpose and preference and then tweak until it feels just right.

Still, I think some Linux flavors stand out these days as leaders for particular use cases. I’m going to diverge a bit from past lists here when it comes to those categories, however. Specifically, where past lists have included the category “Best Linux LiveCD,” I think that’s become almost obsolete given not just the general shift to USBs — some PCs don’t even come with CD drives anymore, in fact — but also the fact that most any Linux distro can be formatted into bootable form.

On the other hand, with the arrival of Steam for Linux, I think this year has brought the need for a new category: Best Linux for Gaming.

Read on, then, for a rundown of some of the best of what the Linux world has to offer.

Best Desktop Distribution

There are so many excellent contenders for desktop Linux this year that it’s become a more difficult choice than ever – and that’s really saying something.

Canonical’s Ubuntu has made great strides in advancing Linux’s visibility in the public eye, of course, while Linux Mint and Fedora are both also very strong choices. Regarding Ubuntu, however, a number of issues have come up over the past year or so, including the inclusion of online shopping results in searches – an addition Richard Stallman and the EFF have called “spyware.”

At the same time, the upheaval caused by the introduction of mobile-inspired desktops such as Unity and GNOME 3 continues unabated, spurring the launch of more classically minded new desktops such as MATE and Cinnamon along with brand-new distros.

For best desktop Linux distro, I have to go with Fuduntu, one of this new breed of up-and-comers. Originally based on Fedora but later forked, Fuduntu offers a classic GNOME 2 interface – developed for the desktop, not for mobile devices — and generally seems to get everything right.

Besides delivering the classic desktop so many Linux users have made clear that they prefer, Fuduntu enjoys all the advantages of being a rolling release distribution, and its repository includes key packages such as Netflix and Steam. I’ve been using it for months now and haven’t seen a single reason to switch.

Best Laptop Distribution

At the risk of sounding repetitive, I have to go with Fuduntu for best Linux distro as well. In fact, the distro is optimized for mobile computing on laptops and netbooks, including tools to help achieve maximum battery life when untethered. Users can see battery life improvements of 30 percent or more over other Linux distributions, the distro’s developers say.

Such optimizations combined with this solid and classic distro make for a winner on portable devices as well.

Best Enterprise Desktop Linux

he enterprise is one context in which I have to agree with recent years’ evaluations, and that includes the enterprise desktop.

While SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop is surely RHEL’s primary competitor, I think Red Hat Enterprise Linux is the clear leader in this area, with just the right combination of security, interoperability, productivity applications and management features.

Best Enterprise Server Linux

It’s a similar situation on the server. While there’s no denying SUSE Linux Enterprise Server has its advantages, Red Hat is pushing ahead in exciting new ways. Particularly notable about Red Hat this year, for example, is its new focus on Big Data and the hybrid cloud, bringing a fresh new world of possibilities to its customers.

Best Security-Enhanced Distribution

Security, of course, is one of the areas in which Linux really stands out from its proprietary competitors, due not just to the nature of Linux itself but also to the availability of several security-focused Linux distributions.

Lightweight Portable Security is one relatively new contender that emerged back in 2011, and BackBox is another popular Ubuntu-based contender, but I still have to give my vote to BackTrack Linux, the heavyweight in this area whose penetration testing framework is used by the security community all over the world. Others surely have their advantages, but BackTrack is still the one to beat.

Best Multimedia Distribution

Ubuntu Studio has often been named the best distro for multimedia purposes in’s lists, but it’s by no means the only contender. ZevenOS, for instance, is an interesting BeOS-flavored contender that came out with a major update last year.

For sheer power and nimble performance, though, this year’s nod goes to Arch Linux. With an active community and thousands of software packages available in its repositories, Arch stays out of the way so your PC can focus on the CPU-intensive tasks at hand.

Best Gaming Distribution

ast but certainly not least is the gaming category, which surely represents one of the biggest developments in the Linux world over this past year. While it may not be relevant for enterprise audiences, gaming has long been held up as a key reason many users have stayed with Windows, so Valve’s decision to bring its Steam gaming platform to Linux is nothing if not significant.

The Linux distro choice here? That would have to be Ubuntu, which is specifically promoted by the Valve team itself. “Best experienced on Ubuntu” reads the tag line that accompanied the Steam for Linux release last month, in fact. Bottom line: If you’re into gaming, Ubuntu Linux is the way to go.

Have a different view on any of these categories? Please share your thoughts in the comments.


Top Ten Distributions

An overview of today’s top distributions


The bewildering choice and the ever increasing number of Linux distributions can be confusing for those who are new to Linux. This is why this page was created. It lists 10 Linux distributions (plus an honourable mention of FreeBSD, by far the most popular of all of the BSDs), which are generally considered as most widely-used by Linux users around the world. There are no figures to back it up and there are many other distributions that might suit your particular purpose better, but as a general rule, all of these are popular and have very active forums or mailing lists where you can ask questions if you get stuck. Ubuntu, Linux Mint and PCLinuxOS are considered the easiest for new users who want to get productive in Linux as soon as possible without having to master all its complexities. On the other end of the spectrum, Slackware Linux, Arch Linux and FreeBSD are more advanced distributions that require plenty of learning before they can be used effectively. openSUSE, Fedora, Debian GNU/Linux and Mageia can be classified as good “middle-road” distributions. CentOS is an enterprise distribution, suitable for those who prefer stability, reliability and long-term support over cutting-edge features and software.

A Guide to Choosing a Distribution

Linux Mint
Linux Mint, a distribution based on Ubuntu, was first launched in 2006 by Clement Lefebvre, a French-born IT specialist living in Ireland. Originally maintaining a Linux web site dedicated to providing help, tips and documentation to new Linux users, the author saw the potential of developing a Linux distribution that would address the many usability drawbacks associated with the generally more technical, mainstream products. After soliciting feedback from the visitors on his web site, he proceeded with building what many refer to today as an “improved Ubuntu” or “Ubuntu done right”.But Linux Mint is not just an Ubuntu with a new set of applications and an updated desktop theme. Since its beginnings, the developers have been adding a variety of graphical “mint” tools for enhanced usability; this includes mintDesktop – a utility for configuring the desktop environment, mintMenu – a new and elegant menu structure for easier navigation, mintInstall – an easy-to-use software installer, and mintUpdate – a software updater, just to mention a few more prominent ones among several other tools and hundreds of additional improvements. The project also designs its own artwork, while its reputation for ease of use has been further enhanced by the inclusion of proprietary and patent-encumbered multimedia codecs that are often absent from larger distributions due to potential legal threats. However, one of the best features of Linux Mint is the fact that the developers listen to the users and are always fast in implementing good suggestions.

While Linux Mint is available as a free download, the project generates revenue from donations, advertising and professional support services. It doesn’t have a fixed release schedule or a list of planned features, but one can expect a new version of Linux Mint several weeks after each stable Ubuntu release. Besides the “main” edition which features the GNOME desktop, the project also builds a variety of semi-regular “community” editions with alternative desktops, such as KDE, Xfce and Fluxbox. However, these are often completed several months after the release of the “main” GNOME edition and may sometimes miss some of the “minty” tools and other features found in the project’s flagship product. A more recent addition to the Mint line-up is a “rolling-release” edition based on Debian’s testing branch. Linux Mint does not adhere to the principles of software freedom and it does not publish security advisories.

  • Pros: Superb collection of “minty” tools developed in-house, hundreds of user-friendly enhancements, inclusion of multimedia codecs, open to users’ suggestions
  • Cons: The alternative “community” editions don’t always include the latest features, the project does not issue security advisories
  • Software package management: APT with mintInstall using DEB packages (compatible with Ubuntu repositories)
  • Available editions: A “main” edition (with GNOME), a variety of “secondary” editions (with KDE, Xfce and Fluxbox), Linux Mint “Debian” edition (rolling-release with GNOME or Xfce)
  • Possible alternatives: Ubuntu, Pinguy OS, Zorin OS, SimplyMEPIS, Peppermint OS

Linux Mint 14


The launch of Ubuntu was first announced in September 2004. Although a relative newcomer to the Linux distribution scene, the project took off like no other before, with its mailing lists soon filled in with discussions by eager users and enthusiastic developers. In the few years that followed, Ubuntu has grown to become the most popular desktop Linux distribution and has greatly contributed towards developing an easy-to-use and free desktop operating system that can compete well with any proprietary ones available on the market.What was the reason for Ubuntu’s stunning success? Firstly, the project was created by Mark Shuttleworth, a charismatic South African multimillionaire, a former Debian developer and the world’s second space tourist, whose company, the Isle of Man-based Canonical Ltd, is currently financing the project. Secondly, Ubuntu had learnt from the mistakes of other similar projects and avoided them from the start – it created an excellent web-based infrastructure with a Wiki-style documentation, creative bug-reporting facility, and professional approach to the end users. And thirdly, thanks to its wealthy founder, Ubuntu has been able to ship free CDs to all interested users, thus contributing to the rapid spread of the distribution.

On the technical side of things, Ubuntu is based on Debian “Sid” (unstable branch), but with some prominent packages, such as GNOME, Firefox and LibreOffice, updated to their latest versions. It has a predictable, 6-month release schedule, with an occasional Long Term Support (LTS) release that is supported with security updates for 3 – 5 years, depending on the edition (non-LTS release are supported for 18 months). Other special features of Ubuntu include an installable live CD, creative artwork and desktop themes, migration assistant for Windows users, support for the latest technologies, such as 3D desktop effects, easy installation of proprietary device drivers for ATI and NVIDIA graphics cards and wireless networking, and on-demand support for non-free or patent-encumbered media codecs.

  • Pros: Fixed release cycle and support period; novice-friendly; wealth of documentation, both official and user-contributed
  • Cons: Lacks compatibility with Debian; frequent major changes tend to drive some users away
  • Software package management: Advanced Package Tool (APT) using DEB packages
  • Available editions: Ubuntu, Kubuntu, Xubuntu, Lubuntu (desktop with LXDE), Edubuntu, Ubuntu Studio and Mythbuntu for 32-bit (i386) and 64-bit (x86_64) processors;
  • Suggested Ubuntu-based alternatives: Linux Mint (desktop), Ultimate Edition (desktop), Pinguy OS (desktop), Zorin OS (desktop), Trisquel GNU/Linux (free software), Bodhi Linux (desktop with Enlightenment)

Ubuntu 13.04


Although Fedora was formally unveiled only in September 2004, its origins effectively date back to 1995 when it was launched by two Linux visionaries — Bob Young and Marc Ewing — under the name of Red Hat Linux. The company’s first product, Red Hat Linux 1.0 “Mother’s Day”, was released in the same year and was quickly followed by several bug-fix updates. In 1997, Red Hat introduced its revolutionary RPM package management system with dependency resolution and other advanced features which greatly contributed to the distribution’s rapid rise in popularity and its overtaking of Slackware Linux as the most widely-used Linux distribution in the world. In later years, Red Hat standardised on a regular, 6-month release schedule.In 2003, just after the release of Red Hat Linux 9, the company introduced some radical changes to its product line-up. It retained the Red Hat trademark for its commercial products, notably Red Hat Enterprise Linux, and introduced Fedora Core (later renamed to Fedora), a Red Hat-sponsored, but community-oriented distribution designed for the “Linux hobbyist”. After the initial criticism of the changes, the Linux community accepted the “new” distribution as a logical continuation of Red Hat Linux. A few quality releases was all it took for Fedora to regain its former status as one of the best-loved operating systems on the market. At the same time, Red Hat quickly became the biggest and most profitable Linux company in the world, with an innovative product line-up, excellent customer support, and other popular initiatives, such as its Red Hat Certified Engineer (RHCE) certification programme.

Although Fedora’s direction is still largely controlled by Red Hat, Inc. and the product is sometimes seen — rightly or wrongly — as a test bed for Red Hat Enterprise Linux, there is no denying that Fedora is one of the most innovative distributions available today. Its contributions to the Linux kernel, glibc and GCC are well-known and its more recent integration of SELinux functionality, virtualisation technologies, Systemd service manager, cutting-edge journaled file systems, and other enterprise-level features are much appreciated among the company’s customers. On a negative side, Fedora still lacks a clear desktop-oriented strategy that would make the product easier to use for those beyond the “Linux hobbyist” target.

  • Pros: Highly innovative; outstanding security features; large number of supported packages; strict adherence to the free software philosophy; availability of live CDs featuring many popular desktop environments
  • Cons: Fedora’s priorities tend to lean towards enterprise features, rather than desktop usability; some bleeding edge features, such as early switch to KDE 4 and GNOME 3, occasionally alienate some desktop users
  • Software package management: YUM graphical and command line utility using RPM packages
  • Available editions: Fedora for 32-bit (i386) and 64-bit (x86_64) processors; Red Hat Enterprise Linux for i386, IA64, PowerPC, s390x and x86_64 architectures; also live CD editions with GNOME, KDE, LXDE or Xfce desktops
  • Suggested Fedora-based alternatives: Kororaa (live DVD with GNOME or KDE), Fuduntu (live DVD with codecs and other user-friendly features), Fusion Linux (live DVD with Mint menu and other user-friendly features)
  • Suggested Red Hat-based alternatives: CentOS, Scientific Linux, Springdale Linux

Fedora 18


Debian GNU/Linux
Debian GNU/Linux was first announced in 1993. Its founder, Ian Murdock, envisaged the creation of a completely non-commercial project developed by hundreds of volunteer developers in their spare time. With sceptics far outnumbering optimists at the time, it was destined to disintegrate and collapse, but the reality was very different. Debian not only survived, it thrived and, in less than a decade, it became the largest Linux distribution and possibly the largest collaborative software project ever created!The success of Debian GNU/Linux can be illustrated by the following numbers. It is developed by over 1,000 volunteer developers, its software repositories contain more than 20,000 packages (compiled for 11 processor architectures), and it is responsible for inspiring over 120 Debian-based distributions and live CDs. These figures are unmatched by any other Linux-based operating system. The actual development of Debian takes place in three main branches (or four if one includes the bleeding-edge “experimental” branch) of increasing levels of stability: “unstable” (also known as “sid”), “testing” and “stable”. This progressive integration and stabilisation of packages and features, together with the project’s well-established quality control mechanisms, has earned Debian its reputation of being one of the best-tested and most bug-free distributions available today.

However, this lengthy and complex development style also has some drawbacks: the stable releases of Debian are not particularly up-to-date and they age rapidly, especially since new stable releases are only published once every 1 – 3 years. Those users who prefer the latest packages and technologies are forced to use the potentially buggy Debian testing or unstable branches. The highly democratic structures of Debian have led to controversial decisions and gave rise to infighting among the developers. This has contributed to stagnation and reluctance to make radical decisions that would take the project forward.

  • Pros: Very stable; remarkable quality control; includes over 20,000 software packages; supports more processor architectures than any other Linux distribution
  • Cons: Conservative – due to its support for many processor architectures, newest technologies are not always included; slow release cycle (one stable release every 1 – 3 years); discussions on developer mailing lists and blogs can be uncultured at times
  • Software package management: Advanced Package Tool (APT) using DEB packages
  • Available editions: Installation CD/DVD and live CD images for 11 processor architectures, including all 32-bit and 64-bit processors from Intel, AMD, Power and others
  • Suggested Debian-based alternatives: Ubuntu, MEPIS Linux (desktop with KDE), KNOPPIX (live CD with LXDE), CrunchBang Linux (desktop with Openbox), aptosid (desktop with KDE or Xfce), Saline OS (desktop with Xfce), Parsix GNU/Linux (desktop with GNOME)

Debian GNU/Linux 6.0


The beginnings of openSUSE date back to 1992 when four German Linux enthusiasts — Roland Dyroff, Thomas Fehr, Hubert Mantel and Burchard Steinbild — launched the project under the name of SuSE (Software und System Entwicklung) Linux. In the early days, the young company sold sets of floppy disks containing a German edition of Slackware Linux, but it wasn’t long before SuSE Linux became an independent distribution with the launch of version 4.2 in May 1996. In the following years, the developers adopted the RPM package management format and introduced YaST, an easy-to-use graphical system administration tool. Frequent releases, excellent printed documentation, and easy availability of SuSE Linux in stores across Europe and North America resulted in growing popularity of the distribution.SuSE Linux was acquired by Novell, Inc. in late 2003, then fell into the hands of Attachmate in November 2010. Major changes in the development, licensing and availability of SUSE Linux followed shortly after the first acquisition – YaST was released under the General Public License (GPL), the ISO images were freely distributed from public download servers, and, most significantly, the development of the distribution was opened to public participation for the first time. Since the launch of the openSUSE project and the release of version 10.0 in October 2005, the distribution became completely free in both senses of the word. The openSUSE code has become a base system for Novell’s commercial products, first named as Novell Linux, but later renamed to SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop and SUSE Linux Enterprise Server.

Today, openSUSE has a large following of satisfied users. The principal reason for openSUSE getting high marks from its users are pleasant and polished desktop environments (KDE and GNOME), excellent system administration utility (YaST), and, for those who buy the boxed edition, some of the best printed documentation available with any distribution. However, the infamous deal between Novell and Microsoft, which apparently concedes to Microsoft’s argument that it has intellectual property rights over Linux, has resulted in a string of condemnation by many Linux personalities and has prompted some users to switch distributions. Although Novell has downplayed the deal and Microsoft has yet to exercise any rights, this issue remains a thorn in the side of the otherwise very community-friendly Linux company.

  • Pros: Comprehensive and intuitive configuration tool; large repository of software packages, excellent web site infrastructure and printed documentation
  • Cons: Novell’s patent deal with Microsoft in November 2006 seemingly legitimised Microsoft’s intellectual property claims over Linux; its resource-heavy desktop setup and graphical utilities are sometimes seen as “bloated and slow”
  • Software package management: YaST graphical and command-line utility using RPM packages
  • Available editions: openSUSE for 32-bit (i386), 64-bit (x86_64) processors (also installable live CD edition); SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop/Server for i586, IA64, PowerPC, s390, s390x and x86_64 architectures

openSUSE 12.3


Arch Linux
The KISS (keep it simple, stupid) philosophy of Arch Linux was devised in around the year 2002 by Judd Vinet, a Canadian computer science graduate who launched the distribution in the same year. For several years it lived as a marginal project designed for intermediate and advanced Linux users and only shot to stardom when it began promoting itself as a “rolling-release” distribution that only needs to be installed once and which is then kept up-to-date thanks to its powerful package manager and an always fresh software repository. As a result, Arch Linux “releases” are few and far between and are now limited to a basic installation CD that is issued only when considerable changes in the base system warrant a new install media.Besides featuring the much-loved “rolling-release” update mechanism, Arch Linux is also renowned for its fast and powerful package manager called “Pacman”, the ability to install software packages from source code, easy creation of binary packages thanks to its AUR infrastructure, and the ever increasing software repository of well-tested packages. Its highly-regarded documentation, complemented by the excellent Arch Linux Handbook makes it possible for even less experienced Linux users to install and customise the distribution. The powerful tools available at the user’s disposal mean that the distro is infinitely customisable to the most minute detail and that no two installations can possibly be the same.

On the negative side, any rolling-release update mechanism has its dangers: a human mistake creeps in, a library or dependency goes missing, a new version of an application already in the repository has a yet-to-be-reported critical bug… It’s not unheard of to end up with an unbootable system following a Pacman upgrade. As such, Arch Linux is a kind of distribution that requires its users to be alert and to have enough knowledge to fix any such possible problems. Also, the infrequent install media releases mean that sometimes it is no longer possible to use the old media to install the distribution due to important system changes or lack of hardware support in the older Linux kernel.

  • Pros: Excellent software management infrastructure; unparalleled customisation and tweaking options; superb online documentation
  • Cons: Occasional instability and risk of breakdown, infrequent install media releases
  • Software package management: “Pacman” using TAR.XZ packages
  • Available editions: Minimal installation CD and network installation CD images for 32-bit (i686) and 64-bit (x86_64) processors
  • Suggested Arch-based and Arch-like alternatives: ArchBang Linux (lightweight with Openbox), Chakra GNU/Linux (live CD with KDE), Bridge Linux (live with GNOME, KDE, LXDE and Xfce), ConnochaetOS (for old computers)

Arch Linux 2011.08.19


PCLinuxOS was first announced in 2003 by Bill Reynolds, better known as “Texstar”. Prior to creating his own distribution, Texstar was already a well-known developer in the Mandrake Linux community of users for building up-to-date RPM packages for the popular distribution and providing them as a free download. In 2003 he decided to build a new distribution, initially based on Mandrake Linux, but with several significant usability improvements. The goals? It should be beginner-friendly, have out-of-the box support for proprietary kernel modules, browser plugins and media codecs, and should function as a live CD with a simple and intuitive graphical installer.Several years and development releases later, PCLinuxOS is rapidly approaching its intended state. In terms of usability, the project offers out-of-the-box support for many technologies most Windows-to-Linux migrants would expect from their new operating system. On the software side of things, PCLinuxOS is a KDE-oriented distribution, with a customised and always up-to-date version of the popular desktop environment. Its growing software repository contains other desktops, however, and offers a great variety of desktop packages for many common tasks. For system configuration, PCLinuxOS has retained much of Mandriva’s excellent Control Centre, but has replaced its package management system with APT and Synaptic, a graphical package management front-end.

On the negative side, PCLinuxOS lacks any form of roadmap or release goals. Despite the growing community involvement in the project, most development and decision-making remains in the hands of Texstar who tends to be on the conservative side when judging the stability of a release. As a result, the development process of PCLinuxOS is often arduous. Despite frequent calls for a 64-bit edition, the developers have only started considering such possibility in late 2011, arguing that their 32-bit edition works equally well on 64-bit computer systems. Furthermore, the project does not provide any security advisories, relying instead on the users’ willingness to keep their system up-to-date via the included package management tools.

  • Pros: Out-of-the-box support for graphics drivers, browser plugins and media codecs; rolling-release update mechanism; up-to-date software
  • Cons: no out-of-the-box support for non-English languages; lacks release planning and security advisories
  • Software package management: Advanced Package Tool (APT) using RPM packages
  • Available editions: KDE, KDE Full Monty, KDE Minime, LXDE, LXDE Mini, Openbox, Openbox Bonsai, Phinx, Phoenix for 32-bit (i586) processor architectures, KDE for 64-bit (x86_64) processor architectures

PCLinuxOS 2013.04


Launched in late 2003, CentOS is a community project with the goals of rebuilding the source code for Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) into an installable Linux distribution and to provide timely security updates for all included software packages. To put in more bluntly, CentOS is a RHEL clone. The only technical difference between the two distributions is branding – CentOS replaces all Red Hat trademarks and logos with its own. But the connection between RHEL and CentOS is not immediately visible on the CentOS web site; due to trademark laws, Red Hat is referred to as a “Prominent North American Enterprise Linux Vendor”, instead of its proper name. Nevertheless, the relations between Red Hat and CentOS remain amicable and many CentOS developers are in active contact with Red Hat engineers.CentOS is often seen as a reliable server distribution. It comes with the same set of well-tested and stable Linux kernel and software packages that form the basis of its parent, Red Hat Enterprise Linux. Despite being a community project run by volunteers, it has gained a reputation for being a solid, free alternative to the more costly server products on the market, especially among the experienced Linux system administrators. CentOS is also suitable as an enterprise desktop solution, specifically where stability, reliability and long-term support are preferred over latest software and features. Like RHEL, CentOS is supported with a minimum of 5 years of security updates.

Despite its advantages, CentOS might not be the best solution in all deployment scenarios. Those users who prefer a distribution with the latest Linux technologies and newest software packages should look elsewhere. Major CentOS versions, which follow RHEL versioning, are only released every 2 – 3 years, while “point” releases (e.g. 5.1) tend to arrive in 6 – 9 month intervals. The point releases do not usually contain any major features (although they do sometimes include support for more recent hardware) and only a handful of software packages may get updated to newer versions. The Linux kernel, the base system and most application versions remain unchanged, but occasionally a newer version of an important software package (e.g. LibreOffice or Firefox) may be provided on an experimental basis. As a side project, CentOS also builds updated packages for the users of its distributions, but the repositories containing them are not enabled by default as they may break upstream compatibility.

  • Pros: Extremely well-tested, stable and reliable; free to download and use; comes with 5-years of free security updates;
  • Cons: Lacks latest Linux technologies; occasionally the project fails to live up its promise to deliver timely security updates and new stable releases
  • Software package management: YUM graphical and command line utility using RPM packages
  • Available editions: Installation DVDs and installable live CDs (with GNOME) for i386 and x86_64 processors; older versions (3.x and 4.x) also available for Alpha, IA64 and IBM z-series (s390, s390x) processors.
  • Other RHEL clones and CentOS-based distributions: Scientific Linux, Springdale Linux, SME Server, Rocks Cluster Distribution, Oracle Enterprise Linux (commercial)

CentOS 6.4


Mageia might be the newest distribution on this list, but its roots go back to July 1998 when Gaël Duval launched Mandrake Linux. At the time it was just a fork of Red Hat Linux with KDE as the default desktop, better hardware detection and some user-friendly features, but it gained instant popularity due to positive reviews in the media. Mandrake was later turned into a commercial enterprise and renamed to Mandriva (to avoid some trademark-related hassles and to celebrate its merger with Brazil’s Conectiva) before almost going bankrupt in 2010. It was eventually saved by a Russian venture capital firm, but this came at a cost when the new management decided to lay off most of the established Mandriva developers at the company’s Paris headquarters. Upon finding themselves without work, they decided to form Mageia, a community project which is a logical continuation of Mandrake and Mandriva, perhaps more so than Mandriva itself.Mageia is primarily a desktop distribution. Its best-loved features are cutting-edge software, superb system administration suite (Mageia Control Centre), ability to attract a large number of volunteer contributors, and extensive internationalisation support. It features one of the easiest, yet powerful system installers on its installation DVD, while it also releases a set of live images with either KDE or GNOME desktops and comprehensive language support, with the ability to install it onto a hard disk directly from the live desktop session. The distribution’s well-established package management features, with powerful command-line options and a graphical software management module, allow easy access to thousands of software packages. The unique Mageia Control Center continues to improve with each release, offering newcomers to Linux a powerful tool for configuring just about any aspect of their computer without ever reaching for the terminal.

While Mageia has been off to a flying start since it was established in September 2010, there is some concern over the developer’s ability to maintain the distribution over long term where much of the work is done on a volunteer basis. Also, it lacks the buzz and infrastructure accompanying some of the bigger and more profligate Linux distributions. The project’s documentation could also do with some improvement, while its 9-months release cycle can also be viewed as a disadvantage in terms of generating news and media excitement, especially when compared to other major distributions which use a shorter, 6-month development process.

  • Pros: Beginner-friendly; excellent central configuration utility; very good out-of-the-box support for dozens of languages; installable live media
  • Cons: Lacks reputation and mindshare following its fork from Mandriva, some concern over the developers ability to maintain the distribution long-term on a volunteer basis
  • Software package management: URPMI with Rpmdrake (a graphical front-end for URPMI) using RPM packages
  • Available editions: installation DVDs for 32-bit (i586) and 64-bit (x86_64) processors; installable live CDs for 32-bit (i586) processors

Mageia 2


Slackware Linux
Slackware Linux, created by Patrick Volkerding in 1992, is the oldest surviving Linux distribution. Forked from the now-discontinued SLS project, Slackware 1.0 came on 24 floppy disks and was built on top of Linux kernel version 0.99pl11-alpha. It quickly became the most popular Linux distribution, with some estimates putting its market share to as much as 80% of all Linux installations in 1995. Its popularity decreased dramatically with the arrival of Red Hat Linux and other, more user-friendly distributions, but Slackware Linux still remains a much-appreciated operating system among the more technically-oriented system administrators and desktop users.Slackware Linux is a highly technical, clean distribution, with only a very limited number of custom utilities. It uses a simple, text-based system installer and a comparatively primitive package management system that does not resolve software dependencies. As a result, Slackware is considered one of the cleanest and least buggy distributions available today – the lack of Slackware-specific enhancements reduces the likelihood of new bugs being introduced into the system. All configuration is done by editing text files. There is a saying in the Linux community that if you learn Red Hat, you’ll know Red Hat, but if you learn Slackware, you’ll know Linux. This is particularly true today when many other Linux distributions keep developing heavily customised products to meet the needs of less technical Linux users.

While this philosophy of simplicity has its fans, the fact is that in today’s world, Slackware Linux is increasingly becoming a “core system” upon which new, custom solutions are built, rather than a complete distribution with a wide variety of supported software. The only exception is the server market, where Slackware remains popular, though even here, the distribution’s complex upgrade procedure and lack of officially supported automated tools for security updates makes it increasingly uncompetitive. Slackware’s conservative attitude towards the system’s base components means that it requires much manual post-installation work before it can be tuned into a modern desktop system.

  • Pros: Considered highly stable, clean and largely bug-free, strong adherence to UNIX principles
  • Cons: Limited number of officially supported applications; conservative in terms of base package selection; complex upgrade procedure
  • Software package management: “pkgtool” using TXZ packages
  • Available editions: Installation CDs and DVD for 32-bit (i486) and 64-bit (x86_64) processors
  • Suggested Slackware-based alternatives: Kongoni GNU/Linux (desktop, free software), Linvo GNU/Linux (desktop with GNOME), Porteus (live CD with KDE or LXDE), Salix OS (desktop, live CD), VectorLinux (desktop), Zenwalk Linux (desktop)
  • Other distributions with similar philosophies: Arch Linux, Frugalware Linux

Slackware Linux 14.0


FreeBSD, an indirect descendant of AT&T UNIX via the Berkeley Software Distribution (BSD), has a long and turbulent history dating back to 1993. Unlike Linux distributions, which are defined as integrated software solutions consisting of the Linux kernel and thousands of software applications, FreeBSD is a tightly integrated operating system built from a BSD kernel and the so-called “userland” (therefore usable even without extra applications). This distinction is largely lost once installed on an average computer system – like many Linux distributions, a large collection of easily installed, (mostly) open source applications are available for extending the FreeBSD core, but these are usually provided by third-party contributors and aren’t strictly part of FreeBSD.FreeBSD has developed a reputation for being a fast, high-performance and extremely stable operating system, especially suitable for web serving and similar tasks. Many large web search engines and organisations with mission-critical computing infrastructures have deployed and used FreeBSD on their computer systems for years. Compared to Linux, FreeBSD is distributed under a much less restrictive license, which allows virtually unrestricted re-use and modification of the source code for any purpose. Even Apple’s Mac OS X is known to have been derived from BSD. Besides the core operating system, the project also provides over 21,000 software applications in binary and source code forms for easy installation on top of the core FreeBSD.

While FreeBSD can certainly be used as a desktop operating system, it doesn’t compare well with popular Linux distributions in this department. The text-mode system installer offers little in terms of hardware detection or system configuration, leaving much of the dirty work to the user in a post-installation setup. In terms of support for modern hardware, FreeBSD generally lags behind Linux, especially in supporting cutting-edge desktop and laptop gadgets, such as wireless network cards or digital cameras. Those users seeking to exploit the speed and stability of FreeBSD on a desktop or workstation should consider one of the available desktop FreeBSD projects, rather than FreeBSD itself.

  • Pros: Fast and stable; availability of over 21,000 software applications (or “ports”) for installation; very good documentation
  • Cons: Tends to lag behind Linux in terms of support for new and exotic hardware, limited availability of commercial applications; lacks graphical configuration tools
  • Software package management: A complete command-line package management infrastructure using either binary packages or source-based “ports” (TBZ)
  • Available editions: Installation CDs for AMD64, ARM/ARMEL, i386, IA64, MIPS/MIPSEL, PC98 PowerPC, SPARC64 and Xbox processors
  • Suggested FreeBSD-based alternatives: PC-BSD (desktop), GhostBSD (live DVD with GNOME)
  • Other BSD alternatives: OpenBSD, NetBSD, DragonFly BSD

FreeBSD 9.1


Copyright © 2013 copying and distribution of this entire article is permitted in any medium, provided this copyright notice is preserved.


Best Linux distro: five we recommend

In Depth Our favourites for productivity, ease, security, hacking and speed

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You might not have noticed, but there’s more than one Linux distribution out there. In fact, there are hundreds, and the list is growing weekly.Okay, you probably did notice, but the fact remains that the free software world is, primarily, one of choice, and that means developers can – and often do – scratch their own itches.When the people behind the Ubuntu-derived Mint distribution decided they didn’t like the direction the Ubuntu desktop was taking, its developers created their own desktop environment.

When Red Hat started to charge lots of money for its enterprise distribution, the CentOS project took the source code to those Red Hat packages and re-built versions that were binary compatible for free. There are countless similar stories, and all of them help to make the Linux landscape such a fertile one.

This also means that you don’t have to settle on a one-size-fits all distribution. There are ones for fun, for productivity and for online privacy, and there are no rules to say you can’t install more than one at once, and use different ones on different machines.

If you want to play with a distribution, many will boot from a live CD, or you can use VirtualBox to create a virtual version, neither of which requires much effort.

But before you get to that stage, you need to know which distributions are the best distributions, and for which occasions. That’s exactly what we’re going to cover now.

Best for productivity: Fedora 17

There’s usually one distribution you rely on more than any other. This is the distribution that’s going to be used day-in, day-out, and often for essential yet mundane tasks like email and writing documents. It makes sense for this distribution to be as streamlined, stable and secure as possible, while still providing software support for the latest features.

Fedora sports serious open source credentials, and each update skims off the cream of the latest updates and bundles them into a single, very well tested distribution.

The user experience is also as close to that of the original desktops and applications as possible, and Fedora scales to fit office spaces into the enterprise, with the likes of Red Hat and CentOS using it as a testing ground for stable releases.

The new release will also offer the best default user experience of the new Gnome desktop. With version 3.4, Gnome is finally able to put its teething problems behind it and start to engage with users again.

Fedora has been the one major distribution to throw its weight behind the new desktop, and as a result, it will be the one to choose for the best experience. Gnome is still the best integrated desktop, working well with applications such as LibreOffice and Firefox, so it will also be best for productivity, as well as experiencing the latest Gnome features.

One of the most interesting is the Epiphany browser, which has been given a new lease of life with version 3.4. It’s been promoted to a fully-fledged desktop browser for the new release, and integrated with Gnome’s various features better than either Firefox or Chrome.

Best for ease of use: Mint 12/13

Ubuntu is no longer the number one distribution on the influential DistroWatch site. It’s been surpassed by one of its offspring – the exceptionally talented Mint.

As Mint is built upon Ubuntu, it has a fantastic selection of default packages, and you get excellent hardware support and updates too. Ubuntu’s repositories are as close to a global Linux standard as one distribution can get, and that makes Ubuntu (or one of its derivatives) a brilliant choice if you just want to get on with running software rather than hunting down dependencies or playing on the command line.

The Ubuntu experience is still unrivalled when it comes to support and community involvement. If you have a problem (which is unlikely these days), you’ve got the best chance with Ubuntu that someone else had the same issue and solved it. It’s one of the best reasons for using an Ubuntu derivative.

But like some Linux soap opera, Ubuntu has switched from using the tried and tested Gnome desktop to something of its own creation – a desktop it calls Unity. This move split the community, which in turn put pressure on Mint to stick with Gnome. At the same time, Gnome went through a paradigm shift of its own, throwing out its OS X-like familiarity and replacing it with a full-screen, panel-based shell.

This left the Mint team with a quandary: stick with an ill-fitting Gnome upgrade, or go it alone. In the end, the developers made a brave decision. They took the best parts of the new Gnome desktop and re-built the parts the community liked from the old versions. The result was a new desktop called Cinnamon, which we think is the best of all worlds for the modern Linux installation.

Cinnamon is the reason we’ve chosen Mint as the foundation for our ease of use recommendation. It’s modern and still rooted in the old desktop. However, until the release of Mint 13 some time in the near future, Cinnamon needs to be installed through Mint’s software centre. This is as simple as searching for it and clicking ‘Install’. After the release of version 13, even this step should be redundant.

Best for hacking: Arch

Arch Linux has just celebrated its 10th anniversary, but only in the last couple of years has this DIY distribution started to gain some serious traction.

Compared to most other distributions, it has a tough learning curve that starts with its installation. There’s no graphical interface, and you’re expected to add and configure everything manually – from the interface to the sound server. It’s an old-school experience that brings a great feeling of satisfaction, as well as unrivalled knowledge of your system’s configuration and Linux in general.

Arch uses a rolling release cycle, rather than one or two major updates a year. This means that when you install Arch, you always have the latest versions of everything.

Every package is cutting edge, so your installation will surf as close to application and desktop releases as possible, without expecting you to compile the packages by hand. And while Arch can be tough, it’s nowhere near as complex as a distribution like Gentoo. Even a beginner could follow the excellent wiki instructions and come away with a working installation, and the community is one of the best and most helpful around.

The brilliant thing about Arch, and the reason we’d pick it for hacking and tinkering, is its community repository of packages. It’s not officially supported, but it’s massive and easy to contribute to.

The AUR also makes it very easy to install packages from their source code, install their dependencies and keep them up to date. This makes it perfect for experimentation, and for grabbing the latest high-profile releases.

Arch will also be our distribution of choice when we finally get hold of a Raspberry Pi, so a little time invested in learning the basics will pay off when you get hold of some interesting hardware, and you’ll learn a great deal about Linux too.

Best for security: Tails 0.10.2

If there’s one thing Linux does well, it’s security, but it’s often not easy, and creating a byte-tight installation takes plenty of manual intervention. This is where a live CD of a pre-configured Linux makes a lot of sense, and Tails is our current favourite.

The big advantage of using Tails is that it boots into a Tor-enabled desktop. Tor is an anonymity network, and it works as a kind of random multi-stepped VPN, where your internet connection passes through a variety of machines before appearing somewhere random, theoretically making it very difficult for anyone to re-trace the route back to your IP address. As soon as you open the browser, you should be browsing anonymously.

Tails includes many other tools to help with security and privacy. LUKS, for example, can encrypt your storage. Your email, instant messaging and standard browsing can all be protected using a variety of other plugins, safeguarding you from potential changes in the local configuration, and because Tails is a live CD, as soon as you reboot or shut down your machine, all traces of your session are removed.

Tails even takes care to blank your memory at shutdown, so there shouldn’t be a single electron of data remaining. This makes it the perfect choice when travelling, or for those times when you need to use an insecure network to transfer some secure data or access your banking details.

Best for speed: Bodhi

From the boot menu, you get to choose from a selection of desktop configurations, from bare bones to a design for netbooks, as well as an overall theme. Less than a second later, everything is configured.

This speed and minimalism come from a desktop called Enlightenment. Bodhi is one of a new breed of distributions that opt for its efficiency and minimalism over the perceived bloat of KDE and Gnome. As a result, Bodhi has modest system requirements without sacrificing features.

The Midori web browser, for instance, is very quick, and because it’s built on WebKit, it can render the vast majority of sites to the same standard as Chrome and Safari. General applications also boot quicker due to the distribution’s low memory footprint, and the desktop doesn’t try to do anything clever.

You can’t tell by looking at it, but Bodhi is built on Ubuntu, so you have access to the same broad selection of packages. There’s also a good selection of packages that can be installed with a single click from the web browser. Just point it at this site and click ‘Install’ – Bodhi will handle the rest. This even works from the live CD.

Due to its Ubuntu foundations, making a permanent installation is also simple, and there’s excellent hardware compatibility. Just click on the ‘Install’ icon in the toolbar and answer the few remaining questions. It normally takes less than 10 minutes to go from clicking the icon to a full-blown installation, so there are no excuses if you’re looking for the ultimate speed upgrade to your Linux distribution.


Choosing a Linux Distribution

If you’re new to Linux you’ll face a choice between some unfamiliar distributions. In this article we try to de-mystify those choices.

So many options

When you’re creating a server instance you have to choose what Linux distribution you want to run. Fortunately the distributions all share a lot of common functionality. They mostly differ in presentation and focus.

Primary considerations

When you look over this list of distributions bear in mind what kind of server you want to build. A production server needs to be stable and reliable, while a server you’re just running for fun gives you more leeway to play with newer software and features.

Any of the distributions will run most software you need. They can all run web servers, database servers, and application servers – the standard “LAMP stack”. They’re all Linux and they all have access to software package repositories containing thousands of programs put together with that distribution in mind.

Finally, consider your level of Linux administration expertise. The distributions near the beginning of this list tend to be more friendly to new admins than those later in the list. Not coincidentally this mirrors the general popularity of each distribution as a server OS.

Quick rundown

First let’s look a brief overview of each distribution we offer to help you narrow down the field.

Ubuntu focuses on being user-friendly and offering newer software versions.

CentOS emphasizes stability and enterprise software compatibility above cutting-edge features.

Debian is similarly conservative with a focus on tested and stable software, but with easier access to a repository of newer but potentially less stable packages.

Red Hat is the best choice when you absolutely need the maximum level of enterprise software compatibility but it costs an extra license fee.

Fedora is laid out similar to CentOS but offers a newer and broader variety of software packages.

Gentoo gives you obsessive control over every aspect of the system and how the software it runs is compiled, making it good for people learning to program for Linux.

Arch is targeted at people who are comfortable running a Linux server and want more control over the server’s inner workings.

With that, let’s look at each distribution in more detail.

The distributions

Some of these distributions are based off some of the others. Many share a package manager (CentOS, Red Hat, and Fedora use “RPM” packages while Ubuntu and Debian use “APT” or “.deb” packages). There are, in short, a lot of interrelations in the Linux world.

These similarities mean that you usually can’t go wrong. At worst some tasks will take a little more work than others, so don’t stress too much over your choice of distribution. Whatever you pick you should be fine.


Ubuntu has a reputation for ease of use, which helps explain its popularity on desktops and servers. Ubuntu also helps users keep up with the latest software versions by releasing updates on a regular schedule.

The drawback of frequent updates is that it’s harder to keep bugs from slipping into the mix. To this end Ubuntu releases an LTS version periodically, which stands for “Long-Term Support”. The LTS version uses package versions that are considered more stable than cutting-edge, making it more suitable for use on a production server than the interim Ubuntu releases.

If you’re completely lost as to which distribution to run Ubuntu LTS is a safe place to start. Its widespread adoption means there are several forums and sites on the Internet that provide help resources for Ubuntu users.

Ubuntu uses apt as its package manager.


CentOS is a distribution that emphasizes reliability. It replicates Red Hat Enterprise Linux as much as possible, omitting only the non-free components of that distribution. That means CentOS is a very stable distribution and is well-suited to production environments. It also tends to be compatible with enterprise software, though it’s not always officially supported by software vendors.

The price of stability is that the software versions included with CentOS are rarely the latest and greatest. The packages included with CentOS have been tuned over time to work out as many bugs and security flaws as possible.

CentOS uses rpm for its package manager.


Debian focuses on stability and security in its official releases. In that respect it can be similar to CentOS, using older packages with proven track records. The reliability of Debian is such that several other distributions (such as Ubuntu) build on top of Debian releases.

Debian provides an “unstable” repository for ambitious server admins looking to incorporate newer software releases into a Debian installation without sacrificing the stability of the rest of the system.

Debian uses apt as its package manager.


Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) is aimed at enterprise-level servers. That means it’s stable and handles heavy loads well.

The price for reliability is, in this case, a literal one. RHEL requires an additional license fee to Red Hat to access their non-free software components and updates.

The main reason to use RHEL would be if you’re running a software package that has RHEL in its list of supported operating systems. This usually means enterprise software – heavy-duty stuff aimed at larger businesses. If you’re spending that much on your software you’ll want to make sure you run it on an OS that lets you get support from the software vendor.

If you aren’t running software that requires RHEL but want to take advantage of its reliability you’ll usually be fine running CentOS instead. RHEL is worth the extra cost when it gets you vendor support or if you want to be able to take advantage of support from Red Hat itself.

If you don’t know if you use enterprise software then, well, you probably don’t. Use another distribution for now and you can switch later if you decide to migrate to software that requires RHEL.

RHEL uses the rpm package manager.


Fedora was originally the free version of Red Hat’s Linux distribution. Red Hat still sponsors the distribution but while Red Hat’s current distribution is very conservative in its package choices Fedora focuses on including cutting-edge software. The release cycle for Fedora is a short one as they continually update to newer software packages.

Fedora is a good choice if you want to have easy access to new software versions soon after release. Fedora is popular as a desktop distribution and for hobbyists learning Linux but it’s still a strong server distribution.

Fedora uses the RPM package manager.


Gentoo is an unusual distribution in that its default behavior is to compile installed software itself instead of grabbing precompiled packages. This means that Gentoo can be intimidating for new system administrators and can take a while to set up (compiling takes time).

If you know what kind of compiler options are best for your environment then Gentoo can allow a level of system optimization that’s difficult to achieve in other distributions. You can configure system default compiler options as well as set them up on a per-package basis so they’ll be used when the package manager updates and recompiles software.

Gentoo is a great choice if you want an environment that forces you to learn more about Linux programming, or if you’re a very knowledgeable system administrator who wants fine-grained control of every aspect of the system. Otherwise you’re probably safer trying a different distribution.

Gentoo uses the emerge package manager.


Arch is a system administrator’s distribution with its own design philosophy, the “Arch way”. It’s an approach that makes sense once you start learning how they’ve laid out the system but it can be a bit daunting if you’re new to Linux administration.

If you’re an experienced system administrator and want some good low-level control over how programs run on your server, but don’t want to get into the level of detail and complexity Gentoo offers, then Arch can be worth trying. If you’re new to system administration you may want to try another distribution for now. You can always take a look at Arch later when you’re more comfortable.

Arch uses the pacman package manager.


That should give you a general idea of what distinguishes one Linux distribution from another. It’s by no means a comprehensive examination of the distributions involved. You can get more information from their respective web sites.

Fortunately all these distributions are still Linux, so all have a baseline of performance. The distributions that don’t emphasize stability aren’t unstable, it just means there’s a possibility they’ll contain bugs that wouldn’t be in a more conservative distribution. Similarly, if a distribution emphasizes stability it doesn’t mean the software it runs is ancient – it just won’t include the newest bells and whistles.

If you’re having trouble deciding just try them out. It doesn’t take long to rebuild a VPS with a new image so experiment a bit before settling on one and installing software in earnest. You might even have fun – tinkering with an instance you know you can rebuild at any time is surprisingly liberating.

Once you pick your distribution you can visit our Knowledge Center for help setting it up or go to the distribution’s web site to view their official documentation.


Selecting A Linux Distribution

Which is the Best Linux Distribution for your Desktop?

Which is the best Linux distribution for your desktop? Whether you are a beginner, a gamer or a Windows user who wants to try out Linux, here’s a guide that help you choose the right Linux distro.

Linux today comes in several different flavors or distros as they are known in Linux circles.Some Linux distributions are light-weight (they’ll run just fine on your old laptop), some are targeted at people who just want to try out Linux without replacing their main OS while other desktop distros (say Ubuntu) include a more comprehensive collection of software applications and also support a wide variety of hardware devices.

Choose the Right Linux Distro for your Desktop

Ubuntu, Xubuntu, Xandros, Knoppix, Fedora, openSUSE etc. are just some of the popular Linux distros but you’ll be surprised to know that there exists over 650 active distros in the world according to DistroWatch, a site that tracks the popularity of various Linux distributions.

Determining the perfect Linux distribution that will meet your requirements can therefore be a difficult task so here’s a handy guide that lists different scenarios and the Linux distros that will be the most appropriate for each of them.

Related reading: How to Install Linux on a Windows Computer

1. For people who just want to try Linux out

Live CD distributions like Knoppix boot directly from the CD-ROM so you can try out Linux without you having to install anything on your computer. The user can run many different software applications and he may also save documents / files created during a Live CD session to persistent storage like a hard disk or a flash drive.

A Linux Live CD can also be used in situations when your windows has crashed and you want to save your existing data on another media before reinstalling windows. The only problem is that such distributions tend to run slower than fully installed Linux distributions.

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If you aren’t too happy with the speed of a Live CD, you can use a Wubi to install the Ubuntu Linux distro on your Windows desktop. Wubi allows you to install and uninstall Ubuntu on your computer just like any Windows application. As compared to other Linux distributions, Ubuntu has got a fixed release cycle and support period and a wealth of both official and user contributed online documentation.

There’s another interesting option as well – you may install Linux in a virtual environment and run it alongside other Windows /Mac applications. Virtualization software like Virtual PC (Microsoft), Virtual Box (Sun) or VMare can be easily used for this purpose. Just download the Linux ISO (or use the Linux installer CD if you have one) and follow the wizard to set up your new Linux virtual machine.

2. For people who are new to Linux

Among the GNU/Linux desktop distributions, Linux Mint provides an ease of use and elegance not seen in other distributions. Linux Mint is is based on Ubuntu (which itself is based on Debian) so users have a large collection of software programs and packages to choose from. If something works for Ubuntu or Debian, it’ll probably work on Linux Mint as well.

Linux Mint CD comes with a utility called mint4win that will let you install Linux on your Windows computer on other partition without touching any of your existing setup. The performance won’t be that great but you can easily uninstall Linux from your Windows PC using the Add/Remove applications tool within Windows.

Ubuntu (Desktop edition) is also a great choice for Linux users who are beginners. It supports a wide-variety of hardware devices, has a standard release cycle (every six months) and, if you don’t have a great Internet connection, you can ask Ubuntu to ship you installation DVDs for free anywhere in the world.

OpenSUSE (Novell) and Fedora (Red Hat) are other popular Linux distros for the desktop that are both free and user-friendly.

Among the commercial distros, Xandros Home Edition is perhaps the most useful Linux desktop operating system for newbies. Xandros includes CodeWeavers CrossOver so you can easily run Microsoft Office, Adobe Photoshop and many other Windows applications inside Xandros.

3. For installing Linux on old computers

Puppy Linux is a Live CD distribution that has a small installer and will run just fine on computers with RAM as little as 64 MB. Puppy Linux can boot from several media including USB flash drives, CD or a zip drive. Puppy Linux will run totally in RAM so make sure you save the modified personal files to a disk else you’ll lose the changes when the system shuts down.

Xubuntu, a variant of Ubuntu is also a possibility. Xubuntu uses xfce, a desktop environment that uses less system resources than GNOME that comes with the Ubuntu distribution. Xubuntu versions are released twice a year, coinciding with Ubuntu releases.

antiX is another good choice for old computers – it should run on systems that were considered slow when Windows 98 was released (like the Pentium II series). Damn Small Linux and Zenwalk are other variations that have minimal hardware requirements.

4. For using Linux at work

Redhat Enterprise Linux and and SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop (formerly known as Novell Linux Desktop) are the front runners in the business category of Linux distros. Traditionally though, Redhat has concentrated more on the server market than the desktop market. Xandros Desktop is another choice except that Xandros is a small company and most business organizations would prefer to deal with large stable vendors.

Red Hat Enterprise Server, SUSE Enterprise and Ubuntu Server are possible contenders for deploying Linux on server machines. Some factors that go in favor of Red Hat are extensive security updates schedule (7 years), large number of new packages included in the distro and a strong training and certification program which is very useful for organizations that do not have in house skills.

5. Linux for Netbook computers

Netbooks are like your regular notebook computers but with small screens, they consume less power but also have less powerful hardware. Linux distros that are suitable for running on netbooks include Ubuntu Netbook, Moblin and Jolicloud.

Ubuntu Netbook requires an Intel Atom processor. If you already have a Ubuntu installer, you can install the desktop version of Ubuntu on your netbook, change the default repository to point to Ubuntu Network Editor repository and then install the relevant packages.

Jolicloud is suitable for running on low-powered computers that don’t have enough memory or storage space. The interface of Jolicloud is gorgeous and different from all other Linux distros. It is based on Ubuntu so any app that works with Ubuntu will run on Jolicloud as well. You may install Jolicloud alongside your Windows OS or download the ISO to install Jolicloud on a separate partition.

Moblin, another Linux distro from netbooks, was initially a project of Intel but is now part of the Linux Foundation. You can run Mobile from a live USB image or you install the OS on to the netbook. Going forward, Moblin and Maemo* will merge into MeeGo and will be available for download in Q2   ’10.

[*] Maemo is Debian Linux based software platform from Nokia.

6. For power users who want control

Arch Linux is a recommended distro for power (experienced) users as it allows them to create a customized Linux installation built from the ground up. It does not have a graphical install interface.

Once the Arch Linux installation is done, there is no post-install account creation or login manager screen. Instead, there is a screen full of configuration files that have to be tweaked to suit the network and system configuration. This allows the user to tailor the system from the ground up as compared to a ‘user-friendly’ distro where one would get a standard set of packages and will have to remove the ones that are not needed.

Slackware is another distro that deserves mention in this context. As compared to Arch Linux, Slackware Linux provides more stable packages and is thus more conservative. However, Arch Linux provides a more usable package management system that takes care of dependencies.

Slackware third party packagers on the other hand, have to ensure that everything is included in the package or available for download from the same web page. It is the oldest surviving Linux distribution. Since Slackware philosophy is to use vanilla packages, it tends to run faster than other distros.

References and Resources:

  • List of Linux distributions – We only touch a dozen Linux distros but this Wikipedia article will provide you detailed information (including screenshot images) of all popular Linux distributions.
  • Netbook Distros – Detailed comparison of netbook oriented Linux distributions.
  • Linux Distribution Chooser – This is a web based wizard that will help you find the right Linux distribution for your needs.
  • Comparison of Linux distributions – You can compare the various Linux distros from a technical point of view like what processors they support, what is the base distribution, etc.
  • Linux Releases – This page tracks the upcoming releases of various Linux distros.
  • Linux Gaming – If you use Linux for playing games, this article has a list of popular video games that are currently available for Linux.