Prior to installation, the most important factor is your hardware. Since every Linux distribution contains the basic packages and can be built to meet almost any requirement (because they all use the Linux kernel), you only need to consider if the distribution will run on your hardware. LinuxPPC for example has been made to run on Apple and other PowerPCs and does not run on an ordinary x86 based PC. LinuxPPC does run on the new Macs, but you can't use it for some of the older ones with ancient bus technology. Another tricky case is Sun hardware, which could be an old SPARC CPU or a newer UltraSparc, both requiring different versions of Linux.
Some Linux distributions are optimized for certain processors, such as Athlon CPUs, while they will at the same time run decent enough on the standard 486, 586 and 686 Intel processors. Sometimes distributions for special CPUs are not as reliable, since they are tested by fewer people.
Most Linux distributions offer a set of programs for generic PCs with special packages containing optimized kernels for the x86 Intel based CPUs. These distributions are well-tested and maintained on a regular basis, focusing on reliant server implementation and easy installation and update procedures. Examples are Debian, Ubuntu, Fedora, SuSE and Mandriva, which are by far the most popular Linux systems and generally considered easy to handle for the beginning user, while not blocking professionals from getting the most out of their Linux machines. Linux also runs decently on laptops and middle-range servers. Drivers for new hardware are included only after extensive testing, which adds to the stability of a system.
While the standard desktop might be Gnome on one system, another might offer KDE by default. Generally, both Gnome and KDE are available for all major Linux distributions. Other window and desktop managers are available for more advanced users.
The standard installation process allows users to choose between different basic setups, such as a workstation, where all packages needed for everyday use and development are installed, or a server installation, where different network services can be selected. Expert users can install every combination of packages they want during the initial installation process.
The goal of this guide is to apply to all Linux distributions. For your own convenience, however, it is strongly advised that beginners stick to a mainstream distribution, supporting all common hardware and applications by default. The following are very good choices for novices:
· Fedora Core
· Debian and Ubuntu
· SuSE Linux
· Mandriva (former MandrakeSoft)
· Knoppix: an operating system that runs from your CD-ROM, you don't need to install anything.