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
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 http://www.informit.com. 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. http://www.redhat.com/.
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. http://www.slackware.com/. 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. http://metalab.unc.edu/peanut/
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...
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
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. http://www.debian.org/
(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
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. http://www.suse.com
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
Libranet (Contributed by Libra from IRC.
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. http://www.libranet.com
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. :).
Would you like to have your article published online? Send them in to email@example.com