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What is the best Linux Distribution?

Part 1

Linux distribution is a coherent collection of free software with the Linux kernel (operating system) at its center.  To run Linux, you normally need a Linux distribution on a CD.

The differences between the various Linux distributions ("distros") are minor: the installation program, choice of the bundled applications and tools, arrangement of a few things on the hard drive. Regardless of your choice of distro, most of Linux is still at the same, and standard hard drive locations are used for essential items. Whichever distribution you decide to install, you will end up with essentially the same Linux.

We mostly use Mandrake Linux (sometimes called MDK) or Fedora (formerly known as "Red Hat Linux" "RedHat" or RH) and for the following reasons:

  1. They are both very popular (both an advantage for a newbie and a testimony to their quality).
  2. They are both general-purpose distributions.
  3. They both come with relatively easy setup programs.
  4. Both Mandrake and RedHat contributions to Linux are "open software" (this means that all the software written by the packaging corporations and included on the distribution CDs is licensed under the General Public License, GPL, so that it can be legally copied, given away, reused, etc.).
  5. Both Mandrake and Fedora can be obtained cheaply or free if you don't care for commercial support.  This is a consequence of (4).
  6. Mandrake was once originally based on RedHat, so both distributions are quite similar. Software packages for RedHat often work on Mandrake (and vice versa) without problems. However, Mandrake is a bit more automatized and makes a somewhat nicer desktop than RedHat.  At the same time, Mandrake sometimes is not as rock stable as RedHat.

In short, as a newbie, you can safely bet on "Mandrake" or "Fedora" unless you like something else or have specialized needs, or your environment suggests using something else (e.g., if you have an experienced guru nearby, or a bunch of friends who are using Linux, you may want to use the same distribution - makes getting help a whole lot easier).

The most recent distributions we recommend (December 2003) is Mandrake 9.2, and "Fedora Core 1" (the predecessor of Fedora was "RedHat 9.0"). These are both excellent distributions.  Be sure to specify the most recent version if ordering your software from a dealer--many dealers like to clear their inventory by sending you an older version (this applies not only to Linux). Generally, development under Linux is fast, and you don't want to waste your time with older distributions. The authors of this guide have no connection to Mandrake or RedHat  (or any other Linux distributor) whatsoever.

Our recommendation of Mandrake and Fedora for newbie's does not mean that other distributions don't offer benefits or unique features which may surpass Mandrake or RedHat in specific areas. We do believe that we benefited from exposure to a different distribution because it helped us understand Linux better.

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