or Try before you “Buy”
With over 600 GNU/Linux distributions available, 300 of which are under active development, what’s the best? How do you choose?
It would be nice if there was a Linux Store, like the Apple Stores, where you could actually walk in and “testdrive” a Distro (short for Distribution). Unfortunately, there aren’t any “Linux Stores”. Money’s just not there. Apple products are premium products with premium price tags. Leasing a store, stocking it with “testdrive systems” and having Geeky Guru’s on the payroll just won’t work with a FREE product.
Why are there so many Distros anyway? Makes it difficult to find the right one. Let’s start by cutting the 600 in half. Almost half of the Distros out there are no longer being developed. No longer being improved. Bugs aren’t getting fixed. Dead bits 😉
This isn’t written in stone but probably the best Distro for you will be one of the 300 odd Distros still under active development.
Complicating this dilemma of choice is the broad differences in Distros. Some are general purpose and some have a very specific focus like a Distro for Scientific or Music Production use. Some Distros are for business use and others focus on the individual Home user.
There are others like the ones Banking Institutions have developed where security is King and other Distros can hack your windows passwords or WiFi security.
Even though most Distros are free, the time involved in installing a Distro onto a PC or laptop can be costly because “Time is money”.
Enter the Live CD…
Live CD: “A Linux Distro that boots from a CD (or DVD) and runs in your computer’s memory without being installed is a Live CD. ”
Rumor has it that Linux Live CDs have been around since 1998, so the concept isn’t new. But it is FREE in the best way – it frees you from committing yourself until you actually see and “testdrive” the new Distro. Live CDs free you to sample the field without consequences or investing much time nor will they modify your system (unless you want it).
Last May (2011) Ubuntu came out with a radically new Desktop Interface called “Unity” that was very controversial. Many Ubuntu users changed distro after testing this Desktop Environment, well many just changed flavour of Ubuntu to be honest. I downloaded the new Distro (Ubuntu 11.04) and “testdrove” the live CD. Decided I really liked the Distro so by clicking the Install Icon on the desktop installed it without hitch on my harddrive permanently (until something better comes along). My cup of tea.
I also tried the new Gnome 3 Desktop with the latest RedHat Fedora Distro and didn’t like Gnome 3. Went off in a direction that I didn’t care for in it’s look and feel. Was easy enough to find out with the Live CD of Fedora without any wasted time and effort. Just wasn’t my cup of tea.
And i’m not the only one, The “father” of Linux, Linus Torvalds, disliked it so much that he switched to XFCE.
Live CDs are simple to obtain and use. I’ll use Ubuntu as my example. Other Distros are similar. There are two ways to get a Live CD of the latest Ubuntu Distro – download it from the Ubuntu Website (http://www.ubuntu.com/) or order a free CD already burned for you from the same website.
After you get the CD ISO then just burn it to a CD and boot it.
Modern PCs and laptops have a boot provision that allows you to select the boot device. It varies with the maker of the computer. So it’s just a matter of inserting the CD , rebooting the system, and selecting the CD Drive to boot from.
However, doing even this simple procedure could get tedious if you try “testdriving” several hundred Distros.
Some suggestions for narrowing the field:
- Define your needs. List them out. What do you need with particular attention being given to your unique priorities and application/hardware restraints.
- Read reviews on the Distros. They are out there and just doing a bit of Googling will get you up to speed and current. Especially if it’s something new, like Ubuntu 11.04 was last May or 11.10 in these days. Get referrals from friends, too
- Watch the video reviews on youtube (or other video sites), I find them very interesting to get a first impression of the look and feel of a distribution.
- Then download your much smaller list and “testdrive” them until you narrow down the field to the one you want to go with, a big help can be to use USB stick instead of CD, it’s easier and faster to get a Live distribution on a USB stick, the requisite is usually to have at least 1 GB USB stick.
Google’s your friend here.