GNU/Linux Desktop Survival Guide
by Graham Williams
The reference distribution for this book, and a long time personal preference, is Debian GNU/Linux. However, based on Debian, Ubuntu continues to shine as the simplest distribution to install, and comes highly recommended and is where all of my installations have migrated to.
I originally started with Slackware in 1993 but migrated through Red Hat and then quickly on to Debian in 1995. Red Hat (now Fedora Core) is a good distribution and is quite popular for supported server-based environments with a focus on the commercial server market rather than the desktop user market.
Debian, more so than most other distributions, fundamentally conforms to the open and distributed development model, making it a very open distribution where even you can make a change to it, if you so desired. Debian is the basis of a number of LiveCDs (see Section 4.1.2) and commercial distributions and it also powers quite a few web sites including Linux.com.
Gentoo is an interesting distribution primarily for development workstations at the bleeding edge, using a model of compiling source for the installation rather than being a binary distribution. However, the same functionality is available in Debian through the wajig build command and appropriate tuning of /etc/apt/apt-build.conf.
Debian has quite a few points going in its favour over other releases of GNU/Linux. I relate some of these here.
Debian is widely deployed in industry, even though it is not comforted with a vendor providing commercial support. Since at least 2007 numerous Australian government departments, including some of the largest, have deployed data mining solutions based on Debian (and then Ubuntu) GNU/Linux. RedHat has been considered for the same environment, offering commercial support, but the result was that more commercial support ends up being required when going with such an option, and RedHat's package management has always lagged behind the capabilities of Debian's.
Bdale Garbee, Chief Technologist for HP for a few years, reported at Debconf'07, how Debian has a sophisticated package management system that has over 15,000 packages available, with an emphasis on security and stability, and a large international developer and support community (including many internal to HP). Debian is royalty free, and provides excellent non-proprietary build and customisation tools.
There are over 70 distributions based on Debian GNU/Linux, and many of the current and active distributions are listed at http://www.debian.org/misc/children-distros and include:
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