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12/29/2003 Archived Entry: "Five flavors of Linux"
Several days back I offered to share my experience/opinions of a few Linux distributions. If you're interested in a move to Linux, this might interest you. If you're not planning such a move, feel free to ignore the rest of this blog entry.
To begin with the "big three":
- Red Hat Linux ($180 download/$300). I've been using Red Hat Linux 8.0 for a year, and it works great. It's a "full" Linux distribution with mail, web, database, and file servers...you could run an ISP with it. Red Hat is probably the most popular Linux in North America. For this reason, most Linux applications are available precompiled for Red Hat in RPM (Redhat Package Manager) format, which makes them easy to install. Also, there are plenty of books about Red Hat, and you'll want a good book to help you, because Red Hat requires a wee bit of expertise to administer...you may have to edit a few text files. (I like the Red Hat Linux 8 Bible from Wiley Publishing.)
I'm a bit miffed at Red Hat now, though, because they've discontinued their update service for all old versions (7.x, 8.x, and 9.x). I would have accepted if they'd discontinued the free service and kept the paid service, but to discontinue both leaves a lot of users with no easy way to get the latest security fixes. Red Hat is moving away from "personal" Linux, and are pushing Red Hat Enterprise Linux. (Experimenters can migrate to the free Fedora, but it's a bit "bleeding edge" for the average user.) The upshot: good choice for a major enterprise or server application; not recommended for a simple desktop or small business.Mandrake Linux (free/$40). Hearsay alert: I've never used Mandrake Linux. I've heard it was one of the first Linux distros to aim for the desktop market, and it's said to be very easy to install and administer, and very similar to Red Hat (so if you've learned Red Hat, your knowledge may transfer). I'd guess it's #2 in popularity in North America. You can still download CD images for free, or buy the "Discover" version boxed for $40. Downsides: I'm told it includes a lot of "new release" software, so it may be a bit less stable. Mandrake filed for bankruptcy reorganization last year, but HP is now offering Mandrake Linux on some of its computers, so I'd expect their finances are improving. I've started recommending Mandrake to friends who want to try Linux for free, and I think this might make a fine "personal" Linux. (I'm hoping to try it out myself on a spare computer soon.)SuSE Linux (free download/$40). Hearsay alert: I've never used SuSE Linux, either. But all I've heard about it has been good. It's the #1 Linux in Europe and is gaining popularity in North America. It's said to be very easy to install and administer, and its update feature is reportedly excellent. SuSE is being acquired by Novell, so you can expect to see a solid North American presence, and it may start appearing on IBM hardware. If you have a high-speed Internet connection you can install on-line for free, but SuSE does not make free ISO images (CD-ROMs) available. For CD-ROMs you'll have to buy their $40 "Personal" or $80 "Professional" package. I think this would be a good choice for a small business that needs continuing support from a Linux vendor.
If you don't need all the server software -- just desktop applications -- and are willing to spend a few dollars, there are two newcomers you might want to consider:
- Lindows ($60/$110). I call Lindows "your grandmother's Linux" because everything about it has been geared for ease of use: they're aiming squarely at the consumer market. It's easier to install, and to use, than Windows. One reason is their "Click-N-Run" feature which lets you download and install an application program with a single click. The basic OS is $60, but you'll want a subscription to the Click-N-Run "warehouse" for an additional $50/year. Downsides: unless you're a skilled Linux user, you're pretty much stuck with the applications available from their warehouse -- a big selection, but you'll need that subscription. The hardware support isn't as good as other Linuxes I've tried; you'll want a fairly current PC with lots of RAM and a fast CPU. And you really want a high-speed Internet connection to use Lindows...over dial-up, it's a drag. With those caveats, this is an excellent choice for a completely unsophisticated user.
- Xandros ($40 standard/$100 deluxe). Xandros is aiming for the desktop market and users making the transition from Windows. It's tied with Lindows for easiest-Linux-I've-ever-installed, and I find its administration tools very easy to use. The Standard edition lets you select a Windows, Mac, or Linux look-and-feel, has a superb file manager, and an easy update function. With the release of Xandros 2.0 they seem to be moving in on the Lindows market: their Xandros Update has morphed into Xandros Network, which looks suspiciously like the Lindows Click-N-Run warehouse. At present the Xandros selection of applications seems more limited than Lindows, but unlike Lindows you're not tied to the warehouse: you can easily download and install any open-source programs, in either DEB or RPM package formats. The Deluxe edition includes CodeWeavers CrossOver Office which lets you run some Windows software, like Microsoft Office, under Linux. (Note that you can get CrossOver Office for any Linux, not just Xandros.) I think this is an excellent choice for an existing computer user of average skill, or for a person or business that's making the transition from Windows to Linux.
Suffice it to say that I'm installing Xandros 2.0 for Wendy (she needs to use Eudora and MS Word), and since Red Hat is no longer supporting 8.0, I'll be migrating to Xandros myself. Our firewall/email server will use something else.
These are just three Linuxes that I've tried, and two that I haven't, out of dozens. These five are all in the Distrowatch "Top Ten" major distributions, and I recommend that you read that excellent summary before making a choice. I'm also experimenting with VectorLinux, Libranet, and Knoppix, and may give Debian and Lycoris a spin. Distrowatch is a good place for information and reviews about all of these.