Which Linux Distribution To Choose

Before you start

Objectives: learn what is the difference between Linux intended for servers and Linux intended for workstations, what are Linux distributions and common Linux distribution families.

Prerequisites: no prerequisites.

Key terms: linux, distributions, package, debian, family, rpm, hat, manager, red, used, components


Network vs Workstation Operating System

Linux can be used either as a server or a workstation operating system. Linux is already often used in server environments because of its stability and immunity to the common viruses. It also scales well across different types of computer architectures. However Linux as the workstation OS is growing really fast too, and we expect that it will be rivaling Microsoft Windows. That’s why we as computer administrators have to be familiar with Linux operating systems as well, and that’s why we have tutorials about Linux on our utilizewindows.com site :).

When we install Linux distribution intended for server environments, we install services like email, routing, proxy, web (Apache), Network file system (NFS), storage, database, Samba, DNS, DHCP, etc. Servers are used to provide networking services to users and other computers on the network. Graphical and multimedia components are usually not installed on Linux servers, since in that way we conserve resources and eliminate possible cause of problems. The desktop Linux is more graphically oriented, so we install desktop elements such as XWindows, e-mail clients, KDE, GNOME, sound, graphics and video support, games, word processors, spreadsheets, or any end-user application. The great thing about Linux is that it can be used across great range of computers, from servers and workstations to handheld devices such as mobile phones or tablets.

Different Linux Distributions

When we talk about Linux, we usually refer to it as an operating system, but what we should be talking about is a Linux distribution. The thing is, Linux is typically distributed as independent distribution. A Linux distribution is a collection of different components built on top of the Linux kernel, and packaged together to form a Linux distribution. A package is the collection of components like tools, software, utilities, devices, which are put together by an individual or group to make up a distribution. Each package (distribution) can use a package manager. Package manager is a tool that installs and maintains a Linux package. For example, the RPM family of Linux distributions uses the Red Hat package manager (RPM).

There are several major families of Linux distributions. The first major family is the RPM family of Linux distributions. RPM distributions include Red Hat related distributions such as Red Hat or Mandrake. We also have RPM based distributions that were never derived from Red Hat. Example of such distribution is SUSE. RPM distributions are designed around the Red Hat package manager. Another family of Linux distributions is the Debian family. Debian distributions are based on the Debian Package Manager. Debian is probably the closest to the official distribution of the GNU project. The idea behind Debian is openness and no real rigid control over the development. Any distribution that is Debian-based really is Debian derived. Examples of Debian derivatives are Ubuntu, Xandros or Lindows (Linspire). Another family of distributions are the Slackware derivatives. They are one of the oldest distributions and they don’t use any structured package management. Its installation and management is done trough tarballs or gzip tarball files. Slackware distributions have a number of derivatives as well, like CollegeLinux, VectorLinux, SLAX, BuffaloLinux, etc. Another family of distributions are the Source-based distributions. Source-based distributions of Linux are designed to work from the source code. The user compiles the kernel and all utilities from the source code, prior to installing the software. An example of a source-based distribution is Gentoo.

Remember

Linux can be used either as a server or a workstation operating system. Linux is a collection of a number of different components being put together, and then distributed as distributions. The main families are RPM, Debian, Slackware and Source-based.

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