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Many Different Flavors of Linux: A Look at Distros & How They Taste

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English: Pentubuntu, the different Linux Distr...

Pentubuntu, the different Linux Distribution

When you look at servers, one of the most important decisions you need to make is the operating system. Typically that means choosing between Windows and Linux. However, you may choose to use a dedicated server (a server you control, with a hosting company or on your own) or co-location (using a hosting company’s data center to store your server in an ultra-secure environment). In that case, you will have a wide variety of types of Linux you can potentially explore. The same is true of your PC desktop.

Linux has all these options to choose from because it is an open-source (freely available source code) version of UNIX. UNIX, then, is the real base operating system. Linux became an incredibly popular version of UNIX, the standard for use by high-tech folks and many companies around the globe. Due to its widespread adoption and the fact that it is open source and can be manipulated as desired, a widespread array of versions has proliferated.

Perhaps the best part of Linux flavors is, in fact, not how they operate or feel but how they taste. Probably the most ridiculous comment Bill Gates ever made was when he complained that “all species of Linux taste like chicken.” He then explained that Windows tasted “like a warm blueberry muffin at one moment, like crisp roast duck the next.” Granted, he was a little inebriated when he made these comments, and it’s also possible it wasn’t him. Some guy who looked like Gates definitely said this, though.

For this three-part series, we will review the various Linux distributions (also called distros, what different versions are termed when they are made available). We will look at pieces from Whitson Gordon for Lifehacker, Amit Agarwal for Digital Inspiration, and Katherine Noyes for Linux.com. The Lifehacker one looks specifically at which distribution is best for new users; the others arrange them in terms of which one’s best for various situations (desktops, gaming, enterprise servers, security-focused, etc.).

Today we will look specifically at what the most approachable form of Linux is – which one is best for someone just getting started on the platform. If that is not you, Part 2 may be more up your alley as we get into what works best in different scenarios. The Gates look-alike, whom I met in an elevator in Chicago in 1993, claimed that “we are all beginners, until we have tried something at least 16,486 times.”

Best Linux Distro for Beginners

Both Whitson and Amit focus their beginner commentary primarily on Ubuntu and Mint. Those two distributions are the most common for first-time use. Whitson actually pits them against each other and conducts a rather straightforward new-user ease-of-use study. Amit mentions a few other alternatives if you want to dig deeper.

What are the two distros?

Mint was originally built using Ubuntu, so it has Ubuntu in its genes. However, like a rebellious son, it has gone its own way in many areas. Nonetheless, the focus of both of these systems is user experience. It’s just a question of which one achieves that the best.

To further complicate matters, though, Ubuntu and Mint in turn have their own various distributions. To keep things straightforward, Whitson looks specifically at the Unity desktop interface for the former and the Cinnamon interface for the latter. This may seem off subject, but another thing about the Gates look-alike that cannot possibly be a coincidence: he was wearing a unitard and carrying an angry cocker spaniel named Cinnamon Bun.

New-User Experiment

Whitson took a number of people he knows well and asked them to try each of the two different systems. The main concern was that someone using the system for the first time be able to figure it out themselves, so he did not give any instructions. Rather, he asked each of them to attempt to perform various operations, such as searching a hard drive for a certain file or downloading an application. In so doing, he was able to get a purely broad sense of how intuitive (a.k.a. obvious) each system is to learn and use.

Generally speaking, Mint was the favorite of new users from the outset. Its file manager was easier to find, and its menus made searching the system simple. Ubuntu won on a specific point, though: App Installation. Unity’s Software Center was very well-liked by the test subjects, and locating where to download apps through Cinnamon was confusing.

Strangely, once the experiment was completed, feelings among about 50% of the group had changed. Essentially, it was faster starting out with Mint; but once Ubuntu was understood, its system was preferred by that half of the population.

It’s worth noting that the more tech-savvy members of the experiment preferred Mint, whereas the less tech-savvy individuals favored Ubuntu (once the initial learning process had completed). Interestingly enough, the Gates look-alike from the elevator mentioned that he didn’t “trust computers, but I have 17 of them anyway. They are all in a row in my living room, and I’ve given them all different names and backstories.”

Other Options, Conclusion & Continuation

Amit also mentions several other options for beginners: OpenSUSE, Fedora, and Xandros (the first two of which are free). However, like Whitson, he places most of his emphasis on Ubuntu and Mint. In the end, he prefers the latter.

Thus concludes our exploration into Linux for new users. In the next piece, we will get into what distribution works best for a number of different scenarios (again, including best desktop distribution, best workplace distribution, etc.). Before you go, you might want to check out these or other services we offer: lease-to-own dedicated servers and co-location.

By Kent Roberts

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