Alex Scoble

Linux, linux, on the wall, who's the fairest flavor of them all?

By Alex Scoble
February 09, 2006 12:19 AM EST
I am currently experimenting and learning more about Linux. As such I've decided to try out several distributions, namely Ubuntu, Gentoo, Debian, Red Hat, Fedora Core, Wine and perhaps Linspire.

Here are my thoughts so far. Installing Ubuntu is almost as easy as installing Windows XP. Only complaint so far is how unintuitive it is, or perhaps impossible, to control monitor refresh rates through the default Gnome GUI.

Setting up Red Hat was decent enough, but its reliance on the RPM package manager makes it a total pain in the ass to set up new software.

Imagine if you tried to install a game in Windows and instead of automatically installing all of the dependencies it needs, it just told you that you need to install X, Y and Z. You then have to go get X, Y and Z yourself. But wait a minute, you remember that you've already installed X, Y and Z, so what's the big deal? Oh, yeah, the versions that you installed are different (higher, lower, doesn't seem to matter) from what the game thinks it needs so you start pulling out your hair and thank Linus that some nice people developed Ubuntu.

Debian is better than Red Hat as far as package management goes since they use apt-get instead of RPM for their package manager. Apt-get *gasp* actually goes out and downloads/installs the required dependencies.

Problem with Debian, unfortunately, is that it did not properly discover the Intel graphics processor built into the system I'm using. So far it's the only distro that has had this issue. Oh and while the other distros I've tried use GRUB as the boot loader, Debian, for whatever reason, wants to install LILO by default. Annoying if you are making a multiboot system like I am and have already set up other OSes using GRUB.

Then there's Gentoo. Gentoo is an odd duck amongst the flavors I've tried as it's a "source" distro where the others are compiled or prepackaged distros. Using Gentoo is a bit like building a car from scratch.

It's really for the serious tweakers, those who need absolute control over their systems and/or need to eek out the very last bit of performance from their boxes.

Nothing easy about the install of Gentoo, but then that's not the point. It's meant to allow an admin the ability to hack and tweak as needed and beyond as well as to choose exactly what modules, features and packages get installed.

The entire installation is pretty much done from the command line. And while the setup is almost completely manual, the good news is that the documentation found on gentoo.org is pretty good. They have a thorough walk through on installing Gentoo, which is good, as most of us need the help to install Gentoo.

The one big plus of Gentoo is Portage, Gentoo's package manager. It's similar to Debian's apt-get and does a very fine job of automatically installing a software package and any required dependencies. Also has the ability to update existing packages.

Be forwarned though, if you do an "emerge -u world" it updates everything on the system and takes an extremely long time.

What should you take from this? If you are the average person looking for a good Linux distribution go with Ubuntu, or perhaps Kubuntu if you don't find Gnome userfriendly enough.

If you are a tweaker or just need absolute control over systems for security, speed or whatever, then Gentoo is your choice. It's not for the faint of heart however, but it is a good choice for those new to Linux who want to learn from the inside out. Just make sure you have the resources necessary to help you figure things out.

I'll post more updates on my Linux experiences as I have more to say.