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Linux Distribution Guide - Part 3

Linux Distribution Guide

What other factors might influence my choice of Distribution?

Some of the points raised on the previous page are relevant to the decision-making process e.g. the choice of which distro to try will be, in part, determined by the type of hardware you have.  However, further factors to consider are as follows:

Your Level of Linux Experience

If you have never used Linux before, you probably want to choose a distro which has a simple installation, which installs and configures applications using a slick graphical interface.

However, if you have a friend that is knowledgeable about Linux, we strongly recommend you use the distro they use.  Although there is an enormous amount of help freely available over the internet (via FAQs, HOWTOs, USENET (a global Internet discussion system), linux forums, support websites etc), nothing beats hands-on support.  Choosing the same distro will make it easier for your friend to help you.

Bear also in mind that popular distros will have a larger userbase, and more users, and therefore more people who have solved any problems you might encounter.

Availability of Software

This factor is best illustrated with an example.  Let's take the software package NoMachine NX client (a Linux terminal client; software which lets you make secure, remote connections to enable users to access remote Linux and Unix desktop sessions). 

The developers of NoMachine NX make versions available for distros that use RPM, DEB, and as a compressed tar file. 

RPM and DEB are examples of package management formats, which are used by package management systems; free software tools which install, update, uninstall, verify and query software packaged in that format.  Package management systems make installing software a breeze.  Some systems even detect if a program depends on other code and checks if that has already been installed. If not, it automagically installs it for you.  

However, if you are using a distro that doesn't use RPM or DEB (in this example), you must install the software manually yourself, using the compressed tar file.  Any modifications you make (such as installing a new version, removing the software) must also be done manually.  It's fair to say that if you intend on trying out lots of new software, packages are more likely to have been built for the more popular distros.

The Programs you want to run

There are tens of thousands of programs that run under Linux.  Yes, tens of thousands, with the vast majority being available for free!  The selection of software is one of the key choices facing the individual or organisation which is creating the distro.  From the user's perspective, it is preferable that the distro comes with every type of program that he or she wants to run, saving the individual time to find the applications on the net.  You may want the distro to select the best-of-breed applications for you, and therefore may want to steer away from distros that install every application under the sun.  Alternatively, you might be the type of user who just loves trying out new software.  Distros such as Debian are ideal for this type of beginner, as it comes supplied with over 18,000 applications.  That should keep you occupied for at least a few months :)


Every distro will come with at least one version of the Linux kernel.  Generally, when a new release of a distro is released it will use a relatively new version of a stable kernel.  However, many distros are no longer maintained, or only updated rarely.  This can mean they ship with an old version of the Linux kernel, which may not support all of your hardware.

For example, if you want to watch digital TV on your Linux machine, it is advisable to choose a distro that comes with kernel version 2.6.x, as it is much more likely that a driver for the tv card will come supplied with the kernel.  That's not to say that you can't make the hardware to work with older releases of the kernel, only that it'll be harder.  We like the Nebula digital tv card, it's a great way of not working at a computer.  Getting that card to work with say kernel version 2.2.x or 2.4.x was harder than using kernel 2.6.x.

Next Page: So what Distribution should I use?

Read ahead

1. Introduction
2. What are the differences between Distributions?
3. What other factors might influence my choice of Distribution?
4. So what Distribution should I use?

Last Updated Sunday, August 05 2007 @ 06:27 AM EDT

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