distributions have paid extra attention to making a beginners'
journey into the world of Linux a more seamless transistion.
can be achieved by providing extensive documentation such as printed
installation and set up, eye
candy, configuration of the desktop to give a windows look and feel,
and good hardware detection.
Other distros are better suited for intermediate or advanced
users. They rely less on graphical configuration tools or
easy installation routines.
Designed for servers,
designed for the desktop will generally have a friendly
graphical interface, and a common set of applications, for installation
at home on a regular PC or laptop, whereas server editions are
predominately used in a business environment, often
being accompanied by a support contract charged at commercial
There are also distributions which are developed for specific hardware
such as PDA, mobile phones, smartphones, robots, tablets, thin clients,
smart devices, even gaming consoles. For example, the GP2X is
dual CPU handheld gaming console running Linux.
majority of Linux distros can be downloaded over the internet
at no cost, or are available to be purchased on physical media (CD/DVD)
for nominal sums. There are a number of companies which
free edition, but also sell a commercial variant with added extras,
technical support etc. For example, RedHat, Mandriva and Novell all
release a 'no cost' distribution, but sell editions which include
commercial software, offer phone and email technical support, provide
training etc. There are also a few Linux companies which only
produce commercial distributions e.g. Xandros.
General purpose or have a
Linux can be installed on a machine for one
For example, the machine may act as a dedicated router/firewall, it may
function as a terminal server, or as a Voice over IP (VoIP) phone
Alternatively, the selection of software packages included in the
distro may specifically target a particular type of user. For
example, 64 Studio develops a distribution of free software for digital
content creation, which may appeal to you if you like to compose and
Designed for specific
Most home PCs have an Intel or AMD processor
there are different editions available in Linux for computers with 32
and 64 bit processors. Consequently, a user needs to choose a
distro that is actually able to run on their machine.
Matters are complicated a little by the fact that Linux doesn't just
run on processors manufactured by Intel
and AMD. There are editions of some distributions available
other architectures including SPARC 32, SPARC 64 (both developed by Sun
Microsystems), ARM (Arm Limited), HPPA (Hewlett-Packard), MIPS (MIPS
Technologies) , SH , S/390 (IBM zSeries), Alpha (DEC), and 68k
(Motorola). A distribution designed for one of these
architectures is not going to work on an Intel or AMD machine.
Installed to a hard drive
or to other
On your hard drive you have all your personal
applications customised to your liking. Even if you have a
complete backup of this information (which you should have!),
installing Linux to that drive is going to require some
There is a solution at hand. LinuxLinks.com lists
distributions. The term 'live' refers to the fact
distros can be run from the media itself without installation to a hard
drive. This means that a user can test-drive a real Linux
without affecting the existing operating system stored on the hard
drive. By using on-the-fly decompression, the CD can have up
GB of executable software (and for DVD editions up to 8GB) available to
be tested. Running an operating system from a CD or
DVD is going to be significantly slower than using a hard disk, but
many of these
LiveCDs can be subsequently installed to the hard drive if you wish.
Besides CD and DVD media, Linux can also run from bootable flash memory
such as USB keys (which are faster than CDs). This lets you
your full-featured Linux system anywhere you go; to the office, at
home, even to a foreign country, accessing all your own files, and as
USB keys make no noise, you can have a totally silent PC.
It is even possible for Linux to run purely in RAM.
Installed with all the
need, or don't need
Ideally, the distro will come with all the types of programs
to run. Windows ships with a relatively small set of
applications, whereas many Linux distros come supplied with
thousands of applications covering office suites, internet
applications, games, utilities, programming tools, productivity tools,
However, this vast number of applications can be very confusing to a
newcomer, who not only has to contend with becoming familiar with
Linux, but also that some or all of the Linux applications differ from
their Windows equivalents. With this in mind, some
Linux software companies have made a conscious effort to reduce the
number of applications that are provided in a distro, choosing only 1
or maybe 2 applications that cover a specific task. After
there is often little benefit to a newcomer being presented with 5
different web browsers, especially when Firefox is so popular.
Suitable for high or low
You may have 2 computers and intend to try out
your 'old slow'
computer. Alternatively, the 'old slow' computer may be all
have. It could be a 6 year old computer with a Pentium III
processor, with 128MB of RAM and a 10GB Hard disk, or even a 10 year
old computer with a tortoise-like Pentium II with 64MB of RAM and a 5GB
Hard disk. Fortunately, there are Linux distributions which
for older hardware. For example, Damn Small Linux needs just
486 processor with 16MB of RAM. The above machines are
overspecified, bet you never thought you would hear that again about
your old hardware. As Linux is quite suitable for older
it can extend its lifespan considerably. Why throw away a perfectly
good computer when it can be put to real use?
On the other hand, you might own a more powerful PC, it might sport a
64-bit processor, have buckets of RAM, and oodles of hard disk space. Many types of applications
database and rendering) all show a distinct speed advantage with a
64-bit operating system over a 32-bit one, but there is little speed
improvement by using a 64-bit processor with a 32-bit operating
system. Fortunately, there are a good number of distros which
available in 64-bit versions.
There are lots of other differences between
Some have unique methods of managing start up scripts, some make custom
changes to the Linux kernel, use different tools to update the system,
or favor using the latest versions of software even if it has not been