Going With Linux? Make the Right Distro Choice. - Page 3

 By Bruce Byfield
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6) What are the options for software, security and updates?

On Linux, software is usually installed via packages, or collections of files and scripts for automatic configuration. A few use archived files, and some individual pieces of software use third party installers, but most use a packaging system. The most popular packaging systems are .rpm and .deb, both of which check for other software you’ll need to run a package and offer to install it for you.

This installation is generally done from package repositories on the Internet. Many distributions maintain separate repositories for security updates. As a result of this system, after installation you may never do a complete system upgrade at any one time. Instead, you may do a series of small, regular ones.

Before committing to a distribution, check the software in the repositories. Some smaller distributions may have a limited selection, especially if they use a non-mainstream packaging system. They may still have all the software that you need, but you need to know upfront.

Check, too, how the distribution handles security updates. Is there a mailing list that announces bugs and updates? If the distribution is commercial, do you have to pay for updates? Is the distribution in touch with other projects like the Apache web server, so that users receive the earliest possible notice of security problems?

You might also want to search the Internet to try to get some sense of how quickly the distribution responds to known problems.

7) How easy is the distribution for desktop users?

The majority of distributions provide some sort of desktop for non-expert users. Many even include themes and desktop wallpaper that will make casual users believe that they are using Windows. However, a few like Mandriva and Ubuntu make special efforts to provide user-friendly tools.

You should also be aware that some distributions make a philosophical point of shipping only non-proprietary software. In such a case, if extras like Java, Flash, or Acrobat Reader are important to your business, you'll need to install them separately, no matter how easy the distribution is to use otherwise. Search a distribution's web site or CD image, and you can often find a list of software that is installed.

8) What other specializations do you need?

With all the available distributions, Linux offers something for everybody.

Need a version to run on a USB flash drive? Try Pen Drive Linux, or search the websites of larger distributions for do-it-yourself instructions. Want to coax every ounce of speed from your hardware? Try Gentoo, in which every program is compiled for the hardware it's one. Need to maintain different versions of the same software? Then try rPath Linux or any of the other distributions based on the Conary packaging system.

Chances are, a web search on your requirements plus "linux" will reveal at least one distribution with a ready-made or easily customizable solution.

Conclusion: Auxiliary Apps

After you've considered these questions, you should be able to narrow down the distributions you actually want to test. When you're ready, you may be able to download a Live CD for your preliminary tests. A Live CD is a version of a distribution that boots from a CD, allowing you to test the software without making any permanent changes to your system. Just remember that even the latest DVD drive is slow compared to a hard drive, so you can't judge performance from a Live CD.

These days, the differences between distributions are narrowing. Most distributions that you test will have much the same choice of software: KDE and GNOME for desktops, Mozilla Firefox for web browsing, and OpenOffice.org for office productivity. By definition, a distribution is a collection of software made by other projects and, no matter how specialized, its unique or selective features are only a small percentage of the total package.

However, that small percentage can often greatly affect the user experience. A distribution designed for older hardware, for example, might use the less familiar Ice Window Manager for a desktop, or AbiWord for word processing.

More importantly, just as with any software, the policies and procedures and structures behind a distribution can be as important to your adoption as the contents. Do your due diligence, and you'll have a better chance of finding a distribution that fits your needs.

Article courtesy of Datamation

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This article was originally published on Mar 16, 2007
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