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Linux: Choosing The Right Distribution For Your Needs

written by: YvetteDavis•edited by: J. F. Amprimoz•updated: 7/6/2011

With all the available Linux distributions, finding the one that fits your needs can be a challenge. But, with careful attention to several important points, it doesn't have to be a nightmare.

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    Which Distro Is Best?

    Open source has opened up many doors, and created an abundance of Linux distributions to choose from. A lot of new Linux users assume all Linux platforms are the same, but they're not. Some are designed to optimize old or small systems, others are meant to run graphic intensive programs, such as games or graphic design programs. And, still other distributions are meant to serve teachers, business people.

    Given the wide variety in Linux distributions, it's important to look at a few key points before you download and install your new Linux OS.

    Linux platforms are tailored to a wide range of technical knowledge and ability. Some distributions require you to type all commands into the command terminal, others use a strictly "point and click" approach, while still others use a combination of the two methods. To learn more about the command prompt read the series The Beginner's Guide to the Ubuntu Terminal.

    System size and age is another important consideration. Distributions like Puppy Linux, DSL (Damn Small Linux), and KNOPPIX are intended to boot from memory stick or CDROM. They're small but powerful versions that can be installed, or run from CD or memory stick, on small hard drives and older systems. Once you get hooked on Linux, you'll find there are Linux distros for your mobile devices, too.

    After you've determined your technical level and system requirements, you can look at the primary function of the computer.

    Distributions like Kubuntu, Ubuntu Studio, and 64 Studio are designed to handle intense multimedia needs.

    For the serious scientist or science student, there is Scibuntu, an add on to the standard Ubuntu release that includes applications needed for scientific and statistical calculations.

    Business owners might consider any of the major distributions.

    For educators, there are Edubutu and openSUSE, which are add ons specifically designed for educators. Fedora and Debian also include features and applications for teachers.

    By now, you should have a short list of distros you'd like to try.

    Before you go any further, double check the system requirements for each package against the computer you're planning on installing to. Eliminate any distributions for which your computer does not meet the minimum requirements.

    After that, there are a couple of ways to come to a final decision.

    First, talk to people who actually use the distributions you're considering. Ask questions. Find out what they love about their Linux distro, and what they wish would change. Ask how often updates come out, and how easy those updates are to acquire and install. Also, take the time to ask about programs. Having a distro you love does no good if you can't find applications you like just as much.

    Second, many Linux distributions allow you to download and burn a live CD. Having a Live CD means you can run your computer using the OS from your CDROM drive, without installing or changing you computer in any way. This is a terrific way to try out each distribution on your shortlist for the cost of a couple of CDs.

    Following these steps won't guarantee you'll fall in love with the distribution you select, but you'll certainly be better informed and be able to navigate the wonderful, wide, world of Linux.






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