This is somehow my personal classification, of Linux distributions. And maybe at the same time of the Linux users.
I’m going to classify only those I have used more than just a few hours in a virtual machine.
[Update: 01/23/2011]. I’m adding a new section, Special Mentions with some distributions suggested by the readers, but not used by me
Linux for the newbies
This are distributions for newbies, or Linux newcomers as well as for users who do not have too much time to tweak and configure their PCs.
Ubuntu Maybe the most famous Linux distribution, and usually the first one any newcomer sees.
Mint Linux Mint, gained a lot of popularity, it is based on Ubuntu, but it comes with support for mp3 and flash and other stuff Ubuntu does not support by default. I really do not understand why it isn’t more famous than Ubuntu. Recently they released LMDE (Linux Mint Debian Edition) a rolling release based on Debian, I think this will give Mint more exposure.
PCLinuxOS This is another newbie oriented Linux distribution, more or less like Mint, it comes out of the box, with support for a lot of hardware, and plugins and coders for different media, so out of the box, you can start using it for almost any Desktop application.
Mandriva I forgot to mention this one, but I am updating the post once again. Mandriva is really a great distribution, I used it for over a year, and in that time, when I was using it, it was the most advanced Linux Desktop I have ever tested. It had support for a lot hardware other distributions did not at that time. Also they put a lot of focus on the eye candy, therefore, it is a great looking Linux distribution, it is aimed to be a newbie friendly. And it is that indeed.
Mandriva Linux (formerly Mandrakelinux or Mandrake Linux) is a French Linux distribution distributed by Mandriva (formerly Mandrakesoft). It uses the RPM Package Manager. The product lifetime of Mandriva Linux releases is 18 months for base updates (Linux, system software, etc.) and 12 months for desktop updates (window managers, desktop environments, web browsers, etc.). Server products receive full updates for at least 24 months after their release.
On September 18, 2010, due to financial uncertainty and the layoff by Edge-IT, a Mandriva subsidiary employing many of the corporate staff working on the Mandriva distribution, a fork of Mandriva named Mageia was announced
I have not tested Mageia yet, if someone has, please let us know about it in the comments section
Fedora This distribution, is somehow the sandbox of RedHat guys, it is Desktop oriented, and usually packs bleeding edge software. They also make a lot of contribution to the Linux community. It use to be my main distribution once, but I do not like yum too much. I initially put this in the newbies section, but some readers (read comments below) convinced me to change its cathegory.
Debian Linux Well, I really do not know where Debian should be, to me personally, it fits on all sections, if you install it from the DVD, or from some of its Live Debian CDs, you may have something like Ubuntu, or you can use the netinst and end up with something like Gentoo or Arch Linux, and from there fully customize your Debian.
The distributions on this sections are not aimed for the newcomer, but you certainly does not need to be a Linux geek in order to install and use them.
Slackware Well maybe some slackers will say Slackware is not for advanced users, and that is partially true, if you install it, out of the box, it has almost anything you need to work, in a Server or Desktop environment, and if what it comes with, is all you need then you are OK, but if you want to install more software, you may be in troubles, if you have not use some command line tools before. I must say that Slackware is one of my favorite distributions, even though I’m really new to it.
Gentoo Now we are really talking about a distribution for advanced users, I’m using Linux for 5 to 6 years in a row now, and when I started with Gentoo, I noticed I know nothing about Linux. Finally I decided to stop using it, it is great, you can tweak almost, well not almost, just everything in your configuration. The problem is that with so much power at your fingers, you may screw things up easily. The community is probable one of the best, and the documentation is definitely the best in the Linux world. If you really have the time and you like Linux a lot, you should be running Gentoo.
Arch Linux This is probably my favorite distribution, I have not decided yet if it is this one, or Slackware or Debian. Let’s say the three of them are. Well talking about Arch Linux, this distribution is based on the KISS principle. It also used the BSD style init scripts, which to me are a lot easier to use than the System V ones.
Linux for Servers
Let’s list here some of the better distributions for servers, once again according to me.
CentOS If you do not mind having old software CentOS is a good server distribution, you can use CentOSPlus, but then you might be loosing one of CentOS strengths which is stability and security.
Slackware I have never used it as Server but the more I use it, the more I notice its stability, and Slackware actually focus on hard rock security and stability. Also very simple and easy to admin, it is great for the Server field.
Debian Well maybe the best Server distribution, as I said before, I do not like the system V init scripts. Also I do not like too much how it tweaks the configurations files, which are not standards but it is a great distribution to use as server. It has a lot of applications, maybe you will not be able to find one server application that is not in its official repositories. Some time ago, Debian backports became officially part of the Debian project, and now are supported by the Debian team. This just gives Debian more power as a Server distribution.
I know a lot of people use Ubuntu as server and Ubuntu has its Long Term Support (LTS) release, aimed to be used as server, but I have never used, I think “if I have Debian, why use Ubuntu?”.
I must say, that I have also used Arch Linux as server, and taking care when you upgrade it, it works great!. I like a lot the possibility to have the last versions of software available, without the need to compile by hand. I do not recommend anyway this for newbies or if you do not have the option to full backup your server before making any change to it. I make a full backup make a change, and if something goes wrong I can go immediately back to the previous stage. Special Mentions
A lot of readers are mentioning OpenSuse, so I decided to put it here in a special section, I may add some others here, which I have not used, but according to the others the deserve a place here
OpenSuse From Wikipedia:
openSUSE (pronounced /ˌoʊpənˈsuːzə/) is a general purpose operating system built on top of the Linux kernel, developed by the community-supported openSUSE Project and sponsored by Novell. After acquiring SUSE Linux in January 2004, Novell decided to release the SUSE Linux Professional product as a 100% open source project, involving the community in the development process
This may be classified in both, newbies and Intermediate users, as it seems (according to its users) to be very user friendly
I know that writing this kind of personal articles, I can make a lot of people mad at me, please do not get mad at me, this is just my personal point of view.
But, at the same time, express your own thoughts and what you think about this topic and this Linux distributions, and feel free to list any one I have not listed, and let the rest know why you use it and what for.