Feeds

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

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

The essential guide to IT transformation

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. ®

Next gen security for virtualised datacentres

More from The Register

next story
BBC: We're going to slip CODING into kids' TV
Pureed-carrot-in-ice cream C++ surprise
China: You, Microsoft. Office-Windows 'compatibility'. You have 20 days to explain
Told to cough up more details as antitrust probe goes deeper
Linux turns 23 and Linus Torvalds celebrates as only he can
No, not with swearing, but by controlling the release cycle
Scratched PC-dispatch patch patched, hatched in batch rematch
Windows security update fixed after triggering blue screens (and screams) of death
Windows 7 settles as Windows XP use finally starts to slip … a bit
And at the back of the field, Windows 8.1 is sprinting away from Windows 8
This is how I set about making a fortune with my own startup
Would you leave your well-paid job to chase your dream?
prev story

Whitepapers

Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Endpoint data privacy in the cloud is easier than you think
Innovations in encryption and storage resolve issues of data privacy and key requirements for companies to look for in a solution.
Why cloud backup?
Combining the latest advancements in disk-based backup with secure, integrated, cloud technologies offer organizations fast and assured recovery of their critical enterprise data.
Consolidation: The Foundation for IT Business Transformation
In this whitepaper learn how effective consolidation of IT and business resources can enable multiple, meaningful business benefits.
High Performance for All
While HPC is not new, it has traditionally been seen as a specialist area – is it now geared up to meet more mainstream requirements?