Choosing the Right Linux

linux distributions
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There is no right or wrong Linux. All are equally good. What differentiates one from the other is how you plan to use it and the context in which it is being used.

Say, if you want to tinker with some cool Linux derivative for fun, then by all means, install any and enjoy to your fullest. But if your motives are a bit more serious and you want to use one as your standard desktop, or have an ambitious plan to support multitude of computers running a single version of Linux then you might want to do some thinking before selecting the right Linux distribution.

By and large, almost all popular Linux flavors use and support the same set of software. For example, Fedora, Ubuntu, LinuxMint, OpenSuse already come with similar desktop software like Firefox, LibreOffice running within the popular Gnome shell. Which is great for a common user. The differences are really only cosmetic (the layout and the UI) in most Linux flavors and derivatives.

Even the supported server softwares are pretty much identical. Be it MySQL for database, Apache for Webserver or even PHP/Perl/Python as programming languages. Chances are you will not see much of a difference, except for maybe how it is configured on your distribution. For more on this, read Ubuntu vs Fedora piece we published a while earlier.

Figure out the the purpose of using Linux for yourself first. Is it to test and play with one out of curiosity? Will it be your standard desktop in the foreseeable future? Is it something you want to install and then support over the course of time, say at work? For each of these scenarios, there is probably a different flavor best suited. Therefore, define the purpose first.

Say, if you are doing software development and your servers are Red Hat, CentOS, Oracle Linux based. You are better off having Fedora as your desktop as it uses the same file structure and software management system (yum, rpm etc) as the Red Hat server. Hence, your code will probably work seamlessly.

If you plan to support an office full of desktop Linux machines, then you will choose the one that is well extremely stable, has a library of thousands of ready applications, well supported over a very long course of time. One such linux is, Ubuntu, which is supported for five years. Longer than the length of a desktop/laptop in an office before it is discarded. It is important that you select the version with long support base for security updates, software upgrades and bug fixes, and stability.

If you plan to select a version as a server to run some applications, like hosting your website, running a proxy server or even a database, then choose one that has been around for ages. Something like Red Hat/ CentOS, Debian/ Ubuntu, or even OpenSuse. All of them have a long history of supporting server grade software and are easily available on popular hosting sites.

So spend time in figuring out your purpose and then see which one suites you.

New vs Veteran
Are you a new user or a veteran of Linux/Unix environment? If you are new to it, then choose an established brand. Chances are there will be enough help available on forums to get you unstuck when things dont seem to be working smoothly. The system will also be more stable and will support more diverse environments including hardware.

Analyse the Distribution’s Website
If you plan to use the Linux distribution over many years, then review the website. How often it is updated, how big of a team is behind it, how well populated is their official forum with questions and solutions. Check out their patches, upgrades and software maintenance schedules.

Also review how old is the distribution. If it was recently released or is on version 1, you might want to move on to a more mature distribution. The problem with young releases is that they may not be around for long. There is no history to prove their longevity and hence a risk factor. Further, they will probably not be as stable and bug free as an older mature distribution.

The thumb rule that we use before recommending a Linux distribution is three years. It should at least be three years old with at least three versions coming out during that time.

Review Linux Release Cycle
All popular Linux distributions seem to upgrade themselves to the newer versions at least once a year, if not more often. Also check out for how long will they support any particular release. It should give you a good idea of how often they are working to keep things running smoothly.

The releases should be at least supported for three years in the future. This is critical if you plan to keep your desktop running securely and with latest patches and software application updates.

Therefore, review the release cycle of each distribution very very carefully. Doing the homework now will save you countless headaches in the long run.

Popular Derivatives vs Unknown
If you are newbie, we do recommend you stick to the popular derivatives of Linux distributions. For example, Fedora and Ubuntu are some of the most popular Linux derivatives of Red Hat and Debian Linux respectively. If you use Debian as a newbie you might at times be lost. But if you use Ubuntu, your desktop experience will be quite richer. And if you ended up using Pear Linux which is a derivative of Ubuntu, chances are might get stuck on little things like installing Skype and not finding enough help online. Granted over time Pear Linux will improve upon that experience, but for now you will have issues.

Windows Migration
A lot of users are migrating from Microsoft Windows environment to Linux. And at times the new interface is over whelming. Linux Mint and similar derivatives make it easier to transition from Windows to Linux. So make sure you select a distribution which creates less frustrations to your migrating users.

So choosing the right Linux will go a long way keeping your desktop running smoothly. So spend sometime before embracing a distribution as your desktop.

Techie by day, blogger by night. Love the outdoors, enjoy traveling and building new and interesting things. Follow me if you want to know something.
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