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Linux Distributions (Distros)

Introduction to Linux Distribution

Other operating systems like Microsoft combine each bit of codes internally and release it as a single package. You have to choose from one of the version they offer.

But Linux is different from them. Different parts of Linux are developed by different organizations.

Different parts include kernel, shell utilities, X server, system environment, graphical programs, etc. If you want you can access the codes of all these parts and assemble them yourself. But its not an easy task seeking a lot of time and all the parts has to be assembled correctly in order to work properly.

From here on distribution (also called as distros) comes into the picture. They assemble all these parts for us and give us a compiled operating system of Linux to install and use.

  • A Linux distribution is an OS made through a software collection that contains the Linux kernel and a package management system often.
  • Usually, Linux users obtain their OS by downloading a Linux distribution, available for a range of systems from embedded devices (e.g., OpenWrt) to robust supercomputers (e.g., Rocks Cluster Distribution).
  • A Linux distribution is composed of a Linux kernel, GNU libraries and tools, other software, a window system, documentation, a desktop environment, and a window manager.
  • Almost every added software is open-source and free and becomes available both as in source code and compiled binary form, permitting changes to the actual software.
  • Optionally, Linux distributions add a few proprietary software that might not be available in the source code form, like binary blocks needed for a few device drivers.

History of Linux Distributions

Linus Torvalds integrated the Linux kernel and shared its first version, 0.01, in 1991. Initially, Linux was distributed as only source code, and after that, as a combination of downloadable floppy disk images. Distributions started simplifying the installation procedure as it was complicated, specifically during the growing numbers of available software.

Users admired Linux distributions as replacements to the Microsoft Windows and DOS OSes on proprietary Unix versions, Apple Macintosh Mac OS, and IBM PC compatible systems. Almost every early adopter was familiar with Unix from school or work. They accepted Linux distributions for low cost and the source code availability for all or most of their software.

Linux has become more famous in embedded and server device markets as compared to the desktop market as of 2017. It is utilized on over 50% of web servers.

Trends and types

Linux distributions might be:

  • Non-commercial or commercial
  • Developed for home users, power users, or enterprise users
  • Supported on two or more types of platform or hardware-specific, even to the certification extension via platform vendor
  • Developed for embedded, desktop, or server devices
  • Highly specialized or general purpose toward particular machine functionalities (e.g., computer clusters, network routers, and firewalls)
  • Targeted at particular user groups, e.g., by language internationalization and localization or by including several scientific computing and music production packages
  • Primarily, built for comprehensiveness, portability, usability, or security
    Rolling release or standard release

The Linux distribution diversity is because of the technical, philosophical, and organizational variation among users and vendors. Free software licensing defines that users having sufficient interest and knowledge can customize the existing distributions or create one to match their needs.

Linux Distributions List

There are on an average six hundred Linux distributors providing different features. Here, we'll discuss about some of the popular Linux distros today.

1) Ubuntu

It came into existence in 2004 by Canonical and quickly became popular. Canonical wants Ubuntu to be used as easy graphical Linux desktop without the use of command line. It is the most well known Linux distribution. Ubuntu is a next version of Debian and easy to use for newbies. It comes with a lots of pre-installed apps and easy to use repositories libraries.

Earlier, Ubuntu uses GNOME2 desktop environment but now it has developed its own unity desktop environment. It releases every six months and currently working to expand to run on tablets and smartphones.

2) Linux Mint

Mint is based on Ubuntu and uses its repository software so some packages are common in both.

Earlier it was an alternative of Ubuntu because media codecs and proprietary software are included in mint but was absent in Ubuntu. But now it has its own popularity and it uses cinnamon and mate desktop instead of Ubuntu's unity desktop environment.

3) Debian

Debian has its existence since 1993 and releases its versions much slowly then Ubuntu and mint.

This makes it one of the most stable Linux distributor.

Ubuntu is based on Debian and was founded to improve the core bits of Debian more quickly and make it more user friendly. Every release name of Debian is based on the name of the movie Toy Story.

4) Red Hat Enterprise / CentOS

Red hat is a commercial Linux distributor. There products are red hat enterprise Linux (RHEL) and Fedora which are freely available. RHEL is well tested before release and supported till seven years after the release, whereas, fedora provides faster update and without any support.

Red hat uses trademark law to prevent their software from being redistributed. CentOS is a community project that uses red hat enterprise Linux code but removes all its trademark and make it freely available. In other words, it is a free version of RHEL and provide a stable platform for a long time.

5) Fedora

It is a project that mainly focuses on free software and provides latest version of software. It doesn't make its own desktop environment but used 'upstream' software. By default it has GNOME3 desktop environment. It is less stable but provides the latest stuff.

Choosing a Linux Distro

DistributionWhy To Use
UBuntuIt works like Mac OS and easy to use.
Linux mintIt works like windows and should be use by new comers.
DebianIt provides stability but not recommended to a new user.
FedoraIf you want to use red hat and latest software.
Red hat enterpriseTo be used commercially.
CentOSIf you want to use red hat but without its trademark.
OpenSUSEIt works same as Fedora but slightly older and more stable.
Arch LinuxIt is not for the beginners because every package has to be installed by yourself.

Examples of Linux Distributions

Widely used GNU-compatible or GNU-based distributions

A non-commercial, Debian distribution and one of the primitives, managed by a volunteer developer association with a commitment to democratic project management and free software principles.

Some other distributions are also available, such as Ubuntu, Linux Mint, Fedora Linux, Red Hat Enterprise Linux, openSUSE, SUSE Linux Enterprise, Arch Linux, Manjaro Linux, Gentoo, etc.

Linux kernel-based OSes

  • Android, the commercial operating system of Google, works on the basis of Android OSP that executes on various devices like set-top boxes, smart TVs, smartphones, etc.
  • ChromeOS, the commercial operating system of Google, works on the basis of ChromiumOS, which executes only on tablet computers, Chromeboxes, and Chromebooks. Like Android, ChromeOS contains the Google Play Store and many Google apps.

Note: However, it is a questionable topic that the above OSes are considered as the "Linux Distribution". They utilize the Linux kernel; hence, Chris DiBona (open-source chief of Google) and the Linux Foundation admit that Android is also a Linux distribution.

Lightweight distributions

These distributions have been developed with support for earlier hardware, permitting earlier hardware to be used productively or for the best possible speed in modern hardware by giving more resources for use via applications. Some examples include Slitaz, Puppy Linux, and Tiny Core Linux.

Niche distributions

Some other distributions require specific niches, including:

  • Routers: e.g., targeted by OpenWrt (the Tiny embedded router distribution)
  • Internet of things: e.g., targeted by Microsoft's Azure Sphere and Ubuntu Core
  • Home theatre PCs: e.g., targeted by Mythbuntu, Kodi (formerly XBMC), and KnoppMyth
  • Specific platforms: e.g., the Raspberry Pi platform is targeted by Raspberry Pi OS
  • Education: some examples are Karoshi and Edubuntu, and server systems are PCLinuxOS-based
  • Scientific workstations and computer servers: e.g., aimed by Scientific Linux
  • Penetration testing, digital forensics, and computer security: some examples are Parrot Security OS and Kali Linux
  • Anonymity and privacy: e.g., targeted by FreedomBox, Qubes, Whonix, or Tails
  • Gaming: e.g., SteamOS
  • Offline use: e.g., Endless OS

Next TopicLinux Licensing

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