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Linux explaination

We have folks popping up all over the organization I work for using some odd flavor of UNIX and Linux.  I understand Linux is free and have just found a chart here which outlines each version of UNIX.  I see that the latest free version is Linux v2.6.27 this year.

I wish to prove the concept that I can manage all these stand-alone pop-ups by first conforming to a single standard or two and then, virtualizing that or those standards.  I am NOT new the the world of virtualization when it comes to Windows.  I have been involved with VMWare products for years and have recently become sold on the line of products from Parallels.  This company (formerly swsoft) is the first to have resolved the issue of "OS redundancy".  They have done this for Windows with a commercial product they developed called Virtuozzo Containers for Windows, but I understand they started with Linux in a free product called OpenVZ which they still support.  My plan is to use OpenVZ to support our end-user Linux environment.  

I am not clear on where to start and am brand new to the Unix and Linux world.  I have taken two classes with HP on the HP-UX system and that is the extent of my knowledge thus far.   So in going to download this latest Linux v2.6.27, I ran into serious trouble understanding the basic terminology.  Apparently Linux v2.6.27 is just the kernal on which the "other stuff" (see my problem here) is built.  

Can someone fill me in on the basics of how this new world fits together?  Also, any specific suggestions on which downloads to start with would be helpful as well.
1 Solution
The term Linux is commonly misunderstood to mean the entire operating system that people install on their computer, when as you've rightly discovered, it refers to the kernel and essential core components.

The actual Linux OS you install is called a distribution.  There are many, many Linux distributions which is made up of the Linux core, then bundled with all the other stuff that makes it usable, eg: windows system, admin tools, etc etc.

To get an idea of the various distros, have a look at

Some of the most common/popular Linux distributions are:

A good server distro is Red Hat ( Red Hat Enterprise Linux is not free.  You will ahve to purchase a subscription from Red Hat for support. If you are setting up enterprise servers with mission critical applications, that's probably the route you want to go. You will get a stable Linux distribution with support from Red Hat to help you along the way.  CentOS ( is a free mirror of Red Hat.  CentOS can be download and installed for free. However, you get no support other than the community discussion based support.  If you were experienced Linux guru that can support the system well by yourself and you are not putting mission critical application on top of it,  CentOS is not a bad choice. Being free mirror of Red Hat, you can definitely learn on CentOS and then use Red Hat for the mission critical stuff.  Both distros are very well documented.
The company Red Hat that produces and supports Red Hat Enterprise LInux also is quite involved in developing another distribution - Fedora. Fedora is not supported by Red Hat.  Fedora, just like CentOS, is supported by the community forums.  Unlike Red Hat/CentOS, Fedora is released frequently - every 6 months. THis quick release cycle is sometimes not appropriate for servers.  Also Fedora incorporates bleeding edge open source software. Sometimes this bleeding edge code is not as stable as server environments require.
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You can undoubtably get immense amounts of Linux info here and from other sources. Most ditributions have quite comprehensive support systems on their web sites, or pointers to other very helpful sites.

What I can't QUITE understand is why you want to get virtualization into the picture. That's just one more layer that can give you trouble, isn't it? With the cost of the software and the time spent tweaking it to suit your various needs, it may actually be more economic to run one or more Linux installations, clean, on dedicated hardware. Multiboot systems are not impossible and may give you better feel for hardware issues and such.
Here's my take on the distributions:  

Ubuntu  : easy install, wide community for support, no commercial support.    I feel like this OS is for the home user, enterprise applications on this platform is possible, but you may have a ton of vendor resistance when it comes to enterprise application support.

Redhat:  Fairly easy installation, wide community support, commercial support needed for updates.  This is the vendor of choice for most enterprise applications (I'm specifically thinking EDA tools).  

Centos:  A "like" installation of Redhat, they try to mirror the SW revisions of redhat.  Obviously, some of the administrations scripts that aren't public domain are not the same, but the distro is as close as it can get.  

Once you've become partially famliar with an Linux as a user, and want to learn a great deal more about the internal workings I suggest one of the roll your own linuxes.    I've used Gentoo before, and i've seen Linux from scratch.   I think I learned more about the linux system from Gentoo then I did by using a distro.   I also feel that Gentoo is not a enterprise platform for a large number of users.   It has potential for creating needed man hours to correct code issues when there is an update to gcc, glibc. perl mods, perl, etc.   I've seen and read about gentoo being a great platform for web servers, ftp servers, and backend machines (where the admin is the primary user/s and the rest of the world uses the service it provides.).   I'd personally be a concerned about general population use.

If the user is intending to virtualize the linux installation, I would definitely recommend staying with one of the mainstream distros with commercial support - e.g. Red Hat  / SuSE .  Red Hat definitely has probably the largest commercial installation base and is supported by almost all application software vendors.  The software vendor for the virtualization layer will probably have binary packages that are compatible with Red Hat. For example, VMWare provides VMware-Tools for Red  Hat. I have not used SWSoft VIrtuozzo, however, I am sure it requires some kind of installation for it.  

Stick with the mainstream commercially supported distros and you will save yourself a ton of headaches and many sleepless hours.
Go with RedHat Enterprise Linux if you want a commercially supported system.  CentOS is the publicly supported version of RedHat Enterprise Linux.  Fedora is the development version for RedHat releases, and tends to have newer functionality and be more cutting edge, while not quite as stable.

Ubuntu is somewhat more user-friendly than the RedHat/CentOS/Fedora line.  It's somewhat less a production OS, but is fully functional and popular.

It's easy to create VMs with pre-installed versions of any of these Linux systems.  To make it easy to administer multiple systems, you might want to create a local repository for updates using yum for RedHat/CentOS/Fedora or apt for Ubuntu.  
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