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Find the GNU/Linux distribution that most suits you

I. Introduction

Finding a suitable Linux distribution is a tough job. There are several hundred available, each targeting a specific kind of user and usage. A lot of information can be found on the following sites:

but even those sites don't really help you, especially if you are a newcomer to Linux.

Although experts say that basically, it doesn't matter, because you can always tweak any distribution to make it look and behave the way you want, the choice affects

  • how much time you spend installing and customizing (i.e. automatic vs manual installation, amount of tweaking that is necessary to get it to look and work how you want)
  • the amount of knowledge you will be able to gain
  • how much you will like Linux and if you'll stick with it

This page therefore aims to provide some help with your choice.

II. The easy way out: what do other people use?

A non-representative poll on the Lilux mailing list in July 2004 yielded the following result: %%%

Some websites try to help you choose:

III. Lilux community recommendations

As the poll was not representative, here are the detailled recommendations of the Lilux community:

  • if you just want to play around with Linux without installing anything, go for Knoppix
  • on the desktop
    • to use SuSE if you're used to Windows
    • to use Fedora if you want a community supported distro that is easy to install and not too CLI hostile
    • to use Slackware if you know some Unix, or if you are willing to invest a little more time
    • to use Gentoo if you want to have an advanced portage system, support for many platforms and do not mind to invest much time for the initial install
    • to use Debian if you want a large collection of prepackaged software, support for many platforms and do not mind of being not bleeding edge
  • on a server
    • to use Redhat Enterprise Linux if commercial support is important to you and you have much money to spent
    • to use White Box Enterprise Linux if you want to have Redhat Enterprise Linux but can't afford it (recompiled RHEL, community supported)
    • to use Debian if you want a stable, community supported distro with support for many platforms
    • to use Slackware if you want a clean, minimalist and secure system that is also uptodate

With this in mind, you can choose your first distribution and take some time to get used to it. Once you see how it works, you will be able to compare it to other solutions, and make a more educated choice.

IV. The hard way

If you want to invest some more time to decide, or you have special requirements, or you have heard about a special distribution that is not listed above, then you need to investigate in more detail. There are a number of questions you should consider, which we try to enumerate here:

  • What type of installation do you prefer?
    • (Nearly) Fully automatic: SuSE, Mandrake
    • Mainly automatic (except for partionning): Slackware, Fedora
    • Essentially manual: Gentoo
  • Do you need commercial support for the installation?
    • Commercial distributions are: SuSE, Redhat, Sun Java Desktop, Mandrake
    • SuSE and Redhat tend to be commercially supported by manufacturers (e.g. Hewlett Packard)
  • Are you more interested in a stable or in a bleeding edge distribution?
    • Stable distributions are: Slackware, Debian Stable (which tends to be outdated)
    • Up to date distributions are: SuSE, Slackware
    • Bleeding edge: Gentoo
  • What type of a user are you?
    • End user: SuSE, Mandrake
    • Tweaker: Slackware
    • Experimenter: Gentoo

V. Experience reports about some distros

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