Making the right Linux choice

Which version of Linux? We offer a simple guide to Linux distributions

June 28, 2008
Making the right Linux choice

With Microsoft’s Vista earning a mixed response, a growing number of computer users are considering switching to the open source Linux operating system.

The problem, however, is that Linux doesn’t come in a one-size-fits-all release and so making the right decision first time around can be a bit tricky. Here we offer a simple guide to choosing the right version (or "distribution") of Linux.

Ubuntu

Ubuntu Linux, founded by Mark Shuttleworth, is one of the best choices for first-time users of Linux. Ubuntu Linux is designed to be easy to use and includes above-average hardware support and provides a clean desktop free of clutter.

Ubuntu Linux is also one of the most popular versions of Linux, which means that there is a huge community providing support for new users. Finding help with most aspects of Ubuntu setup is usually as simple as doing a search on Google.

Ubuntu ships on one CD and provides a comprehensive, but not overwhelming, set of applications. Additional applications are also easy to add using the software management tools.

Ubuntu ships with the Gnome desktop environment by default, but users can also get Xubuntu, a lightweight desktop version ideal for older PCs or Kubuntu, the version of Ubuntu with the KDE desktop, which most Windows users will feel at home with. 

OpenSuse

OpenSuse is the community version of Suse, the Linux distribution owned by Novell. As one of the earliest Linux versions, Suse has a strong heritage and still builds on the Yast management system which makes Suse easy to use.

Yast is the best way to manage most aspects of the desktop from networking to configuring printers to installing software, and is the biggest reason to use Yast. Having a single tool to manage everything on the desktop greatly simplifies management.

Traditionally Suse shipped with the largest selection of software applications and that tradition lives on, with a DVD version including most tools a user could want being available. Fortunately, for bandwidth-starved South Africans, there is also a lightweight Live CD version that ships with the core set of tools that will suit most users.

Fedora

Fedora is the community edition of the well-known Red Hat Linux distribution. Many of the core developers of Fedora are in fact Red Hat developers with the result that many of the latest features find a place in Fedora before they hit Red Hat.

Fedora is based on the RPM package system which is one of the original packaging systems for Linux. Fedora is easy to use and is popular among many of the original Linux users that cut their teeth on Red Hat and still enjoy cutting-edge software. 

Gentoo

Gentoo is not ideal for first time Linux users but is very popular among experienced users. Gentoo uses a packaging system that instead of installing pre-built software, downloads the source files for applications and compiles the software on the user’s computer. The benefit of this is that software is custom built for the hardware on the machine it is running on, very often giving the application a speed boost. The downside is that installing large applications can very often take a very long time. If you have the patience then Gentoo might be worth having a look at.

PCLinuxOS

PCLinuxOS started its life as a derivative of Mandrake Linux, the distribution that first made ease-of-use standard in Linux. Over the years PCLinuxOS has remained true to the ease-of-use ideal and is now one of the most popular distributions available. Some estimates list PCLinuxOS as the most popular Linux distribution but they may just be because the PCLinuxOS community is very active.

PCLinuxOS includes a broad range of applications that will suit most users as well as thousands of additional applications through the official repositories. PCLinuxOS is easy to set up and a Live CD version makes it easy to test out without affecting your hard drive.

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