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Distribution: Emacs and linux is its device driver(Slackware,redhat)
its all personal taste and the programs included with the dist. redhat has its own configuration tools and mandrake has its own configuration tools.in my opininon redhat has the cleanest interface among other thats why i use it.
A few distros are even specialized for certain purposes. IE, Tomsrtbt is a floppy-based recovery tool. Also, brutalware is for cracking into stuff you shouldn't see anyway. Mandrake's easy to use yet functional. Slackware I think is the most versatile, etc.
When you go looking for a new car, what would you say are the differences between the different manufacturers and models?
They all have wheels, use gas (well....), and have a stereo (again, well....)
It's the same with Linux distributions. Different ideas on how to produce the same thing. If you have a spare partition the best thing to do is try a different distro. There will be much the same, but some interesting differences. You are free to choose which you prefer. Cool, huh?
We can ramble all day on how they are different but the best way is to try for yourself. I used to dual boot win and linux but I got rid of windows and made that my test partition for distros I haven't tried gentoo, college linux etc...
1.) availability of packages.
Redhat is probably ahead of the pack in availability of working, professional packages. However, there are debian packages for everything under the sun. Everyone and his uncle has a debian package for something.
2.) ease of install
This is becomming a non issue for me. It should be labeled "annoyance of install". For example, gentoo's install is long and hard, but kind of fun and really not that annoying. Redhat's install is child's play. I really hate debian's install, but that's a personal kind of thing.
3.) automatic dependancy resolution
This is something that redhat scores near the bottom of a deep dark chasm in. I can't tell you how many times I've downloaded some rpm only to find it needed 3 other rpm's which each needed 8 other rpms until i'm downloading 3/4 of ftp.redhat.com at 7k/sec. It's gotten to the point that, if i'm installing redhat for desktop usage (not dedicated server), i'll select "install everything" and just burn 4 gigs or whatever it is to install everything to get away from dependancy hell.
If you want this to just work, debian and gentoo are good options. Debian's apt-get works pretty well. Gentoo's emerge accomplishes the same thing.
I'd have to say that this is first off mostly an issue if you're running a desktop system and not a dedicated server. But, if you're sick of open office taking 3 minutes to open on an athlon xp, then gentoo is for you.
I have to plug a distro that i've been so impressed with: gentoo. You start out with a CD that has a kernel, a compiler, and every network driver ever created. You boot, you set up a few things, then you download the latest version of the compiler, libraries, and kernel. You recompile the libraries, then recompile the compiler linked against the new libraries, then using the new compiler, you compile a new kernel (this is all automatic). Then from the ground up, you have a system which has been compiled in every bit, shape, form, and application, and compiled to optimization settings that you specify.
Want to install gnome? Type: emerge gnome
It goes out to its mirror list and downloads the source, compiles it to your optimization desires, and resolves any dependancy problems it has. Plus the documentation is amazing - literally "We need to accomplish this, so type this. Then we need to accomplish that, so type that" - really comprehensive and step by step.