Which Linux distribution shall I choose?

If you are new to Linux and your brain is also circling around such a wide range of Linux distros, just like earth around sun then maybe this article can help you in finding ‘the one’ for you.

Let’s get a basic understanding first of the following:

  1. What is the difference between distribution and flavor of Linux?
  2. Which distribution should I choose?

What are the differences between flavor and distribution?

Well, technically Linux is “NOT” a UNIX. It uses the Linux kernel and the GNU userland utilities. As such GNU stands for “Gnu’s Not Unix” and instead is a UNIX-like operating environment.

Also, while AIX, Solaris, BSD, HP-UX and even Mac OSX are “UNIX” depending on the actual certification from whoever holds the rights to determine what UNIX is, many people lump them together as the tools are similar and the commands are similar in most cases.

In the case of a distribution, that is due to the maintainer’s decisions of what to include, how to control the releases, etc.

SUSE, Debian, Red Hat, are all using the Linux kernel, GNU userland, etc, however Debian uses different package management, for the most part, Different run levels and configuration files are employed, and the choice of what goes into a release is left up to the maintainer of each distribution.


Distribution
means a certain set of applications that are bundled and pre-configured. The difference in that for Linux distributions (or distros) can range from almost nothing (eg. RHEL vs. CentOS), to a completely different intention, and thus software selection (eg. Slackware vs. Mint)

In any distribution, the fundamentals stay the same:

  • There is always a Linux Kernel (the core component of the Linux operating system)
  • The default GNU software (tools like ls, rm, etc)
  • General software to be expected of a Linux distribution (text editors, etc)

What differs from distribution to distribution usually?

  • Installation Software (for installing software, or the operating system)
  • General software: (Office Apps, Prog. Languages, Games, Web Software etc)
  • Documentation and Manuals (Quality of, Lack of, Quantity of)
  • Cost – whether you pay nothing, a little, or a lot for a distribution depends on what you need from it and the business model the distributor works to.
  • Quality of software (buggy or not buggy software, latest versions of software)
  • Whether it is up to date or not
  • Whether the distributor offers a good channel of support or not
  • How easy it is to use overall.

What about Flavors?

Different “flavors” are called that because they are based on the same principles (POSIX, Single UNIX Specification), but follow different ways for implementation. For example, while all Unices have a sigaction system call, probably none of them share the same implementation, as the Kernel itself follows different specifications.

What Linux Distribution should I choose?

Choosing a Linux distribution is a personal thing. It greatly depends on what you want to do with it.

  • Ubuntu and Linux Mint : Suitable for – Beginner to Advanced/Server
    Ubuntu
    Ubuntu is currently the most popular of the Linux Distributions. It is built on a Debian core, but has a more regular release cycle, is more polished, is easy to use and has major financial backing. It is a completely free distro, therefore copyrighted materials such as DVD playing software do not come as standard with Ubuntu, you must download and install it separately, but can be done easily. If you don’t like the look and feel of the latest Ubuntu desktop (called Unity), Linux Mint is based on Ubuntu, is made for beginners and still offers a GNOME or KDE version.
  • Red Hat/CentOS/Fedora : Suitable for – Beginner to Advanced/Server
    RHELUsed to be very popular, easy to use, good installer. Has some annoying quirks, RPM software packaging can suffer from dependency problems, even with YUM system. RHEL (Red Hat Enterprise Linux) is the non-free Enterprise version offering of this distribution, it comes with full telephone based support and is backed by rigorous testing. CentOS is the free version which is derived from RHEL but usually trails behind it and of course does not come with enterprise support, then there is Fedora Core. Fedora is the bleeding-edge fork of Red Hat which has all the latest bells and whistles but as it is bleeding-edge, it can also suffer from less stability than their enterprise-grade counterparts.
  • SuSE Linux : Suitable for – Beginner to Advanced
    SuSESuSE was once an independent German Linux distribution, which later was purchased by Novell, who later sold it to VMWare. It’s now an excellent all-rounder which is geared up for the Enterprise. good manuals & docs, masses of great software, brilliant support. Enterprise version great for corporate use with business support and has partnered with companies such as SAP (and of course VMWare). Software Installer still relies on RPM system from RedHat which can suffer from dependency problems however this is mainly a thing of the past.
  • Slackware and Arch Linux : Suitable for – Advanced to Server Users
    slackwareSlackware was probably the first linux distribution. Targeted at geeks who like to tweak or for the server market looking to get every little ounce of server performance. Quite hard to install and use, Uses .tar.gz packages rather than more popular .deb or .rpm systems. If you fall into the more advanced camp, but don’t like the sound of compiling everything, perhaps Arch is for you, as it still offers similar levels of customisation as Slackware.
  • Debian : Suitable for – Intermediate to Advanced Users
    debianVery established Linux distro. DEB packages combined with apt-get system solve the tedium of the RPM software packaging in Redhat/Suse/Mandriva. Traditionally known for being further behind than some other distros, but rock solid. Is now the basis for many modern, easier to use distributions such as Ubuntu and Linux Mint.

Let me cut short this process for you; if you have recently heard of Linux and hadn’t had your hands on any distribution and you are a complete newbee who wants to Linux then seriously just close your eyes and install ubuntu. It’s my personal favorite and even I use it as my primary OS too. It’s a pretty distro. to initiate a handshake with Linux and can serve you even with all possible advance services also. It is packed with easy installation process, decent GUI and great terminal.
An alternative to Ubuntu can be Linux Mint. Mint provides all the same features with a sober interface and it is ranked ‘1’ on DistroWatch.com.

If you are a Linux pro and want to try a different distro maybe bcoz you are too bored from the present one or maybe your present distro doesn’t support all the advance features you need then you can choose Fedora,Debian or Arch Linux. If you are into pen-testing or anything similar then you should go for Kali linux. It comes with a large number of inbuilt tools which can your work pretty easy.

So, all in all before choosing, Google about the distro that fulfills your needs.



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