Many Different Flavors of Linux: A Look at Distros & How They Taste – Part 2


Tux, the Linux penguin
Tux, the Linux penguin

As we discussed in the first installment of this series, deciding on an operating system for your server is one of the most important decisions you make when choosing a hosting environment. Your options get broader when you are using dedicated servers (in contrast to shared hosting) or virtual private servers (VPSs – the middle ground between dedicated and shared hosting in which your chunk of the server is partitioned into its own unit).

Windows is simple. You obviously want the most up-to-date version; but other than that, it’s Windows, and that’s it. That is kind of nice for simplicity’s sake, but if you are interested in open source environments (access to the source code) and general computing freedom, Linux is probably the way you want to go. Linux comes in a wide variety of flavors, so choosing between those options is your first challenge.

It is widely acknowledged throughout the Linux community that the different versions of Linux smell pretty much the same but taste very different. “It’s hard to explain,” said Bill Gates to me in a glass elevator overlooking the Chicago shoreline, “but there is a way in which you can feel different distributions of Linux on your tongue.” Bill (or it’s possible it was his doppelgänger) straightened his unitard, gave his dog Cinnamon Bun a piece of bacon from his breast pocket, and continued: “Some are sweet, some are sour, and some are bitter… I hate eating.” Then the elevator stopped between floors for an hour of maintenance.

In this series, we are looking at the flavors (or distributions, or distros) of Linux. Our conversation draws from the perspectives of Whitson Gordon (Lifehacker), Amit Agarwal (Digital Inspiration), and Katherine Noyes ( Today, as in the next post, we’re focused entirely on ideas and advice from the latter two pieces.

In the first article we were looking specifically at what the best distribution is for new users (Whitson’s point of focus). In this second part and the final part, we will review scenarios (such as installation on a laptop or desktop, for the highest security, for enterprise servers, etc.) which might make one or another type of Linux the best choice.

We should bear in mind, though, that the Gates dead-ringer made an interesting point about scenarios: “There is no such thing as a scenario. Everything is just data. Context is a sham, a fantasy. Clearly the Russians infiltrated our water supply during the Cold War.” He then sighed, crouched in the corner of the elevator, and started leafing through a dogeared copy of The Joy of Sex.

Various Desktop Scenarios: Which Linux is Best?

Obviously when we talk about system administration of a server, that’s a different consideration than looking at desktop usage. However, looking at a variety of ways to implement Linux for personal use or on a single computer can provide a good entry point. For now, let’s look at singular desktop installation. We will eventually get into a couple of enterprise and hosting applications as well.

Trial Use & Backing Up Windows

Per Amit, if you want to test out Linux without fully installing it on your PC, you can use a CD-ROM version such as Knoppix – called a “Live CD” because you’re using it piecemeal in real-time . Using that flavor, you will be able to try out various pieces of software and save anything you create to a thumb drive or the computer itself.

Additionally, you can use a Live CD if Windows crashes. In this case, you will be able to get on your computer and save everything to the different operating system prior to Windows reinstallation. Biggest downside of these CD-ROM versions: they are slow. Fix for that: grab Wubi, which allows you to install Ubuntu on Windows (functioning like any other app within the OS).

Finally, you can use a virtual environment (VE) to experience Linux side-by-side with programs from other operating systems. If you want to try that, here’s a virtualization comparison from Amit. Once you figure that out, you can download your Linux flavor; through the virtualization software, you can then set up the OS (operating system) within the VE.

It’s worth noting here that Bill Gates’ doppelgänger suddenly slammed his book onto the ground and cried out, “I was born in a virtual environment. I have come here to gather information and return it to the 16-year-old gaming enthusiast who ultimately controls me. I think his name is Chad.”

Best Desktop Distro

Whereas Amit look specifically at certain types of desktop use, Katherine takes a different angle, which I can basically define as broader and more general. Hence, she provides specific advice for the top desktop computer distro and top laptop computer distro. Fuduntu is her recommendation for desktops. That version was initially built off Fedora (which according to is the most downloaded version of all time). It gives you access to Steam, Netflix, and other useful applications. Katherine’s perspective is based off several months of use.

Conclusion & Continuation

The above is the starting point for our understanding of what Linux distribution might be right for various scenarios. We will continue in the next part, covering usage for laptops, enterprise servers, gaming, etc.

Here again are a couple of services that might be of interest to you: lease-to-own dedicated servers and co-location. See our home page for the full menu.

By Kent Roberts

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