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Editor's Note: There is More to Linux Than Ubuntu

Apr 03, 2010, 00:27 (55 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by Carla Schroder)

by Carla Schroder
Managing Editor

The fine people at Canonical are experts at keeping Ubuntu in the news, and keeping a lot of buzz alive. That is a good thing; still, it is easy to get the impression that Ubuntu is Linux. But we know there is a whole world outside of Canonical, so here are some of my favorite Linuxes.

Kubuntu was my favorite distribution for a time, back during the KDE 3.5 series. I was a KDE user all the way back to 2.0. Before Kubuntu I used mainly Debian unstable on the desktop, and Debian stable on servers. Way before that, Red Hat and Slackware. Red Hat 5 was my first Linux, on actual 3.5" diskettes. Somewheres in there I used Libranet, which was a super-nice Debian derivative, but sadly it died with the passing of its founder.

Back in those olden days Corel Linux and Mandrake Linux put a lot of effort into making Linux friendly to inexperienced users, and there are a lot of Linux users who got their start on these after being frustrated with trying to install other distributions. I think one of the greatest strengths of Linux is its easy installation, and bootable live CDs, DVDs, and USB. Make it easy to get up and running, and then you can explore and learn all about it.

Ever since KDE4 hit the scene I've been shopping for an everyday desktop Linux again. Speed and efficiency are everything; if the computer gets in my way then something has to change. So I've been testing different graphical environments: GNOME, XFce, LXDE, and ICEwm are all nice, though GNOME seems rather heavyweight for the level of functionality it delivers. I'm very spoiled by Debian; it supports more packages than anyone, and is the easiest of any Linux to maintain. Somewheres in my distro travels I got distracted from Sidux, which is a nice Debian Sid implementation. (Probably by the *buntus, bless their noisy little hearts.) That is next in line for testing as my main desktop Linux.

I've been testing Arch Linux for my music studio PC, and while it's early to say for sure, so far I like it a lot. It is sleek, clean, very stable, and feels sensible.

I use a very customized Debian for servers. I've been able to trim it down to about 150 megabytes, and then I just add whatever services I need. It's real Debian, with all the usual Debian goodness, just skinny. Ratpoison is an awesome super-lightweight window manager for running a herd of remote servers from the console.

The Gentoo-based SystemRescue CD/USB still gets my vote as best rescue Linux, supporting advanced things like RAID, LVM, and new filesystems; all manner of testing and diagnostic utilities, and even some accessibility applications.

Clonezilla is a great disk-cloning tool that supports Linux, Mac, and Windows, and can even do mass-clones over a network.

The GParted LiveCD is a wonderful little distro for partitioning hard disks. It even brings sanity to Windows systems; you know how flummoxed Windows gets when it comes to doing anything more than totally overwrite a FAT or NTFS-formatted disk.

I've been playing a bit with the XMBC media server, and am impressed. Eventually I want to digitize all of my movies and music, and have them all on a central server. XMBC also supports Internet streaming. Then I will park in my comfortable chair with the remote control and never leave it ever again.

If you're thinking of building your own video surveillance system, check out ZoneMinder. It is sophisticated, reliable, and cram-full of features, more than most commercialware.

Honorable Mentions

openSUSE, Linux Mint, Mandriva, and PCLinuxOS are all polished, pretty general-purpose distros that try to make Linux "easy". I have users who are happy with these; for me, they start out nice, and then the more I use them the more restrictive they feel, until I can't stand it anymore and go back to Debian.

This barely scratches the surface of the amazing variety and flexibility in the Linux world; please feel free to share tales of your own favorite Linux distros, especially the non-ordinary ones.