The amazing creative frenzy that characterizes Linux is both a blessing and a curse: a blessing in providing a multitude of different Linux distributions to choose from, and a curse in providing a multitude of different Linux distributions to choose from.
The great thing about any general-purpose Linux, such as Debian, Red Hat, Slackware, Fedora, Gentoo, and so forth, is any of them can be tailored to serve any need: server, firewall, desktop, engineering workstation — it’s all there to do with as you need. But this array of choices is rather bewildering — how is a hardworking geek to know which one to use?
Some of us like to download and install every new distribution as soon as it becomes available, and tune and tweak it until it runs like a fine watch. Then chuck it all in the bitbucket for the next Kewl New Linux.
Contrariwise, as odd as it sounds, there are normal people who have actual work to do, who want to skim past installing the operating system as quickly as possible and leap straight into doing productive things, like build servers and write emails and and type letters and edit images and so forth. Fortunately, Linux caters to all types of users.
Libranet Debian: The Champion
This is my #1 Linux distribution for a number of reasons. Libranet is Real Debian with a number of useful enhancements: an excellent installer with first-rate hardware detection; the Libranet Adminmenu for system administration, including things like configuring sound, configuring kernels, and installing MS True Type fonts; and the Libranet Safe Update archive. This allows users to install the latest packages without breaking their systems. Even with all the enhancements and additions, Libranet is 100% Debian-compatible.
Why use Debian, or a Debian-based distribution? Debian gives the ultimate number of choices: it supports more hardware platforms, and is translated into more languages than any other distribution. It has four, count ’em, four different package repositories to satisfy everyone from bleeding-edge users to the extremely cautious. It also divides package repositories into Free and non-Free, so that users can easily choose for themselves while still getting the full benefit of Debian’s superior packaging and updating system.
Debian’s famous apt-get and strict packaging quality control means that installing and removing programs is ridiculously easy- all dependencies are resolved for you. Making the computer do the work, what a concept. You may upgrade a Debian system indefinitely, without ever having to do a complete wipe-and-reinstallation.
Xandros is the ultimate desktop Linux for users who require a lot of Windows compatibility. It comes in a number of different editions. The Deluxe edition comes with goodies like Crossover Office (for running Windows applications), easy file-sharing with Windows networks, CD and DVD burning from inside the file manager, excellent hardware support, and encrypted home directories. The Business edition comes ready to authenticate into a Windows NT domain or an Active Directory domain, which is no small thing because doing this from scratch is a fair bit of work.
Both Libranet and Xandros come with limited installation support included in the purchase price. For additional support you’ll have to rely on user forums and online resources, which are quite good. If you need more than that, take a look at Novell/SuSE. Novell offers a complete product line made of blended Linux/Netware/Groupwise/etc., from the desktop to the server room to network services, administration, and monitoring. Novell will happily sell you all the support services you can take.
But What About…
Red Hat? Red Hat is great, and like SuSE delivered a high-powered, reliable 64-bit edition years before Microsoft. Fedora? Too bleeding-edge for mission-critical machines, but perfectly serviceable. Gentoo? If you must spend days compiling it’s a slick way to build a system from sources. Slackware? Pure Linux without fripperies. Ubuntu? Kubuntu? Kanotix? Simply Mepis? Yellow Dog? Linspire? Mandriva? Well….underneath they’re all the same Linux. The primary differences are in the installers, included packages, and graphical utilities and interfaces. And philosophical differences, but the bottom line is you really can’t go wrong with any of them. So even if you fall in love with some sweet young Linux, only to have your heart broken when it turns out to be a mere flash in the pan, everything you learned is applicable to other Linuxes.
Take a stroll through DistroWatch to learn more about the many zillions of available Linux distributions.