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The Various Linux Distributions

Sep 21, 1999, 14:11 (11 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by Syed Khader Vali)

[ The opinions expressed by authors on Linux Today are their own. They speak only for themselves and not for Linux Today. ]

Contributed by Linux Today reader Syed Khader Vali

It was in early 1995 that I came across Linux. Since then I have used and Installed various Linux Distributions. I would like to share the experiences which I had with the various Distributions, so that users can choose the distro which best suits them.

I first installed Linux on my computer in 1995. During those days, I had to make a boot floppy and use that floppy to install Linux. But now fortunately we have bootable CD's. So just put the Bootable CD in your CD-ROM Drive and Change the BIOS Setting to make the system boot from the CD-ROM Drive and you are on.

Slackware

Nevertheless the Installation Procedure of the older Slackware and the Newer Slackware remains the same. The Slackware installation is similar to the installation of other Commercial Unices and it even uses the same packaging system of BSD UNIX Systems. In the installation of Slackware, it firsts drops you to a shell where you are supposed to login as root, use fdisk to create the partitions and then execute setup to proceed further where the keyboard is first configured and then setup your root,local and swap partitions. After which you are taken to the package selection menu which is very interactive with lot of options to choose what you want. This done, you are taken to configure your mouse, networking options and booting options. Done!

You have a working Slackware Linux System ( provided nothing went wrong ;-). Slackware needs lesser hard disk space as compared to other distros for a full install. It takes around 400MB HD Space.

But, you get *almost* everything you wanted , the libraries, the X Window System and all. For installing packages you can use pkgtool which is quite interactive with a menu. In Slackware, there are very few utilities which let you configure the system using a GUI. So, you need to read the Documentation and do a little bit of tweaking, searching and then is your work done. This is good for people who want to know what they are doing. So, if something goes wrong you know where you might have stumbled. The default window manager with Slackware is FVWM95 which is light weight and is really good. That is all I have to say about Slackware ( Hmm , I know I do forget some things ;-)

Red Hat

This distro happens to be the favorite of most of the people in India. Reason ?? Simple, it is easy to Install. As soon as the Red Hat Linux CD boots, you are asked questions relating to the type of keyboard, where to Install from and so on.. Then, you have a choice of choosing how to partition your hard disk, the options being Disk Druid and fdisk. Disk Druid has a GUI ( Text based ) , is quite interactive and creates an Extended partition where it creates the necessary Linux native and swap partitions. Fdisk on the other hand is a CLUE based tool which has a prompt where you give the various parameters (Start cylinder, end cylinder etc...) and create the native and swap partitions. So you have a choice here. After which the format of partitions and then choose what you want to install. Here packages are listed group wise, where if you want you can choose what can be installed in a particular group. After your selection of the packages, the packages are installed, the mouse detection and configuration, network card detection and configuration of network is done. Next comes how you want your Linux to boot, master boot record or root partition. Done ! You have a Linux System ready. Red Hat takes around 900 MB for a full install. It has a GUI based configuration for configuring almost everything on your Linux System by the name LinuxConf, which is really very good and useful too. But, as said earlier it does everything for you so you don't need to worry about what it did. Red Hat is real good for beginners because it configures everything during install itself and has GUI based tools to configure later also. You don't need to know much about your hardware as everything is done for you. That is what I can say about Red Hat.

Mandrake

This distro is very much similar to Red Hat. It actually started out because Red Hat refused to bundle KDE and so Mandrake was nothing but Red Hat-with-KDE. But, recently even Red Hat started to provide KDE along with its distro. Anyway, Mandrake has a lot of enhancements compared to Red Hat, has been made more user-friendly etc.. The Installation of Mandrake is the same as Red Hat's. I don't think there is much difference between Mandrake and Red Hat other than some enhancements. One more thing is that Mandrake has most of the latest utilities and kernel also. If you want to be on the bleeding edge of Linux, this might be a choice. That's all about Mandrake.

Debian

The first thing that comes to mind when someone says Debian is that it is hard to install. Wrong!! Go Ahead and decide for yourself. Installation of Debian takes place in two steps. In the first boot, your system is prepared for the installation of Linux where you configure the keyboard, create partitions, tell how you want your Linux to boot and the basic packages necessary for booting and using Linux are installed after which you reboot. After rebooting, you are required to change the root password, add a user and then comes package selection. This happens to the point where people back off ( I backed off once ) and say that Debian is hard to install. At this stage you are first presented a menu where you choose what groups you want to install where every group contains the necessary packages ( like Web, News are the groups and apache and inn are the packages ). After which, you are presented with the option of starting dselect. If you have the patience to choose and install extra packages, you can proceed with dselect or you can just follow the instructions and skip the option where you need to select more packages. That's all you are done. The packages are installed and every single package is configured after some questions are asked to you. If you don't understand some configurations, you can just go by the defaults or press Enter. Done !

After this, you are dropped to your Linux Shell. Configure X using XF86Setup or xf86config or edit XF86config file manually. You have your X up. Debian installs a _LOT_ of utilities. A full Install of Debian takes around 1.5 GB. That's the reason why Debian comes with 2 CD's. It also happens to install the least if you just want the basic packages. In Debian, the utilities are configured at install time itself. You can also manually configure the utilities in case you want to know what you are doing. ;-) I guess that's all for Debian

Caldera

I Suppose this is the distro whose Installation is the easiest. It has a GUI-based installation which is done using qt. Most of the things are configured for you. The mouse is auto-detected. Depending on whether you are a newbie or an expert, you are given choices to choose how you want the disk partitioned ( or have the disk partitioned for you ). Then you are given a choice of the packages which you might want to install. You are not shown the list of packages, but they are divided as Recommended, All, All+ Commercial. The instructions say that you can uninstall unwanted packages later. The installation starts , meanwhile you can setup your network, video, time and all. While the installation is going on, you can even play a game of tetris ( By the time I reached the 5th or 6th Level the Installation ends ;-) You can test whether X works properly also after choosing various setups. After the package installation finished, you are dropped to a Shell. Simple !! Caldera has a graphical bootup ;-). But, it seems to have only KDE installed as the Window Manager ( Am I right ) You don't have choice here. Caldera uses RPM for installations. So, we are at ease here. You can configure almost everything using COAS Administration Utility. An uneasiness is felt while using Caldera as there were not many options here. It looked as thought text console was completely removed ( not really) Everything was graphical. Caldera seems to be a lot Caldera-centric. In netscape, instead of netscape's logo at the left, you have Caldera's logo. Caldera suits the corporates who want to install Linux in the easiest possible way, without wanting to know what is actually happening.

SuSE

Well, this distro has some similarities with Slackware. It has a text menu based Installation where you first configure your keyboard, partition hard disk etc.. The packages are grouped in a fashion similar to that of Slackware. You can choose whichever packages you want. As usual we have custom selection , minimum or recommended. SuSE uses the RPM for package installation. It has a utility by the name YaST which is text based and can be used to configure almost everything (like you want a text login or graphical login). It has KDE and FVWM as window mangers. Choice is yours.

SuSE happens to be distribution from Germany, so don't be surprised if you find some german things out there.

Conclusion

The versions of the various distributions used are:

Red Hat 6.0, Debian 2.1, Slackware 3.6, SuSE 6.1, Caldera OpenLinux 2.2, Mandrake 6.0

Most of these are first-hand experiences. Hope this small article can help you choose the distro which best suits you.

I Use Debian and FreeBSD at home and office.

One more thing I would like to say is Linux doesn't come with any user space utilities. Linux == Linus' kernel.
Linux != [RedHat, Debian, SuSE, ...] Linux.