Feeds

The Reg guide to Linux, part 1: Picking a distro

Who's top of the table and who's going home

Beginner's guide to SSL certificates

The best of the rest

There are dozens of smaller players out there vying for your attention, but most aren't really worth the time unless you're already an expert or have a specific function in mind.

For instance, if you just need something to get a really old, low-spec PC running for the spare room or ready to give away, Damn Small Linux and Puppy Linux are both good candidates. Both work well on a Pentium II or Pentium III-level machine and might even run on a high-end 486 at a push.

Knoppix is a live CD – in other words, a complete Linux OS designed to boot and run from CD without being installed. Ubuntu and several other distros ship as live CDs these days, but the environments are limited and only really intended to check that everything works on your PC and then to get it installed. Knoppix is intended to be used this way and is a great tool for recovering data off crashed or virus-infested PCs, diagnosing problems, checking internet connections and so on.

MEPIS is a custom respin of Debian with good multimedia support. It's got some devoted fans but there isn't much to set it apart from the far more mainstream Ubuntu or Mint.

Gentoo is the software equivalent of a liquid-cooled overclocker's PC: to install it, every component is recompiled for your PC with your preferred optimisations. In other words, it takes ages, you need to know exactly what you're doing and at the end it's only a few per cent faster but looks unlike anything else. It's not really worth the bother. Sabayon is a more polished liveCD version if you really want a look.

Similarly, Arch Linux is a tweaker's dream, aimed at expert Linux users, as is Slackware, the oldest surviving distro, with very conservative – ie old-fashioned – installation, packaging and admin tools.

The highest-rated non-Linux open source OS is FreeBSD, parts of which form the underpinnings of Mac OS X. Don't expect Apple-like sophistication, though – FreeBSD is adamantly old-school, aimed at skilled Unix users. If you want to play with an easy-to-install version, try PC-BSD, which has nearly Linux-like levels of polish.

Rounding up

To be honest, unless you have some other reason, such as wanting to get into working with enterprise distributions such as RHEL or Novell's SUSE, for a first-timer or if you're giving Linux the first go in years there's no good reason to look beyond Ubuntu. Don't bother with any of the special “editions” or remixes – Ubuntu itself is the most professional offering around and it's possible to go from a blank machine to a working system with all applications and everything in well under an hour - considerably faster than it would be with Windows.

Tomorrow, we'll look at preparing your machine to dual-boot between Windows and Linux. ®

Secure remote control for conventional and virtual desktops

More from The Register

next story
Microsoft on the Threshold of a new name for Windows next week
Rebranded OS reportedly set to be flung open by Redmond
SMASH the Bash bug! Apple and Red Hat scramble for patch batches
'Applying multiple security updates is extremely difficult'
Business is back, baby! Hasta la VISTA, Win 8... Oh, yeah, Windows 9
Forget touchscreen millennials, Microsoft goes for mouse crowd
Apple: SO sorry for the iOS 8.0.1 UPDATE BUNGLE HORROR
Apple kills 'upgrade'. Hey, Microsoft. You sure you want to be like these guys?
ARM gives Internet of Things a piece of its mind – the Cortex-M7
32-bit core packs some DSP for VIP IoT CPU LOL
Lotus Notes inventor Ozzie invents app to talk to people on your phone
Imagine that. Startup floats with voice collab app for Win iPhone
prev story

Whitepapers

Providing a secure and efficient Helpdesk
A single remote control platform for user support is be key to providing an efficient helpdesk. Retain full control over the way in which screen and keystroke data is transmitted.
Intelligent flash storage arrays
Tegile Intelligent Storage Arrays with IntelliFlash helps IT boost storage utilization and effciency while delivering unmatched storage savings and performance.
Beginner's guide to SSL certificates
De-mystify the technology involved and give you the information you need to make the best decision when considering your online security options.
Security for virtualized datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.
Secure remote control for conventional and virtual desktops
Balancing user privacy and privileged access, in accordance with compliance frameworks and legislation. Evaluating any potential remote control choice.