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The Various Linux Distributions

[ 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.