July 28, 2011 1 Comment
I was reading Virtualbox Additions and the post left me with an idea: why not force myself to try different distributions?
Now, I have tried various distributions previously, some for a short period and others much longer. The list includes, in no particular order, Debian, Ubuntu, CentOS, Fedora, and Linux Mint. I have used these as both desktops and servers, and am fairly comfortable using them. If you look at this list from the perspective of polishing up your resume, CentOS, Ubuntu, and Debian are very good choices. A prospective employer usually requires some experience with these (and some other) major distributions if they are looking for Linux experience. So if your first goal is to use your Linux experience for employment enhancement, then you should definitely try these out.
However, the world of Linux does not encompass or end with these distributions alone. There are many, many others. Most of them, I believe, belong to a “family” of distributions. From the post I mentioned at the beginning, one gets a sense of these major families of distributions (again, in no particular order): Debian, Red Hat, Gentoo, Arch, Slackware, Mandriva, and SUSE. These families consist of numerous distributions, each sharing the same heritage if not parents and grandparents.
Looking at the list of distributions I mentioned earlier, I have been mostly limited to Debian and Red Hat families. With so many other families available, it’s time for me to branch out. Looking at the characteristics of various distributions, I am not ready for something intensive right now. All I want is for something to work well out of the box. As I gain experience with more distributions, I would feel more comfortable with something as involved as, say Arch.
So what’s the plan of action? First off, pick a family for a whole year and stick with it. This is why this post has the word “marathon” and not “sprint” in it. It takes a full year of hard work, frustration, realization, and exuberance before one can truly say if the time spent with the distribution family was really worth it or not. So your (and my) first step should be to pick a family that has some good out-of-the-box distributions and try those out first. These are usually more downstream from the head-of-the-family distribution. For example, Linux Mint is based on Ubuntu while Ubuntu is based on Debian. Linux Mint is friendlier than Ubuntu and Debian. So pick Linux Mint and use it. As you gain experience and confidence, go to Ubuntu, and then to Debian. Once you are familiar with the style of the family, you proceed up the chain toward more trying challenges.
Sometimes a year may not be enough, sometimes it may be a long time. So adjust your schedule accordingly. But try to stick it out. I would recommend installing in a virtual machine first and using it for a while. You may want to install numerous times with different configurations. When you feel that you can handle the distribution, go ahead and install it on your physical machine.
Almost all distributions allow you to run them as servers and desktops. A distribution may be focused more on the server or on the desktop but it usually would not prevent you from using it both ways. Keeping this in mind, you might want to run the same distribution in these two ways. This will help you evaluate better the pros and cons of each distribution.
Now, there are a lot of distributions in these numerous families. I recommend picking the most popular distributions in each family and sticking with them. The reason is that there is likely to be more support available if the distribution is popular.
Given these categories to consider, how do I plan on moving ahead? For this year, I pick the Mandriva family. I will start with Mageia. Later I have my eyes on PCLinuxOS and Mandriva itself. Next year I will very likely try the SUSE family. In short, the time has come for me to explore the depth and breadth of Linux distribution offerings. I will share my experiences as I make progress.