It is possible to compare Linux distributions against each other. For example, a battle between ArchLinux and Debian makes sense. Before doing so, it is important to classify the candidates into two groups: distributions for education purpose and distributions for production environment. In the category education the following distributions are part of it:
– Linux from Scratch
– Damn Small Linux
– Debian, Ubuntu
In the category production / workplace the following items can be part of it:
– RHEL, Fedora
I think it makes no sense, to compare distributions from different groups, for example RHEL vs. Linux from scratch. It is only possible to compare distributions from the same group. Let us investigate the teaching distributions in detail. The Linux from scratch project is a very good example. It contains primarily a guideline, the LFS book, which is translated to German, Chinese and Russian. If somebody is interested in understanding not only the Linux kernel itself, but also the distribution around it, the LFS book will be his friend.
Another example for a good teaching distribution is ArchLinux. The main contribution is a package manager called pacman, which is heavily documented in a wiki https://wiki.archlinux.org/index.php/pacman The other projects on the list are Gentoo and Ubuntu, which are also well documented and for every user who is interested in learning Linux it is a must have to take a short look into the manuals.
Can one of the education Linux distributions be used as a productive machine? The answer is simple: No! LFS, Ubuntu and Gentoo were designed as a manual-only distribution. It makes sense, to read the wiki, testing out the distribution in a virtual machine, and trying out to compile a package for its own. For example, in ArchLinux with pacman it is easy to compile to whole Linux kernel from sourcecode into a binary file which can be booted.
But, using any of the teaching distribution as a real server is ridiculous. The reason is simple: a Linux distribution must be updated regularly. ArchLinux, LFS or Debian do not provide any update functionality. And if they are doing so, it will break the system. That means, after updating the system it is possible, that the machine no longer boots. For educational purposes that is no problem, because the operating system is run entirely in a virtual machine and fixing problems is part of the lesson. But for a reallife-server / -workstation it is not an option.
I think, it is the same problem like in the Minix vs Linux debate. Minix is a wonderful operating system for teaching students what UNIX is, and how they can program their operating system from scratch. Minix is for that purpose superior to Linux. On the other hand, Minix is a bad choice, if somebody needs a LAMP-like server as a backbone for his infrastructure.
In the category of Linux distribution for productive usage only 2 are in: RHEL and Suse. Nowadays, Suse Linux is no longer important. The company was bought by Novel and they have the same package system like Red Hat, the RPM format. So in reality, only one Linux distribution for productive usage is out there: RHEL. The current version has the subtitle RHEL 7.5 and it can be used for productive server and workstations. The disadvantage of RHEL is, that the user can’t learn anything from it. They have no outstanding wiki or book online which explains, what a Linux distribution is, and how the user can build it from scratch. What Red Hat has instead is an online shop, where the user can type in his creditcard number. On the other hand, the RHEL distribution is very stable, that means the server can be used for mission critical applications.
The main problems are happing if the Linux distribution is used for the wrong purpose. For example, if someone wants to install Linux from scratch in a company for driving the webserver. From a technical point of view, it is possible, the server will run. But after a while some major problems will occur, which can’t be fixed. The problem is not LFS itself, the distribution is fine. But it wasn’t made for such purpose.
A different kind of problems takes place, if someone will teach Linux in a class and uses RHEL as demonstration how to build a distribution from scratch. The students won’t understand it. Because RHEL is too advanced, it has too many packages, and behind the distribution itself is a company which has a certain strategy and customers. Instead of using RHEL for teaching, i would recommend Minix-VMD and Knoppix.
In my opinion, Linux from scratch, Debian and ArchLinux will have a great future. In the niche of a teaching distribution they are wonderful projects. In a recent comparison LFS was described as follows:
“This is no doubt a large undertaking. LFS isn’t entirely feasible as a production system, it’s more of an educational adventure.” https://fossbytes.com/building-your-linux-system-from-the-ground-up/
The same is true for ArchLinux or Gentoo. The open question is, if it’s possible to use Linux apart from a teaching experience for more. For example as a real server. The problem is, that LFS and Gentoo are not suited for that purpose. It is not possible to develop the projects into production usage. The projects would lost their identity. It would destroy the idea. In my opinion, it is better to create a dedicated production distribution. That means a distribution without any philosophy or documentation, but with working packages which are distributed in binary format. The funny thing is, that nobody has to decide for one of these purposes. It is able to use RHEL for running a PC, and Linux from scratch for learning about it. And perhaps this can be called a best-practice method. If new users are installing first Fedora on their machines, and inside the qemu virtual machine, they are playing with LFS and Ubuntu for improving their knowledge.