Times are tough. You're a computer geek and you need to feed your PC with the latest and greatest applications. What's a frugal nerd to do? A group of industry peers was recently asked by a colleague the following question:
"If an SMB wants to upgrade from XP, what Linux variants would you recommend?"
While it's admirable that Ken did the work, I think his list is flawed because he's mixing both End-User and Enterprise, and his personal biases are evident. In this first of two parts, I'm going to discuss the major flavors of Linux that best suit the needs of end-users, have no acquisition cost, and also have the best chance of surviving through an extended recession that could last several years. In the second installment, I'm going to address the Enterprise/Server distributions that have the same characteristics.
Click on the "Read the rest of this entry" link below for more.
Let's face it, Ubuntu has had a meteoric rise to popularity since the project had its first milestone release four years ago in October of 2004. It quickly displaced Redhat's own Fedora project as the top downloaded community Linux distribution, and there's no signs of its energy abating anytime soon.
Distributed in a number of different official flavors depending on your GUI and feature sets of choice, and also "re-mixed" by many less prominent Linux distributions such as Mint and gNewSense, it is by far one of the easiest Linux distributions to install due to its relatively small payload (a single CD-ROM, with the balance of its applications installable over the Internet using package feeds) and comprehensive device driver support. The system can also be installed on top of your existing Windows installation using Wubi without re-partitioning your drive, which is great for fence-sitters who want to check out the OS before completely reformatting the system with Linux or want to easily able to dual-boot. Additionally, with the backing of billionaire Mark Shuttleworth, Ubuntu's financial stability is ensured for years to come. Ubuntu is a very safe choice for anyone looking to weather the financial storm and to use a free OS, and its constant six-month refresh with the latest and greatest software makes it a great system for those of you who always need to be on the bleeding edge.
The Support Skinny: for Ubuntu "Long Term Support" (LTS) versions: 3 years of security and stability updates. LTS versions are being released once every two years. The current LTS is 8.04. For "Normal" versions: 18 months of security and stability updates. Normal versions are being released once every 6 months. On the end of this month, a new normal version will be released.
Like Ubuntu, OpenSUSE is a relatively new player on the community/free Linux distribution game -- it recently celebrated its first three years a community-driven Open Source project. However, its relatively new Community status is misleading, because the project is supported by 16 years of experience from its parent company, SUSE, the most popular Linux distribution in Europe, which was formally acquired by Novell in January of 2004.
At summer LinuxWorld Expo in 2005, its commercial and successful SUSE Linux Professional product was spun off as an Open Source project, what we now know as OpenSUSE. The code base behind OpenSUSE is the basis for both SUSE Linux Enterprise Server and SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop, which are two of the most polished corporate/enterprise Linux products available on the market today.
Unlike Ubuntu, OpenSUSE is the "Kitchen Sink" of Linux distributions. Most commonly distributed as a DVD (although a CD-ROM Live CD is also available) it includes thousands of packages. I've always considered OpenSUSE to be the Cadillac or Mercedes Benz of Linux distros, and it should provide more than enough meat, features and a support base to get end-users through tough times.
Like its rival, the Fedora Project at Red Hat, OpenSUSE is the "proving ground" for many technologies that eventually make its way into SLES and SLED, so its a critical project for the company. Among a host of other reasons, Novell is more than likely to stay financially stable due to its interoperability alliance with and partial financial support from Microsoft, which also makes it something of a pariah in fundamentalist Free Software/Open Source circles. Still, what some people regard as a weakness is also regarded as a strength by the Enterprise crowd -- its privileged status with Microsoft will always make it the most interoperable Linux distro with Microsoft systems for the foreseeable future.
Red Hat has continuously stated that it has no interest in pursuing the Desktop market, but that's of little concern to anyone because it has satisfied the needs of the end-user with Fedora, which recently celebrated its 5th anniversary as an Open Source project. Backed by the #1 Enterprise Linux vendor, any questions of its chances of survival during these tough times are moot -- it will continue to be the essential developer and testing environment for the Red Hat ecosystem for years to come. In terms of "Safeness" in terms of support it's probably one of the safest choices for a Linux distribution if you want to weather the storm, as it's backed by the healthiest Open Source company in the industry.
Fedora isn't just the Volvo sedan of community OSes, though -- it's an extremely active Open Source project, and is consistently one of the first to inject bleeding edge features into its OS before anyone else, such as its early adoption of KDE 4 and the KVM virtualization stack. However, some would say that Fedora is a bit too bleeding edge, in that unlike Ubuntu, Debian, or OpenSUSE which has much longer support cycles, it phases out support for its versions very quickly -- it is a project that by definition is a constantly moving target. Still, if you can commit to keeping up with new releases, Fedora is a great end-user Linux distribution.
The Support Skinny: 1 year of security and stability updates. Versions are being released once every 6 months.
Debian has to be on this list because it is the very definition of "stable", "community" and "free". While definitely not the sexiest of any of the distributions on this list, its importance to the Open Source community is immense. As the "mother" Linux distribution, it breast-feeds many other "child" Linux distributions with its nourishing milk of source packages, the most notable of which is Ubuntu, which could hardly afford to let the project fail due to its huge dependence on Debian for its base systems architecture.
Debian GNU/Linux, which is sponsored by Software in the Public Interest, is related to GNU Project which is a not-for-profit entity supported by the Free Software Foundation, and has thousands of developers around the world, and the largest community of any of the Linux distributions, due to the fact that it cross-pollinates so many other projects. In fact, many of the Ubuntu developers are also Debian developers. Founded in 1993 and the the oldest of the community-supported Linux distributions, it could probably be considered something of a futuristic Monastic Order if you had to classify it in terms of its safeness factor and likelihood of longevity. Like the Albertian Order of St. Leibowitz or the Mathics, The world economy could collapse into a new Dark Ages and it would be likely Debian would probably still be around.
Debian used to be picked on for being difficult to install, but a lot has changed over the years. Since the 4.0 release of "Etch" in April of 2007 the system has had a graphical installation program, and for the most part is no more difficult to install than its more famous child, Ubuntu. Debian also supports its "stable" releases for several years before phasing them out, so you can be assured that you've got a platform that won't break on you. The flip side of this is that Debian releases tend to take years, so most hard-core Debian fans using the OS for a desktop use the "unstable" feed of the OS or lean towards Ubuntu.
With thousands of developers, thousands of software packages on its feeds, and a massive end-user community, Debian is the safest of the safe if you're looking to weather a very long economic storm with a Linux distribution.
The Support Skinny: Debian has a very strict and comprehensive release and support cycle. The Debian support cycle includes milestone"Stable" releases, with "Unstable" package feeds being constantly revised and maintained. "Stable" releases are typically released and updated with security and bugfixes over a period of 3 to 4 years, with older versions having overlapping support cycles into the current released versions.