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4/30/2009
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A Great Guide To Picking The Right Linux Distro

Choice is empowering -- but too many choices can be overwhelming. The key to succeeding with Linux is to avoid the latter without sacrificing the former.

Choice is empowering -- but too many choices can be overwhelming. The key to succeeding with Linux is to avoid the latter without sacrificing the former.To get an idea of just how much choice and flexibility Linux offers, I suggest visiting Distrowatch.org. Even if one excludes listings that refer to other operating systems (such as BSD) or to dead-end projects, the site still offers links to well over 200 actively developed Linux distros.

That's a remarkable figure, and it speaks volumes about the power and flexibility Linux offers to all types of users. At the same time, it's the sort of number that can scare off users who are accustomed to choosing from a handful of OS options.

Yesterday, TuxRadar.com published a very worthwhile guide to choosing the best Linux distro. It offers suggestions on the most appropriate distros for a variety of common scenarios, including:

-- New Linux users (first choice: Ubuntu). -- Migrating Windows/Mac OS users (first choice: Linux Mint). -- "Everyday" desktop users (first choice: Fedora). -- Business users (first choice: OpenSUSE). -- Ultra-lightweight systems (first choice: Puppy Linux). -- Power users (first choices: Arch Linux for sysadmins and Mandriva for coders). -- Servers (first choice: CentOS).

The guide also covers several scenarios that aren't of much interest to small-business users, such as family-friendly Linux distros or those suitable for audio production.

I don't agree with all of the first-choice Linux distros covered in the guide. As anyone who regularly reads this blog knows, for example, I consider Ubuntu the best choice by far for most small-business desktop users. Yet that's a minor quibble in this case, since the guide's real strength is its ability to cut through the clutter and lay out what, exactly, Linux users should look for in a suitable distro.

The guide includes some other helpful information, including when to choose between 32- and 64-bit distros and a link to a recent review of netbook-friendly Linux distros.

One area the guide doesn't cover involves choosing specialized Linux distros. Many distros are tailored to very specific situations and simply aren't suitable for everyday use. These range from single-application distros (such as Hikarunix, designed for hard-core Go players) to those designed for particular groups of IT professionals (such as tools like Protech and Arudius intended for use by network security experts).

Another very important group of Linux distros are designed to restart otherwise unbootable systems; diagnose problems with storage devices, memory, or other system hardware; and rescue data from crashed systems. Distros like SystemRescueCD and Trinity Rescue Kit are often an IT support staffer's last, best hope for retrieving data from a malware-fouled Windows PC or a seemingly DOA hard disk.

Finally, if you're looking for a somewhat more comprehensive list of Linux distros -- and their primary functions -- have a look at Wikipedia's list or table-based comparision of many notable Linux projects. I don't recommend wandering this far afield if you're looking for a day-to-day small business Linux distro, but these are good resources for anyone searching for specialized distros or language-specific distro variants.

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