The best Linux distros you've never heard of

Discover a new breed of distros for 2011

Want it your way? These distros are flexible.

Yoper Linux

Yoper linux

If customisation is what you crave, then Yoper is the distro you should go for. The name is even a shortened form of Your Operating System.

Spec-wise, the distro is optimised for PCs with i686 processor types or higher. Yoper isn't based on another Linux distribution. Instead, the binaries it includes have been built from scratch. What's more, its goal is to be the fastest out-of-the-box distro around.

Yoper's package manager, Smart, is custom-written for inclusion here. You'll also find various copies of the same software, each optimised for a particular hardware setup. For starters, try one of the streamlined kernels to go with your hardware.

Yoper is distributed as a live CD, which gives you the option of running the installer without booting into the distro. Inside, it's got a clean KDE install with no desktop icons. Yoper includes a pre-release of Firefox 3.6 called Namaroka that's equipped with plugins for Java, RealPlayer, QuickTime and Windows Media Player.

You won't find tons of apps here, though – Yoper's clearly aimed at experts who wish to build their own distro. It's got the Kleopatra certificate manager – which can sign, encrypt and decrypt, and verify files – as well as development tools such as the Qt 4 interface designer, and the KDE Template Generator.

Crux

Crux

This one is for the old-timers out there. Crux is a minimal distro that's optimised for i686 machines, but it's got everything you'd want in modern Linux, including a dependency-resolving package manager. The overall philosophy here is "keep it simple", reflected in the package system choices, init scripts and the streamlined tool collection, but this isn't for newbies.

The reason you'll need hardwon experience is that Crux puts you in charge. By that, we don't just mean partitioning your disks manually or creating users and groups, but also compiling your own kernel. As a result, Crux is all about being hands-on.

It has an Ncurses-based setup, which you have to initiate manually after creating and mounting the installation and swap partitions. Once the packages have been transferred to your partition, you'll have to compile your own kernel and edit the boot loader to boot into your newly installed system.

For package management, the distro relies on the dependency-resolving Prt-get package manager. But where's the fun in that? Build your own packages using the Pkgmk utility, which relies on the Crux ports system.

If you get lost, don't sweat. The Crux project has extensive documentation on its wiki, including a detailed handbook, and lots of support options.

SYS Linux

SYS linux

Not to be confused with the popular bootloader, this is a distro that's stuffed fuller than a teddy bear at an eight-course meal. Sure, it's easy to red-flag SYS Linux as a flop, since its website is an FTP mirror and the only documentation to speak of is its Wikipedia page. Yet it's probably got the most comprehensive set of open source tools and utilities you'll ever find.

That's because SYS uses the LZMA compression algorithm to cram about 18GB worth of apps onto a single DVD.

SYS is targeted at the relatively inexperienced computer user. The installer searches for a partition with 18GB of space, automatically formats it, and installs the packages without any user intervention. You don't even get the option to create a user.

Due to its size, SYS requires CPUs with the PAE extension. Since it doesn't let you choose a language, you'll have to use your best guesswork to navigate to the KDE Control Centre in Portuguese to switch to English.

It's pointless to try to list SYS's many apps in the limited space here, but note that you'll really only need the package manager to uninstall apps you won't use. Package management is taken care of by a mix of Pkgtools, Gslapt and Kpackage.

Despite its application wowfactor, this distro could use some polish. A good start would be cleaning up the plethora of icons spread across its desktop. A menu redesign to segregate popular apps from lesser-used ones would be welcome too, and we're not really sure we need multiple control panels either.