Verdict: Delivers a perfectly stable system suitable for servers.
This RHEL derivative is a favourite for admins who prefer the RPM package management system, and provides all you'd expect in an enterprise class distro. While ideal for setting up servers because it bundles Apache, MySQL, PHP, Perl and various server centric software, there's little in this distro for everyday or hobbyist and advanced Linux users.
In comparison, its biggest competitor, Debian, is a general purpose distro that's equally at ease on the home desktop or serving web pages.
Verdict: Nearly superseded by alternatives like Scientific Linux.
Offering packages that are nearly identical to their upstream releases, Slackware strives to provide the most Unix-like Linux distro possible. The distro allows the user great control during installation, letting you decide what packages and libraries to install.
One of the oldest Linux distros, Slackware is extremely stable and most suited for servers. It doesn't have any graphical system administration tools and package management is done via the command-line, although there are ncurses based tools with limited functionality for some tasks.
Skill with the command-line can make working with it an absolute joy.
Verdict: Stable, secure and classic. Perfect for servers and skilled users.
With Gentoo, users get a pervasive control in building the system from the grounds up. Along with Arch, Gentoo is one of the most configurable distros, and expects you to compile the kernel after tweaking it according to your needs during the installation.
The distro packs an awesome package management system in Portage. Unlike most other distros, Gentoo installs can take between several hours to many days, depending on the number of packages you wish to install, since they are fetched from the Internet.
If you've never used it before, there's a steep learning curve, and you're introduced to Linux internals and several new technologies native to Gentoo, such as the USE flags system. Derivatives like Funtoo can be a good starting point for those unfamiliar with or unwilling to commit themselves to the hardship of Gentoo.
Verdict: Gentoo loses out to Arch because of its lengthy install time and unfamiliar concepts like USE flags.
The runner-up in last issue's roundup of distros for power users, Arch is one of the most loved Linux distros for advanced users. It's highly configurable, with a rolling release cycle that doesn't provide any default packages. The installation can take a long time depending on the number of packages you wish to install - which are all downloaded off the internet.
The biggest ratings booster for Arch is its package management tool Pacman. The installation itself will introduce you to a range of configuration files that must be set by hand. Everything from partitioning to installing the bootloader must be done manually.
Arch has inspired several distros, each with its own distinct features. Try Cinnarch if you want all the power of Arch combined with Cinnamon.
Verdict: Faster to setup than Gentoo, and more geek fun than any other distro.
Available only for the x86-64 architecture, this source based distro uses the ports system for package management and builds on the KISS formula, favouring simplicity over automation. It sports a user-driven non-graphical installer and expects you to compile the kernel as part of the installation like Gentoo.
Verdict: A wonderful distro for power users that only supports the 64-bit architecture.
Originally based on Slackware, Frugalware has since shed any remnants of its past. Aimed at intermediate or advanced users familiar with the command-line, it offers the choice of a command-line or graphical installation. The DVD is brimming with packages and you can easily configure it as a server.
Verdict: Good distro if you want all the features of Arch.
The only thing here to interest advanced users is its Conary package management system. Unlike other similar tools, Conary only updates specific files that need to be updated, saving time and bandwidth. With Conary you can also rollback or undo any update with a single command.
Verdict: Doesn't offer much to the advanced user except Conary.
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