When you’re talking Linux, three big names always pop up: Canonical’s Ubuntu, Novell’s openSUSE and Red Hat’s Fedora. Ubuntu has ridden a groundswell of both consumer and commercial support to its current ranking as the most popular Linux distribution. OpenSUSE, with its business underpinnings, has always been popular in Europe and has been making inroads in the U.S. And it is largely thanks to Fedora that Red Hat has become the biggest Linux company with a major role in community Linux.
Each of these “big three” has recently released a new version of its distribution, which means it’s time to check them out and decide which is No 1. Or, more properly, which is No. 1 for what user.
To test them, I installed each distro on a Dell Inspiron 530S powered by a 2.2-GHz Intel Pentium E2200 dual-core processor with an 800-MHz front-side bus. The test machine had 4GB of RAM, a 500GB SATA (Serial ATA) drive, and an Integrated Intel 3100 GMA (Graphics Media Accelerator) chip set. This is a standard 2008 computer, which retails for approximately $450.
I also ran each distribution on other PCs to get an idea as to how they worked on a day-to-day basis. For example, I ran openSUSE on a Lenovo ThinkPad R61, Fedora on a Gateway GT5622 desktop and Ubuntu on an older Gateway 503GR desktop.
The Linux distros all had several things in common. First, installing each of them was a no-brainer. I popped in the CD, DVD or (in Fedora’s case) a USB memory stick; got the computer to boot from the installation media; agreed on the time zone, the keyboard type and the new username; and then had a cup or two of coffee. At the end, each distribution was installed and ready to go.