At my last, best count, there were over 550 individual Linux distributions. From the most generic, flat installs of the most common distros to ultra-specialized, multimedia-oriented to the eye-popping, fancy ones--they're all there for the taking. I found ten distributions from among the 500 or so that I know about to spotlight these for some special feature or set of features that will dazzle you or entice you to try them for yourself. Read on and get ready to download.
One word of caution: Some of these distributions are so clever and cool that, once you begin working with them, you just might lose track of time and forget what you're supposed to be doing.
In alphabetical order, my favorite ten special Linux distributions are:
1. 64 Studio - Ah, 64 Studio, based on Debian/Ubuntu, is one fine piece of work. This is one distro that you could lose a lot of sleep to--especially if you're the creative type. I'm so much of a multimedia wannabe that I burned almost ten straight hours just checking out everything and making a total multimedia fool of myself--I'll spare you the disgusting details of my romp. I discovered one thing very quickly: I'm not smart enough to be productive with 64 Studio. If you're a multimedia mogul, proceed happily with this one. It comes with 2D/3D graphics programs, animation software, publishing, web design, audio production, video editing and some stuff that I know so little about that you'll have to discover it for yourself. Get this one but beware--I think that once you start working with it, you enter a dark 4th dimension where time seems not to exist.
2. ArtistX - Another time vacuum for those of us who aspire to artistic greatness. ArtistX sports almost every available free multimedia software program and suite in existence. Chances are that if it isn't in ArtistX, you might not need or want it. Like 64 Studio, it has way too much software to list but if you're a multimedia professional or want to be one, ArtistX will take you there and back. Between 64 Studio and ArtistX, I'd need two high-end computers, four monitors and lots and lots of time. And perhaps a vacation.
3. AsteriskNOW - Leaving the multimedia realm, I discovered AsteriskNOW while attempting to create my own voicemail, fax server, VOIP gateway system. The software installs easily, as advertised, and almost everything worked without a hitch. I think the main problem I had was that I had purchased my board on an auction site and the hardware might have been less than perfect. My suggestion is that, if you're serious about an Asterisk solution, purchase a supported board from the source: Digium. I've seen Asterisk in action and it's impressive. For the cost of the board, a computer and a few hours of time, you can have a communications solution worth thousands.
4. LiveKiosk - If you need a web-based kiosk, then this little gem is just what you need. You use it as a live CD or a flash-drive kiosk. The only drawback that I can find is that its wireless connectivity is limited in that it doesn't support WEP or WPA security. The CD image is small (~140MB) and is ready to boot and serve.
5. LinuxMCE - This is the coolest thing since sliced bread and sliced bread is the bomb. LinuxMCE is a smart home solution with the following features/controls: Lighting, climate, media, security and telecom (using Asterisk). LinuxMCE is so advanced, I'm surprised that home builders aren't including it in their multimedia home options. It does everything except make breakfast and I'm sure that someone is working on a module for that.
6. Puppy Linux - So many of you, my faithful readers, use Puppy Linux, I have to include it here. Puppy is cool because it is small, fast and easy--besides actual puppy breath, what more could you ask for? You don't even have to install it, since it works from a bootable CD or USB drive--take it anywhere with you. At just over 100MB, it's a cheap computer on a flash drive. If you want a full-blown OpenOffice.org installation, you'd better opt for a 512MB (or larger) flash drive. Puppy Linux is good stuff. I hope someone is working on a "fetch my slippers" module and puppy breath extensions would be awesome too.
7. SuperGamer - And now for a real time-wasting experience, I'd like for you to meet SuperGamer; a live DVD with games that are either native to or optimized for Linux. I wasted...ummm, productively spent one whole day of my much needed vacation playing with this one. I had to hide the DVD and website from my wife who really hates any computer game other than solitaire. Boot with caution and have eyedrops nearby.
8. Tempest Showroom - This one wins the prize for "Totally Worthless Linux Distribution." This live CD makes your computer monitor send out radio signals that you can pick up on a radio. Have fun but don't tell anyone. I've included it here just so you can receive the same sense of joy I did when I heard Beethoven's Fuer Elise played by my monitor.
9. Zenwalk - A real Slackware-based distribution that delivers a fast, sleek, full-featured distro with everything you need for productivity and software development. There are five editions of Zenwalk, find one for yourself: Standard Edition - XFCE plus all the goodies mentioned above, Core Edition - No GUI but a ready-to-create server system, Live Edition is the Standard Edition on a bootable CD image, the Gnome Edition contains everything you'd expect plus Gnome and there is a special ZenEdu Live Special Edition designed with school-aged kids in mind.
10. Zeroshell - This Linux distribution provides you with a complete network management system. It acts as a router/bridge, firewall, http proxy server, load balancer, VPN Server, RADIUS Server, LDAP Server, DNS Server and more. The new versions (1.0+) will also have SMTP and IMAP services. You can install it, run it from the bootable CD or install it on a flash drive. This is one of the most complete solutions I've ever seen for providing comprehensive network services and security.
Have you used any of the distributions mentioned in this post? If so, write back and tell us how they worked for you. If you know of good alternatives to any of them, let us know about them and your experiences.