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There are many Open Source distributions, running on different kinds of hardware, in many languages, not all based on Linux. Many are supplied as a bootable DVD or CD ISO image, and need to be downloaded from internet sites and burned to disc intact, and without any modification. They should be downloaded as binary files, not text files which are likely to be modified by an operating system.
Once burned to disc, documentation may be included on the CD or DVD in a format that can be opened and read by any operating system without actually booting from the disc.
All are developing rapidly, and facilities which prove popular can soon appear in other distributions. Check frequently for any security upgrades.
If you prefer to see a demo version of a Linux distribution without writing to your hard disc, I suggest you obtain a copy of one of the "live CDs" such as Knoppix, which runs from a bootable CD. It has security settings suitable for a normal user, but with some documentation about administration options available.
Knoppix: Designed to run direct from a bootable CD or DVD, it is an excellent demonstration of some Free Open Source Software and a very useful selection of tools and facilities, documents on disc, see http://www.knoppix.net/ and also my additional knoppix-hints. Knoppix is compiled by Klaus Knopper, who has a wife who is blind, so he also compiles a special CD for blind users, named after his wife Adriane.
Debian: A Large choice of stable tried-and-tested Open Source Software for a wide range of hardware, in many human languages, much more under test, designed to be easy to install, maintain, and update as later versions are released. http://www.debian.org/
Debian Edu, (Skolelinux) the Debian Education distribution is designed to work out of the box, targeted at schools and other educational institutions, with quick and easy administration and a selection of software, http://www.skolelinux.org
Ubuntu: Mark Shuttleworth earned a large fortune using Free Open Source Software and decided to fund a distribution that is simple to install and simple to use, with new versions issued at very regular intervals. It has become very popular, with desktop and server versions. It may not have the same range of software available in Debian, but some developers are working on both the Debian and Ubuntu projects so there are similarities between the projects, although there are differences in the fine details and parts are not immediately interchangeable. http://www.ubuntu.com
Slackware is popular as a system that you build from basics, with just the software that you wish to include. You should know everything about all the software you include by the time you finish. http://www.slackware.com
RedHat and SuSE are commercial organisations that sell simple installation procedures for a bleeding edge Open Source Software system, plus some help if required with initial installation and use. They do finance some development, and can provide other commercial services. Other distributions such as CentOS are available with similar aims, partly based on RedHat or SuSE.
Both RedHat and SuSE have now separated "Enterprise" versions for commercial use, with commercial backup over a number of years, from their free up-to-the-minute distributions which carry all the latest software versions and can then be used for initial bug testing. This could be compared with the stable, testing, and unstable versions of Debian.
IPFire is a dedicated firewall distribution using moderate hardware and the Linux kernel, currently IPv4 only https://www.ipfire.org
OPNsense is an IPv4 and IPv6 capable firewall system based on FreeBSD https://www.opnsense.org
Linux Terminal Server Project (useful for schools, internet cafes, etc) http://www.ltsp.org
Puppy Linux is another bootable live Linux http://www.puppylinux.org/home
dyne:bolic is a live bootable multi-media distribution which provides automatic hardware detection and configuration http://www.dynebolic.org/
A special distribution aimed at children aged 2 to 12 years, based on Debian, http://www.doudoulinux.org
The Raspbian operating system for the RaspberryPi is also based on Debian, available from http://www.raspberrypi.org
FreeNAS is an easily configured Network Attached Storage system based on BSD http://www.freenas.org
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