Using Linus Torvalds's latest stable kernel release as a base, there are over 100 recognised flavours of the operating system in development, and possibly many more 'home brew' efforts in the hands of hobbyists and enthusiasts.
Out of these so-called 'distros', perhaps a dozen or so are recognised as mainstream commercial/enterprise offerings.
Although adhering to the nature of open source and being available for free download, these distributions can be bought off the shelf accompanied by a multitude of service options and additional programs.
These distributions are leading the foray into the enterprise space and, while competing against Windows, they are also competing against each other.
As is evident from the following analysis, each current mainstream flavour of Linux has its own unique characteristics, but all come bundled with hundreds or even thousands of packages ranging from office suites to graphical desktops.
MANDRAKE LINUX 8.2
Mandrake Linux was created in 1998 with the goal of making Linux easier to use for everyone. Although at the time Linux was well-known as a powerful and stable operating system, it demanded strong technical knowledge and extensive use of the command line.
MandrakeSoft seized this opportunity to integrate a user-friendly graphical desktop environment as well as to contribute its own graphical configuration utilities.
As a result Mandrake quickly became famous for setting the standard in ease-of-use and functionality and proved that Linux as a server or workstation has no reason to be jealous of any other more established operating systems.
RED HAT 7.3
Founded in 1994, Red Hat is widely recognised as the leader in the enterprise Linux space; the 330lb gorilla holding the biggest market share. It's also pegged as the top distro in terms of the development, deployment and management of Linux for an internet infrastructure.
The Red Hat distributions for Intel, Alpha and Sparc are built from the exact same source packages. This is to ensure maximum portability between platforms regardless of the underlying hardware architecture.
Red Hat is also famous for a very easy installation system known as Red Hat Package Management, which effectively allows download and installation of packages with a single command.
The Debian Project claims to be "an association of individuals who have made common cause to create a free operating system". But it has a reputation for being the 'elite' users choice in Linux, infamous for its uber techie 'holier than thou' user base.
Although, like many Linux variants, Debian is updated and maintained through the work of many users who volunteer their efforts, extensive pre-release testing is done to ensure the highest degree of reliability possible, and a publicly accessible bug tracking system provides an easy way to monitor user feedback.
Debian comes with over 8,000 packages and is well known for its advanced package management tools that allow for easy installation and maintenance on individual systems and workstation clusters.
GENTOO LINUX 1.2
Gentoo Linux is a versatile and fast distribution geared towards developers and network professionals. Again, a benefit of Gentoo is its advanced package management system called Portage.
This is a true ports system in the tradition of BSD ports, but is Python-based and sports a number of advanced features including dependencies, fine-grained package management, 'fake' installs, sand-boxing, safe un-merging, system profiles, virtual packages, config file management and more. It's smooth and sleek, but definitely a Linux for power users.
SuSE is the leading Linux distro in Europe and the biggest competitor to Red Hat. Known for its easy to use interface, SuSE is also renowned for good customer service, making it a strong player in the enterprise space.
Like Red Hat, SuSE is one of the oldest flavours of Linux. SuSE is also involved in the UnitedLinux project (see below).
Slackware is an advanced Linux operating system, designed with the twin goals of ease-of-use and stability but, again, one for the power users.
Slackware is equipped to serve in any capacity from desktop workstation to machine-room server with web, FTP, and email servers ready to go out of the box. But for the developers, a full range of tools, editors and current libraries are included for users who wish to develop or compile additional software.
LYCORIS AMETHYST 2 DESKTOP
Formerly known as Redmond Linux, Lycoris is located in Redmond, Washington, home of Microsoft. Lycoris is a relative newcomer to the market, started in 2000 with a vision of making Linux easy enough for anyone to use.
Lycoris has managed to bag positive reviews and has become renowned as a simplified Linux desktop for those unfamiliar with the operating system.
OpenLinux product line is a multi-tasking, multi-user Linux-based operating system surrounded with utilities, graphical interfaces, installation procedures, third-party applications, etc.
But, like Turbolinux (below), the SCO Group - which was recently acquired by Caldera - will now focus on the UnitedLinux project.
Although TurboLinux was recently acquired by Japanese firm Software Research Associates it is still one of the more prominent Linux flavours.
Turbolinux distributions are designed from the ground-up specifically for enterprise computing, a claim evident in the server version which supports the Large File Support standard for working with applications that manage or handle up to four terabytes of data. TurboLinux is now one of the key players in the new UnitedLinux distribution.
A new contender to the throne, but worth a mention because it is being backed by some of the biggest players in the Linux arena. Red Hat is not involved and it is thought that UnitedLinux will seek to usurp that particular distro from its current throne.
Due for preview this month, with release 1.0 out in November, UnitedLinux is the combined effort of SCO, Conectiva, SuSE and Turbolinux to bring a standards-based Linux to the market.
It is primarily targeted at business users who are baffled by the minor differences in all the other flavours of Linux and is again set up as a main competitor to claim market share from current behemoth Red Hat.
Opting for standards rather than unique tweaks also means that UnitedLinux could even be the contender to the Microsoft throne that the open source movement has been waiting for but, even so, it demonstrates the next evolution of Linux as a more businesslike and focused contender.
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