Linux has more flavors than (Mountain Dew + Gatorade)*Baskin Robbins. Of course, some of those distributions are far more valuable than others. But besides the Ubuntus, Fedoras, Linux Mints, PCLinuxOSes, and OpenSuSEs, which versions are actually worth your time? Believe it or not, worthy Linux distributions are not limited to the big guns. There are plenty of obscure distributions worth looking at. Here are a few lesser-known Linux distributions that could have a positive effect on your life in one way or another.
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1: Damn Vulnerable Linux
Damn Vulnerable Linux is exactly what it sounds like. According to the Web site, "Damn Vulnerable Linux (DVL) is everything a good Linux distribution isn't. Its developers have spent hours stuffing it with broken, ill-configured, outdated, and exploitable software that makes it vulnerable to attacks." What value would such a distribution hold? Training. The idea behind this distribution is to train Linux admins. And what better way to train someone than to hand them a broken distribution to fix? With older/broken versions of Apache, MySQL, PHP, FTP, and SSH, your admins in training will have their hands full.
2: CAINE Linux
CAINE Linux might be one of the niftiest of the niche Linux distributions. CAINE stands for Computer Aided INvestigative Environment. Basically, it's CIS Linux designed for digital forensics. CAINE includes TheSleuthKit, Autopsy Forensic Browser, steganography tools, and plenty of tools for wiping hard drives. This distribution also includes a semi-automated tool for the compilation of the final report on a digital forensics investigation.
Zeroshell is an interesting Linux distribution aimed at embedded systems -- specifically, networking hardware. It's administrated through a Web interface and can provide all networking services required for a LAN. With Zeroshell, you can set up Failover, RADIUS, Captive Portal, Quality of Service management, HTTP Proxy, Wireless Access Point, Host-to-LAN VPN, LAN-to-LAN VPN, Routing with Static or Dynamic IP Addressing, and much more.
4: Parted Magic
Parted Magic is similar to the Gparted Live CD, only it adds a few more tools (such as Clonezille, TestDisk, Partimage, Trucrypt, G4L, SuperGrubDisk, and ddrescue). This type of tool is ideal for managing partitions as well as troubleshooting drives and various issues. This particular Linux distribution works on x86 hardware and requires 256MB of RAM to operate in. Parted Magic can work with the following partition types: ext2, ext3, ext4, fat16, fat32, hfs, hfs+, jfs, linux-swap, ntfs, reiserfs, reiser4, and xfs.
5: Tiny Core
Tiny Core is exactly what the name implies. It's a tiny Linux distribution, coming in at under 10 MB (with a GUI included). But don't think Tiny Core is limited to tiny tasks. Once it's installed, you can begin adding the applications you need. But by default, you will have a minimal X desktop with networking. Tiny Core is based on Tiny X, Busybox, Fltk, and the 2.6 kernel.
CAELinux focuses on computer aided engineering. It's based on open source titles like Salome, Code_Aster, and OpenFOAM. CAELinux is an Ubuntu-based distribution that can simulate physics involving nonlinear thermo-mechanics, coupled fluid-structure dynamics, seismic/nonlinear explicit dynamics, contacts, visco-plasticity, fluid dynamics, heat exchange, convection heat transfer and radiation, and electro dynamics. This distribution offers a wiki with plenty of documentation for each application.
Musix is a Knoppix-Debian distribution aimed at artistic and educational uses in the field of music. It's a live CD, so it can be run without installation. The two applications that draw the most attention on this distribution are Rosegarden and Ardour. Between these two applications, you will have everything you need for music composition and recording. You will also find tools like Inkscape, Blender for 3D animation, and Cinelerra for video editing.
SLAMPP is a slackware-based Live distribution that is truly a one-stop-shop for system server needs. With this distribution running, you are ready with HTTP, FTP, DHCP, DNS, and many more servers. And this can all be achieved without even installing the distribution! That's right. By using a live DVD, you can have all of those servers up and running in no time. SLAMPP is the "instant home server" distribution.
9: Ubuntu Christian Edition
Ubuntu Christian Edition is, as its name implies, an Ubuntu-based Linux distribution geared toward the Christian faith. This distribution includes a plethora of faith-based software (such as Xiphos, OpenSong, and E-Sword, along with tools for parental controls.
10: Ubuntu Satanic Edition
From its name, you might think Ubuntu Satanic Edition is a converse distribution to Ubuntu Christian Edition. It's not. According to the Web site, USE "brings together the best free software and free metal music on one CD." The "Undead CD" is based on Ubuntu 10.04 and includes all the standard software, along with a mélange of typically dark, heavy metal-esque themes, as well as a full 50-minute album of the best Creative Commons-licensed metal music. What else does USE offer that standard Ubuntu doesn't? Nothing more than some serious attitude that will ensure your fellow workers know who rocks harder!
If you know Linux, you know there are thousands of distributions out there. The list goes on, and it continues to grow every day. Have you come across an obscure Linux distribution that offers either much-needed functionality or something cool to see or try? If so, share with your fellow TechRepublic members.
Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and Linux.com. He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website getjackd.net.