A Neowin Guide to Linux Distributions


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A Neowin Guide to Linux Distributions v1.6.1

Here shall serve as a guide and reference to the most popular and user friendly distros currently on offer to the Linux community. This reference is the collective work of the neowin community and shall be an on going project. What you see here will be subject to change as we revise and update where needed. If you would like to contribute to the cause get in contact with me (Keldyn) or Configure (our Linux Moderator) so we can include your contribution and ensure you are given due credit.
First of all, Linux, unlike Microsoft Operating Systems are available in many different flavors.
No one Linux is the same.

Since Linux is free (as in beer) to obtain and modify, its development has progressed in the form of multiple ?distributions? A distribution is the packing of an application and support base with the Linux Kernel, usually to make Linux as powerful for the end user as possible. Some popular distributions include?
Linux Mint
Linux Mint is a 32- and 64-bit Linux distribution for desktop computers, based on either Ubuntu or Debian. Its stated aim is to be a "modern, elegant and comfortable operating system which is both powerful and easy to use." Mint provides full out-of-the-box multimedia support by including some proprietary software such as Adobe Flash. Mint's motto is "from freedom came elegance".
New versions of the Ubuntu-based Linux Mint have been released approximately every six months. The first release, named "Ada", was released in 2006. The 17th release, "Qiana", was released on May 31, 2014. Support for older releases usually ends shortly after the next version is released, but there have been releases with long-term support, including the current release, v17.x, which will be supported for five years, until April 2019.
Ubuntu Linux
Ubuntu is a Linux distribution built on the popular Debian system. The advantage that Ubuntu has over Debian is an easy-to-use CLI installer and a well put together desktop package. It comes with Gnome 2.8 and a custom GUI theme and sound scheme that ties the system together nicely.
Ubuntu also features more "bleeding edge" software than the standard Debian stable branch. Since Ubuntu is built on Debian, it uses the easy apt package manager for package management (installation, uninstallation, upgrading, etc.).
The thing that impresses many about Ubuntu is how well the whole system is put together. The login screen, GUI theme, and sound scheme really give it a polished look, even more so than some of the other commercial distros like Red Hat, SuSE, or Mandrake.

With an ageing final build of 9.0, Red Hat was one of the most popular distributions. RedHat recently announced that they were ceasing retail development of the Redhat Linux line and are instead moving towards a more Open Source and community orientated project. The Fedora Project was introduced in late 2003. Built for and with the help of the open source community, the Fedora Project is for developers and early high-tech enthusiasts using Linux in non-critical computing environments.
Fedora is useful for new users insecure in their knowledge of computing. The official Red Hat (the foundation of which is used in Fedora) varieties have proven themselves as a reliable, and powerful Linux distribution for mission critical serving environments.

SUSE Linux
Suse is a popular European distribution based in Germany. SuSE Linux has been best noted for its slick installation courtesy of YaST (yet another setup tool) which closely resembles that of Calderas OpenLinux. SuSE Linux has been RPM compliant since release 5. The default window manager is KDE, which has been redesigned by SuSE to sport a number of enhancements.

Gentoo Linux
Gentoo Linux is a versatile and fast, completely free Linux distribution for x86, PowerPC, Sparc and Sparc64 that's geared towards Linux power users. Unlike other distros, Gentoo Linux has an advanced package management system called Portage. Portage is a true ports system in the tradition of BSD ports, but is Python-based and sports a number of advanced features including dependencies, fine-grained package management, "fake" (OpenBSD-style) installs, path sandboxing, safe unmerging, system profiles, virtual packages, config file management, and more.

Portage allows you to set up Gentoo Linux the way you like it -- with the optimization settings that you want, and with optional build-time functionality (like GNOME, KDE, mysql, ALSA, LDAP support, etc.) enabled or disabled as you desire. If you don't want GNOME on your system, your apps won't have optional GNOME support enabled, and if you do, then they will. That's why we prefer thinking of Gentoo Linux as a meta-distribution or Linux technology engine. You decide what kind of system you want, and Portage will create it for you.

Debian GNU/Linux
Debian Linux is a different kind of Linux distribution. Rather than being developed by one isolated individual or group, Debian is being developed openly in the full spirit of Linux development.

Fundamental to Debian are its package management tools. This allows users to maintain their computer systems with ease. It is so powerful that many people have been known to switch to Debian solely because of it. It orientates itself however towards more experienced users and developers. For that audience, it represents the leading edge of Linux and open source development.

Debian has had many children who live on under many different names. Here is the Debian-derived distro list:

Mandriva Linux (formerly Mandrake Linux)
Mandriva is at present one of the industry leaders in Linux distros and is well known for its good looks, ease of installation, well rounded package selection and customized wizards and setup tools. The installation program, DrakX is colorful and attractive and patiently walks you through the required steps to install mandrake Linux. Mandriva comes with an impressive list of third party software. Mandriva is available from major software retailers and directly from their website. As of writing, they are up to version 10.1

Slackware is one of the oldest distributions and is produced by Walnut Creek CD-ROM. It does not possess all the user friendly attributes of its brethren and is best suited to those who have a thorough understanding of UNIX & Linux.
Slackware tries to maintain its link with the UNIX heritage of Linux by conforming strictly to UNIX conventions and not overwhelming experienced users with commercial functionality. In this way it is very similar to Debian GNU/Linux ? the two have a related history.

Arch Linux
ArchLinux is an i686 optimized distro. Arch is sort of like Slackware and Gentoo in some ways. There is nice and easy text based interface installer. During the install process the installer lets you format the hard drive with cfdisk or it can do it automatically. Then it will install the basic packages and kernel. If you download the bigger iso (full) you can also install xorg, and other app. Once the installer gets done installing the packages then you need to edit /etc/rc.conf /etc/fstab /grub/menu.lst /etc/lilo.conf, etc... You have a choice between lilo and grub as your boot loader. Grub is better supported. Then you install grub / lilo to the HD and reboot. Once you reboot you setup the Internet and run 'pacman -Syu' pacman is a packages manager. The S in the command download and install software. The y sync the data base of apps/programs and the u looks for updates of already installed packages. Once done you can go install all you other programs that you want by doing 'Pacman -S programname'

Pacman file Manager
Pacman automatically detects which dependencies are needed
Install only what you want
Configure you system and make it the way you want to make
Extremely Easy + Fast to install
This distro is not for New comers you need to have some knowledge of linux

Linux Live Systems (Knoppix, Gentoo LiveCD, Slax)
http://www.knoppix.net , http://www.gentoo.org , http://slax.linux-live.org
LiveCDs are a great way to run Linux without having to install it to your hard drive. In fact, you don't even need to have a hard drive in your system at all. It will run completely from the CD and available RAM. Many LiveCDs offer a way to install to your hard drive, if you wish. Some also include utilities to perform virus scans on your Windows drives and recover data. Features vary from one LiveCD to another, so read through for the features you are interested in.

This kind of distro will completely run from CD, so you don't need to install it and maybe waste your partitions or something. It's a great way to see linux running on your system. There are many different distros, each with different goals. If you just want to "see linux in action", i'd suggest you go for a full-featured distro like Knoppix.

Here are two big lists of these CD-based distros:

Which distribution is the right one for me?
Linux distributions can vary significantly in their focus and application base. They all have one thing in common however. The Linux kernel powers each Linux distribution and choosing the right one for you will depend on how you like to use your computer.

If you intend to use Linux for desktop productivity, Ubuntu, Fedora Core & SuSE are probably for you. If you intend to deploy Linux into a non graphical, server type environment than Gentoo, Arch, Debian and Slackware make good choices.

Some quick URL's:
www.linuxdoc.org - HOW-TO's... gotta love em'.
www.rpmfind.net - finds RPM for your distribution.
www.linuxnewbie.org - general "newbie" tips and how-to
www.distrowatch.com - provides a package comparison table.
www.linuxiso.org - Want to download Linux distribution ISO? No need to look furthur, LinuxISO has it all
Linux Compatible
Dot Kde
Desktop Linux

Compiled by Keldyn Majere for Neowin.net

Myself (Keldyn)
Some handy links contributed by Cold
Mr. Static Void


  • Edited/Updated by fred666 on January 8, 2006 (distro order based on 2005 poll results)
  • Edited/Updated by Haggis on October 2nd, 2014
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  • 2 weeks later...
under SuSE:

Linux distributions can vary significantly in their focus and application base. They all have one thing in common however. The Linux kernel powers each Linux distribution and choosing the right one for you will depend on how you like to use your computer.

If you intend to use Linux for desktop productivity, Red Hat, mandrake, Caldera, & SuSE are probably for you. If you intend to deploy Linux into a non graphical, server type environment than Red hat, Debian and Slackware make good choices. For those who want to accelerate to the realm of Linux hackerdom, you will need Debian or Slackware to get you there! ;)

seems like you forget to move that to the bottom, configure :D

anyway, great job, keldyn, configure & co!

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Damn it makes me feel good when you say Debian is prettymuch for Hardcore Linux users :D

My first taste of Linux was Red Hat and Mandrake and it was alright but I was unable to really get into Linux because I couldn't find out how it worked through all the crap that especially Mandrake installs (being a Linux n00b I would just go and install every package). I now run Debian on my server and my PC and there is no turning back. I found that being forced to learn Linux from scratch with Debian is the best way to learn how to use Linux to its full potential.

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  • 1 month later...

Nice post Xe|oN. I'm going to install Debian. Not really a noob, but wanting to understand linux to the fullest. Slackware has been a bitch to figure and has really helped me to understand linux alot better, but is getting on my nerves with not that much package support for various usefull shell commands.

I would say LINUXCONF is the best tool in the world for linux.

You guys should add TOMSRTBT. It's a kick ass 1 floppy linux distro that can do most everything. It is also great for if you crashed your system and need to get into it.

You can also hack NTFS partitions since all you have to do is boot to the floppy and mount an NTFS volume. I use that at work for people that screw their Win2000 machines and need to get files from the NTFS partitions.

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  • 3 months later...
  • 3 weeks later...

I'm using Gentoo Linux and I love it... soo much easier than Windows once you get everything going. I never have to look on the net for a download, everything is right here for me in portage.

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I'm new to the Linux community and after installing Slackware in Unix 2 class the other night, I was blown away. (I even installed my first program AOL IM, without any help from anyone while using the command line. Made me feel really good to try something other than Windows)

Judging by the article and my preferences/recommendations, I think I'm going to set up partitions for Red Hat, Suse, Slackware, and Lycoris Desktop/LX to look at. I'll see which one is comfortable for me and go from there.

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  • 2 weeks later...

I was just wondering, I want to understand the full potentiel of Linux. With RedHat8.0, it's almost like another windows to me and I don't want that. Do you think Slackware will do the job? Currently I have RH but I'm planning to re-install without Xwindow and I don't need the GUI and stuff so I get rid of that too, right? Will RH still install without Xwindow, GNOME and KDE?

Do you think that'll help me learn Linux better if I did one of those (Slack or no Xwindow RH)?

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Yes, if you want to dig deeper in linux, other distro's like Slackware and Debian are probably the way to go..

as for Red Hat, yes, you can install it with just the console (no Xwin/KDE/Gnome/etc..), just don't choose them during the installation.

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Will RH still install without Xwindow, GNOME and KDE?

Yes, you can. You should see that option during the installtion.

Do you think that'll help me learn Linux better if I did one of those (Slack or no Xwindow RH)?

Yes, as always! I think, you should give the different Linux distro a try to see which you like the best. Go ahead to give Slackware, Gentoo Linux, Debian and etc a try. They aren't going to bite you.

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Alright thanks for those great tips! I'm going to try the bare-bones RH first as I don't have slack yet. If it works out great for me than I'll try Slackware some other time. If it doesn't than I'll try to get Slack as soon as possible but first, I'll give RedHat a shot like that.

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must say i like debian very much havent used on my pc yet but the xbox version is great... finally understanding linux better now...

started on

mandrake - i had no clue whats going on in there

redhat - could get the internet working and could install .rpms :)

debian - installed kde3.1 loads of apps and it looks damn good with kde

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I have Red Hat 7.3 on CD, and I was about to install it onto my system until I found out 8.0 was released. My question is, what is the difference between 7.3 and 8.0. I don't want to re-download three ISOs just for little changes.

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  • 1 month later...

does anyone know of a distrobution that will install straight onto my hpt372 raid array without any messign about please ?

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  • 2 weeks later...

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