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> Choosing The Right Distro
post Jun 1 2004, 03:25 PM
Post #1

Its GNU/

Group: Support Specialist
Posts: 1,280
Joined: 19-November 03
From: University of Minnesota- TC
Member No.: 1,828

First I want to state that this is a first draft, it needs contributions from the rest of you, but I think its a very important guide to have around. Please e-mail me your suggestions and I will continually refine them into this guide. I especially need help in the specific regions like servers since I don't always have fist hand experience in them, if there are other situations you can think of please write them up and I will include them to. I hope this guide is helpful.

The following is a guide to choosing the best distro to fit your needs. At the very least please read the first paragraph, than you can skim the rest and see what applies, but please read the first paragraph.

The truth of the mater is this, all major distros are good. By major distros I mean ones like Debian, Fedora, Gentoo, Mandrake, SlackWare, SuSE, and just about any of the other distros that can be found on our ISO Images page. As an average user if you pick any one of those distros you are going to be just fine. All of them have the option to run the latest GUIs (Graphical User Interface), all of them come jam packed with productivity tools, media players, and networking solutions, and all of them will give you a great linux system. The choice is up to you.

First time linux users:

For those of you stetting up your first linux system, I would first like to say welcome and congratulate you on your good choice. Second I would like to make two suggestions. First, read the next paragraph about live distro and how they can be used to your advantage. Second I would like to recommend that you try out Mandrake as your first system. The reason I recommend this is because the Mandrake install is perhaps one of the easiest OS installs period. The beautiful graphical wizard will take you through all the options and recommend the best set up for you at every step of the way. Its easy, simple and straight forward, and you will end up with a stable system that is tailored to your needs and capable of competing with any of the top distros. Mandrake even has a stable NTFS resize tool so you can “bite” off part of your windows drive without having to re-format the entire drive. As a note, I would highly (as it does also) recommend defragging running scandisk on your system before using the NTFS resize tool to minimize the risk of data loss. I would also recommend (as is a good idea any time you make significant changes to you system) backing up important data from you hard drive.

Test Driving Linux: Knoppix and other live distros:

A live distro is a bootable CD that gives you, a more or less full fledged linux environment without changing your hard drive. This is a great tool for many applications, but one of the great applications is taking linux out of a test drive. Before you go through the trouble of formating hard drivers, and installing a distro. Burn up of Knoppix CD and boot it up. You will get a feel for what of your hardware is going to work out of the box and whats going to need to be configured and all sorts of great stuff. Generally, its just going to let you get a feel for linux and how linux is going to behave on your hardware. Keep in mind that you will be running KDE GUI ontop, which is just one of the many GUIs. Last time I checked also, you had to add the line “lang= us” to the boot command to get a US keyboard, that might have changed. There are also other live distros out there to look at, Gentoo has one, Mandrake has one, and there are other niche live distros that have been created to.

Now for more specific cases some more specific recommendations can be made.


Say for instance you want to run a server, be it Apache, ssh, or whatever. Your going to be looking for a very stable distro thats fully loaded with networking tools and will run like a dream. In this case, distros like WhiteBoxEL, Debian and Gentoo come to mind, though again, pretty much any of the major distros will work. The reason why those three are mentioned is the will provide you with the tools to finely tune your system for peek performance (than meas requests are processed faster and people got what they faster).
::So since servers are the area I have the least experience with maybe someone else shoud write this:::

Older Computers:
If you want to run linux on an older computer there are some things to keep in mind. Just like windows, the latest and greatest versions of linux (and more importantly GUIs) are designed to be run on the latest and greatest computers. Now I say more importantly GUIs because the new GUIs are starting to come standards with lots of bells and whistles like transparent windows, window decorations, animations and all that jazz that can make your screen look really cool, but eats up your processor like a hungry pig. So if you have a lot of processor lying around your ok, but if you don't you might want to think about not using the latest and greatest linux releases. Now, as a side note to you power users who have high end processors and want to use all of it for the important stuff, don't worry, your GUI can be stripped down and streamlined so its not wasting your precious processor power. Ok, back to topic, older computers will generally run better if you slip back to something like RedHat 7.2 or Mandrake 7.2 and use the GUI that comes standard with that distro. Older distros are still available on the net as ISO images, you just might have to look for them. Your also going to probably need drivers for a lot of your hardware, they can be found, compiled and used so don't stress.

No CD-ROM drive or CD-R Drive:
What about those of you who don't have a CD-Burner or a CD-Drive at all on your computer? Well there are a few options for you. The cop out solution is to fork up the bucks and pick one up, they are getting cheep and they are really nice to have. That or find a good friend with one to help you out. Second option is to try a network install. One of the easiest ways to do this is using another linux machine to mount the hard-drive and move the files over. If you don't have that available to you, many distros can be installed from a public remote server. All you need to do is get started by setting up the hard-drive and getting a command prompt and than download things as you go. For this Gentoo and Slackware would work best. And as far as getting a command line goes, something like OpenBSD can be put on a 3.5 inch floppy and booted up to give you the command line. You can find documentation on-line that will walk you through it step by step. has a wonderful instillation guide that will hold your hard every step of the way.

Lap Tops:
Frankly, a lop top install isn't all the different than a desktop install. The only little issue is sometimes, depending on the lap top, finding drivers can be a little tricky. In this case I recommend two things. One, boot up a version of Knoppix (see above) and see what works and what doesn't. Try your sound, network, and what not. Than, for what doesn't work go hit google and put in your model number and something like “linux drivers” or model + linux + drivers and see what comes up. If you know you need network drivers or something, try specifically looking for them. If your lap top is newer and a major brand odds are there are drivers for it, or the generic drivers will work. Older lap tops are going to run into some problems and should probably read the section on older computers, as well as spend some serious time looking for drivers before they get started.

--Jim Lester

Distro: Gentoo
System: AMD Athlon 3000+ XP 2.166 GHz
NVIDIA nForce2 IGP Chipset
NVIDIA nForce2 Dual Head 64 MB Graphics

Server Distro: CentOS
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- Jim   Choosing The Right Distro   Jun 1 2004, 03:25 PM

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