As a dedicated reader of OSNews.com and a VP of Technology for an IT firm that specializes in utilizing Open Source solution for small business, I have been amazed at the rash of some reviews on the various distros of Linux and their failure to really help readers make a choice on what they should use or try. Linux has really matured in the desktop arena and in alot less time than Windows took to do so.I’ve been trying, and I mean really trying to select a version of Linux to use at home, but with much disappointment. This isn’t a review, it an opjective professional opinion based on 3 years of real experimentation with Linux as a ‘average home use’ OS. I will also point out that I am not a fan of Windows and use only Linux now in the work environment. I was a convert from the NT/2000 world who learned Linux like most people I know, in whatever spare time they had. I love Linux, and as a server OS, uneaqualed. Linux is an OS that with a professional with the right skills, can be shaped to perform just about any task, very well. Now we professionals have to do the hardest task there is, make it easy enough to please everyone.
To make this easier for readers, consider this a guide to a finding a Linux distro that will fit your needs and help you have a better experience with Linux.
1) Gentoo – A great distro for those who like to be on the bleeding edge with a great support community. This is a very fast, optimized distro which has different versions based on your CPU model and optimized to perform better on those CPU’s. If you are unexperienced in Linux or afraid of the command line, this is not for you. It also takes nearly an entire day to install everything you need for a good desktop OS. Lots of software choice and easy update management. This is a great distro for those who love to tinker, tune and really love compling code.
2) Mandrake 9.2/SuSe 9.0 Pro/Fedora Core 1 – I am grouping these three together because both offer a very good user experience and show alot of polish to the look & feel of the desktop itself. Everything works and most of the software you need is included. The install process is easy enough for just about anyone who has ever installed an OS before to understand and perform without incident. All discover hardware well and install the correct drivers to operate a stable desktop. These also lack proper multimedia suport like Mplayer, Xine and all the codecs needed to handle Quicktime, Windows Media, MP3(Fedora Core) and Real Player files. You will need to install various libraries, codecs and plugins for your browser to properly handle multimedia.
3) Lindows 4/4.5 – Great distro for someone who knows very little about computers or OS’s and wants to try Linux! For an average consumer who wants a great OS that will be stable, nice to look at and use, and offers plenty of easy-to-install, easy-to-use software, this is for you. Very close to what a desktop should be. Everything works. It does a good job with wireless and detecting digital cameras and USB devices. If your a developer/tinkerer and like to use apt-get or synaptic to install additional software, this is not for you. CNR is a great was for average users to install software, but using apt/synaptic will break it.
4) Lycoris Update 3 – Same as 3. A great OS for beginners and does an excellent job of imitating the look and feel of Windows XP. Again everything works and it has a great support community. I encountered many problems with wireless cards though and it is still based on KDE 2.2.2.
5) Ark Linux – Still alpha and still many things that don’t work well. Last one I tested was alpha 7 and the current release is alpha 10. So it may be better now. Personally, I would wait till it matures more.
There are a number of smaller releases I haven’t tried and since some of these distros mentioned are Debian-based releases, I will say that Debian itself is a good distro for the experienced Linux user, but not a beginner. Lindows is based on the Debian flavor and good for beginners. When you want to step up, I would look at Debian or Gentoo.
Again, this is to be more of a suggested guideline not a review. I hope it helps a few make a decision to try Linux. It will suprise you. And you can install all of these on a seperate partition or hard drive in your existing system witha dual-boot configuration so you can try it without blowing away windows. I know this much, Linux is getting better and better because of a great community, and the more people that use it and provide good feedback about their experience, the better it will get.