I have tried approximately 20 distro's in the last 9 months. For around 6 months of this I had around 4 distro's running at one time. I ran Arch exclusively for 6 weeks and then moved to Slackware. I use Slackware as my main distro, and I believe this to be the best distro for me.
The quailities I look for include a clean install, a lean initial system, fast operation, easy package management, wide selection of packages, stability, good community support, low or easy maintenance for continous use, and near bleeding edge packages.
So I thought I would share with you my opinion of the various distros available, as food for thought.
P4 intel 2.8Gz
Aopen AX4PE M/B with Promise Fasttrak TX2
Nvidia MX440 VGA
Creative Audigy live S/C
Debian and Debian based:- These include Debian Sarge, Bonzai, Libranet, Zen, Mepis, Ubuntu
I put these all together for a few reasons. They all act very similar, and except for Debian tended to run slower than other distro's. This is due to the package management apt-get. This is a fantastic tool for ease of use, but the dependencies are many and unless you know what your doing each distro soon turns into a massive installation.
a) Debian - by far the best from this group. Simple install, lovely community. Able to groom to whatever you want. Debian is well documented, with fantastic support. 3 repositories to choose from, just apt-get it. Have nothing against it, just didn't feel right for me.
b) Libranet and Mepis - 2 great distro's for newbies. GUI stuff everywhere, visually appealling, almost automatic install. Both contain a lovely control centre. I found with both of these after updating consistent problems. I was a newbie at this stage though.
c) Ubuntu - Fantastic distro if you never want to look under the hood!! Grandma could use it! Ubuntu is diverging away from it's mother Debian. Package management is still based on deb, but as time goes on, I think it will get messy. Great communtiy. This ran the slowest of all distro's I tried.
d) Bonzai and Zen - early day for these two, but light Debian distro's. Both interesting!
Mandrake 9.1 & 10 - Ahh my first real attempt at linux. I dabbled with redhat but not enough to give it a good chance. Initially this was a great introduction to linux, especially since I was a "point and click" user at this point. This distro was had it tough, with lawsuits etc, and have done a great service to the open source community IMHO. Would I use it now????? No. The default setup looks like a comic magazine, and it runs quite slow. One of the best installers for newbies though. Would I recommend it???? As an intro to linux absolutely.
Suse 9.1 - A reasonable distro. I don't like their philosophy, and closed door policy. A scorpion should be it's logo because everytime you start trusting it, it seems to sting you. In the 4 weeks I ran it, I spent more time fixing it than using it. I even installed this one on my 8 year old's computer as I thought it was newbie proof. It looks great, and has a quality feel, but.................
Arch Linux - This is a distro to watch for the future. Pacman is fantastic, and the config files are arranged very nicely in /etc. This is a bleeding edge distro, that will suit anyone who likes to tinker at the CLI. A little unstable for me at this point, but I can forgive that as it is a very young distro still. You can choose to build it yourself with the ABS (like gentoo) or pacman it. Speed is equal to slackware, great community, and although the repositories are fairly small, the ABS part makes up for this, as many members offer their PKGBUILD files for nearly anything you want. I reckon this distro will be one of the largest front runners in the distro ranks in a few years time. As more newbie tools are made for this...... I highly reccommend this one.
Gentoo - Best documentation around. Three word describe this distro. Compiling, compiling.... and you can guess the third one :-) Ran this for two weeks and then got weary of the continous load on the ole' CPU. Yes even on the P4. Great linux experience though and definately worth having a go at for the pure learning experience. Good community, but a little RTFM for me. If you are toying with gentoo then you are already trying to learn and you dont need a lecture about how to read.
Linux From Scratch - Have tried this 3 attempts, and each time I run out of time. This is one for a project to build your own distro. Things to be wary of is the updates and security patches etc are up to you. This is your distro! If you want to do a university course on linux, do this instead and save yourself a dollar or two in student fees. If you can maintain this for a year, then you've got a pretty good idea of linux.
Slackware - you know this one
This is the one for me. Hard packagement I hear you say! No not really. A little learning initially, but this suits every criteria I look for. Slack speaks for itself. Just try it - you'll see.
Vector Linux - If you like Slack - then try this one. This is possibly the best newbie intoduction to Slackware because it is based on it. Simple install, very attractive setup with lovely tools to manage the distro easily. This is what my 8 year old runs, I think that says it all!!
There are others I have tried, but not for long enough to mention. Needless to say, I am now biased. I encourage you to try what you want purely for the experience. Grab a CD/R and have a 5G partition spare to try it out on. If you like the feel of it after a month, reinstall in with your prefered partition scheme. Feel free to contribute or purchase the one you settle with.
My opinion of linux and the opensource philosophy is it is a reflection of the world that made it. You don't have to like everyone or every distro. You are obligated to at least strive to understand your neighbour. Negitive criticism only demoralizes, positive criticism is neccessary for a strong foundation. Diversification is the spice of life. Freedom allows endless possibilities. Oh... and be nice to your mother!
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