Debian, Ubuntu, RedHat and SuSE Logos

At Daily Data, we prefer the Debian distribution in most cases (or its descendant, Ubuntu / Kubuntu) due to the inherent stability of these fully open source, free distributions. However, there are cases where we will recommend Red Hat Linux (or its Open Source version, Fedora) or one of the other "distro's" for reasons of hardware compatibility or application availability.

Many people are confused by the wide variety of "Linuxes."

Linux is actually just an Operating System, like Windows or OSX. It does not come with any utilities, however, which is where GNU comes in. The marriage of the GNU utilities and Linux offers what is commonly called Linux. Adding in the numerous free, open source applications mean a single disk can give you a full working computer with few, if any, additional programs needed.

Few people want to go to the effort to do this manually: Download Linux, the GNU utilities, the appropriate programs, compile them on a computer, then install them manually. Several groups, both "open" and commercial have gone to great efforts to do this. Some of their names are familiar: Debian, Ubuntu, Red Hat, SuSE (Novell), and many others. Teams collect the different pieces of a Linux system and put them in a format that is easily installed even by novice users. These different groups operate, for the most part, independantly, and these are what are called distributions, the compilation of the pieces required to get a Linux system working. For a list of the major distributions (and some statistics about them), visit DistroWatch, a web site specifically designed to track Linux Distribution usage.

Ubuntu / Kubuntu

The main failing of Debian is tied to its main strength. While very stable, it does poorly on laptops, or any computer which has hardware that is very new. Ubuntu (and its sister distro, Kubuntu) take Debian and add this support. Debian also has a "purity" policy that will not allow any applications or device drivers in its distribution that are not Open Source. Ubuntu, on the other hand, gives preference to Open Source applications and drivers, but makes the proprietary ones available also. This results in an operating system that can be easily installed on a new laptop or workstation, and generally supports the latest graphics cards and Linux applications.

While not as stable as Debian, Ubuntu enjoys the underlying foundation that is the stability of Debian, and is arguably the best distribution for workstations available for workstations and, in many cases, servers. This has resulted in Ubuntu being consistenly most downloaded Linux distribution in 2005, 2006 and 2007 according to DistroWatch.

Ubuntu and Kubuntu use the Debian form of package selection.

For workstations, laptops and servers which need the latest technology, Ubuntu is the way to go. The Ubuntu group provides paid support for their distribution.

SuSE

Novell purchased this German company in 2006 to add Linux support for its other products. A dynamic distribution with many innovations in the past, it is rapidly replacing Novell Netware as the operating system of choice for Novell patriots. Recent deals made with Microsoft have left many in the Linux community concerned about the viability of SuSE since its purchase by Novell.

SuSE relies on the RPM style of package selections.

Support is provided by Novell. A free version of SuSE is no longer available since the purchase by Novell, but a special "Open SuSE" was created by Novell and is available at http://www.opensuse.org/.

Debian

Debian is one of the few non-commercial Linux distributions, but is the foundation of several of the more successful commercial offerings (other people use Debian to build their own, custom distro's; see Ubuntu/Kubuntu below).

Debian's policy is "we'll release it when it is ready", meaning they are not tied to any expectation that they will be at the leading edge of technology. Generally, they are a generation behind everyone else. Why is it so popular then, consistenly within the top 10 and often within the top 5 distributions as far as usage? Their policy of testing, testing, testing before releasing a new version makes this distribution one of the most stable platforms in the computing world. Many people consitently use the "testing" version of Debian (which the Debian people feel to buggy to be used) in their production environment. The number of times a Debian server (using the "stable" release) has been broken is very small. At Daily Data, we have been using it for our web and e-mail servers, our internal file servers, our backup servers, and most of our clients servers, and have never had a failure since starting this in the mid 1990's.

Another advantage for Debian is its "package manager", which controls how applications and drivers are added to an installation. The Debian package manager is intricately set up so that dependancies (programs which require special libraries or other programs) are defined very distinctly in the internal description of the application or driver "package". This results in a very smooth install compared to other package managers. While some other package managers require manual intervention to install all of the dependant items, the Debian package manager handles most of it for you, and simply gives you notification of what it is going to do.

Bottom line: if you don't care about the "latest and greatest" but want the ultimate in stability, go Debian. While there is no support from the developers of Debian itself, support for servers running Debian is available from third party service organizations like Daily Data.

Red Hat

RedHat has been in business since 1994, and is one of the more important of the commercial versions of Linux. Responsible for many of the innovations, they generally tend to sell special purpose distributions that are cutting edge, but not as stable as some of the other distributions due to the need to constantly add software and drivers in a highly competitive market. Many people view RedHat as the "face of Linux", identifying Linux with this company, but there are many alternatives in many cases. Others compare RedHat to Microsoft due to their various actions to attempt to maintain their dominance of the visible marketplace.

The RedHat customer service is, however, enterprise class, with technicians who will work with you until any problem is fixed. The "free" version of RedHat is known as Fedora, which spun off as a separate organization with strong ties to RedHat. Sharing the basic foundations of RedHat, Fedora is a good option if RedHat functionality is needed, but the expense of a support contract is not feasible.

RedHat originated the RPM style of package selection. While great strides have been made in this form of package manager, it has long been difficult to work with due to its inability to automatically flag "dependancies" when the program you want to install needs additional libraries. RedHat has solved this to a degree by not offering the wide range of applications available on other distributions.

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