The Best Linux Distribution?

Posted by ajt on Fri 10 Jun 2005 at 08:28


According to the Linux watching web site, DistroWatch, there are more than 400 Linux and BSD distributions currently available and active. Many of these exist with many versions, giving thousands of possible options to choose from.

The question often arises "Which one is the best?". As with many simple questions, it does not have a simple answer. Typically, if you ask five random Linux users, you will get five different and conflicting answers. This short opinion piece is my contribution to the debate.

Avoid The Dead and Unsupported

It is wise to avoid a distribution that has died: if no one is developing and maintaining the distribution it may be missing many desirable features and will almost certainly have defects. Modern security software is absent from older distributions, and these distributions have well known defects that are easily exploitable. The Internet is no longer a safe place and there is no excuse for running an old and insecure distribution, when there are safer ones to choose from.

Some people advocate some of the older distributions/versions because they will run on older or lower specification hardware. However there are plenty of modern, secure and supported distributions that are specifically designed to run on lower specification hardware. For example Debian based DSL will run on a system with only a 486DX CPU with only 16Mb of RAM.

The Right Tool For The Right Job

Some distributions are general purpose, others are customised, a few are highly specialised. While specialised distributions, for example firewalls, or forensic system; are excellent at their allocated tasks, they make poor general purpose operating systems. Do not choose a specialised distribution unless you actually want to use it the way it was intended. Conversely a general purpose distribution can be used in a specialised role, but it will not be as efficient as a dedicated distribution.

Your Favourite Is Probably Best

I strongly feel, that the best Linux distribution is the one that you like the most. I personally like Debian best: I know it the best and I find it easiest to use. My first distro was Red Hat and I found it hard going on my own. Later a friend suggested Debian, and with his help I made very quick progress. Now my familiarity with Debian means that Debian always comes out top in any comparison I do: to be better, an alternative distribution needs to be outstanding. I have used Red Hat again since using Debian I have even had formal Red Hat training and while Red Hat is a fine distribution, I still prefer Debian.

Related Distributions

Naturally you will find that different versions of the same distribution and a distribution based on another one, feel quite similar - common parentage does show through. For example ubuntu is a desktop distribution based on Debian. At a technical level they are very similar, but ubuntu has a simplified installer and a strong desktop focus.

Remember You Can Change Your Mind

Remember that unlike proprietary operating systems, it is usually very easy to switch from one distribution to another one, if you feel like a change. If you have the space then, it is worth having more than one computer, so you can try out several different systems without disrupting you current system.

  • Version 1.00-rc-1 / June 2005
  • As ever, many thanks to the many people who have helped, in particular V. E. Kerguelen.



Posted by wouter (195.162.xx.xx) on Sat 11 Jun 2005 at 03:43
The purpose might be important too. If you want to install Linux and expect a full MS-like desktop with office applications that maintains itself without much interactions, you might pick a different distribution than when you really want to learn the nuts and bolts of unix/posix based systems.

Distributions such as Slackware and FreeBSD are excellent to really learn unix-like systems on, because they provide enough to get you started without too much graphical stuff, too difficult dependencies or too complex packaging and integration. They stay out of your way when you experiment with compiling, installing and updating software, and allow basic system setup without too fancy tools.

If you want to drill down to the basic level, you could continue with LFS, Rock Linux, Gentoo, and other source distributions, which require a lot of work for both you and your processor(s)...

If you rather care about getting your non-os desktop work done, SuSE, (ex-)Redhat, and perhaps Ubuntu -- which I haven't tried yet -- might be among the most popular desktop distributions that don't require too much knowledge and interaction.

And if you need a general purpose distribution, well, you probably know what you are looking for and don't need to be told.

All the distributions I mention are just examples really, there are many other options for each purpose, nor do these distributions limit themselves to one audience. Choosing a distribution is probably like choosing a car or even a partner, there's nobody who can make the choice for you -- just as ajt already said in the article.

PS: I think Debian itself is not so easy to categorise, as it plays on many fronts and attracts many different kinds of people, both users and developers. Guessing based on Debian users I know, Debian seems to attract quite a lot of advanced users and admins who grew tired of over-fiddling and compiling, and who want to have a stable, reliable and secure OS to develop software or run services on without having to spend too much time on the system itself (but obviously having that option open).

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Posted by Anonymous (193.237.xx.xx) on Sat 11 Jun 2005 at 09:01
"I think Debian itself is not so easy to categorise"

The article is generous. Aside from very specialised distros for say wireless routing devices, in the general desktop/server world I think there is not a huge choice.

You either buy from a big supplier, with some support guarantees and a track record (Redhat / Novell/ Ubuntu?/ Turbolinux?/ few others). Or you go Debian and accept there is no "big company" behind it - although more and more will offer support - see also what Bruce Perens is up to.

Not sure what FreeBSD is doing in a discussion of Linux distributions - hey if we are going there why not MacOSX).

For getting work done we went with Redhat at work. But Redhat discovered there isn't a good business model in building stuff that is used by others for free. As a result we have a load of boxes on RH9, no supported upgrade path.

RH OSes are pretty buggy compared to Debian stable/testing, so support is pretty desirable if your doing complex stuff - big Oracle apps say.

As such we are going Debian everywhere now, and if there is no new release for 3 years, well I'll spend three years doing more important stuff than messing around at the OS level, building new systems, migrating stuff from MS Windows, and improving service monitoring facilities, tightening security, and basically doing stuff that makes our business more reliable and responsive.

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Posted by ajt (82.133.xx.xx) on Sat 11 Jun 2005 at 10:27
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I included BSD, and Mac OSX counts too, they are all Unix like, and run an alwful lof of the same stuff. They key thing is that many distos are actually quite good, and that it's really a personal thing as to which is best for you.

Regarding your support points, Microsoft is a massive company but their support sucks, Debian isn't a company, yet I've had more luck getting support than I ever did with Microsoft. I thought I new Windows NT well, but I realise now that I knew virtually nothing. With Debian I feel that I know more about Debian than I ever did with Windows, but more imporantly I'm still learninging. -- Adam

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Posted by ajt (82.133.xx.xx) on Sat 11 Jun 2005 at 10:20
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I agree that distro "A" may be better than "B" at a given task, but in the end I think it's personal perference that is more important than the actual distro.

Only when you are equally skilled in two distros is it possible to discriminate, even then I think it's hard to be equally skilled and it's hard to remain detached and even handed.

What I really wanted to say in this piece, is that it's really a personal thing, and as you say "there's nobody who can make the choice for you". Once you know something well, it's always easier to prefer the familiar. -- Adam

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Posted by Anonymous (60.49.xx.xx) on Tue 21 Jun 2005 at 06:47
aLinux OS is my favorite. Forget Mandriva, Ubuntu & Mepis. If you want something that just works for all your needs, plus comes on a small single CD, get your hands on this baby, you wont be disappointed. Nuf said.

[ Parent | Reply to this comment ]

Posted by Anonymous (81.133.xx.xx) on Tue 6 Dec 2005 at 05:20
Mentioning ALINUX. Using as of today alinux12.6. I find it
the most usable desktop distribution ever. For everything
that it comes with and running, I cannot believe it's speed
is so zippy and runs very efficient.

There website is ugly when viewed with Microsoft Internet
Explorer. In OPERA and Netscape it looks ok though.

Excellent Linux OS.

[ Parent | Reply to this comment ]

Posted by suspended user tong (69.158.xx.xx) on Tue 17 Jan 2006 at 16:18
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<blockquote>Debian seems to attract quite a lot of advanced users and admins who grew tired of over-fiddling and compiling, and who want to have a stable, reliable and secure OS to develop software or run services on without having to spend too much time on the system itself</blockquote>

Couldn't agree more. That why I choose Debian testing when sarge was not stable and now Debian stable (yeah, sarge all the time) -- no time to play with the OS, everything just works, and have my job done. Execellent.

In other words, I know how to fix my car. But I'd rather dirve it to do site seeing rather than staying at the same place fixing my car. I want to spend as less time on my car as possible. Debian suits my goal in every aspects.


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Posted by Anonymous (80.248.xx.xx) on Wed 17 Jan 2007 at 13:58
Really tight analysis!!
I have been using linux for up to 2years now. Actually started out with redhat 9 as most people had and switched over to FC3 but found it so buggy. I cleared it out of my system and never returned it.

Presently, I'm using slackware which I love for its simplicity and stability. I have tried a couple of other distro though like RHELv4, Ubuntu, Gentoo, FC, Redhat9, DSL... but still found slackware to be really reliable in terms of performance(speed and response),ruggedness and stability.

Now the only problem you would have with Slackware is if you are not connected to the internet, upgrading an application could be problematic. A few days ago I was trying to upgrade my gtk version from 2.2 to 2.10 on slackware9 and "good-Lord" it was like he* b/cos of the various dependencies- cairo,atk,glib relied on.

Well anyone who wants the same effect you would get from slackware(reliablity ruggedness and stability)-not sure about performance- with simplicity and less stress should go for DEBIAN 3.1... That is the distro

Talking about the best distro could be conversial because Linux is a kernel which every other distro uses. What determines the edge each distro has over the other is the purpose of the distro and user's testimony.

NB: Benchmarking security is not really rational because that depends on a lot of stuff like your policy, administrator's knowledge, and even your applications though some distro try to add some security policy like RedHat's SeLinux,PAM...but all that can still be taken care of in other distro like slack, debian....

For Server
FreeBSD,Slackware,Debian and Gentoo will be apt
For Workstations
RHELv4, Suse enterprise will be good b/cos of third party application support
For Desktop
Ubuntu, Linspire,Mandriva, Memphis,Xandros....

Well all this is my opinion. Once more it all depends on u the user.

[ Parent | Reply to this comment ]

Posted by shufla (83.30.xx.xx) on Sat 11 Jun 2005 at 12:49
"If you have the space then, it is worth having more than one computer, so you can try out several different systems without disrupting you current system."

Of course you could always use QEMU to "feel" new distro. (Right now I'm testing sarge ;))

[ Parent | Reply to this comment ]

Posted by ajt (82.133.xx.xx) on Sat 11 Jun 2005 at 19:47
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I hadn't thought of using QEMU or another other kind of virtualisation tool as my current PC is too old and slow, but that's a good idea for any modern PC. -- Adam

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Posted by Anonymous (68.12.xx.xx) on Sun 12 Jun 2005 at 02:11
I have tested in Fedora, Mepis, Ubuntu, Kubuntu, Slackware, Minislack, Slax, Klax, SuSe, Linspire, Damn Small, Knoppix. Out of all I like the Debian Distros the best; Mepis, Knoppix, Damn Small. Debian seems the easiest all around! I like Klax and rpm's seem to get the job done easier than sources and tar balls. That said sources are the best way to learn more about your OS so take advantage of GNU/LInux Open Source and look under the hood with Slax, and LFS. All GNU/Linux is good but IMHO Debian is the best for newbies and the general public. I have converted a few technophobic people to Mepis(Debian GNU/Linux.) Yes I mean people who really have technophobia. They are grumbling the whole way but it helps that I volunteer my time to help them (Gpled in house training) only for friends or highly interested paries. The Neophites are becoming quite fond of Mepis and the Debian repository.

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Posted by Swynndla (210.54.xx.xx) on Sun 12 Jun 2005 at 21:31
When I made the switch to linux, I wouldn't have survived if it wasn't for the support I received ... mainly from IRC. Sure, the live-cd to hard-drive installs make life a lot easier, but I still needed a lot of support.

If I look at the number of people in some of the debian-based freenode IRC channels, then #ubuntu wins with 513 chatters, then #kanotox with 70, #mepix 39, and #knoppix 37. Based on that, perhaps someone new to linux would get the most support from ubuntu (although I went with kanotix and I've received great support).

[ Parent | Reply to this comment ]

Posted by Anonymous (200.74.xx.xx) on Tue 14 Jun 2005 at 02:42
You could also consider going to a forum (like where there are many more users per distribution than in IRC (if your numbers are correct).

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Posted by saist (24.214.xx.xx) on Wed 15 Jun 2005 at 12:42
actually, that's a little inaccurate.

I presume you are reffering to Freenode?

Keep in mind that mepis support is split between #mepis and #mepislovers

There are also deciated language channels for #mepis if you are not a native english speaker.

while there is some crossover, e.g. I hang out in #mepis and #mepislovers, there are many who do not list in both channels. And it also can vary depending on the time of day.

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Posted by saist (24.214.xx.xx) on Wed 15 Jun 2005 at 12:44
okay, full channel listing:

#mepislovers - channel for mepislovers
#mepis - original Mepis channel
#mepis-security - mepis security
#mepis-es - for the spanish users
#mepis-fr - for the french users
#mepisitalia - for the italian users
#mepis-fi - for the finnish users
#mepis-dk - for the danish users

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Posted by Anonymous (207.179.xx.xx) on Wed 15 Jun 2005 at 02:17
I'd have to say that Debian is my favorite too.

and as far as support goes uhhmmm... this is the site. Linux in general is great like that. Free support for free software, ain't it cool? I use Kanotix64 and get support from the developer who distributes it, for no charge and very quickly. I also donate as much as possible. There are just more support options available to the competent user with Linux. Folks who want an appliance experience will use something else.

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Posted by ajt (82.133.xx.xx) on Wed 15 Jun 2005 at 19:50
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I think the key is once you have a favourite it's your favourite, which is a subjective judgement based on your experience. It's hard to compare something that is your favourite with something else, because the comparison isn't balanced.

When you know nothing, the best distro is the one you can get help for, see the following article for my comments on that. I've had a lot of help with Debian from friends and my local LUG. I've progressed further and faster with Debian, than I did unaided with Red Hat, because of the help.

Personally I've found the Debian community very warm and helpful, and unlike the Windows community I think the help has been good. With hindsight I'm better able to judge my Windows, Red Hat and Debian experiences, and Linux is leagues ahead of Windows for community support, and I feel that Debian is better than Red Hat.

To each his own...!

"It's Not Magic, It's Work"

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Posted by Anonymous (66.81.xx.xx) on Fri 17 Jun 2005 at 07:06

Not true in my case, nor that of many folks I've dealt with (though YMMV).

I began my GNU/Linux experience with RH 4.2 (out of a book at a bookstore...), tried a few other distros intermittantly, and made the switch to Debian in 1999. I'll add that I'd had some 10+ years of intermittant Unix experience prior to going RH, and my first impression was "this doesn't suck". However I subsequently discovered that Debian sucked much, much less....

My current Linux experience is with RH, SuSE, Mandrake, RHEL, FC, TurboLinux, and Ubuntu, with exposure to most over several years and for weeks to months in both server and desktop roles. I've also worked with the leading proprietary Unix distros, FreeBSD, and OpenBSD. In particular I've run and/or administered RH 4.2, 5.0, 5.2, 6.0, 6.2, 7.0, 7.2, 7.3, 8.0, and 9.0. Ever since discovering Debian, RH and RPM-based distros have been an extensive pain.

I chose Debian initially because it did more with less work, was more configurable, and both facilitated and extended understanding of Linux in general. I've stayed with it for ease of customization (package install/removal) and upgrading.

My policy with tools (OSs, distros, shells, remote admin tools, mailers, browsers, window managers / desktops, languages) is that I try to learn my current tool, but also keep an eye out for new offerings, and try these out as they seem appropriate. If there's a compelling advantage to a new entrant, I'll make the switch. If not.... I have been somewhat impressed by Ubuntu's polish, though I'm reserving full judgement until the distro's proven its longevity and success in meeting its goals. I also find that to a good approximation, Debian-based distros have an awful lot in common, including most of the good bits of what makes Debian Debian.

I only wish other distro advocates were as concientious in their assessments.

Karsten M. Self

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Posted by Anonymous (203.150.xx.xx) on Thu 16 Jun 2005 at 08:49
I have used Debian based distros, but I am back to Mandriva.
Most comfortable for me.

[ Parent | Reply to this comment ]

Posted by ajt (82.133.xx.xx) on Thu 16 Jun 2005 at 19:50
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Remember the whole point is "what ever is best for you, IS best for you". If you like Mandriva, who am I to change you to Debian?

"It's Not Magic, It's Work"

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Posted by Anonymous (201.130.xx.xx) on Wed 19 Oct 2005 at 11:40
Don't be a wuss."Who am I am to change you to Debian?" Your a freakin sys admin with plenty of opinion, experience, and perceived wisdom. Push more for people to get this distribution. Yes there are other distributions that have glitz, and millions of dollars thrown at them to make them pretty, but dammit, this is a very good community and awesome distro. Don't be so spineless and politically correct you ass kisser. Just say it like it is. People will respect you more, and you may find that you sprout some hairs on your chest and you actually get a hard-on when a hot babe walks by. Oye! Be a man, not some twit that is afraid to speak the truth. You really pissed me off! Grow some balls!!

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Posted by Anonymous (90.169.xx.xx) on Sat 11 Sep 2010 at 10:19
You must be American.

[ Parent | Reply to this comment ]

Posted by Anonymous (186.111.xx.xx) on Wed 6 Apr 2011 at 01:13
Totally agreed. A Classic American (tm) stanza. Wake up!!! Refraining from spitting whats good for you as the end-of-it-all-for-everyone has nothing to do with "growing balls".

No wonder you are all over the world messing in other's people homes.

[ Parent | Reply to this comment ]

Posted by Anonymous (82.146.xx.xx) on Thu 16 Jun 2005 at 10:52
The best one is the one that the person uses who you will ask the most questions.

[ Parent | Reply to this comment ]

Posted by Anonymous (65.5.xx.xx) on Thu 16 Jun 2005 at 16:33
Dunno. I used to think the best one was the one that came in the back of the big thick book you go buy at a local bookstore... Of course, I had some opinions on which books were best too :)

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Posted by ajt (82.133.xx.xx) on Thu 16 Jun 2005 at 20:12
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With wide broadband availablility I think a book+distro is less important, though that's not to say you shouldn't buy a book. If you are new to Linux, starting with a book is probably less common now than it use to be.

See also my follow up article: The Best Linux Distribution For Users New To Linux. -- "It's Not Magic, It's Work" Adam

[ Parent | Reply to this comment ]

Posted by Anonymous (70.104.xx.xx) on Thu 16 Jun 2005 at 16:14
Considering many of them are starting to cost money if you want documentation and phone support.

I'll have to go for..


Great Windowing Enviroment
Great packing support
BSD stability

[ Parent | Reply to this comment ]

Posted by Anonymous (172.209.xx.xx) on Thu 16 Jun 2005 at 18:07
Debian is a free download, support from the community is free, and the entire distribution is free/libre/open source software. The documentation is freely available with the distribution or on the internet. Why would you need phone support?

Only someone with a vested interest in proprietary software would make such a comment. Afraid for the future value of your Apple/Sun/Microsoft shares perhaps?

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Posted by ajt (82.133.xx.xx) on Thu 16 Jun 2005 at 20:23
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Debian is free to download, and the community around it is utterly amazing - my LUG in particular is very pro Debian. There are also plenty of other fine GNU/Linux distibutions to choose from that are also free.

Some people do like to pay someone to hold their hand. Some people - like my father - need someone to set them up and get them going - I set him up for free out of my own time. There is nothing wrong with making money from selling books, training and installation help.

I agree that making something in a closed manner which forces people to be reliant on commercial support, and creates vendor lock-in is very bad for the consumer.

-- "It's Not Magic, It's Work" Adam

[ Parent | Reply to this comment ]

Posted by Anonymous (142.213.xx.xx) on Thu 16 Jun 2005 at 19:50
- Is one that you can live with day-2-day once installed (presuming you could get thru that part). And that will cover a vast majority - if not all - of typical desktop operations (or server if that's the case).
- I think it's time that distro producers (corp or profit-free) branded theirs with desktop / server / appliance / other... as to not confuse the newbie looking for a home replacement OS and winding up with Slackware (which is great for a techie - but not for aunt Gertrude).
- Also site like DistroWatch and others should then test / rate them with a set of criterias :
i) ease of install
ii) ease of use
iii) functionality
iv) updateability
v) security
... etc.

Personally - I've used debian-based for over 5 years now (Storm, Corel, Linspire, and recently Xandros (all versions).
I've experimented with others : Fedora Core, Vector, Slax, DSL, GreyCat, Peanut, ..., Mandrake, Suse, Slackware, Ubuntu ... some of these were very good, others should be for serious technos (and for PCs with tons of power).
-> None measured up to the simplicity and functionality of Xandros (for the desktop).

For the server - Suse, RedHat, Debian, and Slackware seem to do the thing for my needs.

I hope some day soon we can find a way to better classify/rate to give everyone a better chance of experimenting and finding the one that suits their needs.


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Posted by ajt (82.133.xx.xx) on Thu 16 Jun 2005 at 20:38
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I think that manay people are quite capable of using pretty much any modern OS: Windows; Linux; MacOSX or Unix. The problem is that most people can't install or administer any of these systems.

While ease of installation is important, I know my father couldn't install Windows XP on his computer - no matter what Microsoft say, it's just not viable. To be honest he isn't interested in administration, and again he isn't capable of doing it. What he and MANY people want is an appliance that just works, and someone else (me in his case) looks after it.

Anyone who chooses to install an operating system on their computer has by definition some technical ability. Having installed Red Hat Enterprise, Debian Woody and Sarge, and Windows 3.x, 95/8, NT/2K, I can honestly say that I rank Windows at the bottom for ease of install. The weird thing is that Linux installation is something you only do once, it keeps running after that, and if you stick to a Debian, you don't even have to reinstall to upgrade.

So while ease of installation is important, I think it's not that important in the big picture. Getting over the myth of installation complexity is important. Good installation and configuration does take some skill, no matter how good the installer is, and how sound the defaults are.

"It's Not Magic, It's Work"

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Posted by Anonymous (66.81.xx.xx) on Fri 17 Jun 2005 at 07:48

I've made my own (stiill-in-progress) stab at the "which GNU/Linux distro" question .

I see the answer as revolving around a few key points:

  • What do you (or your support team) know? You're going to have a better experience with a distro or platform you know, over one you don't. I'd strongly recommend you at least give a cursory glance at alternatives (solution blindness is an endemic disease), but if you have very strong competence with solution A and none with B, weight A accordingly.
  • What's mainstream? For the reasons you state, it's good to avoid either unsupported or likely-to-be-unsupported distros. Not that a niche distro can't be hellatiously useful -- look at LNX-BBC, Knoppix, Trinux, Tom's Root Boot, and LTSP. But for a general service desktop / server / workstation / embedded system, you're likely looking at Debian, Red Hat, or SuSE, as primary choices, possibly Gentoo, Mandrake, and Slackware as extended options.
  • What matches your goals? Distributions have a philosophy and goal, either explicitly or implicitly stated. This goal drives the organization which produces the distro, and will affect your own use of it. I've seen users of many technology products (not just Linux distros) burned when it became apparent (and often long after) that the product's goals and theirs either didn't match, or were unsustainable.
  • What are your technical / organizational requirements? If the Word From On High is that Distro X or Application Y (which only runs / is supported on Distro X) is mandated, them's the breaks. If you aren't so constrained, evaluate your technical needs and competencies with the capabilities and/or requirements of a given distribution.

While I've also settled on Debian and Debian-based GNU/Linux distributions, I'm also cognizant of the relative merits of other distros. RH and SuSE in particular largely offer benefits of marketing budgets and specific ISV / VAR relationships. SuSE's also joined at the hip with IBM for mainframe deployments. OpenBSD is a decent secure platform for web appliances and general servers. Others offer various YMMV specific benefits.

Karsten M. Self

[ Parent | Reply to this comment ]

Posted by ajt (82.133.xx.xx) on Fri 17 Jun 2005 at 21:08
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Nice Site!

I agree that often company/site requirments outweight personal perferences, however that doesn't stop you from running what every you like at home.

At the end of the day, it's all about choosing the right tool for the right job. Remembering that the personal familiarity is important.

If you are a new user then it's important to pick something you you can get help with.

"It's Not Magic, It's Work"

[ Parent | Reply to this comment ]

Posted by Anonymous (52.159.xx.xx) on Fri 24 Jun 2005 at 13:13

knoppix. excellent support. no hd install needed. just works. for me it was the best start, because you can experiment, it has the latest and again, it just works (old system, new systems, whatever). once i felt confortable i tried ubuntu. im staying with that for now. excellent support as well and does what i want. just my 2c.

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Posted by suspended user phil (83.235.xx.xx) on Tue 5 Jul 2005 at 08:24
Speaking of Knoppix - I actually started on DamnSmallLinux, which is probably not usually thought of as a beginner's distro because it can be a little fiddly to do some things (though it is getting easier with each release). This was simply because it was a small download over a slow connection.

Now I've graduated to Debian Sarge mainly to do the big things on (rebuild kernels; learn more; stability & ease of package management), but the DamnSmall experience was invaluable BECAUSE there was no alternative but to learn some basics in order to get things done on it. I ended up learning quite a lot of bash scripting, building extensions and remastering etc.

DamnSmall running all from ram with dma enabled is faster than Sarge or Knoppix for a lot of tasks and in general is noticeably more responsive. Surfing on DamnSmallLinux this way with the tiny Dillo can be very fast indeed. It's also highly configurable these days and easy to restore (even encrypt with triple-des) your selection of files & applications or remaster your own cd with just the extra applications you want ready to go.

Now I tend to find Knoppix heavy and bloated Cf. DamnSmallLinux (just too much of everything, and sluggish running off the cd) and imho Konqueror as a file manager sucks. So for a hard disk install I stick with Debian Sarge (using some of the light applications that I learned to love on damnsmall, BTW, such as emelFM and Dillo). But for a livecd, I say reach for DamnSmall. True, it is a 2.4.26 kernel, but for the type of things I use it for I'm not sure if 2.6.x would make that much difference.

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Posted by ajt (204.193.xx.xx) on Mon 18 Jul 2005 at 11:44
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Live distros like Knoppix and gnoppix/ubuntu are excelent general purpose tools. I think they are an ideal way of showing someone what Linux is capable of, on their own computer.

They also make for good diagnostic/forensic tools too. There are plenty of small specialised live distos to choose from, one for every eventuality.

I wouldn't use a live distro to do an install, as I prefer the flexibility of a standard install, and then selecting my own packages. However to each their own.

"It's Not Magic, It's Work"

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Posted by Anonymous (80.244.xx.xx) on Sun 24 Jul 2005 at 10:54
polish is running on Debian

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Posted by Anonymous (12.104.xx.xx) on Thu 28 Jul 2005 at 18:18
A new service is on the horizon. Fans of Linux who want to try all the different distros to decide on the best one are in for a treat. A new service called Distro of the Month is set to begin shipments on October 1, 2005 and is taking subscribers now. Several Linux distro's are reportedly onboard with this new distribution channel. The experimenter in many Linux junkies has been waiting for a service like this and now they can have their Linux Distro of the Month and their Coffee of the month at the same time.

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Posted by nycace36 (66.6.xx.xx) on Wed 30 Nov 2005 at 21:40
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Actually, would categorize the various "Best Linux Distributions" within three graduating levels. Some popular examples:

A. The Smaller liveCD distros, 50-180MB in size which can fit on a mini-CD.
- DSL,, based upon Debian
- PuppyLinux,, based upon LFS
- Slax,, based upon Slackware

B. The Larger liveCD distros, up to 700MB in size which give a full-featured Linux on one CD w/o hard drive installation.
- Knoppix,, based upon Debian
- MEPIS,, based upon Debian

C. The gamut of fully-installable Linux distros on one or more CD's
- Debian GNU/Linux, of course
- The currently popular Ubuntu, based upon Debian
- Xandros,, based upon Debian
- Linspire,, based upon...
... you guessed it, Debian
(hmmmm, a common theme of these previous four)
- Slackware,
- Gentoo,
- Fedora Core, based upon RedHat

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Posted by mindmerge (66.218.xx.xx) on Sat 8 Jul 2006 at 16:36
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My personal opinion... for what it matters. ;-)

For specialized projects, locked down desktops, fast, stable, and minimal servers...


For package selection (oh my...), for useful sample configurations and awesome documentation to go further with those sample configs, because of the social contract...


Many more good points could be made for each but let's not dwell...

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Posted by davidwillis (70.58.xx.xx) on Mon 24 Jul 2006 at 21:28
I would like to see what you think would be the best linux for me.

I want one where I can install it without too much trouble(this is not a big deal, because I don't think any of them are too hard), and can install new software, and upgrades without too much work. Also, I would like to be able to run windows programs in it, maybe with wine but not sure. I am fairly capable, but don't have the time to learn all the ins and outs of linux. I have run 3 versions so far, slackware (one of the first on my 486), redhat 7.0, and I am currently running Linspire. I like linspire, except I don't have the CNR service, and so it is not easy to install and upgrade software. I was going to install wine on it, but there is no c compiler and I don't know how to install one. I was able to figure out how to install Opera, and Firefox, but it took more time than I would have liked. I am sure I could figure it out with enough time, but I just don't have it to spend.

I am thinking about Ubuntu, but I don't want to keep going through all the distributions until I find one I like.

Any input would be great.

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Posted by mindmerge (66.218.xx.xx) on Tue 25 Jul 2006 at 05:58
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I can really only tell you what I prefer and what I have been told from cohorts...

I love.... Slackware. I really dig Debian. In the same respect I always have Slax and Knoppix readily available... I'm not a one linux distro / OS kind of guy... ;-)

A developer buddy of mine is using Ubuntu (redhat convert) and he is very happy with it. It's apparently the distro of choice at my mother's work.

Another buddy of mine prefers Slackware... though he came from an sgi / sun background. His place of employment had a contract with Mandrake...

I personally think that with what you are trying to accomplish in the short term Ubuntu is your best bet.

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Posted by davidwillis (70.58.xx.xx) on Fri 28 Jul 2006 at 22:30

I tried running the live cd's, but the ubuntu/kbuntu were really slow, and would freeze up. I was able to run the live cd's of kanotix, and simply mepis ok. from what I did with the live cd's, I liked kanotix the best, but decided to install ubuntu to see what it was like. The install was very easy, and went good other than my computer would go soo slow on the live cd. It took me a good 30 min to get to through the initial 6 questions before the install started. Once that started it went great. The operating system is very easy to use, and figure out. Even though I have always liked kde, I really like how easy ubunti is. The only thing I am having a problem with is when I run XSane it gives me an error message about my officejet 6110. I set it up as a printer, and it prints, but for some reason it can't scan with it. I haven't started getting inot running wine, or an emulator to run my windows apps that I need. The think I really like about Ubuntu is that it is so easy to add new programs, or up-grade.

Even though I am very happy with ubuntu, I am also considering looking at Arch, Kanotix, debian stable, and pcbsd (I know it isn't linux, but it looks interesting). I would like to hear what people think of these.

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Posted by mindmerge (66.218.xx.xx) on Sat 29 Jul 2006 at 07:26
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I generally like to run 'testing' at home and 'stable' at the office... though who doesn't "borrow" packages from testing from time to time.... or perhaps source...

Is this pc for learning... primary desktop... server... ?

I've made the mistake of using my primary desktop as my learner box... and blowing it up... Easy enough to rebuild... if not repair... yet the time wasted and wanting for additional 'online' documentation is a bit frustrating... because why rebuild it if you can fix it... eh?

Likewise... don't run 'testing' on a production web server whether it is personal or not. I also enjoy looking at my netcraft uptime stats but I am not concerned with 99.9999999% uptime... I am happy with 350+ days a year... I would rather use less wattage (it's in my closet) and update regularly so my max uptime is perhaps 14 days... ;-)

Debian - I find the Network Install CD ISO (stable) to be very convenient and versatile.

I've installed Ubuntu a few times just to play a little with new hardware... then I will install production stable distributions like slackware or debian.

It really is based on personal preference so unfortunately your going to have to play with a few to see what you like.

Good luck... and have fun ;-)

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Posted by Anonymous (66.30.xx.xx) on Thu 24 Aug 2006 at 05:13
Great thread! I really enjoyed reading this. Thanks for the contributions from everyone who has posted.

I'm already an Ubuntu fan... I started off 3 or 4 years ago with RedHat (like most), a few other forgetable distros, then Debian. Debian was very user-friendly. The install was much easier than RedHat. The Apt system is much, much better than the RPM system for my uses (thanks to the Debian community)... After that, many of my University classes the next year really didn't require Linux... and though I still loved the OS, I didn't have the time to even mess around with it. Classes can be very demanding :).

I uninstalled linux for a year or so, and after that was going to re-install Debian, but found out about Ubuntu. When I installed that, it was such a surprising Linux distro... very easy to use and manageable. Because it is a Debian derivative, it is easy for me to learn, but it has a few features that improve upon Debian. I was about to install Ubuntu tonight, but thought I'd read up on it since I am too lazy at the moment to install a dual boot Ubuntu/WinXP on my new laptop at the moment.

Anyways, this was a very informitive and interesting thread to read.


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Posted by Anonymous (72.93.xx.xx) on Tue 26 Dec 2006 at 18:34
I read thru this thread in trying to find a better distro than ubuntu, hoping to find one that would do what windows does simply through the GUI, rather than having to launch terminal and run commands. I have much expreince with windows 9x OSes, but had virtually no experience with linux. Wanting an alternative to windows (and being a tweaker) i obtained ubuntu. The install went smoothly, and it configured my NIC card and most other things fine, but a major problem was getting it to automatically mount my fat32 windows partions (2 other HD's, 4 partitions). I tried the terminal commands in forums, but would have to run commands manually every time in order to mount them. It seemed this should be done by default, as in windows and Knoppix. Hopefully debian will, which i hope to download. And how easy is it to install programs on that distro?

I much favor the concept of linux, and hope one day it can give windows a real run for users.

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Posted by suspended user madzero (68.238.xx.xx) on Sun 29 Oct 2006 at 21:38
I also had training in Red Hat. I felt the process of installing packages was limited by RPM's, that is, there seemed to be no control over the process. Debian has gained my favor over SUSE and RH, as well as Fedora Core. I still run Solaris 10 on a Sun Blade 150 for database work. That machine will be changed over to Debian soon.

Machines I have Debian installed in : Sun Ultra 30, Gateway laptop w/Turion 64.

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Posted by mathenge (38.99.xx.xx) on Mon 21 Jul 2008 at 14:50
I started using Linux with Slackware, back in the late 90's. I'm not a computer expert but I think I'm technologically advanced. Years of tweaking and building Slackware systems taught me a lot. The one main thing that I agree with this well written article has to do with ease-of-use. I became very comfortable with Slackware but the time and effort to maintain the system was getting expensive. I moved on to Red Hat (when it was free) and found different problems. My main beef with Red Hat is it's Windows-wannabe attitude. Because I really don't understand GNOME or KDE that well, doing simple things like organising menu items is quite frustrating. My current choice is Ubuntu. For my particular use, a system that pretty much maintains itself, updates itself, upgrades itself allows you to hunt for and install software easily is a huge bonus. Even though I think that GNOME and KDE are heavy and clunky there's enough benefit from having GNOME around to keep it on my desktop. Is it likely that I'll switch again? Well, the last upgrade from Ubuntu 7.10 to Ubuntu 8.04 almost left me in tears. The upgrade killed my system and I had to go for a clean install. However, this is the first time that this has happened in over three years of Ubuntu use. I keep throwing side glances at Novell's SuSE for a couple of reasons. I like the fact that Novell has done great things with OpenOffice, especially with Excel macro compatibility and there's a move to open up 64-bit versions of flash/shockwave and the Citrix client (which only runs on 32-bit).

One last comment though. It's been said that many Linux users love the system because it's free. That may be so for some, but I think that in general, Linux users are technical and Windows is limiting and closed and frustrating for the really technical user. However, with a lot of Open Source software now ported to both Windows and Macs, and with the huge push to virtualised environments, Windows is actually fun to use. I read a story recently about a not-for-profit organisation that moved it's web environment from a LAMP (Linux/Apache/MySQL/PHP) implementation to Microsoft Sharepoint/IIS 6. The reason being that the original Linux developer had moved on and now updates to the system were costly. In addition, only technically competent users could make updates to the old system, however with the new system, anyone could do it. As far as they're concerned, the cost of the new system is eventually going to be lower than if they'd kept the old system. Personally, I don't think that I've saved any money over the years using Linux. I've had a lot more fun though.

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Posted by Anonymous (190.210.xx.xx) on Thu 14 May 2009 at 23:08
Not an expert, tried lots of distributions, selected those easier to install/deploy and maintain.
I like Debian as a File server with lampp or xampp. Have a couple of servers used by windows clients, very much reliable, one year + without reloading.
Prefer Mepis (which is also Debian based) for wokstation purposes.

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Posted by Anonymous (68.98.xx.xx) on Mon 8 Feb 2010 at 02:03
Their are primarily two schools of thought in the GNU/Linux OS build world; though their exist an extensive gray area and unique standalone build concepts, within the greater community, generally speaking theirs Debian builds and derivatives and Red Hat builds and derivatives.

These difference generally involve the package management system, which is a collection of tools to automate the process of installing, upgrading, configuring, and removing software packages from a computer and resolve an track package dependencies.

Structurally, from a meat and potatoes point of view their is no difference. For the most part they all use much of the same core equipment; such as, a Linux kernel, x-server (be it xfree86 or xOrg), desktop environment brought to you by Gnome, KDE, x11 or what have you, and a package library which is virtually identical except for minute changes necessary for their respective distro.

Debian and variants uses the low level tool 'dpkg' for '.deb' packages, high level tools such as 'Apt/Aptitude' and the GUI 'Synaptic' for package management.
Red Hat and variants employ the 'RPM Package Manager', in conjunction with utilities as 'YUM' and 'Zypp'.

Another area of "perceived" difference, is purpose. "Deb" initially was design to be an open source answer to MS 'WindowsXP', where "RH" was an open source targeted answer of MS 'Windows NT'. Though such conceptual difference in design are less pronounced today than they were 10 years ago.

Finally, a personal critique, "RH" builds tend to be corporate ventures into the open source community, while "Deb" builds tend to exist entirely in the open source community with fewer propriety intersections.

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