What is a distro?
A distro (abbreviation for distribution) is a copy* of MacOS X that has been conveniently modified to ease the installation process on non-Apple machines, i.e., it comes with a mechanism capable of booting the installation DVD on generic PCs (bootloader) and additional drivers (kexts) pre-configured to enlarge the number of hardware components correctly recognized by Mac OS X.
Retail installs VS Distro installs:
With Retail installs you bought a copy of OS X from Apple, and during and after the install you know what patches you've installed. One becomes quite educated in this process, enabling you to fix your computer if things go wrong, or even help others out. This provides the most secure type of installation and will have more Mac-like qualities about it. You can also use Apple's updates without fear.**
Myth-buster: retail installs are not harder than distros. They are of equal difficulty, simply retail installs take a little bit more effort/research before installing, which isn't that bad. On the same note, distros require the same effort, but it is after installing rather than before. With retail, the end result is much more pleasing.
With a distro, however, it can be easier to install, as it contains a wide amount of fixes to just work. However, many times it (or you, in naïveté) will install too many patches and make the system slow or unbootable or unreliable or any combination of the above. Though it is pleasing to think that it will work out-of-the-box, remember that if you use a distro you will need to research which drivers you need so that you do not break your installation.
Myth-buster: if you have an AMD CPU, distros are not your only option. There are many kernels and drivers available that make it possible to install retail on AMD (e.g. OSx86 ModCD, a boot CD for almost any computer for Snow Leopard). So don't default to a distro if you have an AMD CPU; there are retail options for you, too.
Overall, we recommend a retail install for all the advantages it has, but in the end it's your choice.
*Legal status of distributions: I am not a lawyer, but my opinion is that if you already own OS X, using a distribution is not really piracy, you are using a modified version of what you already own. When you use various tools to install retail, it is exactly the same thing.
If you don't own OS X, then using a distro is definitely illegal. Consequently, downloading a so-called "retail image" is also illegal and in the same class as distros.
**This is a little different if you are running an AMD system, as with OS updates (e.g. 10.6.3 to 10.6.8) will require updates to other software required by AMDs as well, including but not limited to the kernel. Research what you will need to update when you update the OS on AMD.
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