by April 9, 2013 0 comments

1. Level of support
Once you have determined which system(s), and therefore which user(s) will be using Linux, you’ll need to consider their familiarity (if any) with the Linux environment and hence the potential learning curve for the tasks that they are supposed to perform. Most major vendors such as Red Hat, Ubuntu, etc. do provide commercial support offerings (including planning for deployment). Other major distros which do not provide commercial support usually do provide reliable community-assisted support but then you obviously cannot expect committed levels of support.

2. Package management
In addition to the well established DEB and RPM systems, a few other alternatives are coming up and growing every day, such as pacman of ArchLinux. This becomes an all the more important question for desktops, where hasslefree management of packages takes precedence over optimization obtained through compiling the sources. You might as well have prepared a list of the programs/ applications that you will use in Linux in order to carry out your routine business tasks. For each of them, determine what binary packages (if any) do their original developers officially provide for your architecture. Applying security patches, bug fixes and other updates becomes much easier in this manner. Also check whether the software package is provided as a binary for your architecture in your distribution’s official repositories, which is usually known not to conflict with other packages installed.

3. Hardware compatibility
Where possible, run the shortlisted distros in the target system in a live mode. Even if the target system does not contain any optical disc drive, freely available tools such as Unetbootin make creation of live USB drives (from the corresponding ISO images) a piece of cake for a large number of distros. However, an installed system will generally tend to detect a greater amount of hardware than what the live system does. Hence, use the live experience just as a guideline and not as a final decision making criteria to evaluate hardware compatibility. Running under virtualization too may not determine the accurate status of compatibility of different devices. In many cases, documentation available on the distro’s website may contain a hardware compatibility list which will assist you in resolving compatibility issues. You also need to check with your system’s OEM too, many of them provide device drivers for Linux, often in the form of binary packages that are customized for a specific distro.

4. Partitioning constraints
This applies mainly to dual/multi-boot systems. If you have, say, 4 installations of Windows on different partitions on a single hard disk, such as XP, Vista, 7 and 8, it means that each of these is a primary partition and hence, in most cases, you are out of luck if the distro you are going to install requires a separate partition of it’s own (which is usually the case). However, there are exceptions. You can install general purpose distributions such as Ubuntu using Wubi, as well as special-purpose distributions such as Geexbox to the hard disk, without creating another partition at all in any of these cases. In case your hard disk has 3 primary paritions instead of 4 (and none of these 3 can be deleted/formatted), your best bet is to create an extended partition first (as the fourth partition) and then install Linux within a partition there, so as to leave room for easy modification if need be. Most Linux distributions can be succesfully used from being installed within a partition contained in an extended partition.

5. Configuration tools
You don’t want to edit configuration files by hand in most cases (especially for desktops). Hence, look for distros which offer a rich GUI-based means of configuring different system parameters. Yast in Suse Linux is a good example. The `Firstboot’ wizard in Fedora takes you through basic system configuration (such as adding a new non-administrative user, setting date/time preferences, etc.) at the first successful boot post-install. However, not all configuration can be done using a point-and-click
interface in every case. For instance, if your graphics’ subsystem itself cannot be recognized and hence the X server is failing to load, you will have to settle for tinkering with the configuration files by hand or (if available) go for a menu-driven interface to configuring the system.

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