Tuesday, 12-Dec-2000 10:32:07 EST
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The Distro NHF
Written By ph34r

Here is a kinda basic, not too biased view on a few different distros. Maybe others can add to this and we can finally end the "what distro" questions. For the record, I made several false starts with Redhat that were quickly stopped for hardware reasons, finally getting RH 6.0 installed and working nicely. I then used a from-scratch system, and that caused me to go to Peanut, which caused me to go to Slack 7.0. I have done two half-hearted installs of Debian, several of different versions of Mandrake, and a few of Slack 7.1. I am currently using Slack 7.1, and considering either a new LFS system or just sticking with my current install until the 2.4 kernel becomes "real" and X4 goes thru a few more releases.

Just for the record, the distro you should buy is the one that comes with the big fat book you are gonna go out and get later.  As far as book recommendations go, I recommend Slackware Linux Unleashed (isbn#  0672317680) or Redhat Linux Unleashed (isbn# 0672319853), both from  Sams - and the Redhat one is available online from Basically, they are the same book, each with a slight focus on the title distro and a copy of the distro with it.  Of the two, I just cannot make a fair choice - both are excellent distributions, and I actually own both books as well.  Buy it in person and make sure it comes with a recent version of the distro - I recently saw one of the Redhat books with version 5.2 - you want Slackware 7.0 or 7.1 or Redhat 6.1 or Redhat 6.2.

So... here it is:

A nice distro, although the 7.0 release is very buggy based on the bulletin board traffic - stick with 6.2 or wait for 7.1. The gui installer is somewhat new and won't work at times, but the text install is very easy to follow and what I recommend using. I typically pick a custom install as opposed to a server or kde/gnome workstation, and select groups of packages to install. It uses rpm for installing packages, which works well, but can be somewhat confusing, stubborn, or just plain stoopid on occasion.

Again, a very nice distro, and the one I currently use.  Very simplified text install that is easy to follow. It has the options of being very powerful and configureable, but this leads to a corresponding increase in learning time. Not much though. Slackware uses the standard linux configuration files, and expects you to edit them by hand, which is fairly straightforward and easy to do. Redhat typically has GUI configuration tools that separate you from the actual configuration of your OS.

The big differences in Slack and Redhat (and their offspring) are the way packages are handled and the way the system starts up.
-   Redhat uses rpm, which will install a package, checking for dependencies and conflicts, and stop if there are problems, or if it thinks that there are problems.
-   Slackware uses .tgz files, which are basically traditional tar.gz files that write a record of what files came from what packages (/var/log/packages). Installing is simple, but there is no dependecy or conflict checking.
-   Debian and its offspring use .deb files, and apt/dpkg for its often praised package management. Installing is simple (apt-get install packagename) - once you manage to install Debian :).

The system startup differences between each (SysV vs. BSD style inits) are just there, as with any distro, and each one needs to be learned when you use the distro.

A nice small distro, based on Slackware. At a 65mb download and sub-200mb (+swap) full install, it is a small distro. This includes X, KDE, Netscape, irc clients, ppp, etc. It is missing a compiler, which helps with the size tremendously, but it uses slackware .tgz packages, so it is easy to add whatever software or features you find missing.

A distro that is not a distro. Once you are comfortable enough with linux, you can do some repartitioning, and reinstall *any* current distro minimally (just a compiler) and create your own linux distro from the published source code of the core system apps. Not for the newbie, it is a project that will teach you soooo much about how linux works - a great choice for your second distro. Print the howto, burn the source files to a CD, make a few boot disks, and get ready to learn. Also fun to do on VMware - slower, but at least you can surf the web while glibc compiles... Check for more info.

Mandrake started life as a updated Redhat, but has since come  into its own. A very good newbie distro, it can do all sorts of things  automatically for you... even when you don't want them done.  My big complaint here is that the install does not give you enough control, especially if you are used to installing Slackware or Redhat (in text  mode).  Mandrake also includes extra hardware support for the neat new stuff that other distros don't include with the base install.

From what I have heard, Debian is a great distro, although it has a "hardcore" reputation. From my own experience, it is somewhat lacking in some areas, especially the install process. It has a system (apt) for installing software that is near majikal (apt-get), but quite frankly, it sucks for those of us on slow (sub 28.8) modem connections. I can't honestly say that I have had enough experience with it to give a fair opinion. I'd like to hear from someone who uses it and can give a fair review of it.
(In case you are wondering, my connection sucks so much, I send tcp/ip packets via carrier pigeon at home. Feel free to contribute to the "phiber for ph34r" campaign at your local post office or ISP.)

SuSE - (This part was contributed by Dr. SuSE. Thanks doc. -ed.)
Suse is somewhere in the middle.  Although SuSE are in direct competition with RedHat over the European "easy use" distro market, SuSE sits somewhere in the middle of the lists. It has something for everyone. It's installer - YaST can be used in several modes including graphical, text, and "expert mode" for those who get a kick out of fiddling with stuff. I can definitly vouch for YaST2's hardware detection as it got my not-technically supported graphics (SiS305) and a sound card that just didn't want to play with alsa (fm801) perfectly configured. Yast can be used to do all sorts of menial tasks like adding users, configuring lilo and 101 other tedious things that get really dull the Nth time you do them by hand. SuSE's multiple CDs (+ a DVD in 7 professional!), have saved me great amounts of download time by already having stuff. All in all, I'd highly reccommend it. Might be hard to get in the US, but it's easy to get in the UK.
Ed. note: The thing I like about SuSE is that funky green thingie they have for a logo/mascot. And, Best Buy carries it (at least here in Florida).

Libranet (Contributed by Libra from IRC. Thanks.)
A nice Debian based distro that is designed for the desktop. It comes with all the popular window managers and many favorite desktop apps. The install proggie is Debian based though much more user friendly. One nice little feature is it's "Adminmenu" proggie that basically allows you to configure most of the common hardware on a desktop pc like a printer, mouse, etc. The one thing Adminmenu really makes easy for a newbie is it automates the "make" commands for re-compiling the kernel, really makes it an easy task to compile support for something. The one bad thing in my opinion is they don't maintain a typical ftp site with a "current" tree like slack and such nor do they offer the current distro for download, you have to actually order it and pay.

Todo list for this NHF
Well, I would still like to hear from a Debian, Storm, Corel and Caldera user or 3 to help add to this.  And, I wish more people would read it before posting on the BB's. :).

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