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A Linux Distribution Comparison Matrix : Page 2

Linux is Linux—you can use any distribution; the real difference between distributions lies primarily in how much effort it takes to accomplish your specific goals. The five distributions compared here represent the "Who's Who" of the major English-language distributions.


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The Comparison Matrix
Use the legend below to interpret the results. Scroll down for the actual matrix.
Legend:
5. Very strong or mature support.
2. You're pushing a boulder uphill—but you're strong enough.
4. Reasonably strong, but still a couple of kinks. 1. Not worth the fifty cents it cost to burn the media.
3. Possible but it takes some muscle.
0. Who are you kidding?


 

Red Hat ES



Novell SLES

Fedora FC4

OpenSuSE 10

Ubuntu Breezy

Installation

 

 

 

 

 

Graphical installer

5

4

5

4

3*

Volume management

5

3

5

3

2

Resize Windows partition

0

5

0

5

3

Raid configuration

5

5

5

5

4

Exception handling

3

5

3

5

5

LDAP integration

3

5

3

3

2

Configuration

 

 

 

 

 

Server configuration tools

4

5

3

5

3

User/Workstation configuration tools

4

5

4

5

4

X configuration

4

5

4

5

3

Printer management

3

5

3

5

3

Security

 

 

 

 

 

Filesystem ACL support

5

5

5

5

5

SELinux support

5

5

5

5

3

Firewall

4

5

4

5

3

Default SSH security

2

2

2

2

5

Default configuration

3

3

3

3

5

Server Management

 

 

 

 

 

LDAP configuration

3

5

3

3

3

User management

3

5

3

5

3

Apache configuration

3

5

3

5

3

Mail configuration

4

5

4

5

4

Thin client support

3

3

3

3

5

Support

 

 

 

 

 

Central phone support

5

5

0

0

4

Easy to find 3rd party support

5

5

0

0

5

Free email support

0

0

5

5

5

Online support

3

3

4

4

5

Vendor Support contracts

5

5

0

0

5

Established support network

5

5

0

0

3


* "Curses" text-based graphical installer.

Installation summary (back)
The Novell and SuSE installers use YAST (Yet Another Setup Tool), which is a very powerful management and installation software. However it tends to be a bit overcomplicated. Ubuntu uses a curses-based (text-based) graphical installer that is very powerful but requires a little more expertise then the Red Hat installer. The Red Hat installer is by far the most mature of the installers.

Configuration summary (back)
The Novell and SuSE configuration use of YAST makes almost all Linux configuration tasks a breeze. YAST can be a little clumsy but it offers a solid console based version that allows Linux management without requiring X Windows. Red Hat has solid configuration tools but they all require X Windows, which is inane for Linux. One of the most powerful features of Unix/Linux is the ability to administrate without X Windows.

Security summary (back)
All the products are decent at security, however Ubuntu is the only distribution reviewed that doesn't allow root login via SSH by default. Ubuntu also does not allow root login via console by default, insuring that you actually have think about such actions as accidentally formatting your hard drive before you can perform them.

Server Management (back)
Novell and SuSE have this one under control due to YAST, but Red Hat ES also has solid management tools. Note that experienced system administrators don't really need the administration tools provided by the vendors; such tools typically don't handle more advanced situations and can actually decrease a good administrator's productivity.

Support (back)
This is probably the hardest of the categories to evaluate. Linux support comes in all sorts of forms. For what most consider "enterprise" support Novell and Red Hat win because they have written support policies and contracts that enterprises can purchase. This type of support gives a certain level of comfort to people who use any software. Support contracts are an excellent choice for companies who do not have expert administrators in-house. However if you do have an expert administrator or consultant available there is no reason not to explore some of the more flexible Linux distributions such as FC, OpenSuSE, or Ubuntu.

And the Winner Is...
My professional opinion is that Ubuntu is the best of these distributions. Ubuntu excels at providing support to new users, from having over 650 users in the freenode IRC #Ubuntu, to channel support at any time, to an expansive Wiki and mailing list community. Their packaging system (Debian's .deb) is top-notch, and the tools you use for updating such as apt and synaptic are friendly and versatile. Ubuntu is also the only distribution that I have been able to upgrade confidently to a new release without scheduling a server outage.

Lastly, all the reviewed distributions except Ubuntu contain a lot of "pork." They typically require the equivalent of three or more CD's to download and install, while Ubuntu fits on a single CD. That's not a problem, because you can download any extra software you need directly from the Internet. In short, Ubuntu is the only reviewed distribution that tries to get it right the first time, by making intelligent decisions about what software to include on the CD and by providing an excellent user experience from the initial install to using the system six months later.



Joshua D. Drake is President of Command Prompt, Inc. a dedicated PostgreSQL support and custom programming company. He is also the co-author of "Practical PostgreSQL" from O'Reilly and Associates.
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