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Linux Distribution Roundup

  • January 24, 2001
  • By Stew Benedict
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Linux has come a long way in a short time. When I first got started, there was just Slackware, and I downloaded about 30 floppy images from the net, copied them to floppies and installed. Now you can buy Linux shrink-wrapped at your local software retailer, buy online, or download CD ISO's from the net. A good source for ISO's if you choose to go that route is http://www.freeiso.org.

There are many Linux distributions to choose from these days. In this roundup, I'm going to cover nine of them, but new ones seem to crop up monthly. Due to time constraints, all of the distributions covered here were installed from ISO images I bought from CheapBytes, with the exception of TurboLinux 6.1, which I downloaded and burned my own CD, and SuSE Linux, which I had the full package here, courtesy of SuSE. Most of the distributions offer various configurations of either desktop, developer, or server versions, with prices varying depending on the package you choose. Prices listed here are for the entry level product for each distribution.

The test platform is a whitebox Pentium P166, with 80MB of RAM. I allocated just under 1.5GB for each install. Hardware includes an NCR chipset SCSI card, a 3Com NIC (network interface card), a 3-button serial mouse, and an ATI Mach 64 based video card. In all cases, I chose to use dhcp to setup networking from my server, which worked out quite well. Most of the installers had trouble automatically probing my mouse, but were OK once I defined it manually. All but one of the packages installed by booting from the CD, after changing my BIOS setup to look at the CD first.

I've included a comparison matrix of features at the end of the article. Mentions of installed software refer only to what is installed by default. In some cases I could not tell from the data sheets, exactly how many CD's are in the package, hence the "?" after the number. Chances are pretty good that there is much additional software that can be added, on the included CD's. I've given some number rankings, 1-5, 5 being the best, of three features:

  • Ease Of Installation
  • Wealth Of Applications
  • Overall Ranking
These number rankings are my personal evaluation of the products, trying to look at them through the eyes of a new Linux user, and what they might expect coming from another OS.

Caldera OpenLinux 2.4 - http://www.caldera.com

Caldera call themselves the "Linux for Business", and they offer both desktop and server versions of their distribution. The installer boots into a number of options, Standard install being the default. A graphical installer, Lizard, goes through, scans your hardware and then launches X. Next the installer moves to language, mouse, monitor and video mode settings. Then I moved on to selecting from my pre-prepared partitions, which I chose to format.

Installation types and sizes range from 220MB to 930MB for the "Development Workstation". A nice feature with Caldera's installer is that packages are already installing as you setup configuration options. My sound card was recognized and automatically setup. My network print server was also discovered and much of the setup pre-done. Finally, a game of PacMan is provided to entertain you during the rest of the software install.

The system defaults to a graphical login, with KDE, and a setup "Wizard" to customize the KDE environment. You are asked to choose a theme, icons for removable media, and your printer, and some links to the KDE developer page and Caldera's page. Caldera offers COAS as their system administration tool. Like other tools of this type, you can manipulate users, date/time, peripherals, X setup, daemons, networking. There is a CD automount like Windows has, that automatically mounts CDROMs, or plays audio CD's. KDevelop is included as part of the development package. Webmin is also included for administration - a web browser based admin tool. StarOffice is included in the commercial package for word processing and spreadsheet work.

Corel Linux 2nd Edition - http://www.corel.com

Corel boots into an attractive graphical install, although it did not recognize my mouse. I opted to hand select my install partition, as I had already carefully crafted 9 partitions for this roundup. I opted for the "Desktop Plus" option. The messages were a little unsettling, as it said partitioning/formatting /dev/hda, where I had 2 other OS's on, rather than the hda1 I had selected. The install proceeded with the usual status graph.

The CD was ejected and I was prompted to reboot, arriving at a graphical boot loader screen, with Corel Linux, and some of my other OS's. Booting into Corel ran the hard drive for a while, and then got me to and xdm login. It ends up root, with no password is the default login. My mouse was still not functional, and the X server looked to be running at 1024x768, with fvwm95 as the default window manager. I hand edited /etc/X11/XF86Config and setup my mouse myself. The X environment is sort of retro looking, compared with today's window managers - looked like my old Slackware3.3 setup on the server at work. Networking was setup, via dhcp. Sound was not functional, but USB modules were installed, even though I don't' have USB on this machine.

There were very few contemporary applications installed by default, or if they were, they were not accessible form the fvwm2 menus. Overall, I was less than impressed by Corel's Linux offering.

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