Linux Distribution info

E. Frank Ball frankb at
Thu Jun 24 18:27:49 PDT 1999

} Pardon me for a newbie-type question; I hope this is a good
} forum to ask this. (Actually I'm not exactly a newbie - I've
} been using Linux since 1996.)  I'm contemplating upgrading
} my kernel from 2.0.36 to 2.2.x, and I'm a bit overwhelmed by
} the number of distributions available these days.  Does
} anyone know a source for a comparison of different distros
} such as RedHat, Slackware, Debian, Suse, Mandrake, Stampede?
} I realise this is a bit of a religious issue, but I've used
} both Slack and RH in the past (using RH5.2 at the present),
} and I do have some prejudices of my own.  I don't care for
} KDE, for one thing.  So, I'd like to see some collected info on
} distros - such things as init scripts, included packages and
} their quality, adherence to standards, etc...  (I'm not so
} concerned with installation as I've done a few.)   Something
} beyond what is posted on the distros own website, which
} while useful, is hardly disinterested.

I've used RedHat and SuSE myself.  KDE is irrelevent.  You can use or
not use it with any distribution.  SuSE has a nice fvwm2 setup.  I use
the old fvwm with RedHat. (KISS)

Most people are familiar with RedHat, so here is how I see SuSE as

SuSE has a nicer install program (YAST).  If you want to pick and choose
every package to install it is much easier and faster.  And if you don't
pick and choose it will load in 10s of mega-bytes of German

When updating rpms with YAST it updates all the menus in a bunch of
window managers with the new (or removed) programs available.  YAST will
also automatically load any rpms that are needed by the package you want
to load/upgrade.

SuSE has a BIG file called /etc/rc.config.  If you like to manually edit
rather than use the YAST gui then you generally edit this file, then run
SuSEConfig, and it distributes the changes out to the other files.  Not
everything is in rc.config, for example all the networking stuff except
the routing.  Weird, but it works.

SuSE puts the ftp and httpd directories under /usr/local/ instead of
/home/.  The init.d directory is under /sbin/ intead of /etc/rc.d/ (the
same as HP-UX 10 and 11).  Other odd files may be in different locations

SuSE doesn't have the ifup and ifdown commands, which are really handy
for getting networking problems sorted out.  It doesn't have a gui to do
this either.  So you either fuss around with route and ifconfig or
re-boot.  It also tries to be simplier, which can make doing weird stuff
harder.  I'd prefer RedHat for a network server type application.

SuSE comes with 5 CDs including a "live file system" CD.  This CD can be
booted and used as a rescue system with 650 MB of utilities available
off of the CD.  RedHat comes with 3 CDs, so you get an extra CDs worth
of applications with SuSE, and you get a far superior printed manual for
$35.  For this reason and YAST for updating rpms I prefer SuSE for a
desktop machine.

Both SuSE and RedHat are very good about posting security and bug
updates on their web sites.  By all accounts RedHat's support is
worthless.  SuSE is slightly better.

They both work.  Some programs you add later might look for files in the
location where RedHat puts them, so you may have to add a sym link
somewhere to make it work for SuSE. 

SuSE will be the first out with updated XFree rpms of any distribution.
RedHat will have updated glibc libraries months before SuSE.  RedHat has
really messed up source code.  SuSE's is more normal (and useable).

SuSE names it rpms differently, there is no version number.  Some lame
excuse about DOS compatibility.  You have to query the package to get
the version number.  Most RedHat and SuSE rpms can be interchanged, if
you get versions compatible with your libraries (SuSE 5.X works with
RedHat 4.X and vice versa)

It seems about half of the distributions out there are customized
RedHat:  Mandrake (fancy KDE setup), Linux Pro (stable, based on RedHat
4.2), Stampede (compiled to be really fast on x686), etc.  I think Corel
is supposed to be coming out with their own distribution that will be
another customized RedHat.

Turbo Linux by Pacific High Tech is the *dominant* Far East
distribution.  They have English, Chinese, and Japanese versions.  This
is being OEMed on PCs in Japan now by Panasonic.  If you work at
Panasonic you can get your work PC loaded with either Turbo Linux or
that Micro$oft stuff.  They have a pretty fancy gui interface, but I
don't have any direct experience with it (but I might soon, I just got a
$2 CD to play with).

Caldera has a really fancy install gui, and a fancy KDE setup.  Since
you don't care about the install, or want KDE, I'd look elsewhere.

RedHat, SuSE, Caldera, and Turbo are the big 4 commercial distributions.
These are what you will see being OEMed and supported on new PCs.
Debian is completely non-commercial, so it will never be OEMed, and it's
hard to come up with statistics on how many people use it.  Slackware
seems to be past it's peak.

     Frank Ball     frankb at 

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