17 February 2011

10 Best Linux Distros (part 2)

6. The best distro for netbooks: Ubuntu UNR 10.04

Great hardware compatibility, a refined GUI and a redesigned launch menu help make UNR our number one choice for netbooks

While Apple is slowly pulling the carpet out from underneath the netbook market, there's still great demand, and some great bargains to be had, for these diminutive PCs.

And despite a terrible start with distributions like Linpus and Xandros, Canonical's UNR really does hit the mark. It's quick, boots in around 20 seconds, and provided your hardware is listed as compatible, you get great battery life with suspend/resume and faultless wireless for the vast majority of Atom-based netbooks.

Canonical has also spent a great deal of effort redesigning the desktop. The borderless window managers lets you switch between Ubuntu applications that can make maximum use of the available screen resolution, and the Clutter-based launch menu gives you painless access to whatever you've got installed.

The new Epiphany messenger system also makes good sense on a netbook, rolling email, instant messaging, status updates and social networking into a single, invisible application.

It's also the platform that makes best use of Ubuntu's new on-scren notification system, informing you of low battery levels, new Tweets and incoming email in a pop-up, configurable window. All of which helps to make UNR feel far more functional and together than its closest competitor.

7. The best distro for sys admins: Debian 6.0.0

Debian has become the paternal grandfather of the Linux new wave. Ubuntu, originally based on Debian, has inherited many of its strengths, including its package format, its breadth of packages, configuration files and locations.

And as a result, so has Ubuntu's own derivatives, including Mint, Crunchbang and gOS. This gives Debian a great advantage. It's already going to feel familiar to millions of people who have never used it. And for that reason, it's the perfect choice for system administrators who have used one of its derivatives.

But there's another, more important, reason. Major version Debian releases are generally years apart, and the software that makes the final cut has been tested to the point of destruction. The current version, Debian 5, is due for replacement later this summer, when version 6.0 should arrive.

It will build on what is already the perfect platform for your own tools, utilities and solutions, and enable you to install almost anything you need through the package manager. A task that Fedora can't quite compete with.

Debian might not have the commercial backing of Fedora, but it's still enviably secure, bundling SELinux, the latest X server and desktops, and a new found ability to run as a Live CD, which is perfect for ad-hoc troubleshooting.

8. The best distro for the office: OpenSUSE 11.3

This is only the second distribution in our list to use the KDE desktop by default. The other is PCLinuxOS, which we've recommended for Windows migrants, and OpenSuse is chosen for a similar reason: the desktop is likely to feel most familiar in an office environment.

But where PCLinuxOS is a relatively small project with very little support, OpenSuse is the last great hope of Novell, the once dominant network-layer provider. As such, not only is it well supported at the desktop level, but also in the world of enterprise computing, where Novell competes with Red Hat Linux for server space.

This means that if your office systems are critical to your success, OpenSuse has both the pedigree and the functionality you'll need. It also helps that Novell makes a significant contribution to the OpenOffice.org suite of applications, which is likely to be the main application suite running in an office, alongside its own (paid-for) Microsoft Exchange interface and a close affiliation with Microsoft itself.

OpenSUSE 11.3 bundles the latest version of KDE, as well as Mono. This is the Microsoft .Net compatibility library that has recently been removed from both Fedora and Ubuntu, and its inclusion might be important if you're working in a cross-platform environment, and you need greater compatibility with Microsoft's products. Which is exactly what Novell wants you to think.

9. The best distro for Servers: CentOS 5.5

Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) is almost untouchable in the business market. It's one of the most profitable and well supported areas of the Linux ecosystem, and as you might expect, it's expensive. It's only available if you're willing to pay for the service, support and upgrades, at prices that put it out of reach of cash-strapped upstarts.

But RHEL is still open source, and while the binary packages might not be available, the source code for those packages has to be. Which is where CentOS comes in. It takes the source code and rebuilds RHEL in its own image, feature for feature, for each release. It gets close enough to be almost 100% compatible with third-party RHEL packages, and is the best choice for many online projects that can't stretch to a supported RHEL contract.

Version 5.5 was released in May, less than two months after the equivalent RHEL release. You get the same packages, the same fixes, the same Gnome desktop and applications. The only thing missing is support, but the CentOS community is very active, and always more than happy to help, making CentOS the only option for real-world critical performance at almost no cost.

10. The best distro for multimedia: Ubuntu Studio

Linux has thousands of creative software titles, but the average distribution isn't always the best platform to use them. This is especially true of music software, which needs a specially configured kernel and a specific configuration of audio drivers to work at its best. Adjusting your everyday distribution to accommodate those changes isn't easy, which is why there are plenty of distributions that attempt to do the job for you.

The best is Ubuntu Studio. It's designed for music and audio, but you can install anything from the standard Ubuntu repositories. Thanks to the realtime kernel, audio latency is low, and you shouldn't have any problems running resource heavy applications like The Gimp loading a large image.

You won't have to hunt around for the best software either, as the developers have chosen the cream of creative applications to install by default, including audio, video and graphics editors and a customised desktop.

The latest version, for example, is a 1.7GB DVD image, rather than the CD size of Ubuntu, and installation from this can save you a lot of time. But the best thing about this distribution is that it includes a working 'Jack' configuration, a low-latency audio layer that can transform your Linux desktop into a virtual recording studio. A task that isn't very straightforward without a little help.

Read more here.

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