This article is from the Frequently Asked Questions for Linux, the Free/Open Source UNIX-like operating system kernel that runs on many modern computer systems. Maintained by David C. Merrill with numerous contributions by others. (v1.0).
A: If you are new to Linux, you should start by buying or downloading a general-purpose Linux distribution. A distribution is a complete operating system, including the Linux kernel and all the utilities and software you are likely to need, ready to install and use. Most distributions include thousands of software packages, including user-friendly desktops, office suites, and games.
There are a handful of major Linux distributions, and as a beginner you are probably safer using one of them. For information about them, and how they are installed, see the Distributions-HOWTO from the Linux Documentation Project. Also, a list of distributions is updated weekly at http://lwn.net.
Before you select which distribution you want to try, read their descriptions carefully and compare them to your needs. Each distribution is tailored to a particular type of user. Some are optimized to function as servers, some are optimized for gaming, and some are optimized for desktop and office use.
There are a few distributions which are considered to be outstanding choices for new users:
*Red Hat is particularly good for servers *Mandrake is excellent as a desktop system *SuSE is also excellent as a desktop system
There are also a large number of releases which are distributed less globally that suit special local and national needs. Many of them are archived at ftp: //ftp.tux.org.