Q. What's a distribution of Linux?
A. Linux is not an operating system, per se. Linux is just the kernel, or core of the entire system. Most of the utilities that work along with the kernel to make up a complete operating system are the GNU utilities. A distribution (distro for short) is merely a collection of a kernel, GNU utilities, and other software, pre-configured to work together, based on the package maintainer's goals, philosophies, etc. Anyone can create a distribution, if so inclined. [LinuxFromScratch http://linuxfromscratch.org] (see below) is exactly that: a roll-your-own distro.
Q. Where can I get one of these distributions?
A. Either by downloading CD images or ISOs and burning them, getting copies from friends, or buying CD sets. Generally, most vendors will allow you to buy CDs or boxed sets from them directly, but a number of folks will sell you CD sets for about the cost of the media and postage. If there's a particular distro you'd like to have, fire off a note to the mailing list- chances are someone's already downloaded it and could burn a copy for you.
If you're a fan of [BitTorrent http://bitconjurer.org/BitTorrent/], you can get relatively fresh torrent links [here http://linux.mybookmarkmanager.com/].
[LinuxISO http://www.linuxiso.org/] is another good resource for downloading.
NOTE: This is just a short list. For more than you ever wanted to know about Linux distributions, see [DistroWatch http://www.distrowatch.com/].
portssystem. Three stages to start from, depending on how
from scratchyou want to get. The end result is a highly optimized system. Very dependent upon installing over the Internet. Using a dialup connection can take days on slow Pentium systems. But, it is a
set it and forget ittype of build.
free(as in libre) software from encumbered software (non-free). Very dependent upon installing over the internet, unless you have a packaged Debian-based distribution on CDs, such as Mepis, Xandros, Lycoris, Libranet, or Lindows.
With Knoppix exploding on the scene, many folks are rolling their own stripped-down Knoppix distros for specialty applications. In a nutshell, LiveCDs are great ways to test hardware compatibility under Linux, as you get a full Linux system, running completely from a CD, with nothing needing to be installed on the machine's hard drive. Some folks are also finding success in introducing new folks to Linux with a LiveCD — just boot and show off
live evalCD for quite some time.
BSD is not Linux, but an operating system that is directly descended from UNIX. There are long-standing religious arguments over whether the BSD license is more
free than the GPL (Linux's license).
[FreeBSD http://freebsd.org] — bleeding-edge, focusing mainly on x86 hardware. Makes an excellent server.
[NetBSD http://netbsd.org] — runs on practically every piece of hardware imaginable.
[OpenBSD http://openbsd.org] — audited extensively for security. Paranoid elitists run OpenBSD.
[BSD router/firewall projects http://www.bsdrouter.org/] — neat site, very useful if you have an old 486 you want to use as a standalone firewall.
[OSX http://www.apple.com/macosx] — Apple's newest OS with a BSD userland and a Mach type kernel.
This section is reserved for user comments on various Linux distros, good, bad or otherwise.