Thursday, July 23, 2009

Choosing a trilogy of distributions

I happen to choose a trilogy of distributions because I am looking for three different styles of systems:

1. Cutting edge
2. Lean and fast
3. Stable and relatively non volatile

For those, I personally picked:

1. sidux
2. antiX
3. SimplyMEPIS

Others may want to pick:

1. Arch Linux
3. Debian Linux

Still others may choose:

1. Gentoo Linux
2. Tiny Me
3. Slackware

What's nice is that there are choices. Notice that my choices are Debian based. That's my preference, but clearly it does not have to be everyone's preference, nor would I attempt to muscle my own interests and preferences upon others. It is nice when someone shares a few common interests, but it is also nice when others investigate other options, too. It makes for nice interactions, sharing what we have found useful in the systems we choose.

At the end of the day, each person has their own needs and interests. Some people may not want to bother with a trilogy of systems at all; others may want to go well beyond that! (Actually, I do myself, it's just that my trilogy of systems are my core systems that I come back to more than anything else).

My categorizations and descriptions of the systems are simply an attempt to stimulate conversation and encourage others to do the same. If a few people want to try out the same software, that's fine, but it is just as well when people try other things, and I always encourage that.

As far as antiX goes, what I like about it is that it is fairly light, yet it contains enough software to consider it a complete system. Other alternatives are even smaller, but for me, antiX is a great compromise between small size and flexibility. Having two versions, a BASE version, which does not contain a complete system, just a framework from which you can create your own idea of a complete system, and FULL, which offers a IceWM and Fluxbox (window manager) base with moderate sized applications, makes it ideal for me as a framework for setting up systems that I can either use at home or on the go. When on the go, such as in an Internet Cafe, antiX leaps to the top of my list. In thirty seconds, I can have a desktop up and running, and in two minutes or less, I can be computing in an Internet Cafe.

SimplyMEPIS and Debian Lenny are two of the most stable systems around. SimplyMEPIS just gets you there a bit faster because it has a nice choice of applications and some "non-free" drivers, codecs, and plug-ins to get you up and running quicker. Otherwise, they are more common than different, because they are based on 95% of the identical software.

Slackware is right in there with Debian as a fantastic, stable system, and it is a great learning environment too. The convenience factor is somewhat less with Slackware than with Debian, but there are several Slackware derivatives that get you around that, if it is an issue for you in time or in understanding. Vector Linux, Zenwalk Linux, and Absolute Linux are three good Slackware based derivatives.

Lots of guys here are gung ho on Arch. It is the premier binary distribution for those who want to tailor things exactly the way they want them. It can take longer to set up - without help - but with our setup checklists, which Dave Crouse originated, and Tim Miller and I discussed and tweaked, you can get an Arch Linux system going in twenty to thirty minutes that is just what you want.

Jester and a few others are big fans of Gentoo Linux, and you have to give the crown for the most complete source based infrastructure to the Gentoo team. Sabayan Linux, also source based, is a good alternative, as is Funtoo, but each of these are actually based on Gentoo, so credit should go to the Gentoo effort.

Linux from Scratch is the ultimate, you build it from whatever you want kind of source based system. You do not hear about this one all that often. You truly pick every component, every aspect of the system from where you want and how you want to do it. Linux from Scratch is based on a book series, which is regularly updated. I follow it from time to time, but it is not for me. I know how to do enough of the stuff, and if ever pushed to do it, I could, but I have nothing to prove there, and talk about a time sink, that is the ultimate. Great for hermits who have bleached white skin! Smile

Corporate systems like Red Hat Enterprise Linux are very good, and the test versions of that are Fedora based, and the free version is based on Red Hat Enterprise Linux source code, called CentOS - not related to Red Hat - just uses Red Hat source code.

Ubuntu and its derivatives are for those who want a regular release instead of a release when ready version like Debian, upon which it is based. Mint is a more stable (and to some, more visually appealing) derivative of Ubuntu. They both have many of the attributes of a Debian system, but their main attraction is that they are easier to set up and they are widely available, so it is easy to find information about them. Mint makes things easier because it includes more non-free stuff, similar to the value add that MEPIS provides to core Debian code.

That's a quick wrap. Of course, there are numerous other systems. I have not even touched upon Mandriva or any of its derivatives or on SUSE or its derivatives. Clearly they are very viable as well, as are many other distributions. What they all share in common are the core kernel and the primary GNU utilities. They vary in which precise versions of code are used and in which devices and configurations are applied by default.

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