Linux Distributions Compared

Been considering installing or re-installing Linux on a PC? Confused by the wide range of distributions available? This article may not solve all your woes, but it should at least put you on the right track.
Craftworks Linux 2.0

This relative newcomer SoftCraft Linux, by SolutionS R Us) has relatively few packages, each of which contains many files. Craftworks Linux comes with a boot floppy, a CD-ROM, and a manual.

We ran up against one bit of confusion right away: as soon as we booted from the provided floppy, an unclear copyright message was presented that seemed to appropriate title to Linux and seemed to attempt to legally restrict the user from installing the product on more than one machine.

Following our own advice, we contacted Craftworks and asked their intention. They confirmed that their intention was only to protect their own proprietary software included with the distribution, and that they allow users to install the product on as many systems as they wish. They do claim compilation copyright on the CD-ROM and the floppy, which means that they restrict the user from making any verbatim copies of either the CD-ROM or the floppy except for backup purposes. However, they in no way intend to restrict re-distribution of any included free software, and they promised to resolve the issue by making their copyright licensing terms and notices much clearer in future versions of the product.

The installation was fairly simple; Craftworks provides three pre-selected sets of packages to install (other packages can be installed separately after the base installation has been completed). This makes it quite simple to install a simple but usable Linux system fairly quickly.

While Softcraft claims compliance with the Linux File System Standard (the “FSSTND”), the default locations that come with many free software packages have been accepted, and so they expressly violate the FSSTND by installing several packages in the /usr/local hierarchy. They don't include documentation (at least in the manual) on how and where they deviate from the FSSTND, either. However, most of the base system does appear to follow the FSSTND.

A Softcraft system with extra packages (more than the base system) installed feels something like a SunOS system with an active system administrator. Plenty of files are in /usr/local (including Emacs), and other files are tucked away in other various corners; for example, Postgres95 is in the /usr/local/postgres95/ directory. Softcraft responds that they do this so that users familiar with commercial versions of Unix will feel comfortable.

The X configuration was very simple—there were only two questions to answer (type of mouse and type of video board). However, this provides a 640x480 pixel X configuration; to get any better resolution, the user is instructed to edit the /etc/XF86Config file by hand.

Craftworks' home page is at

Linux Universe

Linux Universe is a book with simple installation and configuration instructions and a small reference, which includes a CD with a Linux distribution on it. It's translated from German, and the distribution on it is also apparently translated from German, since some of the comments in the scripts are still in German.

While it is completely ELF-based, the version available at the time of testing used the version 4 ELF library, not the new version 5 ELF libraries used by all the other ELF-based distributions. When Linux Universe was produced, the version 5 libraries were still in alpha testing and not ready for release. However, we have been assured that the new version, which should be available in stores by the time you read this, will have the version 5 ELF libraries. If you wish to run Linux binaries other than those included with the system, make sure you get the newer version.

Also unlike any of the other Linux distributions here, it doesn't include LILO. Instead, it provides a full-screen boot manager somewhat like OS/2's boot manager, which is easy to configure and is able to read ext2fs file systems—so it is able to boot any kernel on an ext2fs file system, not just ones that have been specially configured, as with LILO. However, the full-screen loader is itself loaded by a very simple loader that can be confusing to the new user. It requires you to remember which partitions of which drives hold the operating systems you want to boot.

Linux Universe is intended to be a companion to Linux—Unleashing the Workstation in your PC, by the same authors, and you can purchase Linux Universe alone or in a kit with its companion volume. If you are not already familiar with Linux (or at least Unix), you will want to purchase the whole kit, not just Linux Universe.

Linux Universe is designed (like Yggdrasil) to be run with the system CD in the drive, so that even packages that are not installed on the hard drive can still be run. Linux Universe adds technology which causes files accessed on the CD to be automatically copied to the hard drive for future access. The same design is used to install and run it from an NFS server.

The graphical configuration utility is simple to use and seems to work well. It works quickly and intelligently. When filling out the networking configuration, for example, it guesses most of the information once you type in the IP address.

You can find Linux Universe on the Web at