There is quite a variety of Linux distributions from which to choose from. Each distribution offers the same base Linux kernel and system tools, but differ on installation method and bundled applications. Each distribution has its own advantages as well as disadvantages, so it is wise to spend a bit of time researching which features are available in a given distribution before deciding on one.
The following is a list of a few web sites you can visit, which will describe a given Linux distribution as well as provide information on how you can download or purchase it:
The Red Hat distribution, by commercial vendor Red Hat Software, Inc. is one of the most popular distributions. With a choice of GUI- and text-based installation procedures, Red Hat 6.1 is possibly the easiest Linux distribution to install. It offers easy upgrade and package management via the ``RPM'' utility, and includes both the GNU Network Object Model Environment (GNOME) and the ``K Desktop Environment'' (KDE), both popular GUI window managers for the X Window System. This distribution is available for the Intel, Alpha, and Sparc platforms.
The Debian distribution, by non-profit organization known as “The Debian Project” is the darling of the Open Source community. It also offers easy upgrade and package management via the ``DEB'' utility. This distribution is available for the Intel, Alpha, Sparc, and Motorola (Macintosh) platforms.
The S.u.S.E. distribution, by commercial vendor S.u.S.E., is another popular distribution, and is the leading distribution in Europe. It includes the ``K Desktop Environment'' (KDE), and also offers easy upgrade and package management via the ``YaST'' utility. This distribution is available for the Intel platform only.
The OpenLinux distribution, by commercial vendor Caldera, is aimed towards corporate users. With the new OpenLinux 2.2 release, Caldera has raised the bar with what appears to be the easiest to install distribution of Linux available today. In addition, it comes standard with the ``K Desktop Environment'' (KDE). This distribution is available for the Intel platform only.
The Mandrake distribution, by commercial vendor MandrakeSoft S.A., integrates the Red Hat or Debian distributions (your choice) with additional value-add software packages than those included with the original distributions.
The Slackware distribution, by Patrick Volkerding of Walnut Creek Software, is the grandfather of modern distributions of Linux. Offers a fairly simple installation procedure, but poor upgrade and package management. Still based on the libc libraries but the next version will probably migrate to the newer glibc. Recommended for users who are more technical and familiar with Linux. This distribution is available for the Intel platform only.
Listing all the available distributions is beyond the scope of this document, so I've listed only the most popular. However, further information on the available distributions can be found in the ``Distribution-HOWTO'' guide, available at http://metalab.unc.edu/LDP/HOWTO/Distribution-HOWTO.html
Tip: If you decide to buy your distribution on CD-ROM, you might be able to find better pricing at other resellers (for example, I've been quite satisfied on several dealings with Internet-based software vendor http://www.cheapbytes.com/). On the other hand, you may wish to pay the higher price to the distribution vendors to ensure that their offerings continue to improve.
My distribution of choice is Red Hat Linux (it also happens to be, unarguably, the most popular distribution among Linux users). For almost three years, I was a die-hard Slackware fanatic (before that I had messed around a bit with a small distribution from tsx-11 way back in the kernel 0.90a days), and although I've tried Red Hat in the past, I never could bring myself to say anything good about their distributions. Then, I tried Red Hat 5.1, and found myself quickly converted! In my opinion, with 5.1, Red Hat finally “got it right”.
Some of the reasons I have become a fan of the Red Hat distribution include the ease of installation, multi-platform support (until recently, Red Hat was the only distribution vendor to provide its distribution for Intel, Alpha, and Solaris platforms), and, above all, the RPM package manager. In addition, they put updates to included RPM's on their FTP site (at ftp://ftp.redhat.com/redhat/updates/) as they become available, which is a good way of keeping one's system up to date and free of any bugs or security problems that are discovered from time to time.
Since first loading Red Hat 5.1 on an otherwise unused computer at work for testing purposes, I have converted two of our main Internet/File & Print servers over from Slackware to Red Hat and haven't regretted it. I've also loaded it on my system and home, and installed it on three other systems as light servers as well. In addition, I have had the opportunity to not only play with the Intel-based versions but with Alpha- and Sparc-based versions as well. Recently, I've moved all the Linux systems I am responsible for over to Red Hat 6.1.
Therefore, this document has a definite Red Hat “feel” to it, and is most relevant for the Intel-based 6.1 version. However, hopefully most or at least some of the information contained in this document will be useful to users of other distributions.