Feeds

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

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

Securing Web Applications Made Simple and Scalable

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. ®

The smart choice: opportunity from uncertainty

More from The Register

next story
That AMAZING Windows comeback: Wow – 0.5% growth in 2015
Whoooah, my face is going all floppy with the speed
Think Google Glass is creepy? Wait until it READS YOUR MIND
Startup penetrates the mind of Glassholes
Bezos house 'on FIRE': Amazon in-app kiddy megabuck charge storm
FTC prepares boot for firm's ass in lawsuit
Victim of Tor-hidden revenge smut site sues Tor Project developers
But EFF lawyer says deep-web team 'no more liable' than web server makers
Chrome Remote Desktop adds Linux to supported OS list
Drive Debian from the confines of a Chromebook
Google's lounge room invasion advances with Chromecast upgrade
Your tellie is about to mirror your Android
prev story

Whitepapers

Seven Steps to Software Security
Seven practical steps you can begin to take today to secure your applications and prevent the damages a successful cyber-attack can cause.
Top 8 considerations to enable and simplify mobility
In this whitepaper learn how to successfully add mobile capabilities simply and cost effectively.
Eight steps to building an HP BladeSystem
Building your ideal BladeSystem infrastructure solution begins with eight simple steps, outlined in this whitepaper.
Securing Web Applications Made Simple and Scalable
Learn how automated security testing can provide a simple and scalable way to protect your web applications.
Build a Business Case: Developing Custom Apps
In this whitepaper learn how to maximize the value of custom applications by accelerating and simplifying their development.