Choosing a Linux distribution
When it comes to choosing a Linux distribution, there are a dizzying array of choices, including de facto standard Red Hat, Mandriva, SUSE, a Debian variant, or Fedora, a Red Hat- and community-supported open source project to build a complete, general purpose operating system exclusively from free software.
Businesses usually can't lose by going with a de facto standard, which today is SUSE, Red Hat, or Fedora. SUSE is backed by Novell, while the Java Desktop System is supported by Sun. Both are solid companies, and both distributions also are solid choices. SUSE can make a great deal of sense for companies used to managing their desktop environment with systems management tools like ZenWorks and SMS. But for businesses that have deployed Red Hat servers and have experience with the Red Hat network, extending their IT infrastructure with Red Hat desktops also can make good sense, Sheffey says.
Debian has one advantage over these tools -- once it is installed, it can be upgraded automatically over the Internet. "The process is so easy it's downright unbelievable," Petreley says. "You don't upgrade Debian with another CD, you simply keep it up to date with a few simple commands." The downside, he notes, is it is run by developers who don't keep it as cutting-edge as Red Hat or SUSE.
Gentoo is another free operating system based on either Linux or FreeBSD that can be automatically optimized and customized for just about any application or need. Extreme configurability, performance and a top-notch user and developer community are all hallmarks of the Gentoo experience. It can become an ideal secure server, development workstation, professional desktop, gaming system, embedded solution or something else.
Choosing a Window manager
Linux supports both GNOME and KDE, as well as a wide variety of window managers. Red Hat makes GNOME and KDE look and work alike. While GNOME has the fewest features and is least likely to confuse users with options, KDE is more feature-rich and powerful, but is so configurable that it could some to spend too much time working with it. Other, less commonly used window managers include XFCE, ICEWM, Enlightenment, Blackbox, Fluxbox and WindowMaker. Generally, these tools are for more advanced Linux users with specific needs or desire for greater customization. Given the choices, Petreley recommends KDE, while Rosen considers either KDE or GNOME reasonable. Rosen prefers ICEWM for thin client implementations. "It's clean, fast and allows for maximum user productivity," he says.
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