Beginner's guide to choosing a Linux Distribution (Updated!)

Networking/Security Forums -> UNIX // GNU/Linux

Author: viksitLocation: India PostPosted: Sun Mar 07, 2004 11:18 pm    Post subject: Beginner's guide to choosing a Linux Distribution (Updated!)
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A question I've often seen posted by newcomers is "Which Linux Distribution do I choose?". This post is to hopefully answer some of these questions..

Choosing a Linux Distribution
There are gazillions of Linux distributions out there, and choosing one out of so many can be a real toughie! In my opinion, the choice should be made keeping in mind certain criteria. Note that most of the following distros come with all the basic tools expected to be used:

Word Processors, Imaging and Scanning programs, Internet access programs, Basic games, Multimedia apps like Movie and Sound players, and in many cases, development tools, publishing tools and more!

To get these distros from one place, check out www.linuxiso.org.

1)Install or not to Install?
A Linux install has most newcomers jittery, with the ever-pervasive thought of trashing an existing windows partition. Well, the solution is easy! Use a live file system Linux CD-ROM.

Live what??
A Live FileSystem CD-ROM is a linux distribution which runs completely off a CD, and has a lot of tools on it, in a compressed format. By "Live", we mean that a temporary filesystem is created in the RAM, and that is where all the operations take place - (in simple terms). No modifications are made to the existing hard-disk. So all that needs to be done, is to boot off the CD, and go into linux. Explore, and when done, eject the CD. You're back to the original OS you were running.

When you're comfortable with using such a system, a distro can be installed on the harddisk.

Live Distros:
i)Knoppix: One of the most popular in this category, it is based on Debian Linux, and has one of the best tool collections, as well as a fabulous hardware detection system.
www.knoppix.de

ii)Mandrake Move: Similar to Knoppix, but based on the Mandrake Linux Distribution.
www.mandrake.com

2)Target Audience

Neophytes/Newcomers
There are various distributions which come to mind. These must be installed on the machine, and may either co-exist with an existing OS (such as windows), or be installed afresh. An analysis:

i) RedHat Linux (now Fedora)
This is one of the most popular distributions available today. It is used majorly for servers and personal use (different versions, of course!).

Pros: Extensive Documentation, Huge support base, Easy installation and setup, Integrated EyeCandy, Easy Configurability, Good Hardware detection and compatibility
Cons: Poor multimedia support (relatively), May seem a little "tech" oriented to someone completely new to Linux
Latest Version: RedHat 9[unsupported] ; Fedora Core 1, Core 2, Core 3 (Test 1 is out)
fedora.redhat.com

ii)SuSE Linux
A beautiful distro, SuSE comes integrated with various tools for configuration, an easy installation. Very popular.

Pros:Large number of windows compatible packages, easy installation
Cons:Not as extensively documented as RedHat, hardware detection isnt as effective, Only available in parts of the world from software resellers or via FTP install, includes proprietary components, which prevents re-distribution.
Latest Version:9.0
www.suse.com

iii)Mandrake Linux
A very user friendly distribution. Lots of tools, and addons, including complete office packages, games and more! Moreover, it has a very easy installation procedure, and tends to detect most hardware correctly.

Pros: User-friendly, graphical configuration utilities, enormous community support, NTFS partition resizing
Cons: Some releases are buggy, the releases are initially made available to MandrakeClub members only. Tends to become too newbie friendly for powerusers Smile
Latest Version: 10.1
www.mandrake.com

Developers/SysAdmins
i)Debian Linux

Pros:Very powerful, stable, flexible, 100% free, excellent web site and community resources, well-tested, painless software installation
Cons: Bandwidth required for updates/installation, not very user friendly
Latest Version:3.02
www.debian.org

ii)Slackware Linux

Pros: Developer Friendly, Powerful, true UNIX feel, Simple installation procedure (not too eye-catching though Smile)
Cons: Not *very user friendly, steep learning curve, limited hardware detection
Latest Version:10.0
www.slackware.org

iii)Gentoo Linux
Gentoo Linux is a source-based distribution. While the installation media provide various levels of pre-compiled binary packages to get a basic Linux system up and running, the idea behind Gentoo is to compile all source packages on the user's computer.
Pros:Painless installation of individual software packages, highly up-to-date, the "geek feeling" of building a distribution tailored to user's needs.
Cons:Takes a helluva time to build. A system restart or crash may result in extensive hair-tearing!
www.gentoo.org

iv)Live File System Distros
There are various distros made specifically for certain tasks and situations, such as firewalling, intrusion detection, network setup, development, education, etc. to provide a list here is impossible, due to the sheer volumes of such distros. To find more , do a google.

Some worthy mentions are : F.I.R.E (Forensic Incident Response CD), P.H.L.A.K (Professional Hackers Attack Toolkit).

Update Shaolin's Link on all these distributions:
http://www.security-forums.com/forum/viewtopic.php?t=12476

v)Xandros. Lycoris and other Windows like distros
These are linux distributions which have been designed to remake the windows look and feel, in order to provide new users with familiar environments. IMHO, these distros have a blatantly visible problem : they are mostly commercial (thats okay..) and the attempy to minutely recreate an existing environment tends to take away the fresh look and feel which other distros can offer.

Xandros Update- Sept 10, 2004

I recently installed the Xandros open desktop edition on a laptop, and here are some notes on it.

Xandros is a very user friendly OS, with its primary criteria being ease of use and familiarity for those users who've recently switched from windows to linux. It offers excellent hardware detection, and can do Instant plug and play of a lot of devices like usb memory sticks and digital cameras. The interface is very much like windows, with all the right menus and things. It offers a variety of applications like most other distros, and comes bundled with an easy to use CD-Writer program, which is run directly from the file manager itself. It runs kernel 2.4.26, and is based on debian. So, apt-get and dpkg works well. The only glitch i faced was the non-availability of a Dialup client with support for terminal authentication.

The OpenDesktop addition has a couple of cons however: The CD writer's max speed is limited to 4X. Secondly, it uses a lot of propreitary technology, which might lead to some antagonism with the proponents of FLOSS.


vi)Damn Small Linux Update
Acting on suggestions, I've downloaded this iso, and it ran beautifully on an old p1 166 Mhz machine. The iso is only 50mb, which makes it one of the smallest distros around. It is live-cd, but also offers a hard-disk install.

Pros: Small, easy to use, good range of applications, runs well on older hardare
Cons: Its small footprint compromises on quite a few advanced level tools, substitutes most mem intensive apps with smaller ones.
Latest Version:damnsmalllinux-0.6.1:
http://www.damnsmalllinux.org

Update
Tiny Disros/Small Linux Distros
An important aspect of various linux distributions, is the size of its footprint. By footprint, we mean the amount of space it takes on the harddisk, or anyother media where it has been installed. A large footprint means that the distro has a lot of bundled tools and utilities to make life easier. However, this isn't always beneficial since it also means that the distro will not run on older hardware, or in constrained environments.

Step in the Tiny Distros. These only occupy a small amount of space, and mostly fit into either a floppy (or 2!). Others may also be designed for USB Flash drives. We take a look at the more famous ones here.

i)MuLinux
It is an open script-based system, which includes a pluggable, incremental file-system. (The various add-ons may be inserted and removed without compromising the functionality). The System runs in RAM, and does not require installation, but it can be "cloned" to the HD or a CD-ROM. Also, the same installation archive is used for Linux and Windows users.

Pros: Small footprint (1 floppy), easy to use, good range of applications, runs well on older hardare, supports UMS-DOS installs (meaning, you can install it over DOS, and run it from there as a batch file)
Cons: Its small footprint compromises on quite a few advanced level tools, substitutes most mem intensive apps with smaller ones.
Latest Version:14r0
http://mulinux.sunsite.dk/mulinux.html



This is just to help you get moving on your way to become a Linux guru! Use SFDC to answer any queries you might have!
IRC (Internet Relay Chat) is another good means of clearing doubts. Read more elsewhere on this site.. There are various channels on the freeenode server, like #security-forums and #linuxhelp where a lot og gurus may be found.

Good luck!

[note: some material has been derived from the web.]


Last edited by viksit on Thu Sep 09, 2004 8:14 pm; edited 6 times in total

Author: Code_DarkLocation: San Diego, CA PostPosted: Mon Mar 08, 2004 1:05 am    Post subject:
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Of course, don't forget DamnSmall Linux ( http://damnsmalllinux.org ) as a Live-Linux. At under 50megs, this is a godsend for dialup users!

... oh yeah, I'm back! After a few months, I have returned to S-F.com. Yay.


- CD

Author: EricTheBald PostPosted: Mon Mar 08, 2004 2:51 pm    Post subject:
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You know what would be a nice addition to your post...?

An evaluation of the Unix choices, such as FreeBSD.

I know it's not linux, but still.

Author: viksitLocation: India PostPosted: Mon Mar 08, 2004 5:54 pm    Post subject: Updated!
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Right.. I'm on it Smile. Done, and Updated!

Last edited by viksit on Sun Mar 14, 2004 5:34 pm; edited 1 time in total

Author: Dagreat1 PostPosted: Wed Mar 10, 2004 5:21 pm    Post subject:
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Compact, to the point.
Nice viksit.

Author: xtremeLocation: UK PostPosted: Mon Jun 21, 2004 12:54 pm    Post subject:
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Really useful doc , has helped me choose the right path !! or so i think anyway ! redhat as there is loads of support & documentation.
i am just going to use this as a way to familiarize myself with Linux.

Author: WeaverLocation: WI, USA PostPosted: Sun Jun 27, 2004 9:46 pm    Post subject:
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Slackware 10.0 has been released and it is now the latest version... Smile

You can delete/move this post at your discretion.

-Weaver

Author: PosideonLocation: UK Baby!!! PostPosted: Sun Jun 27, 2004 9:53 pm    Post subject:
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Thank you for this, been looking and asking for this for a while, not being a Linux guru I wanted to know what I could do with each one and how they could be used.

Which servers can I use for free in a business environment? i.e. i dont have to pay a licence for?

Thanx

Author: firebright PostPosted: Fri Aug 27, 2004 10:00 am    Post subject: I think they're all free
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According to my experience, every one of the os mentioned is free to use in a business environment. Redhat, Suse, and probably some of the others also have business versions (see enterprise) of their software, which would have some more advanced features (for example, Redhat Enterprise has a lot of load balancing technologies in their enterprise products, and frankly, it's just a mostly different OS than fedora).

For the vast majority of berginner and intermediate folks, I would suggest Fedora or Debian. I've had good experiences with both for home linux boxes.

Cheers,

Jonathan

Author: firebright PostPosted: Fri Aug 27, 2004 10:00 am    Post subject: One more thing...
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One more thing. This post rocks. +1

J

Author: asusanatorLocation: Adelaide Hills, South Australia PostPosted: Fri Aug 27, 2004 10:07 am    Post subject:
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Good job mate Very Happy

Just a note on Fedora. Its up to Core 2 (stable) and core 3 (test 1)

later,
KDE

Author: PosideonLocation: UK Baby!!! PostPosted: Fri Aug 27, 2004 1:05 pm    Post subject:
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I have found that the Linux's OS' are free but its usually the product support you kop for. Better way of doing it than Microsoft, kop for product and support costs with them Shocked

Author: viksitLocation: India PostPosted: Thu Sep 09, 2004 8:20 pm    Post subject: Thanks!
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Thanks for the pleasant remarks! Smile Am currently updating this page.. Would anyone like to see a specific distro, or one which i've missed out, added to this list?

Thanks!

Vik

Author: peh PostPosted: Sun Oct 31, 2004 11:28 am    Post subject:
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have you ever tryed ark linux (www.arklinux.org).

Pro: Think linux for your mom, has a tetris game while it installs
Con: Think linux for you mom.

Im a slack and gentoo fan so i see this as tux after we chop off his balls and slap on a set of tits... but for a newbie straight from windows this is what they are going to want

Author: Mikefc626Location: here PostPosted: Thu Apr 07, 2005 8:28 am    Post subject: Mepis
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What's your take on SimplyMepis? I recently took a look at that one, which was actually my very first experience with Linux. I actually thought the install process was pretty good, and for learning my way around I turned to their forums (which I expected to do for anything I tried out). Just as a point of reference, I have, within the span of about a week, tried out Xandros, Ubuntu, and read up on Vector (I need to get another hard drive before I work on this one). I feel that Mepis gave me a great advantage in that I felt totally comfortable digging around the various distros, but I am about to go back to the original. O ya, everyone's got their original that just can't be beat Very Happy

Author: GarathorLocation: Norway PostPosted: Mon Apr 11, 2005 10:01 pm    Post subject:
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Yes, i think Mepis is a very userfriendly distro (i have just tried it for a few minutes, so i don't really know much about it).

Another distro that definitely should be added to the list of beginner-friendly distros is Ubuntu/Kubuntu. Ubuntu has become on of the biggest distros (listed as number one at Distrowatch right now), and version 5.04 has just been released.

On my main-computer i am running Arch Linux and Slackware, but on my laptop i am dual-bootinh Arch and Ubuntu. Ubuntu is very easy to maintain, which is excellent for my laptop-use (i don't want to spend a lot of time on this computer, i want things to just work out-of-the-box).

Author: aykonLocation: Somewhere in middle america PostPosted: Wed Apr 13, 2005 9:46 pm    Post subject:
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Honestly, it has been my experiece that Slackware is the best one for a newbie to start out at. Although it is not a very user-friednly interface at first, once you pass the learning curve (which is only slightly higher than most other distros on the market) you will love it.

I don't know much of anything about security on Windows Servers, I mean, I can lock out a few things and read logs, but on Slack...I am dang near a security admin! There are many useful things that you get out of that just don't come with other distros. If you are running any type of server I HIGHLY suggest Slackware. And if you get lost, you can check out http://linuxquestions.org they have a forum completely for Slack from n00bs to SysAdmins.

However, the way you have summarized this is a good description. I can't really see many of the distros of import that you overlooked so keep up the good work!

Author: njanLocation: Scotland, UK PostPosted: Tue May 03, 2005 2:07 pm    Post subject:
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Worth noting that MEPIS, iirc, isn't entirely free! From conversations in #mepis on freenode, I seem to recall that there is a certain amount of binary-only-code in MEPIS, particularly in the installer/their configuration software. Don't quote me on this, I'm not a gospel, and this is basically hearsay..

Ubuntu, especially given how much extra ground hoary is covering, is definitely a candidate for the 'userfriendly' category. Based on debian, ubuntu is simple to update and resilient, whilst the UI is smoothly and intuitively designed, and the community philosophy is admirable, making the ubuntu community, for the most part, extremely enjoyable to be around.

Ubuntu has many of the benefits of debian, whilst at the same time giving you a i) modern, ii) secure (read: security updates from the security team, unlike debian testing/unstable), iii) easy to install system. Some of the features planned for the next version of ubuntu promise to give us even more reason to praise ubuntu. Smile

Author: thekoreLocation: Scotland, UK PostPosted: Tue May 03, 2005 2:37 pm    Post subject:
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I can add my praise for ubuntu to njans also. I have used it from the outset and its is a very nice, user friendly distro. One that in my opinion rivals Mandrake, Suse and Fedora possibly the major three distros of last year.

Hoary is a great improvement and again makes it very easy for user to stay secure with automatic updates. Installing software from system repositories has never been easier in my opinion also.

Author: Specialone PostPosted: Sat Aug 13, 2005 10:32 pm    Post subject:
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I'm using Ubuntu for the moment and I think that it's the best Linux in the world

Author: TorpedoLocation: Caribbean PostPosted: Thu Apr 20, 2006 6:44 pm    Post subject:
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someone recomended Ubuntu to me. What are the pros an cons of this distro?

Author: ElToro PostPosted: Thu Apr 20, 2006 7:19 pm    Post subject:
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I've used Redhat for the past 7 years but recently switched to Gentoo. There is no way I'd go back. For those worried about the complexity, the latest version is available with a graphical installer.

The documentation is out of this world. Not only does it give you line by line instructions on how to install and manage the system, it explains why. Even without using the graphical install, anyone with mid-level computer skills can do this.

As for the compile time, I've installed it on 2 PII 450 machines and a dual P3 700. The initial install takes the good part of a day on a slow machine but you don't have to be at your terminal for 70% of that time. The key to minimizing the install time is to only install the packages you want to use. Don't install everything. You can always install a package later if you end up needing it. Once you're install is complete, the on-going update process is very straight forward and fast. You don't have to worry about all the inherit issues with binary based distributions especially the dreaded package compatibility problems.

Author: CassLocation: Scotland PostPosted: Thu Apr 27, 2006 4:23 am    Post subject:
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Quote:
someone recomended Ubuntu to me. What are the pros an cons of this distro?



To be honest as a long term mandrake user i cant see any cons of this distro, its the best i have used in 10 years, reasons being that its easy to configure and install apps, its secure, it has well populated software repositories, it hasnt crashed on me yet .. it works on my hardware with minimal configuration .... easy method of software updates.. it looks and feels nice (dapper drake)

Cant recommend it enough !

Author: !xu0 PostPosted: Tue Aug 29, 2006 1:21 am    Post subject:
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with gentoo, you can take all control, only that you need when you need and how you wish..... his bsd-style port system work fine for me .... it's my favourite linux distro

but, I prefer *BSD

FreeBSD for desktop
OpenBSD for security
NetBSD for portability

and Plan9 to learn


"I'd rather be compiling" xD

Author: hunter007 PostPosted: Sat Sep 22, 2007 6:46 pm    Post subject:
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A friend of mine recommended Backtrack Linux, he said this was the must have distro for anyone learning security.
Im fairly new to Linux, how easy is this distro to install and use?

Author: alt.don PostPosted: Sat Apr 23, 2011 6:41 pm    Post subject:
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What about it do you find obsolete?

Author: alt.don PostPosted: Mon Apr 25, 2011 2:28 pm    Post subject:
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Hi,

Yes I would agree with you. I haven't actually read the thread in some time. Consider it "unstickied" Very Happy

regards,

Don



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