With Linux Source code available to all, the universe of distros available for download and installation is vast. Ranging from fully supported enterprise solutions, to lightweight distros developed by a lone coder in his basement, the time has come for a comprehensive list of available options!
A Distro for Every Taste and Purpose
With the source code open to all, the sheer number of available Linux distros illustrated in this chart is not surprising at all. Yet the very fragmentation of the market can make choosing which distro a challenge, especially for someone not too familiar with Linux. Lucky for you, we experts here at Brighthub have toiled for years to become the one-stop-shop for all things Linux. Different variants are optimized for one function or another, a user who wants a desktop environment similar to Windows is unlikely to profit much from a variant designed for the hard-core programmer. How each distro got to be the way it is depends on what the original source code was used for, and what each distro's programming team decided to optimize it for over the years. Knowing the lineage of the different variants can point you in the right direction as well as a review can.
The Big Boys: Enterprise Solutions
Suitable for any company ranging from a small business to a multinational conglomerate, Linux Enterprise solutions offer greater computing power and security than other available options. Popular Enterprise distros include Red Hat, Open SUSE, CentOS, and Ubuntu Server Edition. Typically, they are the only Linux distros a user should expect to pay for. It's not the software your paying for, we all know you're not supposed to charge for an open-source program, it's the support. Companies like Oracle have earned billions giving their Linux enterprise systems for free while profiting off the service fees. Being open source programs, they have the advantage of enabling a potential user to download and test the system at no cost before committing to a service plan, a very attractive feature considering the many thousands that must be paid up front for comparable IBM or Microsoft systems. It is possible to trim corporate IT costs to almost nothing if you choose to use a free (though unsupported) version of Ubuntu Server, Open SUSE or Centos. Non-experts should be wary of this choice, however, as users will be dependant on user forums for support.
Popular Desktop Versions
Desktop Linux distros are fully functional operating systems that offer similar capability to Windows or Mac. The many features of these systems means that the user can either run one on a single PC with a partitioned hard drive, or replace the OS the PC came with one of his own choosing. A user shopping around will soon notice that most are offered either as Gnome or KDE. These are the two most common GUI desktop environments employed in Linux desktops. The look and feel of each is slightly different, and certain programs are native to each. Gnome is closer to Windows in behavior, so it is probably better for first time users. KDE evangelists, however, never get tired of listing reasons why KDE is better. Most distros are derived from one of three vintages: Debian, Slackware or Redhat. In addition to the core Debian distro, variants include Ubuntu (covered in a different section), Dreaminux, Damn Small Linux, Kanotix, LinEx, and MEPIS. Red Hat used to be a very widely used desktop distro, but in recent years only Red hat Enterprise bears the actual name. Fedora is a Red Hat derivative still managed by the Red Hat Team, however. Mandrake was once very similar to Red Hat, though it has since evolved into the more distinct Mandriva Linux. Slackware is actually the oldest Linux lineage around, being very similar to Linux as it appeared when Linus Torvalds first released it. While some critics say Slackware should cease development on account of its relatively archaic architecture, there is a stable pool of users who appreciate its simplicity and stability. Common Slackware variants in use include Frugalware, KateOS, and SLAX.
Ubuntu: So Easy Even a Windows User Can Figure It Out
Constantly updated, well supported, and easy to use, Canonical's popular Ubuntu Linux lives up to its motto of ''Linux for human beings''. It is the only distro widespread enough to merit its own section in our roundup. It is the perfect Linux Operating system for a first-time user to get his feet wet with Linux. The list of freely available programs in the add/remove section covers just about every computing need. Need something that isn't in the repository? it's a simple command-line exercise away. Ubuntu combines an intuitive graphical interface and easy to navigate architecture, while retaining the customization and command-line options that users can make good use of once they become more accustomed to advanced Linux functions. Other common Linux distros like Debian and Fedora share many features in common with Ubuntu, so once some familiarity is gained with it, it becomes easy to try other versions. As such, it is the perfect ''Gateway Linux''. It is even released in both GNOME and KDE editions.
Why Toss Your Old Computer Away when a Lightweight Distro Can Add Years to Its Life?
Lightweight distros are useful in extending the lifespan of old computers. While most machines running on a chipset of Pentium 4 or even Pentium 3 vintage can run most full-scale desktop distros, even antique machines can be made to run blisteringly fast with some of the bare-bones Linux distros out there. The production of ever smaller operating systems has resulted in the creation of fully usable operating systems under 100 megabytes in size. DSL, or Damn Small Linux, takes up only 50 megabytes. Tiny Core takes up only 10 megabytes, although its limited functionality makes it more of a proof of concept release than anything else. Puppy Linux is the smallest distro that will provide a wide range of uses, it is the smallest distro to have access to the vast debian software repository. In addition to their usefulness in old machines, lightweight distros run perfectly as a live disk. Super-small options like DSL, Tiny Core, and Puppy Linux take mere seconds to boot. You can even create a fully portable OS installed on a 4 gig (or smaller!) USB drive. With a few gigs of memory put aside on the flash drive, you can carry a desktop environment with you and customize security preferences without the hassle of carrying around a laptop!
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Author: Larry Ewing
The original Tux, the official Linux mascot created by Larry Ewing in 1996: Permission to use and/or modify this image is granted provided you acknowledge email@example.com and The GIMP.
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