What is a Linux Distribution and Which Linux Distribution is Right For Me? There are many different versions of Linux, and unlike other commercial operating systems that are controlled, distributed and supported by only one company, the core of Linux is free to distribute and use. This creates a situation in which numerous companies, organizations and individuals have developed their own specific version of the Linux operating system. When these versions are made publicly available for use, they are known as distributions. Normally, distributions are made for specific reasons and have been tailored to address a series of concerns. There are many versions of Linux that were developed specifically to be installed on servers that receive heavy traffic, like web servers. Some distributions of Linux were developed to be used in networks where security is a priority; where sensitive information should only be accessed by a privileged few. In fact, Linux is at the core of many of today's most advanced Firewalls! There are versions of Linux that are meant to be installed on top of an existing operating system like Windows, so people can try out Linux under familiar conditions. There are versions of Linux that are designed to be installed on platforms like Macintosh. Linux also makes its appearance in many embedded devices, like routers, switches, phone systems, smart phones, gps systems, and the list goes on and on. There are versions of Linux with funny names like Chainsaw Linux (no kidding). And, of course, there are distributions of Linux that are designed to be used as a PC Desktop operating system. So, which Linux distribution should you use? My answer, based on over 12 years of experience with Linux and deployments in multiple companies, is 'it depends'. However, here are some questions that you can ask yourself when trying to select a Linux distribution. Is the code base stable Does it change much Is it easy to update software packages? (features like Debian's apt-get or Red Hat's yum update system) Is it easy to upgrade from one major version to the next? Does it have a large developer base? (translates into a large software selection to choose from) There is no 'best' Linux distribution. To use an analogy, if you were going mountain climbing, you would need specific clothes to protect you from the cold, wind, rain and the terrain. However, if you were going to a formal dinner, I would need a tuxedo (or a nice suit!). However, if you were going about your daily routine, you would wear 'normal' clothes (normal being a relative word). There are computer world equivalents of mountain climbing and formal dinners as well as just sitting around the house. Linux has been fit into all those environments and more. There is even the equivalent of a swimsuit in Linux - a lightweight and compact version - just enough to cover the essentials. Most PC users probably just need the everyday version. This kind of Linux has been widely available for some time now. Since Microsoft makes its living selling people 'ordinary' operating systems, they have a lot to lose if Linux ever gets popular with the masses. For this reason they have done everything in their power to 'warn' the public that Linux is something that you probably don't want and don't need. But in reality, Linux is just as easily installed and supports just as wide a range of hardware as Microsoft Windows does. The three most popular Desktop distributions of Linux are; Fedora Ubuntu Linux Mint The four most popular Server versions of Linux are; Debian CentOS (Linux.org runs on a CentOS Linux VPS) OpenSUSE Slackware The two most popular Virtual Server versions of Linux are; VMWare Citrix XenServer (Linux.org runs on XenServer) Linux.org DOES NOT Promote Any Particular Linux Distribution It would be impossible to cover all of the different distributions of Linux, so this lesson will only deal with standard versions of Linux that are meant to be installed on Personal Computers in your home or office. There are several well known distributions of Linux that run well as a Desktop. You may have even heard of some of the companies/organizations that have created distributions for this platform, like Debian, Ubuntu, Fedora, Linux Mint and SuSE. There are many others as well. There are even versions of Linux that offer documentation and installation programs in languages other than English. It is not our intention to endorse the distributions/products of the companies we have mentioned here nor do we want to slight those companies that we haven't mentioned. Distrowatch maintains a list of all kinds of distributions. We invite you to consult that list before deciding on installing any version of Linux. Get Ready to Install All of the major versions of Linux have perfected their products to such a degree that they are very easy to install. Well designed guided wizards will take you through the process of installation step by step so that you will be able to get Linux up and running in a relatively short period of time without any headaches. But even commercial operating systems that are billed as being the most user-friendly in the world can't guarantee a 100% problem-free installation. If you are using unusual hardware peripherals, then you may encounter driver incompatibility problems. This has always been one of the weak points of Linux. It just doesn't have the same driver support that Windows does. However, don't fret. Over the past several years Linux has made up major ground and much of what is commonly available at your local PC retail store will work well in Linux.