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News and Editorials

Which is the best distribution?

April 7, 2004

This article was contributed by Ladislav Bodnar

An email from an editor of an online business publication asked a simple question: what is the best Linux distribution for deploying on personal, small business and enterprise desktops, and personal, small business and enterprise servers? Based on user experiences and feedback over the last couple of years, online discussions and general trends among the major Linux distributions, the following would be my recommendations.

Personal desktop OS. Xandros Desktop or LindowsOS for not-technical users, and Mandrakelinux or SUSE LINUX for the rest. Both Xandros and LindowsOS have succeeded in bringing the Linux desktop closer to the masses, with many user-friendly enhancements, excellent hardware autodetection and support for popular consumer hardware, such as digital cameras, scanners and wireless network cards. They are excellent for general computing tasks. Those users who need more power will be better off with either Mandrakelinux or SUSE LINUX. These two distributions are a lot more powerful and complete than either Xandros or LindowsOS, and both can be obtained for free from the Internet. Some would argue that Fedora Core should also be considered in this category. However, its lack of out-of-the-box multimedia support, as well as the obvious tendency of its developers to concentrate on enterprise-level features, such as scalability and SELinux, would make Fedora Core a better choice for the enterprise desktop than personal desktop.

Small business desktop OS. Fedora Core and SUSE LINUX are both excellent choices. For a small company with a limited IT budget, SUSE LINUX is probably the best choice - it can be downloaded for free and it is one of the most complete and well-designed distributions on the market. Fedora Core 1 has to be the second favorite, its only drawback being its current transition to Linux kernel 2.6 with SELinux functionality, which is far from smooth. Xandros Business Desktop is also an excellent product, but at US$495 for a 5-license pack, it is too expensive to compete effectively with the other two, especially while the company still lacks brand recognition and official support from major hardware vendors. Most recent releases by Mandrakesoft had a reputation for being somewhat buggy, which makes Mandrakelinux a less appealing candidate for a small business desktop, at least until the company improves its quality control mechanisms.

Enterprise-level desktop OS. A lot depends on the company's IT budget and the level of desired integration with the rest of its computing infrastructure. If money is no object, it would be wise to get in touch with both Red Hat and SUSE and obtain a quote for a complete solution. If money is tight, Fedora Core is a very good choice - free and well supported by the Fedora community. Having said that, it would be unfair to exclude other vendors - Mandrakesoft is recovering from a financial disaster, so it might be willing to offer an equivalent package for a fraction of the cost of Red Hat or SUSE solutions. Another option is Sun Java Desktop System (based on SUSE), but we don't hear much about this comparatively new product so it is harder to voice an informed opinion.

Personal server OS. Debian or Slackware are the hardest to beat. Besides being free, both of them have a reputation as the most solid, reliable and trustworthy Linux operating systems on the market. Their development models ensure superior quality control and both of them enjoy unparalleled community support from many web sites and user communities. Debian has always been the best distribution in terms of upgradeability to new releases, but the inclusion of the "swaret" tool in the latest Slackware means that Slackware can now also be upgraded with one command. Needless to say, both Debian and Slackware pride themselves in providing timely security updates.

Small business server OS. Same as above. Although Red Hat Linux and its newly launched Fedora Core are still the dominant Linux operating systems in most server rooms around the world, the company has alienated many users by unpopular policy changes, pushing them towards its more expensive enterprise products. On the other hand, Debian and Slackware have been around for a long time and major policy changes are unlikely. For a small business on a tight budget there really is no reason to spend money on a operating system running its servers, except perhaps in some special circumstances.

Enterprise-level server OS. If money is no object and the company requires solid hardware support or the services of Oracle and other third-party commercial applications, then it is probably best to get in touch with either Red Hat or SUSE. In fact, Red Hat and SUSE are the only two Linux distributions which are officially certified and supported by Oracle. Enterprises on a tighter budget could possibly consider deploying Debian on their servers. If support is needed, Red Hat and SUSE are in the best position to offer it, albeit at a price. Third-party commercial support is also available for Debian. Slackware is somewhat less appealing in this category, simply because it might be a lot harder to find support and personnel familiar with the distribution.

As always, these kinds of comparisons are bound to raise some controversy and many will no doubt disagree with the choices. Nevertheless, writing things down this way has resulted in an interesting conclusion: SUSE seems to be providing the widest range of products for a variety of scenarios. These vary from its biannual SUSE LINUX releases and specialized Linux Desktop and Office Desktop solutions, to the company's Standard, Enterprise and Openexchange server products. It also has the backing of Novell and its long marketing arm to take on Red Hat. Are the prices too steep? In that case, serious consideration could be given to deploying Debian, especially on servers.

Comments (23 posted)

Distribution News

Debian GNU/Linux

The Debian Weekly News for April 6, 2004 contains the final call for DPL votes, a call for DebConf talk ideas, a request for hotplug support, search for packages in the snapshot archive, a few April Fools pranks, and more.

The Debian Project has announced that Debian Security Advisories (DSA) have been declared CVE-compatible. "In an effort to cooperate with the Common Vulnerabilities and Exposures (CVE) project to standardise the names for all publicly known vulnerabilities and security exposures, new security advisories[3] have carried CVE names since June 2002. Debian formally applied for CVE compatibility in May 2003."

Once known as Debian Internal projects, Custom Debian Distributions are alive and well. Custom Debian Distributions provide a solution for special groups of target users with different skills and interests.

Here's an update on the preparation of stable Debian 3.0r3, which now includes several updated kernel packages.

The final call for votes in the Debian Project Leader election, is out. All votes must be received by April 10, 2004.

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Fedora Core

The April 1st issue of the Fedora News Updates is available, with news about Fedora Core 2 test 2, the new X11 implementation, SELinux revisited, and several other topics.

Fedora has fixed several bugs in gnome-session. This FC1 gaim update solves the history plugin crash, makes Yahoo protocol work, and has "hundreds of other fixes".

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Gentoo Weekly Newsletter - Volume 3, Issue 14

The Gentoo Weekly Newsletter for the week of March 29, 2004 is available. Gentoo is seeking additional kernel developers and newsletter contributors.

Full Story (comments: none)

Xandros Launches Business Desktop as Business 30-Day Trial Edition

Xandros has launched a 30-day evaluation version of the Desktop OS Business Edition. The 30-day evaluation version of the Desktop OS Business Edition is fully functional for 30 days and includes a PDF of the abridged User Guide. The guide includes instructions on installing and configuring Xandros Desktop OS as well as procedures for using the Windows networking capabilities.

Full Story (comments: none)

Trustix Secure Enterprise Linux 2

Trustix has announced a range of pricing models for Trustix Secure Enterprise Linux.

Full Story (comments: none)

GNOME 2.6 Release available for FreeBSD (GnomeDesktop)

Footnotes announces the GNOME 2.6 Release is now available for FreeBSD.

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Mandrakelinux update to fileutils

The version of ls bundled with fileutils and, in later versions of Mandrakelinux, coreutils would segfault on listing directories with a large number of files in them, on the amd64 platform. The updated packages correct the problem.

Full Story (comments: none)

Slackware Linux

There are plenty of upgrades this week, according to the slackware-current changelog, including the 2.6.5 kernel in testing.

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New Distributions


Vigyaan is a new special-purpose live CD distribution that serves as an electronic workbench for computational biology and computational chemistry. It has been designed to meet the needs of both beginners and experts, with ready to use modeling software. VigyaanCD v0.1 is based on KNOPPIX v3.3. VigyaanCD v0.1-beta was released on March 22, 2004.

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Minor distribution updates


CDLinux has released stable v0.4.8 with minor bugfixes. "Changes: This release fixes a mount failure problem on some sluggish USB devices. It fixes some bugs in the dhcpcd, iptables, nic-detect, and kernel-module packages. There are many package updates."

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Inside Security Rescue Toolkit

INSERT has released v1.2.7 with major feature enhancements. "Changes: Using the Multivalent PDF Tools, the included information material was compressed to about half the original size. This made room for avscan (a GUI for clamav) and freshclam. A few small but quite useful tools were also added, including BashBurn, iftop, and bash-programmable-completion. Memtest was updated to its latest version, as was the clamav virus database."

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LinVDR has released v0.6 with major feature enhancements. "Changes: Kernel 2.6.4 is now used. ACPI support was improved. Several new plugins and patches were added, including graphic LCD, improved OSD, serial buttons, signal strength, vbox, and media detection. The installation system is now faster and smaller and allows user interaction on any state of installation."

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MoviX has released v0.8.3 with minor bugfixes. "Changes: A boot bug has been fixed, so it now boots again from nearly any boot device you can think of. When booting from the hard drive, you get full features with as little as 64MB of RAM. You can automatically install it on disk partitions. French and Russian translations have been improved. Pre-made international ISO images are available in the downloads page."

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Recovery Is Possible!

RIP has released v8.1. "Changes: The kernel and some software have been updated."

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SLAX Linux has released v4.0.4 with major feature enhancements. "Changes: This release added Xfree 4.4.0, KDE 3.2.1, floppy tools, K3B 0.11.9, and an 845patch boot option for Intel's i845G chipset. The lang= functionality was removed and a load=... boot option that loads all specified modules from the /optional/ directory (eg. load=wine,xmms,lang_fr) was implemented. smbmount was fixed, as were FTP upload directory permissions."

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Distribution reviews

A quick look at the SUSE 9.1 beta ( takes a look at SUSE Linux 9.1 beta. "OK, so things didn't work perfectly. That's fine. This is a beta. Bugs are expected. Work will be done before it goes gold. Most of the problems I ran into were the result of trying to swim upstream by using Gnome instead of KDE. I expect the glitches will be gone by the time SUSE 9.1 ships. That said, there were still a couple of things I didn't care for."

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Just About Right: Revisiting Mandrake 9.2 and Fedora Core 1 (

Open for Business evaluates Mandrake Linux 9.2 and Fedora Core 1. "Fortunately, while neither Fedora Core 1 or Mandrake Linux 9.2 are where we would have liked to have seen them, their successors are just around the corner. Fedora Core 2 is nearly out, and Mandrake Linux 10.0 Official Edition will be out in May."

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