The Soapbox : My top 5 favorite Linux Distributions
After some though I though it would be fun to offer up my top 5 favorite Linux distributions I’ve tried over the year, ordered from the least user demanding to the most user demanding. I used to be a very frequent distro hopper until I found my holy grail, Arch Linux, and some of you may not agree and that’s totally fine, that is the value of free speech, but in any case here are my Top 5 Favorite Linux Distributions of 2008/2009. (Again, from least demanding/ease of use to most demanding/harder to use)
All of you knew this one was coming, and all of you “elitist’s” , I will get to you later, so stop yelling haha. Ubuntu was the first Linux distribution I tried in 2004, when I started using Linux. In that regard it is a great distribution to get started with, if you are a new user and/or a Windows convert such as myself. From the get go, things are presented clearly with good intent on making it easy for the user upfront.
Graphical package managers such as synaptic make it easy for first time users to find and install software. Community of one of the most noisy and active communities, with great forum relations on the Ubuntu Forums website. Everything is pretty setup from the get go, the Operating System installer asking very little of the user to get things rolling. The package availability is astounding.
Fluff. Like other all in one , ready from the get go distributions, Ubuntu is loading with tons of drivers and software. While this is good, for the build from the ground up user like myself, a lot of this software is unnecessary. Stability is one thing I’ve never had issues with, but I have been told that when things get hairy (launching many processes at once) Ubuntu doesn’t like to deal with that. Release cycle, having a new release every 6 months may mean that you will have to re-install, as I can’t tell you how many times a major upgrade (i.e. 7.10 to 8.04) broke my system.
2. Fedora Core
Fedora is, as I like to call it, the guinea pig for Red Hat Enterprise Linux. Red Hat will use Fedora to test out things for RHEL and then include them in the next RHEL, so to speak. This makes for a sort of “take it as you see it” approach, leaving me sometimes to wonder where the true interests lie with Fedora. Starting out as a poor distro in my opinion, Fedora has much improved over the years especially shifting its main focus from a DVD release (still downloadable) to pushing a LIVE CD installable version like most others.
Good amount of software to choose from, like Ubuntu. Also security tools and the like are a plus here, with the nod to the RHEL team for keeping those in Fedora Core. Getting the system installed and up and running is also a piece of cake, with minimal install instructions. Software is also a snap to install with the Graphical YUM package manager.
Where Fedora Core falls short, for me at least, is its focus. Priorities tend to lead elsewhere, obviously, so it sometimes seems Fedora doesn’t get the attention it deserves. I for one, dislike the YUM package system, especially in the terminal, but you will hear the same about aptitude with Ubuntu with elitist users (which I am NOT one of , mind you). Also, it doesn’t seem like Fedora knows if it wants to be a desktop oriented distribution or not, which probably leads to some confusing dates with its its girlfriends over at Debian 🙂
3. Free BSD
I know some will not like this next one but, for a great fast and stable distribution, look no further than Free BSD, obviously a derivative of the long standing Berkley Software Distribution. Built from the BSD kernel, NOT the Linux kernel (two different kernels), Free BSD is a fast distribution that is a little more lax when it comes to restrictive software. Also Free BSD can be used as a desktop solution if you so choose.
Free BSD is fast, and I mean pretty fast. While not as lighting as lets say minimalist distros such as Arch Linux or Gentoo, you have to give this guys some credit. Free BSD is also incredibly stable and has a very nice software selection, most of which is ported from the Linux community. Installation is not too difficult.
Free BSD tends to be a bit behind on new or exotic hardware. Also there seems to be a lack of useful graphical tools to configure the system, if that matters to you. The source based packages, using Free BSD’s package manager, can be difficult to grasp for new users. Some big name apps are missing from action, but can be understood because of BSD’s roots of where it came from.
Centos is one of my favorite server distros for many reasons. One of them is the fact is a complete carbon copy re-code of the Red Hat Enterprise Linux distro. The CentOS team actually is made up of former Red Hat employees and works with Red Hat on some occasions. CentOS proved that you didn’t have to be “stuck” with Fedora if you couldn’t afford RHEL.
Well tested, VERY stable, built from RHEL. FREE instead of paid like RHEL. 5 years of free security updates. Can use the same packages as RHEL via a repository add. Flexible and server friendly. Installing RPM’s is pretty straightforward inthe Terminal.
No concrete support like RHEL. Lacks support for latest exotic Linux technologies and hardware. I don’t recommend CentOS if you plan to run games, as it is intended for Server use not Desktop use. Software pre-installed is a little outdated. YUM is not the best package manager as well.
5. Arch Linux
My favorite , of course, is Arch Linux. I never came across a distribution yet that met all my needs like Arch does. Build on a Linux kernel and a BSD style init framework, and completely optimized for i686, x86, and x64, Arch Linux is a minimalist, lightweight distribution that is sure to please do-it-yourself’ers. The install takes some but definitely pays off. Warning: definitely not for beginners, the install is NOT graphical and requires you set up some confusing things (for beginners) that the first time user or average linux user will get confused at. Thankfully on Arch’s website there is a beginners guide.
Arch is a rolling release, meaning it never has to be reinstalled unless you really break something. System is constantly updated with the most bleeding edge packages available. Complete control over what gets installed to the System, no fluff packages. Pacman, Arch’s Terminal command line package manager is a Godsend, fast, easy, and with a wrapper front end Yaourt that can be installed that makes compiling from the user repository easy. Build from binary instead of time-consuming source, such as Gentoo. Uses ABS , a ports-like source packaging system which compiles source tarballs into binary packages
Packages occasionally break due to one program having a dependency that was updated. Most tools and commands are non-graphical, depending on your Desktop Environment. Setup is long and tedious. Some packages require odd dependencies you don’t know you need until you run into issue (i.e. installing a KDE app like K9copy in gnome required a KDE-runtime environment for icons in the program). System is pretty bare on first run, no real amount of software is present.
Thanks for reading, and remember these are just my OPINIONS, and may not be yours. Please respect my opinion, and if you have any pointers or suggestions, or a Distro you want reviewed, please feel free to comment or use the “Contact Us” page.