The reason why so many linux distributions exist is because linux can be installed on many different systems. From desktops, to smart phones, to wireless routers. In fact, it is known that if a system can support an operating system.. it can run linux!
If you’re new to linux and you’re looking for some guidance on what linux distribution to download and install on your desktop or laptop then here I will take you through some of the most common distributions. I will also go over some other distro’s that are designed to run on platforms other than a common desktop computer.
Hopefully by the end of reading this you will have a good idea on what to install for a particular system.
This post is not a definitive guide but just an insight in to what’s available and maybe even introduce you to some of the distros that exist in the wild today.
What is distro hopping?
Distro hopping is a term given to someone who moves from one linux operating system to another and all within a short time frame.
Back in my early days of learning and using linux, distro hopping was something that I had done for many years, after eventually settling down with Linux Mint as my main linux distribution.
As a beginner I think it’s quite important to distro hop as this gives you a good sense of what’s out there and experience the differences across the various operating systems.
Linux distro’s don’t all use the same desktop environment for example and so you will be introduced to many different environments such as KDE and Gnome.
It’s worth noting that just because your desktop linux system shipped with Gnome, you can always install KDE too!
Desktops & laptops
Desktop and laptop systems are known as x86 architecture. This is where I’m guessing that most people will be discovering and using linux for the first time.
If you need help with choosing the correct desktop linux distro then check out my other guide on how to select the correct operating system to download.
This post focuses on popular distributions for various computer hardware systems, where as the other guide will help you in selecting the correct files to download for a desktop/laptop.
How could I not start off by mentioning Ubuntu! Ubuntu is a Debian based system and many other systems spin off from Ubuntu. It used to be said that Ubuntu was the recommended distro to new beginners as there’s a ton of help online based around Ubuntu. Although this is the case, over time Ubuntu now ships with spyware right out of the box! Notice all of the Amazon products and recommendations that’s displayed to you in and around your desktop environment? That’s no coincidence.
Mint is also a Debian based system and this is a “spin-off”, or derivative of Ubuntu. Lately Mint has grown a very substantial user-base as many people seem to like it. I’m no exception to this as I think it’s great and certainly recommended for a beginner.
Check out Linux Mint at linuxmint.com
Bodi Linux for older 32bit systems
Yet again, Bodhi is another Debian based system that’s derived from Ubuntu. If you’re running a really old desktop or laptop computer then the chances are that it will be the older 32bit x86 architecture. If this is the case, then you will almost certainly want a lightweight desktop environment. For this type of hardware I can most certainly recommend Bodhi Linux. I have this running on an old laptop of mine for a few years now and the performance works really well and definitely worth checking out.
If you’re looking for something a little different then try Suse linux. I was running this system quite a long time ago now and it just blew me away! The color scemes were very vibrant, the system ran very smoothly, the desktop environment ran well on an older machine even with some elegant animations enabled.
Many linux server distributions don’t have a desktop environment installed by default. That’s because no one will be sat infront of it with a monitor, keyboard and mouse. This is what we call a ‘headless server’.
It’s possible to install almost any desktop linux operating system and configure it as a server. But some distro’s have been created and optimised for this purpose.
Ubuntu offers their own server edition and can be found at ubuntu.com/download/server
Big business & corporations
We all know that linux is free right? wrong. Well it is in this case for RedHat linux. Sometimes big businesses and corperations want and/or need to use linux. But they’re running a tight ship and any problems that they may come across while using linux, they will need some technical assistance.
RedHat not only gives you the Operating System, they also provide a technical help desk who will be there for you as and when you need it, and around the clock. This is why RedHat comes at a financial cost and is an option there if anyone needs it.
If you want to check out RedHat on your own but don’t want to shell out a hefty amount of cash just to try it, then check out CentOS. CentOS is kinda the free version of RedHat. it is almost identical. You can get CentOS at: centos.org
Many people by now have heard of Kali Linux. This is a very popular distribution of linux for penetration testing (or ethical hacking).
Kali linux has come a long way and has changed so much over the years. It was re-named from “Backtrack” and under this title it had seen five revisions! But even Backtrack had been created as a result of two other operating systems that had joined together, known as Auditor and Wax.
USB pen drive installations
In the early days of USB drive storage devices, we didn’t have 128GB of memory! ha, it was more like 128MB. DSL (Damn Small Linux.. and no I’m not making this up) could run off one of these memory devices with only taking around 50MB of space for the installed system. Check out DSL at damnsmalllinux.org for more info.
Wifi router custom firmware
When you start to discover more and more about linux and networking, you will always find limitations in, and around your home and devices.
This was the case will me when I discovered that my wireless router wasn’t capable of doing things such as supporting a configurable VPN for example.
Well now you can install a linux distro into a compatable router, and open up a world of possibilities. DD-WRT has been working very well for me in the past and I can recommend this distro to anyone who is wanting a custom router. Checkout DD-WRT at dd-wrt.com
But be sure to check out their database of wireless routers that their distro supports.
Another wireless router custom linux firmware is “Tomato”. Cool name right? You can obtain Tomato from polarcloud.com/tomato
I really can’t say much about this firmware as of yet as I haven’t tried it out but hopefully the day will come when I have Tomato routing me through the internet 🙂
The Raspberry Pi single board computer has gained popularity among people over the recent years and for a good reason. This is an excellent little fully-fledged budget computer that’s capable of various dedicated tasks for in and around the home (and anywhere else for that matter).
Raspbian is the official and supported linux operating system for the Raspberry Pi but so many others exist. For a general purpose desktop environment, check out Raspbian at raspbian.org
It’s worth noting that both of these systems are running Kodi as their underlying media centre.
Android custom ROM
Cyanogenmod was one of THE greatest open source android distributions of it’s time. Yes, Android is linux, and I say WAS because Cyanogenmod was re-branded to LineageOS some time ago.
But now Lineage arguably takes the place as being one of the best free Android platforms out there today and I have been using this distro since I decided to upgrade from Cyanogenmod a few years back.
Of course there are so many other custom Android ROM’s to check out and it is worth trying some of them for yourself and see what you like.
One of the cool things about LineageOS is that you can completely “de-Google” your mobile device! In fact, you can also Google your device too if that’s what you like by using Gapps (Google Apps). Take a look at Gapps at opengapps.org and also Lineage at lineageos.org
Ultimately, the linux operating system that you choose to use is all down to you! But hopefully I’ve given you an insight in to what’s out there and what’s worth trying out.
You will only discover something new by trying new things. Maybe give some of these systems a go and start a little project.
Learning linux is fun. If you’re not having fun, then your not learning.