For some people Linux is merely an operating system, an inexpensive alternative to Windows or Mac. For me and many others Linux represents a path – ‘Linux-do’ as the Japanese would probably put it (Bushido or Bushi-do – ‘the way of the warrior’). My main goal when using various distributions was always broadening my understanding of mechanics underlying operating systems – how the kernel software lets the user communicate with hardware, how to compile software, etc. Due to its intrinsic flexibility, Linux offers quite a lot.
Disciples of ‘Linux-do’ such as I typically follow a stepwise progression towards enlightenment – becoming one with the operating system. Beginners usually start with the more user-friendly distributions, for example Ubuntu, OpenSUSE or Mageia/OpenMandriva Lx. The majority of them are content with that level of understanding, however, many want to know Linux better and continue their exploration (‘distro-hopping’). The next step is often Debian – the predecessor of Ubuntu. Many aspects of Ubuntu were already present in its ‘father’, hence the advancement is rather smooth. I believe Debian is so powerful and flexible that it is very much worth to use it for longer. Especially, because it allows for quite minimalistic setups. The almost final destination in ‘Linux-do’ is one of the ‘hardcore’ distributions – Gentoo, Slackware, CRUX or Arch Linux. Most of them require half-manual installations (specifically Arch Linux and Gentoo) and rely on or even request compilation of software. I believe Gentoo deserves to be highlighted at this point, due to its immense educational value. As the proverb goes – ‘if you learn Gentoo, you have learned Linux’.
Now, I mentioned the ‘almost final destination’ in the previous paragraph. What is the FINAL destination, then? The answer is of philosophical nature – an educated choice. Simply put, a distribution which we accept to use, fully aware of its advantages (those we utilize to their full potency) and disadvantages (those we accept or amend).