Journey to Linux: Choosing the Distribution
Greetings, travelers! Are you here to get the ball rolling with your Linux journey? Bear with me as I guide you through and try to make the journey a lot smoother and more fun for you. Believe me, it’ll keep getting more and more exciting and full of wonders as you’ll dive deeper into the creative and cozy world of Linux.
If you’re a tech geek, programmer, or just a computer owner in general, there’s a chance you’ve heard about Linux at least once in your life. Linux has a rich historical background and a utilitarian philosophy which we’ll get into another day. But for today, just know that Linux isn’t the operating system (OS) itself, it’s just a portable, multitasking, and monolithic open-source kernel around which different vendors build their UNIX-derivate operating systems.
Some of the terms here might not be familiar to you and that’s alright. Getting associated with Linux for the first time can indeed be confusing but that’s exactly why I’m here to help. Before getting into inspecting the distributors, I’d like to clear out some basics which will help you have a better grasp of everything that’ll be discussed.
What is a kernel?
A kernel is simply a computer program, and it isn’t to be confused with an OS. It’s more like the heart of an OS that has complete control over everything that is to happen in the system. This core part of OS code executes all the basic tasks for the system and works as an interpreter between the hardware and the software bits. So, A Linux OS is actually an operating system that has the Linux kernel at the core of it.
What is a UNIX-based OS?
Unix is a series of multitasking, multiple access operating systems derived from the original AT&T Unix, which was developed at the Bell Labs research facility in 1969 by Ken Thompson, Dennis Ritchie, and others.
Rather than a particular OS, now UNIX is more like a philosophy. UNIX-based operating systems have a flexible and highly accessible design, that’ll provide you tools, a unified filesystem to facilitate inter-process communication, and a command language with shell scripting. All these tools combined will execute the convoluted workflows of your system. Linux-based systems are actually a derivative of UNIX operating systems.
Choosing Your Linux Distributor
The market is flooded with countless vendors of Linux OS and each of them has its own blend of products to suit customers of different demands. Although Linux itself is a highly modular, creative, and interactive platform for its users, choosing the right distribution will further enhance a user’s experience by being more compatible with him/her.
To get a distributor that most suits your needs you’ll need to understand how one distribution differs from another. But before talking about their differences, for a better realization, I believe we should talk about the similarities first. Later on, we’ll talk about the differences you should consider before choosing your vendor.
The core of any Linux OS is always the Linux kernel. So, there’s that. Every distribution out there also has the GNU software implemented which integrates the kernel to the OS and keeps the kernel functioning.
Fun fact, GNU stands for GNU’s Not UNIX, but it indeed is very much like UNIX. GNU also has its own kernel and designed OS which is not to be confused with the GNU software implemented in the Linux systems.
Lastly, all distributions come with the usual collection of tools and software expected in an OS. Software like web browsers, media players, text editors, and other basic tools are present in all distributions.
Software Collection: Although every distribution has some common software in their collection, they also offer different software and tools that vary from distribution to distribution, and it all depends on the type of customer the distribution’s trying to attract.
If the user wants a lightweight and fast working build or a build compatible with older PCs, there are distributions that keep themselves lightweight and simple by having only a fewer software installed. Keep in mind that you can always install software that you need later.
Cost-effectivity: Different distributors offer different sorts of OS packages that can cost from free to a substantial amounts of money. Costly packages are mainly made for business purposes and include high-level maintenance and round-the-clock support system from the distributors.
Keep in mind that free operating systems don’t mean they’ll underperform they’re just built for personal use. And the cost you’re paying for the business standards ones is often for their maintenance service.
Personal Level Support: For personal level support on different bugs and issues many popular Linux distributors comes with well-established web forums or communities on different social platforms. For the bugs, you’re facing you can get both professional level counseling and solutions from your fellow users from these forums or groups. You’ll also stay updated with the most recent patch and feature update news from these support forums.
Ease of Use: How easy and comfortable the system feels to use varies from distribution to distribution and it’s an important factor to consider while choosing the Linux distribution for yourself.
Software Quality and Update: Bugs and latency issues are common with software design, and Linux software packages are no different. A good Linux distributor will try to keep its product as optimized and bug-free as possible. Besides that, providing prompt bug-fix updates and necessary updates to keep the system up to date with the contemporary market is a good distributor’s responsibility.
Reviewing Popular Distribution Options
Now that you know how Linux distributions differ from one another and what to focus on when choosing a distribution suiting your needs, let’s check out some popular options and see which one catches your attention.
A classic choice that has been running in the market since 1993, Debian is open-source software and therefore completely free of charge for anybody to use. This bad boy has been under development for 20 years and came out with a massive library of almost 50000 software packages. For its users, Debian has enabled 3 courses of update, stable, testing, and unstable.
In the stable update system, you’ll only get the update when the version settles down with necessary fixes and changes. This is a safer option in general. For both testing and unstable options, you’ll get partial latest updates which might be buggy and will get stabilized later according to the user opinions.
Debian lags behind in up-to-date packaging unfortunately compared to some other popular distributions, but it ensures good safety and stability as the released packages are always well tested and stable. It’s an exceptional core system suitable for any platform.
Of all the distributions out there, Ubuntu is probably the most renowned one and it’s because the system is a perfect choice for personal use and suitable for laptops, desktops, and server maintenance. Despite being a Debian-based system Ubuntu is far more sophisticated than Debian itself. It also provides up-to-date packaging on a basis.
For beginners, Ubuntu is a great choice for diving into the world of Linux. It is developed and maintained by Canonical who has released 40 different versions of this distribution for various purposes besides 3 main versions for core, server, and desktop.
Some of the most popular versions of Ubuntu are Kubuntu which is a KDE version, Lubuntu which is built lightweight, Edubuntu with specific design for education purposes etc.
3. Linux Mint
Another distribution that is very good for beginners is Linux Mint. This one is Ubuntu-based and offers the same software packages and some of the versions like KDE version, GNOME as Ubuntu. It is also comparatively lightweight than Ubuntu and feels less congested.
A great user interface allows you to smoothly operate the system. As it’s based on Ubuntu, this distribution also uses a Debian core. If you’re not fond of Ubuntu, give Linux Mint a try, it might do wonders for you.
4. Red Hat Enterprise Linux
Contemporary to Debian the company of Red Hat also began its journey in 1993. Due to their developed Linux system which has the acronym RHEL, Red Hat may have been the most successful business enterprise of Linux systems which was later bought by IBM.
RHEL operating systems differ a lot from Debian based operating systems as they are built for more heavy approaches. In their earlier days, Red Hat released a good number of free releases suitable for personal use. In 2003 they have upped their game to catch the corporate market. If you require an OS for an enterprise or similar workforce, RHEL will be a solid option for you.
Fedora is the open-source free release for personal needs by Red Hat. To stay relevant in personal user market, Red Hat released this open-source free desktop OS back in 2003, so, its basically a branch of RHEL.
Despite being cutting-edge technology, Fedora is a lot less stable than the corporate RHEL versions and other Debian-based distributions. The functionality and user interface of this distribution aren’t really intuitive, making it uncomfortable to use for beginner users.
OpenSUSE is the open-source Linux distribution part of the award-winning pioneering company in Linux systems, SUSE. Despite being originally based on RHEL, SUSE has evolved and went a long way to become an independent enterprise of their own. Also, SUSE is the second oldest Linux system company that is still prevalent to date for its extraordinary enterprise service and major corporate partnerships.
Enough about SUSE, we were about to discuss their open-source counterpart. As OpenSUSE is backed by SUSE, it shares a similar RPM management facility as Red Hat. Also, the configuration management application named YaST along with a clutter-free base system allows you to operate smoothly.
This distribution also offers reliable virus/malware-free internet surfing for your limitless enjoyment. Having smooth operation and intuitive, and elegant but simple interface this distribution is a perfect choice for beginners.
7. Arch Linux
For users who like to take full control of their system that also offers heavy customizability, Arch is a fantastic option to choose. Learning and maintaining the Arch system can be tedious but it bears the fruit of hard work eventually which is a great amount of knowledge of Linux-based systems.
Another strong suit of this distribution is the lightweight build which makes it not only suitable for laptops and desktops but also for small devices like a Raspberry Pi.
I can give you plenty of reasons why you should switch to a Linux-based OS asap, but that’s a separate discussion. Linux systems will offer you the utmost comfort and control in both your work experience and work setup. Now that you’re aware of the basics I hope you’ll find the one distribution that can meet all your demands.