Newbies to Linux like me often find it puzzling when there are so many different distributions like Debian, Fedora or Ubuntu. I've tried to Google some documents describing the differences between these distributions but failed to grasp the key ideas. So I'd like to know:

  1. What are the major differences between these distributions?
  2. Are there a specific target for each distribution? For example, which distribution would you recommend to a novice for learning the basics of Linux? Which one would you recommend to someone who really wants to learn the essences of Linux?

I'm not sure whether there are duplicates of my question but I haven't found one based on a cursory Google search.

closed as not constructive by Gilles, jasonwryan, Michael Mrozek Dec 20 '11 at 0:45

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  • 1
    Go to Wikipedia for some objective criteria. Beyond that, this is a highly subjective question with no real answer, so I'm voting to close as non-constructive. Some distributions focus on a specific audience or application, but that neither makes them unsuitable for other uses nor enables broad comparisons. – Gilles Dec 19 '11 at 23:53
  • physically, the major difference is usually the package manager used. But yes, target differs, some aim for bing stable, others at being cutting edge. – Sirex Dec 20 '11 at 8:58

I know only Redhat-based (Fedora), Ubuntu, and Gentoo linux. So my opinion might be somewhat biased.

If you're truly a novice, say, you don't know anything about shell scripting or programming languages, and want to learn a Linux system, I would suggest Ubuntu. Or find any Ubuntu-like system. Another benefit will be, since lots of Cloud servers use a Ubuntu-based image, you could easily adopt to this.

Or, you could start with a Redhat-based distribution, such as Fedora Core (as a desktop user), or CentOS (as a server application developer). CentOS and RHEL also very popular on servers including Cloud IaaS.

Or, if you are somewhat familar with the Linux system, and know some shell scripting, I strongly suggest you learn Gentoo Linux, which does not have binary packages, so you need to compile every package you need. During installation (if you're like me), you may encounter various problem (compilation errors, etc.), but when you finish installing it, you'll have more knowledge about Linux than any other distribution, plus optimized binaries for your own system.

In short, if you need a descent/urgent workload based on Linux system, or have some topics to learn based on the Linux, try Ubuntu-like or RedHat-based distribution.

If you have enough free time, and are willing to learn, try Gentoo. (but I don't recommend Gentoo Linux, if you have absolutely no experience on other distribution.)

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