Alistair Maclean's Web Site

Have CD, will install!

There are innumerable books on Linux with included CD's, there are ways of downloading some of the smaller distributions, there are the sites that sell distributions at silly prices (generally about $2/CD), and then there are the freebies given away at computer shows like Linux Expo. All these sources provide ample material for the erstwhile tester and Linux tinkerer to try before settling on something.

I am not the most proficient Unix weenie out there, in fact I would go so far as to say that I am complete and utter novice with the stuff, so when I have difficulties with a distribution because all I needed to know to get me out of trouble was the '-gg' parameter on the 'uuspliff' command, please forgive me for deriding the folks that put it together.

Distribution Version Comments
Unifix ? 1995 This was a kernel 1.2 release. I tried it but its hardware support was a little too limited. It came in a book. Seems Unifix is still producing distributions.
Slackware 1996 This installed easily, though the installer was a shock, it required lots of information. I ran this on an IBM PS/2 Model 55 (a 486/66 with MCA). It came in a book. This was the first 2.x kernel I ran.
7.1 Slackware has languished for several years now. This version just exemplifies that. It's installer was crude, the packages outdated and the general system of marginal use. This needs a real face lift.
SuSE 5.1 This was my first replacement for Slackware. The installer was a revelation. Early YAST may have been a nasty critter by today's standards, but it was a wonder when it came out. I got this at a computer show, retail.
6.0 I ran this for a short time. While it had more features than the prior version it was never as reliable. Retail version.
7.0 I have several copies of the evaluation version. What the difference between the real version and the evaluations is, I don't know. It installed nicely, though I always get in a flap with how SuSE configures the networking with the route command. I tried KDE 2.0 for the first time using this installation. Definitely a nice distribution. 7.1 of course comes with the newer kernel.
Redhat 6.1 This is the version that runs on this server at the moment. It has been here for about 2 years I suppose (though the site has only been available for a year). This installed well, and has been easy to adjust.
7.1 It's the retail release. I am using this version on a workstation to see how it does. It installed cleanly, though I did have a problem when I tried to make a custom distribution, I have also experienced corruption of the rpm database. This webserver ran 7.1 till Nov 2003.
(Nov 2002)
I have been using 8.0 on a couple of servers, both at work and here at the Mansion. It installs nicely, runs well, and has a nice feature set. One big issue I have with it is how rebuilt kernels fit in with Grub. Other than that it has been very reliable.
(Nov 2003)
So much for point releases. This web server is now running RH9, installed as an upgrade after I managed to destroy some of the libraries. It's graphical install failed and I had to use the text install, which I suspect was faster anyway. I didn't like the upgrade organization and several critical packages were left off. The install also overwrote some of the old config (like the logrotate). Good job I made a backup. The AMD install has been impressive nonetheless, and seems to be very reliable. I now have RH9 on 3 servers. I use Yum and the fedora legacy project to keep one of them a little up to date, the other two I personally build the kernels with each major update.
Fedora Base 1
(Nov 2003)
The CD's are down in the basement. I have a spare system that I will subject this new relase to. As the future of free 'RedHat' we have to hope that it is not just a 'kit' OS but indeed has some integration.
Fedora Core 3
I managed to get a set of the Fedora Core 2 CD's loaded it up on a box, then realised that FC3 was out. So without batting an eye, I found a Yum repository and yum updated my new OS to Fedora Core 3. Using Yum to keep it up to date, I have had great success. The system was very stable certainly on the single processor boxes. I tried FC2 on a Dual Processor box for a short time, but had no luck keeping things reliable.
Fedora Core 4
(Apr 2005)
Fedora Core 4 came out in April or May of 2005. I did some thing I have never done before, I updated, a system that was already a download, with another download. There are no backup CD's or floppies to rebuild this system if something goes way wrong. So far FC4 has been very reliable. The Yum repositories are becoming fairly extensive, certainly large enough that I can't spend the time trying everything out. I am looking at once more attacking my Dual Processor server and doing an FC4 upgrade on it.
Debian 2.2 The system came of several CD's. It's installer was more like a loose confederation of scripts that something that actually did anything constructive. The installer reminded me of the first slackware version I installed 5 before. Once I had things installed, I had stability problems. Many packages are quite old, though I suppose you could download them all from their proper sources again. Though people rate this most highly among the distributions, I was not impressed.
(Nov 2003)
Given the issues facing RedHat I decided that I needed to look for other alternatives, Debian is a tough release to install, I have tried once with a 3.0 release but the disks were not quite right. Trying again with disks of a more certain heritage.
Storm 2000 This was a surprise. It was Debian based, but the installer was all their own. The installer was excellent and worked like a champ. The only issue was that the system was a little feature poor straight off the CD. (Note that Stormix, the organization that makes this distribution has failed.)
TurboLinux Server 6.0 This is a special version to install just servers, so no X stuff. I looked at it to load up an Internet server (another option is an Intranet server - different packages). It installed like a charm, and ran well. This was a nice change from some of the other distributions, in that it was geared to a very narrow set of uses.
Gentoo 1.0 (Feb 2003) This started life as a small release, I think in its current form (1.4) it's now two disks. It seemed to install fine, though I didn't do much with it as the world was making my head spin and was trying it as a person might might have a nervous tick!

Getting Distributions

Getting distributions is a fairly simple activity. They appear on magazines in book and magazine shops, they are given away at shows, they can be down loaded, or you can buy them either as individual CD's (no support) or in boxed sets (more expensive, but come with support). Many computer stores have one or two of the main distributions hanging about on the shelves (frequently getting dusty, so watchout for old versions).

The other way of obtaining distributions fairly cost effectively is to order online. There are several companies that do this, fairly cheaply. Two in the US that do this are Linux Central ( and Linux System Labs ( I have used Linux Central on a couple of occasions and found nothing wanting. They have good turnaround on orders.

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