A long time friend and colege (and MCSE and long time MS Advocate) recently asked me via email what the best choice of Linux/Unix distros are for someone interested in learning.
With the proliferation of distributions available I would imagine this is a pretty intimidating decision for someone starting out so I took a little bit of time to craft my answer. Here it is for all who are intersted…
Hi, it was good to see you guys too. We should do that more often. 🙂
Congrats on the choice to investigate the *nix world. Its not really hard at all, just a completely different way of thinking about things. Once people get over the initial shock of it being so different the learning curve gets tiny. 🙂
As to a specific distro, it all depends on what you are looking for. FreeBSD Unix is pretty popular right now. In a recent article on slashdot (http://slashdot.org/article.pl?sid=04/02/21/142239&mode=thread) it is said to be (statistically) one of the most secure OS ' around. OpenBSD is also bunched in with this figure I believe. OpenBSD is built for security. It makes an awesome firewall/router and because of the way PF (its firewall implementation, packet filter) is set up it will act as a router for a large network on a P1 with very little RAM. OpenBSD has AMAZING online documentation and help, but is a very different install than any other unix or linux flavors. By default Bind, Apache and Logd are chrooted. This can cause problems to someone who is new to unix as its very hard to work with in some cases. Especially any sort of virtual hosting on a chrooted apache box. Ick.
The linuxes are in a strange place right now. Before RedHat anouced the retirement of the free basic RedHat OS they where the best choice for any business related linux implementations. They had the biggest hardware and software support. Most of the large computer manufacturers (Dell, HP and so forth) where all making servers with RedHat on them by default. Then they announced they where switching to the Enterprise (pay) model and have a developer ver (fedora) available. Now everyone who was using it is scrambling to find a new distro.
For the raw configurability of it I like Gentoo. Gentoo-Hardended specifically. It uses the NSA 's SELinux permissions system, Pro Police Stack Smashing protection (if an overflow existed in code this should stop it from being exploitable) and a ton more. Its a good solid OS.
Debian has wide speedy support is becoming one of the most popular free distros. Its Apt-Get package system is great and allows you to set up OS and software updates via a scheduled command (Cron Job).
LinuxIso.org is a unix geeks best friend. Download all the distros you want and try em out. The only cost is that of blank cds and the time it takes to run through the install. 🙂
I hope this helpful, I don 't know your current level with *nix so I may have either spoke down to you or up to you. Sorry. 🙂
I think the best choices to learn on would be either Debian or Suse (suses install was cake) and if you like what you see try OpenBSD or FreeBSD. They all have different things going for them so its not always cut and dry which one to get/use. It all depends on how you want to implement it.
Let me know if you have any other questions. I love talking unix. 🙂