Choose a Distribution

By Jason Brooks  |  Posted 2007-03-12 Email Print this article Print

Choose a Distribution Now its time to choose a distribution to test. If you change your mind at some point or want to evaluate more than one distribution, your virtualization-based testbed will be quite amenable to the shift. When considering which distribution to test, you should first ask yourself whether theres a family of distributions that youre interested in learning about or if theres specific functionality youre interested in using.
While there are many different Linux distributions out there, lots of them trace their heritage back to one of a few particular parents, and the major families of distributions have their own ways of organizing packages and administration processes.
Also, consider whether you have a Linux guru available to you for answering questions or explaining concepts—if you do, it might be a good idea to start out with the same distribution that this person uses, as this will make it easier for him or her to help you. Following are brief evaluations of four different Linux distributions, each of which is free and ships with a comfortable GUI and access to pretty much all the software resources available to Linux. Not all of these are necessarily suitable for production use themselves, but they offer good entry points to different segments of the overall Linux world. Fedora
Red Hats Fedora is the cutting-edge sibling of Red Hats more staid, stable and costly RHEL (Red Hat Enterprise Linux). The skills you develop using Fedora will transfer directly to RHEL, and running Fedora will give you early access to the features that will eventually make their way into RHEL. eWEEK Labs tests Fedora Core 6. Click here to read what they found. While Fedora is billed as a community-supported, hobbyist-and-developer-focused distribution, the directions in which Fedora moves have everything to do with Red Hats enterprise goals. On the plus side, this means that Fedora is home to some pretty advanced functionality. For instance, Fedoras support for boosted security through SELinux (Security Enhanced Linux) is unmatched, and other groundbreaking projects such as Stateless Linux call Fedora home. On the negative side, Fedora is less focused on user happiness than some other popular distributions. Fedora is, however, very popular, and this popularity pays dividends in part through access to lots of third-party software packaging resources. There are a few VMware Player images of Fedora Core 6 available for download here. OpenSUSE Generally speaking, OpenSUSE is to Novells SUSE Linux Enterprise distributions what Fedora is to Red Hats RHEL. Novells enterprise distributions battle for the same customers as Red Hats enterprise distributions do, but SUSE and OpenSUSE tend to offer more in the way of graphical creature comforts than do Red Hats distributions. While Red Hat was offering up its original Red Hat Linux for free download and battling for service contract dollars from large enterprises migrating from Unix, SUSE was attempting to go head-to-head with Windows on retail shelves, without any such free download option. Back when Windows XP first shipped, boxed copies of SUSE offered what was probably the slickest and Windows-comparable desktop experience at the time. Click here to read eWEEK Labs review of Ubuntu 6.10 and OpenSUSE 10.2. Now, OpenSUSE is as free as Fedora, but under Novell, SUSE is still targeted more directly at being a Windows replacement than are Red Hats distributions, and it shows in little touches such as the distributions Windows-like start menu. Novells enterprise ambitions for SUSE also translate to distinctive, server-focused functionality, such as its partial answer to SELinux, AppArmor. As with Fedora, OpenSUSEs popularity means ample third-party resources, and Novells newly launched package-building service looks promising as well. Theres a VMware Player image of OpenSUSE 10.2 (complete with the latest version of the mono development framework) available for download here. Ubuntu If youre interested in learning more about Linux, youve probably heard about Ubuntu, which has, in just a couple of years, managed to leap into prominence among Linux-based OS options. Ubuntu owes this success in large part to the Debian GNU/Linux foundation on which its based. Just as the business plans of Red Hat and SUSE shaped the Fedora and OpenSUSE we see today, so, too, did Debians noncommercial status shape it. Debian in the past tended to be less approachable than other distributions, but what it lacked in polish it made up for in the excellence of its software packaging tools and the strength of its organization of volunteer developers. Then, just over two years ago, Ubuntu emerged under the patronage of Mark Shuttleworth as a slick, end-user-oriented spinoff of Debian that quickly began winning over converts to the Debian family. Ubuntu lacks the big-name IT vendor support that RHEL and SUSE boast, but Ubuntu is rising fast. Most recently, commercial Linux distributor Linspire announced that it would be basing its future releases on Ubuntu. There are a few VMware Player images of Ubuntu 6.10 available for download here. Foresight Foresight Linux is a relatively new Linux distribution thats focused on delivering an up-to-date GNOME-based desktop environment. What earns Foresight a spot in this shortlist of Linux distributions for consideration is the rPath Linux foundation on which its built. rPath Linux is sort of a reference Linux distribution from which ISVs or individual users may pick and choose components to build Linux-based software appliances or full-fledged Linux OSes. Click here to read why eWEEK Labs says Foresight is a Linux distro to watch. rPath provides hosting and build tools for the distributions that its users create, all of which are tied together by rPaths next-generation software management tool, Conary. Weve found that Conary offers a good balance between the stability and prebuilt package benefits of distributions such as Fedora and Ubuntu, and the flexibility and control virtues of source-based distributions such as Gentoo. In our experience, weve found that its much easier to create software packages for Conary than for the four other distributions weve mentioned here. If youre interested in trying out and learning about rPaths new software management concepts in the context of the desktop software with which youre probably already familiar, Foresight is a good starting point—as well as a nice desktop Linux distribution. Theres a VMware Player image of Foresight here. Next Page: Getting your grounding.

As Editor in Chief of eWEEK Labs, Jason Brooks manages the Labs team and is responsible for eWEEK's print edition. Brooks joined eWEEK in 1999, and has covered wireless networking, office productivity suites, mobile devices, Windows, virtualization, and desktops and notebooks. JasonÔÇÖs coverage is currently focused on Linux and Unix operating systems, open-source software and licensing, cloud computing and Software as a Service. Follow Jason on Twitter at jasonbrooks, or reach him by email at

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