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Linux, *BSD and other *nix Recommendations Thread

Due to the large amount of threads lately regarding Linux distribution recommendations for individuals lacking experience with Linux, let's try to keep the topic here.

Please post why you think a particular distribution is good, and why it is especially suitable for "newbies", moderately experienced, or hardcore veterans who like to compile the kernel with an abacus. And whether it's primary area of use is for desktops or servers etcetera etcetera. And links to pertient resources are very nice to provide too.

To avoid the unnecessary bloatness and low SNR of the Old "THE linux thread" thread, please abide by the following guidelines and this thread will be a much nicer experience.
  1. Try to be objective. This can be a bit difficult due to many features being preferred largely on a subjective basis... But at least try.

  2. Feel free to extend upon postings made by others - we humans don't agree on everything nor do we manage to include every detail. But be polite when it comes to subjective issues.

  3. Do not start a flamewar in here. Do not post "DISTRO_A > * > Dogdoo > DISTRO_B" comments of any such fashion.

  4. Do not post any posts void of content, e.g smiley posts or other one-liner expressions of emotion. Keep such spam in the main genmay forum.

  5. Do not derail this thread. If you have a problem with a specific issue, create a new thread for that - this thread is for information about Linux, *BSD and other *nix distriubutions/variants, and discussion about this.

  6. When quoting posts, try to trim the quote down to the pertient part if possible. This reduces the bloat in the thread noticeably.

Thank you all in advance
Democracy is the dictatorship of the clueless masses.
In the land of the idiots, the mediocre man is a king.
Old 08-27-2005, 12:14 PM dastrike is offline  
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Ubuntu Linux

Recommended for: novice and upwards
Targeted Role: desktop/workstation primarily, but there are those who use it for servers too

Ubuntu is a Linux distribution that is based on Debian, and thus has all the good things of Debian, e.g. it's nice apt/dpkg package management system. Ubuntu have managed to smooth out some of the bumps that inexperienced users tend to encounter with Debian, this in combination with the smooth package management makes it highly suitable as a first distribution. Ubuntu has set up a 6-month release cycle to avoid the problem with release cycle creeping very long as in the case of Debian.
The installation of Ubuntu is very straightforward with the very minimum of questions, and performs a good autodetection and configuration of hardware, although in some cases the initial desktop resolution is a bit low, but that can be fairly easily corrected.
Democracy is the dictatorship of the clueless masses.
In the land of the idiots, the mediocre man is a king.

Last edited by dastrike; 08-27-2005 at 05:33 PM..
Old 08-27-2005, 12:15 PM dastrike is offline  
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Debian GNU/Linux

Recommended for: Intermediately experienced and upwards. Novices might encounter some difficulties with post-installation configuration.
Targeted Role: pretty much any, usually: server or desktop/workstation

Debian is one of the first Linux distributions around. It has a great package management (apt/dpkg) which makes software installation nice, quick and simple. Debian focuses on stability and has strict policies regarding the freedom of the software provided. The release cycle of Debian is a bit painfully slow though, which tends to lead to the stable release feeling a bit outdated after a while. There is some discussion going on how to improve this point - the main reason why the release cycle is so slow is that it takes time to make sure all the 15000+ packages work and to not have any release-critical bugs on all the 10+ hardware archtectures Debian supports.

For desktop and workstation use one may want to take some packages from testing/unstable though so it won't feel as outdated. The stable release is very nice for servers, but if the current slow release cycle continues, even there one will eventually feel the staleness.

The installation of Debian was once in a time infamous for the amount of questions presented in the installer. That has been pretty much fixed now. Even novices should be able to go through the installer without problems, but there are some post-installation configuration issues that tend to occur which is why I wouldn't recommend Debian for the novice that wants to everything to Just Work(TM) after the installler has done it's part.
The size of the installation is very much in your hands, if you want a slim system just pick and choose the things you want. Also from the other side of things it is easy if you want a desktop installation without having to bother with choosing packages yourself, just check the "Desktop Environment" option in the installation when you get to that point.

Documentation is extensive, but the format of it is not very much adapted to the "impatient novice".
Democracy is the dictatorship of the clueless masses.
In the land of the idiots, the mediocre man is a king.

Last edited by dastrike; 08-27-2005 at 05:30 PM..
Old 08-27-2005, 12:15 PM dastrike is offline  
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Recommended for: Novices who can read, intermediates and advanced.

BSD stand for Berkley Software Distribution, it is the most Unix like of all the *nix operating systems. It sticks to the roots of what Unix is and was. It utilizes probably the best package management systems, ports and pkg_add. Ports is a collection of source code that is compiled on your system, to compile a program from ports you find it on your harddrive and "make install clean", or if you dont want to compile just "pkg_add" and you get the binary installation. It has the most comprehensive instruction manual, every question that you could possibley ever have is answered. The "Freebsd Handbook" as it is known will take you from the first steps of installation to a complete operating system and beyond. It runs on a variety of processors and can be installed installed from a 300 meg iso, the core of the OS is installed the rest is compiled or get the 700 meg iso and install from binaries. Upgrading programs that are already installed is as simple as "portupgrade programname" if you installed from ports, or just pkg_delete and add again if you did a binary. A truly versatile operating system that is easy to use, reliable, and feature rich it will take you in and you will never go back to anything else.
Disclaimer: Any views or opinions presented in this post are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of anyone else.
Old 08-27-2005, 12:25 PM Lurker is offline  
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Recommended for: System administrators, CS students
Targeted role: Enterprise servers/workstations
CentOS is a free clone of Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) that aims to be 100% compatible with RHEL. If you're studying for a Red Hat or Linux certification, need a test environment for a RHEL network, or just want an enterprise-grade OS without the enterprise-grade pricetag, CentOS is for you.

As CentOS is nearly identical to RHEL, nearly all of the excellent RHEL documentation also applies to CentOS, making it an excellent starting point for someone looking to get into Linux/*nix system administration.

Last edited by nextbillgates; 08-28-2005 at 03:43 PM..
Old 08-27-2005, 04:04 PM nextbillgates is offline  
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Gentoo Linux

Recommended for: Novices who don't mind reading and up
Targeted Role: anything. Can be configured for use as a desktop machine, server, whatever.

General Description:
Gentoo is a nice distribution which is tailored towards those who want things set up their way. Many of the more popular distributions (RedHat, Mandrake etc.) come with their own ideas of the packages required for a desktop environment, as well as what desktop environment is standard. Much like Debian, you start with the bare necessities and set everything up as you like.

Gentoo Software Management System: Portage
Gentoo's biggest feature (and the one which sets it pretty much apart from the rest) is it's Portage system. Portage is Gentoo's software package system, which by default will install applications by downloading their source code and compiling it. This can be downright painful for users on slow systems, as some of the larger packages (ie., the X windowing system, or the GNOME desktop system) and their dependencies can take days to compile.

However, this mode of operation is Gentoo's strength. Experienced users can easily create repositories and variants of software packages by creating ebuilds. An ebuild is the actual file that directs Portage as to what actions to take to compile and install your software. Using ebuilds, one can have many flavors of the same software, such as different combinations of patches, and different compilation options.

Attributes of Portage:
Another thing that stands out about Gentoo's Portage is its completeness. Its monstrously huge, and you're almost garunteed to find the peice of software you're looking for within. Installing software is a simple matter of 'emerge {package_name}' Much like other, more mature package management systems (such as Debian's apt), Gentoo's Portage does full dependency checking and conflict warning. Using a convenient keyword system, Portage can be directed as to what dependencies and capabilities you generally want in the software packages you install. (make.conf's USE keywords)

(For example: you can have software which has support for both Gnome and KDE compile with only Gnome support because you don't use KDE. This results in less compiled code, and your software only has just those features that you need.)

Gentoo: Installation
To the new user, the most interesting aspect of Gentoo is its installation.

Yes, you heard right. The installation.

In most other distros, there is usually a setup or installation procedure that will help you choose the installation destination (disks and partitions) and do a lot of the mundane for you.
With Gentoo, you do everything yourself within a minimal Linux environment, with the aid of the Gentoo Handbook. You manually set up the partitions/disks, and you set up everything from bootloader to the default services.

Installation can be done from 3 "stages":
  • Stage 1: You start with nothing but pure source code for even the most base of software needed for the system, and compile everything from square 1. (This is called "bootstrapping".)

    Starting from this stage allows you set Gentoo's architecture to specifically match what you're running, ie., Athlon XP or Pentium 3
  • Stage 2: You start with a decent chunk of what you need precompiled, but still need to compile stuff.
    You can also do the option stated above at this stage, if I recall correctly.
  • Stage 3: You don't want to waste any time compiling anything, and want the system set up as soon as possible; using a Stage 3, you simply "unzip" (untar) the entire system to disk.

    Using a Stage 3, you can complete your Gentoo installation in less than 15 minutes. The disadvantage is that you cannot change Gentoo's architecture, and other niggling details that provide tiny little optimizations. With today's processor, there is no big difference using a Stage 3 or Stage 1, unless you're using the 64 bit architecture, of which I am not knowledgeable enough on to comment about

Trust me, if you're a novice in Linux architecture, after you're done going through Gentoo's installation procedure, you may learn a thing or two about how a Linux system works. (Well, at least Gentoo. )

Gentoo Ricers
I will take the opportunity here to address the outrageous performance claims of some over-enthusiastic Gentoo users, which have lead to the creation of this site:

Since Gentoo allows you to compile from scratch, you can set compilation options within Portage's config files which make optimizations to the compiled code. Unfortunately, some folks have been claiming that these optimizations result in huge speed gains. The truth of the matter is that you will only notice a small difference in application speed. Also, some of the optimizations that these folk apply to the code can lead to unstable applications, resulting in a pretty much unstable system.

Since Gentoo lets you do what you want, starting from pure source code and leading up to a general Linux system, you're free to do what you want to it, whether or not your actions will detract from the stability of the system as a whole. Folks who simply abide by the suggestions of the Gentoo Handbook should be fine, while others (like the fools being ridiculed in will search and collect a ton of compilation options which promise speed increases, but whose real impact will lead to overall instability.

Well, hope that this has been informative.
(Oh crap, I been rambling. )

Last edited by Tekronis; 08-28-2005 at 12:34 AM.. Reason: worser engrish fixt.
Old 08-27-2005, 04:07 PM Tekronis is offline  
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Recommended for: System administrators, experienced Linux users
Targeted Role: I say server, though you can use it for whatever you want.
General Description:
ArchLinux is a Linux distribution that adheres to the same spirit as Slackware and Debian: Keep It Simple, Sir. Its a very slim and bare bones distribution that was created to cater to the experienced Linux user looking for something as lightweight as Slackware, but with good package management. (This is not to say that Slackware lacks good package management, but in its know..)

Software Management:
ArchLinux's package management is done by the pacman utility. I have not used Arch and pacman that often, but pacman and its software repository, although young compared to the other older heavyweights, did have all the necessary software for a Linux user to get the ball rolling. The ArchLinux community has increased, and we may see increased numbers and more recent versions of Linux software available through Pacman.

ArchLinux's simplicity makes it an excellent choice for the server role. It has a very simplistic service init setup, and provides a good environment for a relatively secure platform.

Again, this distro should be looked at in the same class as Slackware and Debian. (IMHO)
Old 08-27-2005, 06:53 PM Tekronis is offline  
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TinySofa Enterprise

Recommended for: Administrators, and experienced users
Targeted Role: Server

General Description:
TinySofa is a relatively lesser known Linux distribution created and targeting the Linux server platform. Its creator, Omar Kilani, is a knowledgeable *nix veteran who was not satisfied with the existing distributions for the server environment. So he did what most l337 folk do in the open source world: he created his own. TinySofa Enterprise is streamlined, and from its very kernel, its focused on doing the server thing right. Most of the patches that go into the kernels for RedHat Enterprise are surveyed, tweaked, then applied to TinySofa's kernel, so it has the same changes made for RedHat Enterprise, as well as more.

Software Management:
TinySofa uses a package management system based on a combination of RPMs and Debian's apt system. Most of the software I needed for my server setup, I found. But I speak for myself, your needs may be different. It has a small audience of users, but it is well maintained, and you can always seek help directly in TinySofa's IRC chan, where you can usually find someone capable of answering your distro (or even general) questions.

Overall, I'd recommend TinySofa as a solid platform for a custom server setup.

Pretty much the norm as any distro's install goes. There is a utility called "Disk Druid" which you will use to create your partitions or meta-RAID devices. From there on, you select your target packages and installation pretty much goes on from there.

Last edited by Tekronis; 08-28-2005 at 12:28 AM..
Old 08-27-2005, 07:02 PM Tekronis is offline  
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Recommended for: folks who've had experience with any general *nix
Targeted Role: Network infrastructure (firewall, gateway), and server (can be used a desktop too, but not by most average *nix users)

General Description:
OpenBSD, contrary to what its name implies, is a tightly built, secure from install, NetBSD based operating system. Its built from the ground up with security in mind, and in its history, I beleive that it has only had one remotely exploitable vulnerability. This operating system is the home of pf, a powerful general purpose stateful packet filter, and OpenSSH, the SSH package that everyone knows and loves. Because of this, its an excellent OS for use in firewall, gateway and other network infrastructure setups. I cannot argue whether or not pf is better than Linux's iptables, however what can be said is that it can definitely be used to create very articulate firewall behavior, and provide excellent address translation services (NAT, BiDirectional NAT and port redirection).

Software Management:
OpenBSD has 2 principal methods of software management:
  • You can install OpenBSD's native software using pkg utlities. The pkg_[add/delete/info/etc/] utlities allow you to manage software that was built specifically for OpenBSD. A lot of this software is audited by the OpenBSD team, so you can be sort of assured that the software being installed through this method is about as secure as the OS is. (well, not all the time, by mostly)
  • The second method is through ports. Using the ports system, you can install software that wasn't natively designed for OpenBSD. OpenBSD's ports borrows a lot from FreeBSD, so you'll find a whole assload of software available there. The ports system are installed and managed using make. Theres no garuntees for software built and installed from ports, as its software which has been "imported" from elsewhere, and isn't natively OpenBSD's.

This is the best part.

If you're an experience *nix user, installation is SUPER SIMPLE.
I just upgraded my OpenBSD box to the latest version today, and it took me less than 10 minutes. Actual installation from square one takes only slightly longer, and thats cause the hardest part is just setting up your disk slices***. Seriously, the whole of OpenBSD installation fits on ONE FLOPPY. (There are three, but really, you're mainly using just the 1st one) If your machine is hooked up to the Internet, you can start the installation of that floppy, and then bring in the gzipped tar files over the net. The entire size of the system isn't that big either. ALL tar files required to set up an OpenBSD system with ALL options enabled for intallation (X server, etc.) weighs LESS THAN 150 megabytes. The installer is capable of pulling the files over HTTP, FTP, off a partition or a CDROM, your choice. And mind you, this is all off a single floppy.

OpenBSD's installer doesn't get the praise it deserves, and I think that needs to be remedied.

Granted, the system doesn't come with as much software as a typical Linux's default isntall, but for a server or firewall system, you're aren't looking for that in the first place.

***: clarification: BSDs use the concept of disk slices. Think of them as partitions within a partition. One would create a BSD partition, then use BSD's disklabel to create disk slices within that partition. Filesystems are then assigned to these slices in fstab the way you'd assign them to partitions in Linux.

Last edited by Tekronis; 08-27-2005 at 07:37 PM..
Old 08-27-2005, 07:31 PM Tekronis is offline  
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Slackware Linux

Recommended for: advanced users, servers, hobbiests
Targeted Role: Good for servers and learning linux

Intro (from wikipedia)

Slackware is a Linux distribution created by Patrick Volkerding of Slackware Linux, Inc. It has a policy of incorporating only stable releases of applications, and has a distinctive absence of distribution-specific configuration tools found in other distributions of Linux. Partisans have been known to say, "When you know Slackware, you know Linux... when you know Red Hat, all you know is Red Hat."

Quick Review

Slackware is rock solid and one if not the fastest package based distro out there. So why doesn't everyone use it?

Well it doesn't hold you're hand with helpful gui config tools, its linux in its pure form, no hacked on aids, no graphical installer, no . Want to learn linux or get a rock solid server going without all that overhead from redhats 'aids', the go for slack.

Be foreworned It's package management is very rudimentary, but once all programs are setup and installed you won't need to touch shit for months on end. No messing around with unnessacary updates every day that break your system.

It is the first and oldest linux distro for a reason. Once you go slack you never go back.
./\.//. //.

[M]Böner Crew

Last edited by rizla; 08-31-2005 at 11:45 AM..
Old 08-28-2005, 02:04 PM rizla is offline  
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Recommended for: EVERYONE.
Targeted Role: for anyone wanting to see what a decently prepared FreeBSD system looks like, or anyone who simply wants to give FreeBSD a try.

FreeSBIE: General Description:
FreeSBIE is a FreeBSD Live CD. What this means is that you can run the entire operating system straight off a CD-ROM. There is no hassle of trying to install, no risk of blowing away anything on your hard drives. If you ever wanted to give FreeBSD a test drive, then quite simply, look no further.

As with all Live CDs, you stick the CD in your drive, reboot, and if your BIOS is configured to and knows how to boot of a CD (most do), then you will see FreeSBIE come up and show you a menu. You'll be able to select wheter or not to boot with ACPI disabled, and a couple of other options.

Once the boot process is complete, you'll find yourself in an XFCE desktop. Experienced *nix/BSD users will find themselves right at home and instinctively know what to do. It comes prepacked with the most common tools, such as your editors, network utlities and etc.

Like all Live CDs, this is the best way for novices to test drive the operating system before making any attempt to install it to their machines. If you decide you don't like it, fine, just reboot and remove the CD. Your machine will then proceed as normal, booting your default OS. Definitely a choice for the curious.
Old 08-28-2005, 02:58 PM Tekronis is offline  
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Recommended for: everybodeh!
Targeted Role: for those who need Linux on the run. (And those who want to give the general Linux desktop environment a try.)

Knoppix: What is it?
Knoppix a Linux Live CD/DVD. Meaning that its a full blown ready to go operating system which runs entirely off a CD or DVD. If you've got a Knoppix disc with you, you can run Linux off of any machines that supports booting off CD. To my knowledge, Knoppix is the most complete Live CD distro that currently exists. The CD boasts an impressive suite of software, and the Knoppix DVD (released not too long ago) trumps that. You'll pretty much have everything you need.

Its an excellent choice for novices, once your machine boots off the disc, it will perform all the hardware detection for you automatically, set up your graphical environment and drop you into a full featured desktop environment. Another feature of Knoppix which really kicks a lot of ass is the toram option. Slightly experienced users can specify kernel options before Knoppix commences boot. By specifying knoppix toram as your boot line, Knoppix will copy the whole of the system to RAM. If you've got more than 1 gig of RAM, this is perfect, in that your entire OS and all of its applications now reside in memory. I mean everything. Which results in a super responsive environment. Its fast. Really fast.

Knoppix is considered as the standard Linux LiveCD. Many other Live CD distributions are based off of it. For the Linux user on the run, you couldn't have asked for more. Again, perfect choice for the novice because the only thing you need to do to run it, is stick the CD in your drive and reboot.
Old 08-28-2005, 03:12 PM Tekronis is offline  
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Originally Posted by rizla
Slackware Linux

Recommended for: advanced users, servers, hobbiests
Targeted Role: Good for servers and learning linux
fixed bulleted list
the original aoeoae
Old 08-29-2005, 10:44 PM asdsad is offline  
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I would also like to add that Knoppix is also good to have on hand for offline maintenance. If you need to resize partitions, do a full disk backup, or recover files from a trashed windows install or many other things, it is very useful to have.

Originally Posted by Tekronis

RMS of the [M] GNU\Linux Krew 2006
Old 08-30-2005, 12:53 AM 2slow is offline  
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Recommended for
anyone familiar with *nix systems

Targeted role
Any! Server, Firewall, embedded systems, workstation, just about anything

General Description
NetBSD is mostly known to be the operating system supporting the broadest range of architectures, from i386 to mips to 68k to ppc to sparc64 to alpha to a toaster

NetBSD lets you do anything out of anything. The base system is very small, and is easily expandable using precompiled packages or pkgsrc. If you have to manage multiple systems, NetBSD eases the task by being very uniform - it shares the same source tree on all of its supported architectures.

The installation method is the thing that varies the most from platform to platform. For i386 systems you have a bootable CD available, with easy to follow menus. On some other systems, you need to load an install kernel which will boot the machine and get you in a menu-driver interface again. On more obscure systems, installation greatly vary. I have a Cobalt Qube2 (mips) which can have NetBSD installed on by booting a special CD on a i386 machine. The i386 will then load a DHCP & NFS server, and get the Qube2 to do a network boot and setup the base system automatically. You are then given an IP address to connect to and do the initial configuration.

What you want NetBSD to do is up to you
Once it is installed, NetBSD will behave the same from platform to platform, and if you get familiar with it, you'll feel familiar with all of the supported platforms running NetBSD.

NetBSD also features very good cross-compiling support. If you have slower machines, it makes it a breeze to compile a new kernel or system on a faster machine for another architecture.

It comes with ipfilter which is a really great and easy to configure firewall. If you want fancier options, you can get OpenBSD's PF to work under NetBSD. NetBSD also supports ALTQ (Alternate Queuing) very well so more advanced users could use bandwidth shaping with ease. If you want to do a webserver, NetBSD is great again, as you can run just about any *nix software. (I personally run a NetBSD webserver with Apache, PHP, Ruby, Perl, Python, MySQL, PostgreSQL) You can also use it as a desktop as it can run XFree86, xorg, gnome, KDE, xfce, fluxbox, firefox, etc. My Athlon XP 2500+ runs NetBSD as a workstation pretty well.


Last edited by Macinbest; 01-06-2008 at 04:54 PM..
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