Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Choice Distros

I constantly talk about getting Windows users to switch to a free more secure alternative operating system called Linux. For those of you that are considering taking the plunge, I figured I’d list some of my personal suggestions as to which version of Linux to choose. I’ve used several factors in coming to my decision with the ultimate idea packaged around ease of use. I’ve included full install versions which require space on your hard drive as well as Live CDs which boot off of and run completely off the CD or a USB drive.

Ubuntu (

Ubuntu is probably the most user friendly distro I’ve used in my four + years of Linux experience. Ubuntu is a relatively new distro on the block but it has garnered much attention for the complete ease of use from hardware detection to package management. Coupled with the fact that their support forums provide an excellent resource for just about any user request, this version of Linux has become a viable alternative to any Microsoft Windows operating system including XP. I can’t stress enough that if your considering to jump into Linux to do so using this distro. If you like the “eye candy” of XP, consider using the KDE desktop manager as opposed to the default GNOME desktop. GNOME’s desktop has the look and feel that could be considered to be more of a pre-XP look similar to that of Windows 98 and 2000.

SuSE (

SuSE Linux has the visual appeal that entices Windows users into become Linux addicts. SuSE is very easy to install and maintain. It includes everything a casual to power user would need in one distro. This version of Linux easily installs on a desktop or laptop computer and can be networked with other systems running operating systems such as Windows with little or no difficulty. SuSE has their own version of a control panel they call YaST. YaST’s functionality is quite bit more diverse in comparison to the control panel in Windows. From within YaST, just about every function can be done to update, upgrade, or modify the system. SuSE is yet another strong distro for a home user but is quite common in a workplace environment in many countries including the US.

Slackware (

While my criteria weighed heavy on ease of install and ease, this is not the case when it comes to Slackware. By no means is it the most difficult to use but it will present a challenge to maintain certain things in the distro. The example I use is that your wireless card built into your laptop may not be recognized and you’ll have to take a few steps in order to get it working. Slackware is one of original version of Linux and support forums are available throughout the web by Google searching ( or consulting the Slackware site itself ( The reason I put Slackware on my list is because it is easily the most stable, secure Linux available. The word is that if you are able to manage Slackware, you will know ALL Linux. If you are the kind that is up to a little challenge in their work, enjoy Slackware.


PCBSD is based off of FreeBSD and now I know I’ve lost your attention. To make it even more confusing, BSD is not Linux. BSD is Unix. Rather than have you completely surf to another page, let me explain that Mac operating systems are based on BSD Unix. Whether you hate Mac or not, Mac operating systems are much more secure than Windows. Now back to PCBSD. PCBSD is a project intended to make BSD much more user friendly from the install to management. Most versions of alternative operating systems are pretty much cut and dry once they are installed. The troubles usually for the end-user are in the initial install and how the packages are updated when in use. PCBSD is doing an excellent job at making the end-user experience for a potential Unix user to be very enjoyable. I’ve tried my hand at other versions of Unix and immediately ran back to Linux. PCBSD gives the not so intimidating vibe of Unix.

Slax (

I recently picked up Slax and haven’t been able to put it down. Slax is a LiveCD distro which means that it runs completely off a CD or USB key without installing on your hard drive at all. For those that might be looking to test run Linux, this is a good solution without overwriting anything existing on your computer. I was attracted to Slax because it is highly customizable. Software/Packages can easily be added or removed from the distro along with options of settings to be saved from last boot on another computer. I like to think of this distro as more of an emergency resource if your Windows partition has become corrupt. You can easily boot from Slax and do everything you need. Slax is based off of Slackware so it incorporates much of that stability.

Knoppix (

Knoppix is a LiveCD similar to Slax but only has the CD booting option unlike Slax. Knoppix is the original LiveCD and is feature rich with tools for system administration. I don’t really consider Knoppix to be an average user distro by any means but the hardware detection is second to none and the basic user features appear as well as the advanced. Knoppix has always been considered to be the distro to use if your thinking of converting to Linux primary because it’s a LiveCD. I personally use Knoppix only for the system administration tools at this point but it is still the front runner when it comes to talk of a Linux conversion. I’d suggest picking up the Knoppix book entitled Knoppix Hacks ( if you’re considering it for the many uses. I’ve found this manual to be extremely helpful in unlocking the features of Knoppix.

If you are new to Linux or considering it, I also included distros that I can do without and urge you to steer from as well but the ultimate decision will be your own.

Gentoo (

Gentoo is extremely difficult and lengthy to install along with the fact that it’s all from the command line. It’s quoted at taking days to install in some cases. Supposedly once it is installed, it is easy to maintain. I haven’t found the forums to be very helpful and I don’t believe the distro to be even for the more versed users at all. I do believe that those that have successfully installed feel more as though they accomplished the impossible install task rather than were looking to just use the operating system. The design of Gentoo is such that it supposedly runs faster because the design is catered to the computer it’s installed on. I’ve read some reports being that certain applications open a few seconds faster than other versions of Linux. I don’t think that’s worth a 3 day install that typically fails for one complicated reason or another because of a botched command on line somewhere in the 3 day install. I like to refer to this as Super Ninja Linux. I’d suggest to stay away from this distro unless use like abusing yourself.

Mepis (

I’d just like to point out that I’m just not a personal fan of the distro. I don’t like the layout of the desktop, the logo, or color scheme. Although all of this is customizable, I just don’t prefer this distro. The overall handling of the distro is very similar to Ubuntu but I don’t think that the support is anywhere as good. This is just not my distro of choice. There are a lot of people that champion this distro but I will not be one of them.