Choosing Your Linux Distribution

For enterprise servers, the choices are (basically) easy: Red Hat Enterprise Linux, SUSE Linux Enterprise, or Ubuntu Server – all very good environments with good support from their companies and supported by various hardware manufacturers. What about your desktop?

The choice is usually easy: most of us choose one of the common distributions – like Fedora, OpenSUSE, Ubuntu, Debian, or Linux Mint. What if you want to stretch a little – try something more avant-garde?

You must define your boundaries – what do you want to have or to accomplish? Here are some possibilities:

  • Do you want to build the software from source?
  • Do you want extensive packages already built?
  • Do you want to start from a minimal system and build up?
  • Do you want run on old or minimal hardware?
  • Do you want stable releases or a rolling release?
  • Do you want a full-featured desktop?
  • Do you want to run Linux?
  • Do you want to run Flash, MP3, DVDs, etc.?
  • Do you want to configure everything yourself?
  • Do you want to build everything yourself?
  • Do you want a special purpose distribution (e.g., penetration testing, multimedia, scientific, etc.)?

I find myself in the situation of trying to fix some hardware which requires installation of a new system – thus, I thought I would try something new. My criteria are:

  • Support for lots of packages
  • Everything mostly works on install
  • Window manager other than GNOME or KDE
  • Good security
  • Good support for Java, DVD, MP3, and Flash
  • Not mainstream
  • Actively supported and with active community

So far, the choices seem to be:

Almost all of these are based on Debian unstable or testing; Sabayon is based on Gentoo, and LFS is based on nothing at all…

I’ve always wanted to try a Linux that had the equivalent of FreeBSD’s ports tree…