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A Linux distribution is the the packaging of the Linux kernel and various supporting software and applications, and installation and configuration programs. There are hundreds of Linux distributions available. There are distributions of all types for practically any type of computing need. Most distributions are available for free. There are also "boxed" versions available for sale from vendors such as Red Hat (Red Hat Enterprise Linux), Novell (SUSE Linux), Mandriva (Mandriva Linux, formerly Mandrake Linux) and others.
This article will focus on some of the more well known and popular free distributions of Linux. Before that, however, it is important to understand the relative advantages and disadvantages of free distributions versus commercial distributions.
Advantages/Disadvantages of Free Linux Distributions
Free distributions of Linux are usually available to download as ISO images. An ISO image is an image of a CD-ROM disk saved in ISO-9660 format. It is an exact copy of a CD-ROM disk stored as a file. After downloading, the user typically burns the image to CD.
Advantages/Disadvantages of Purchasing Commercial or "Boxed" Distributions of Linux
Commercial, or "boxed" distributions of Linux come with a price tag that may range from modest to expensive. A commercial distribution typically comes with preformatted installation CD-ROMS, documentation in electronic and/or printed format, some level of installation support, and some pre-defined term of ongoing support. A commercial distribution may be a better choice for a novice, or someone new to Linux, or an individual who is comforted by all of the trappings of a "finished" product.
Popular Free Linux Distributions
Following is a list of some of the more popular and well known free distributions available for Linux:
Debian GNU/Linux, or Debian, is a distribution created by the Debian Project, an association of individuals who have made common cause to create a free operating system. This distribution may be obtained as ISO images, purchased as installation CDs, or as CDs with books.
Some good books on Debian GNU/Linux that also include installations CDs include:
The Fedora Project is a Red Hat sponsored and community-supported open source development project. It is an effort to build a complete, general purpose Linux operating system exclusively from free software. The Fedora core releases are available for free as ISO images for both CDs and DVDs. It may also be possible to obtain Fedora on CD-ROM included in magazines and in books, and maybe even handed out at trade shows.
Some good books on Fedora that also include installations CDs include:
SUSE LINUX 9.3 ftp version
SUSE LINUX 9.3 ftp version from Novell can be downloaded for free. SUSE is the leading Linux distribution in Europe. Some good books on SUSE LINUX that also include installations CDs include:
Mandriva Linux Download Edition (formerly Mandrake Linux)
Mandriva Linux Download Edition is another popular free version of Linux. Mandriva Linux was formerly called Mandrake Linux. There are currently no books on Mandriva Linux.
Popular Commercial Linux Distributions
The following Linux products come with a price tag. Many also come with more of the trappings of a "finished" product - nice documentation, installation and ongoing support, etc.
Comprehensive List of Linux Distributions
A comprehensive directory of Linux distributions may be found here.