FAQ #19


Which Linux Distribution should I use?


Which Linux Distribution

Choosing a linux distribution can be a difficult task as there are many distributions to choose from, the article that will be presented on this page will explain which distributions the author has used and why they were chosen.


Linux is certainly a superior operating system (OS), it is used in many commercial environments. The scientific community adopted Linux many years ago as their defacto OS. At CERN in Switzerland it is used as the default OS, it can be found in power stations, military establishments, the list goes on and on...

This article is about which Linux to choose and there are many differing distributions of Linux to choose from, in fact just navigating to this Wiki page, List of Linux Distributions will give you some idea, I last counted over 259 distributions. This makes choosing Linux difficult unless you know what you are looking for. The following paragraph lists some of the distributions the author has used over the last twenty years in order to offer some advice.

What is a Linux Distribution?

Linux is a Unix based free opensource operating system, it started life at the University of Helisinki in Finland in 1991 by a student named Linus Torvalds. Linus was already using a non-free Unix-like system named Minix but decided to write his own kernel, device drivers and hard drive access code. By September he had a basic design that was named version 0.01. This kernel called Linux was combined with the GNU system to produce a complete working free operating system. This was not the end of the project Linus had started, and on October 5th Linux posted to the group comp.os.minix requesting further help from the Internet community (see posting) to develop his latest version 0.02 still further. Linux had been born.

A distibution is Linux packaged with the neccessary device drivers for hard drive and video access for your graphics card with other free software to make it useable. It is usually distributed free on a CDROM/DVD with an installation routine to install on your computer. In fact some distros can be run directly from a bootable CD/DVD and require no installation ideal if you just what to try Linux out without making any changes to your current system.

Is Linux for Me?

Most computer, phone, tablet users are using either Windows, Apple OS or Android operating systems. Of course Linux can be installed on most devices but we limit our discussion to laptop/PC hardware only. The appeal of these operating systems is that most software just works out of the box, your iPad, iPod, camera and other hardware comes with appropriate software that make them work with these operating systems, you just install the software that comes with the device and nine times out of ten it just works. On the other hand Linux can be difficult to get working with some devices, however a search on the Internet will usually find a solution or software that is available for the offending device.

So what does Linux bring to the table? Linux is a stable free operation system as mentioned above and you pay nothing for the experience, your money does not go to some corporate conglomerate who locks you into various licensing agreements. You are free to change and configure your system how you like with no comebacks. The following table gives some advice if you are considering changing to Linux.

User Description Advice
I am a casual PC/laptop user, not interested in my hardware, I just want everything to work out of the box and do not care about paying for software Linux is not for you, continue to use your current system with its current shortcomings that you are unware of
I am a casual PC/Laptop user, am tired of having to pay for software, would like to try something else but I am not very proficient at computing generally Carry on reading this article and choose one of the 'Live CD/DVD' distributions to try out Linux and see how it performs on your hardware without making changes to your current setup
I am a casual user but with a curious disposition and would like to learn more about operating systems and software, I would also like to learn to write programs and get into computing Linux is for you, you will get a lot of software for free especially programming languages, language compilers, editors and other utilities that will help you on your journey towards being a computer expert.
I am a Windows/Mac OS power user, I can write program code and regulary use my PC/Laptop for this purpose If you are happy paying for your software, don't mind the vendor license lock in's and don't want to extend your knowledge carry on using your current system. Just bear in mind that you are missing out by not using Linux especially with regard to automation of your tasks, all that free software that includes free C and C++ compilers amongst many other languages that are just waiting to be explored. Worthy of mention is the free virtualization software on Linux that proves to be extremely useful when developing software for commercial use
I am studying computing at a college/university and need to learn how to write programs. I also need some computing administration experience You should be using Linux, no computing student worth his metal would be without some unix experience and Linux is the idea choice. Many computing students are leaving university without this knowledge and are found lacking.

If you are not listed in the types of computer users listed above free free email me at petersnr@inivitiv.com I would be more than happy to provide you with some free suggestions and advice.

Some Linux Distros

I have used a number of distros over the last twenty years. My first being Yggdrasil Plug & Play Linux that I obtained at a computing fair in Stafford, England. Things have moved on substantially since those days, what follows is a list and their pro's and con's.

SUSE Linux

Of German origin, it's been a while since I have used SUSE but as one would expect from a German product it is a nice well designed distro. The setup tools are good and it installs quickly and easily without issues. It's reliability and ease of use made it the choice for Novel who purchased the SuSE brand and trademarks. A community free version is available at openSUSE I can personally recommend this version as it comes with a lot of the typical software that is used by general PC/Laptop users. It is also a good choice if you are considering setting up a computer server at home or small office.


My current system for my developent laptop, Ubuntu is extremely laptop friendly which is one of the reasons I chose it. Installation is a breeze and all of my laptops hardware was recognised without any issues. It comes in a number of flavours with the 'Live CD/DVD' available so you can run it from your CD/DVD drive without having to install it or make changes to your current system. A good distro for beginners, the community site is especialy useful and most questions regarding issues or configuration are listed and search indexed so answers are easily found.


A very mature Linux distro, the emphasis is on providing all free software. Debian has provided the 'base' for a number of other distros and is popular with many Linux guru's. I have used Debian a number of times but found installation on Laptops can be a bit difficult with devices not supported or recognised. If you are a seasoned Linux user then you will most likely choose a Debian distro and invest the time in making it work for you. Debian also comes in 'Blends' these are a subset of Debian configured to support a particular target group of users.


Redhat is the commercial distribution of choice for a number of large blue chip companies. It is not free but you get a stable secure system out of the box. I would not recommed it for laptop installation but more for use as a commercial server. Redhat offer a certification path for Linux administrators and provide support as part of your purchase. A free community version called 'Fedora' is available but is less stable and more for cutting edge Linux users.

I use Redhat at my home office for my commercial server, the virtualization packages make is useful to create virtual servers for specific purposes. For instance I use a virtual server to host this web site, I also use another as a stripped down mail server and another as a repository (Git, Subversion) server and a build server for software that I develop.


CentOS is an abbreviation of 'Community Enterprise Operating System' and derived from the sources of Redhat, this is also a stable commercial distro that is free from the licence costs that come with Redhat. It is funtionally compatible with the Redhat distro and so makes a good alternative. CentOS is my main server on my home office network, I use it to host the virtual hosts that run Redhat servers as explained above. For small businesses that do not want to pay for the Redhat license this is my reccommeded distro.

Linux from Scratch (LFS)

This description from the LFS website explains what you get: -

'Linux From Scratch (LFS) is a project that provides you with step-by-step instructions for building your own custom Linux system, entirely from source code.'

You get to build a Linux system from scratch, all Linux guru's should try this out at least once, it comes with a PDF document to walk you through each step and at the end you have a running Linux system that you have built from the source code. The experience gained from carrying out such an exersize cannot be underestimated and at the end you have real working understanding about what makes a Linux system tick. Highly recommended!


I have also used a number of other distro's that are not mentioned in this article, for some reason or another I have not stuck with them. Reasons are that they were not so stable or that they moved on and did not offer what I was looking for. I hope this article has provided some useful information to help with your choice of Linux as an operating system. It was not my intention to examine all the distro's currently available as this would make the article to verbose and the subject is already covered on the List of Linux Distros Wiki Site

Date Entered2014-05-30




petersnr@inivitiv.com 2014-05-31Test comment