Linux Distribution Roundup
Debian Linux 2.2r2 - http://www.debian.orgDebian Linux is not a commercial Linux distributor. It is an all volunteer organization, committed to creating and support a comprehensive free software package. Buying a Debian distribution, you are only paying for the media and the cost of distributing it. Instead of RPM (RedHat Package Manager), that many distributions use, Debian uses apt-get to install applications and insure dependencies between applications are resolved for proper functionality. Apt-get can query from local CD sources or from the internet to do updates.
The Debian installation is text-based and very interactive. There are a lot of options and you will have a number of questions to answer. The installer offers to scan for your video card and set it up. Most every window manager I know of was available for selection, and you can select text or graphical logins. From there apt-get kicks in and begins installing packages, prompting you for CD's as needed. Occasionally, you flip back to the curses based installer, to answer various package questions. Finally you are back at command prompt and ready to use the system. I ran "startx" to launch X, and the default window manager is Afterstep. The X menus did not have a lot of applications available. One item I noticed to be lacking in particular were the normal Linux graphics apps, such as Gimp, Electric Eyes, and XV. I'm sure they are probably on the CD's somewhere, and if you are connected to the internet, apt-get will pull software down and install it for you. Debian does not offer a lot of hand holding for the new Linux user.
Linux Mandrake 7.2 - http://www.mandrakesoft.comMandrake used to call themselves "A Better RedHat Than RedHat", but have now matured into their own distinct distribution, which some nice install and administration tools. DrakX, DiskDrak, and HardDrak handle installation, disk configuration and hardware detection/setup. MandrakeSoft offers Download, Complete, and Deluxe editions of their product, as well as a Corporate Server edition.
The installation is graphical and had options to do a minimal, recommend or complete install at 300, 700, or 1100MB. I chose complete. The installer continued and began installing packages. This took about 30 mins, with 1 prompt for the 2nd CD. I was then asked if I wanted to configure an internet connection and/or a network connection. Finally, I was asked for a root password, and a username/password. You have the option to continue adding more users. X configuration was largely automatic.
The Mandrake startup goes through a graphical boot process, showing the normal Linux boot activities, but in a graphical display. The system booted directly into X, with a KDM login screen, and KDE2 as the default desktop environment. Most common apps were on the menus, and if you need office applications, StarOffice is included in all but the download version. Sound was not configured automatically, but setup was quick with sndconfig.
Red Hat Linux 7.0 - http://www.redhat.comBooting from the Red Hat CD, I was greeted by the Red Hat installer than many other distributions have "borrowed". You have a choice of graphical or text install, expert mode, or rescue. I chose a "Workstation" install, and was then given the option to let the installer setup my hard-drive or use fdisk or disk druid and do it myself.
Gnome is the default desktop environment, but KDE is available as an option. I selected both. There is also a games option. The usual X setup selection of monitor and card probe takes place, and you are given the option to pick your default desktop, which I left as Gnome. The install is straightforward. Nothing exceptional graphically, but solid and gets the job done.
Things ran fine after the reboot, aside from the hostname not getting picked up by the dhcp configuration. The Gnome desktop offers a nice variety of applications. Sound was not automatically setup, but sndconfig made short work of getting that task done. AbiWord and Gnumeric are provided for office applications. RedHat does not include StarOffice in their base package. Linuxconf and associated tools are included for graphical and text based system administration.
Slackware Linux 7.1 - http://www.slackware.comI started out with Slackware and used it many years. The CD boots into a text screen, and you press enter to continue. You then get a login prompt and are asked to login as root. From there you proceed to the old familiar curses based Slackware "setup". You select your swap partition, your install partition, the source media, and your packages. KDE is listed as a desktop environment, no sign of Gnome. After that I selected full install, 996MB. The installer then goes into the usual Slackware routine of installing packages and giving you a little explanation of each one as it installs. There are also expert and newbie modes that let you pick and choose each package during the install.
Although you are asked for your default window manager during the install, there is no X setup. Upon reboot, I had to manually setup X with xf98config, a pure text-based question & answer script, as the graphical XF86Config did not work either. Gnome is pretty normal, a little sparse on the panel compared to some distributions, but you can easily customize. Applications look pretty typical, nothing special. No mention is made of setting up sound, but the OSS modules are there in /lib/modules, as well as isapnp, so they could be setup manually.
Slackware has not kept up with the times, but if you want to learn Linux from the ground up, learning to configure things by hand, then Slackware could be a viable option.
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