__ Brownyworld: Linux Distributions, which one
is for me?
As I hear again and again, especially from professionals working on
Windows and not being interested in Linux:
"It is confusing, there is not one Linux! How can you trust a thing
Well, it is true, there is not one Linux, there are many. But the good
news is, that they are highly specialized and... they are all Linux,
meaning that they share a underlieing base, called the GNU tools.
Now since Linux is modular, much more so than Windows, the components
can be put together in many ways, focusing on one or the other
functionality. Just downloading the components, compiling them and
putting them together is a lot of work. This work is done by the
distributors and the result is a distribution.
Here a list of distros, what they are specialized on:
(Mind you, this list is far from complete, but it sums up the major
Is probably the best known and one of the oldest Linux distros. It used
to be totally free, around 2002 or so, RedHat decided to go fully
commercial, creating RedHat Enterprise Linux. The source is still GPL,
but they cater to the needs and wants of enterprises, offering support
(which is most important to enterprises when it comes to software)
The old RedHat distro has been released for community support and
renamed to Fedora.
RedHat is a synonym for Linux for most people, since it is most
recognized. RedHat is marketleader in Linux server sales.
SuSE, a german company, was bought by Novell in 2004. SuSE Linux has
always been special in the way that it deviates in my oppinion farthest
from the "normal" Linux core, not requiring the command line to do
anything. The result is a totally user friendly Linux, automating
everything. The result is a strong competitor to Windows, since it
follows the same philosophy, but the drawbacks being complexity and
Currently, Novell is pushing SuSE to be the future enterprise desktop,
an area where RedHat lacks product power in my oppinion.
Debian is for me the core of all Linux and years ago, when I met
somebody using Debian, I did not get the idealism and enthusiasm that
it was revered with. I did not get what apt-get was all about then and
how clever it really is. (If you don't know yet, see here.)
I had the impression that Debian was only used by Linux cracks that
thought that any kind of fancy UI was evil. I was far from the truth of
course, since many things in Debian save you a lot of time compared to
Debian comes in three flavours, stable, testing and unstable. Stable is
what it says, boring and old, as any robust software is. Testing is
going to be the new stable and unstable is the cutting edge, newest of
the newest stuff, expect breakage and new features all the time to drip
And then there was Knoppix. The first time I came in contact with
Knoppix must have been at a networking seminar at IBM, when a teacher
offered CDs of Knoppix to "try stuff on Linux". He could not just wipe
the classroom machines and install Linux on them and said that Knoppix
runs fully just from the CD... What a cool idea that is. Imagine that
you can still use your system, right after you had your hd break. Pop
in Knoppix and boot from it, complete with browser, OpenOffice and lots
of tools. That was long before BartPE and I saved countless NTFS disks
with Knoppix, after Windows XP recovery tools told me that it was
Knoppix now moved over to DVD, including about 4 Gbyte of compressed
software, which comes up to about double that much in reality. And I
believe that any professional should have a disc handy.
Just when you are having trouble with a NIC or USB controler in
Windows, it pays to see if it is a driver problem or a hardware
breakage. Get a second oppinion with Knoppix.
I remember arguing with the teacher then that you would have problems
running Linux on some boxes and he told me that I should go and find a
system that Knoppix would not run on and he was absolutely right. It is
It is just about crazy on how much different hardware Knoppix will run
and it beats Windows in hardware recognition and with that I mean, no
driver installs allowed. Knoppix has it all out of the box.
(exception: wireless cards and analog (win) modems are still a roya
PITA, unfortunately the manufacturers are to blame for that, changing
chips on a weekly basis and withholding vital information and drivers from the Linux community.)
Now Ubuntu is the new kid on the block and you might have heard about
it. The one with the funny name. Well, Ubuntu makes big competition to
SuSE for being very userfriendly and easy to install. It is, in fact,
easier to install for anyone than Windows XP. There are no questions
about networking, package selection. You just need to say your
username, machine name and all things go automatic. It also does it a
lot faster than XP by the way.
Ubuntu is the perfect example why the Linux desktop really does work and is the next big thing coming.
Ubuntu is based on the Gnome desktop environment, which is "dumbed"
down for normal users, meaning that some things are not configurable
and do not confuse or occupy normal users. This can mean less support
cost, since users cannot mess around with the GUI.
The development of Ubuntu is driven by Mark Shuttleworth, a
South-African enterpreneur millionaire that shares the view that the access to high
tech information systems should not be restricted by the "wallet" and
financial capabilities of an individual. He has rightly analyzed that
while Linux is highly distributed and used on servers, it is very weak
still on the desktop. Enter Ubuntu, debian based and really easy to
use, desktop oriented. As an enterpreneur, he also sees the
business side of it, the "what is is good for in the end" and "how can
it boost efficiency and reduce cost".
Basically the same as Ubuntu, but with the KDE environment as desktop.
It is a matter of preference, which one you choose. I personally prefer
KDE more, since it seems more intuitive to me, especially when you come
from Windows. Refering to the paragraph above, you might want to have
everything configurable and set things exactly as you like them. If you
want this, Gnome can be highly irritating. You might end up asking a
colleague that knows his way around Gnome about it and he might simply
reply "you can't configure it and you are not supposed to!"
I always shake my head. Unbelievable! I definitely did not leave Windows to have less control.
But then, I am a power user, definitely not your run of the mill normal user.
I am always amazed of how many devices are already running Linux, without anybody knowing it.
Here just a short list:
TomTom navigation devices
Lots of firewalls
Windows, with its restrictive and expensive license is loosing big time
there. The minumum hardware requirements for Windows are going up every
year and many times only the modular built Linux can be customized to
do only one thing, instead of bringing with it all the extra bagagge
that Windows seems to need. You definitely do not need an internet
explorer in a router.
this document was created on: 21. Nov. 2006 updated on: 21. Nov. 2006