Debian and Ubuntu
I've grouped these two together since Ubuntu is based on Debian and both are popular choices with Linux administrators and experienced users. As you might expect, Debian isn't built with novices in mind, although it's not so advanced as to make it impossible for new Linux users to work with. Debian, as with most Linux flavors, includes a default desktop, which Windows users might know as its graphical user interface (GUI). With Debian, the default desktop environment is GNOME. Another popular desktop is KDE. The difference between GNOME and KDE and the Windows GUI is that GNOME and KDE are suites of software that not only provide a look and feel for your operating system, but also give you applications such as e-mail, file management and Web browsing software, to name just a few. Debian is developed with stability in mind; therefore it doesn't include the latest versions of the Linux kernel, GNOME, and other software. If you want a stable platform that you could potentially use for a server in addition to a desktop OS, and you're experienced enough with computers and operating systems, Debian could be a good choice for you. With over 15,000 packages available and a broad-installed user base, plus great community support, Debian has a lot to offer.
Figure 1 Debian Linux with the default GNOME desktop
Another strong advantage of Debian is its APT package manager. With Linux, software is usually provided as "packages" (called DEBs in this case), with some packages depending on other packages for proper functionality. The beauty of the APT system is that your operating system knows what's available, what's installed, and what it needs to install so that everything works properly. With APT, all of the dependencies are taken care of for you, and you don't have to worry about installing extra software just to get the software you wanted to install in the first place to work. Debian installs with an application called Synaptic that provides a graphical version of the APT installer. The system has proven so popular that it's been made available for other distributions besides Debian, and it certainly makes using Linux easier for new users.
Figure 2 Updating packages with Synaptic
Ubuntu is slightly easier to install and use than Debian, and is updated every six months, so if you want the latest and greatest software, Ubuntu is probably a better choice. Like Debian, Ubuntu uses Synaptic and APT for installing software and package updates. It also installs GNOME as the default desktop environment and offers KDE as an alternative. Both use the Evolution e-mail client, which should be very familiar to Microsoft Outlook users. But Linux is all about choice, so you can just as easily choose another mail client from Synaptic to better suit your needs. Most distros ship with the Mozilla or Mozilla Firefox browser. For Debian it's Mozilla while Ubuntu installs Firefox by default. KDE and GNOME also have their own browsers; Konqueror for KDE and Epiphany (also based on Mozilla) for GNOME. All distributions discussed here come standard with the OpenOffice suite, which includes open source versions of a word processor, spreadsheet application, presentation software and other tools similar to what ships with Microsoft Office. These factors can make it difficult to choose a clear cut winner for ultimate desktop champion, but read on to see what else is available and what I chose and why. For example, both Debian and Ubuntu are free of charge, with Ubuntu even being offered as a free CD, shipping included. Ubuntu boasts over 16,000 pieces of software available and support options include both free community support and paid commercial support.
Figure 3 Ubuntu Linux