Originally Published: Thursday, 24 February 2000 Author: Erik Severinghaus
Published to: learn_articles_support/Articles Page: 1/1 - [Printable]

Comparison of Linux Distributions

This article provides an overview of many of the most popular Linux distributions.

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Distributions Explained:

With more an more people coming to Linux, there is quite a bit of confusion about the different distributions. This is also a topic of many holy wars, and flame fests. Igniting one is not my intent here. I am trying to present as objective an analysis as I can. Just to get the bias out of the way, I run Debian and Redhat personally. I am not going to try to rate the distros, but simply compare and contrast them.

Please note: I have only included distros with which I have personal experience, or have received information from other members at Linux.com. As a result, many have been left out (notably SuSE) because I know nothing about them. Feel free to help me rectify that by e-mailing Erik@linux.com :)

Caldera is pretty much just another Red Hat clone with the addition of the ported Novell Netware services. It was the first to come out with a graphical install -- called the Lizard (Linux Wizard). It has same SysV init style and rpm package management system. Uses KDE as default WM, but also comes with GNOME/Enlightenment. I've had problems after installation with upgrading kernels because they patch their kernels for a graphic boot sequence, so I would say it is definitely not for the usual hackers that want to be able to install/upgrade things easily from source. This is probably THE most commercial version of Linux available (with maybe the exception of Corel now). One of the most enjoyable installs I have ever done of any OS -- one of the biggest pain in the asses of all Linux distros after installation due to the commercial changes made.

Corel: A pretty Debian essentially. Much easier to set up than Debian (though I had a few quirks which had to be ironed out), but maintains the DEB package management system for easy mainenance. Corel has a much more Windows look to it by default, with just about everything being set up by pointing and clicking.

Debian: Debian uses a completely open system of maintaining its core distro, with people maintaining the various different areas of the system. Widely regarded as among the most stable of the distributions, it can be a little difficult to install initially, with the user being required to answer many more questions than with any other distro. Once it is set up initially though, it is arguably the easiest to maintain. Typing apt-get Debian will connect to the ftp sites, find the package and all the packages it requires, download them, and set them up. Furthermore, upgrading the system is a one command process, thus while the current stable release (slink) is extremely out of date, one command can grab all the latest software and set it up. Because it is maintained by the community it is basicly free of the quirks made by more commercial distributions. The is a result of the DEB packages, which are not usually as widely available as RPMS, but still usually easy to find.

Mandrake: Mandrake aims to be a better Redhat. Mandrake began when the scorched-earth flame fests between GNOME and KDE were in vogue. Mandrake decided to distribute Redhat with KDE, and a few other extras. Since then, license tensions have been reduced/eliminated and Redhat has taken to distributing with KDE. Mandrake now distinguishes itself by providing new tools (Diskdrake among others) and refining Redhat, as well as usually having even more cutting edge software. The internals are the same though, and so Redhat packages (RPMS) work in Mandrake.

Redhat: The most publicized of the versions of Linux. Redhat pioneered the idea of an easy install. I have always found Redhat to be easy to install, and generally easy to configure. Redhat uses the RPM system for managing packages, which has almost become a standard as far as binary packages. Redhat is generally easy to configure, with quite a few graphical utilities to reduce text file editing, etc. This can be a problem for users who truly want to learn Linux though. While reducing exposure to the guts of the system, and the config files can be a big time saver in tbe beginning, it can also be a mixed blessing, as when dificult issues arise, you may be unfamiliar with what is actually happening behind the scenes. Furthermore, Redhat has been known to introduce the quirks that all commercial distributions seem to love to do.

Slackware: Slackware is the oldest Linux distro, and competes with Debian for the most fiercely loyal zealots^H^H^H^H^H^H^Hadvocates. Slackware uses tar.gz'ed packages, and the package management system is not as robust as RPMs or DEBS. Unlike the other linux distro's that use Sys V init scripts, Slackware is one of the only Linux distro's that defaults to using BSD style init scripts for those users who like to get down and dirty with their os. Also Patrick, the maintainer of Slackware, doesn't put any non-stable/development software in his distro which is why Slackware is claimed to be a very solid distro, though seldom quite as current as the others.

Erik Severinghaus (Erik@linux.com) with help from support-staff@linux.com.

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