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Monday, November 10, 2014

Why so many Linux Distributions

Why so many Linux Distributions

In my previous post I discussed about the different components. It is very Interesting to see that there are many hundred Linux Distributions around at this time. If we look at which is the most widely Linux Distributions ranking website, we find hundreds of different Linux Distributions listed there.

The next question is why do we have so many Linux Distributions?

The answer to this question is kind of complex to understand.We can't understand it completely if we do not know the basic components of the GNU/Linux System. We also need to understand how do we use and manage a GNU/Linux system on a daily basis. We also need to understand the use case of a GNU/Linux system and the intended purpose of the distribution. There are various factors that differentiate different GNU/Linux distributions.

The most important points that differentiate GNU/Linux Distributions from one another are as below

  1. Init System.
  2. Desktop Environment.
  3. Default Software collection.
  4. Intended purpose, Desktop or Server.
  5. Source or Binary Base.
  6. Package Management System.
  7. Included Free/Non Free codecs 
  8. Do it yourself or ready to Install
  9. Rolling release or Fixed release
  10. Moto/Philosophy

Based on one or more of the above mentioned points different GNU/Linux distributions are different from each other.

I would put across a couple of Examples and discuss the differentiating factors. It is however best to install a distribution and start using it in order to understand the differences. The best way to do that however is not to install it on the actual hardware, We could use a virtualization technology like VirtualBox.

Lets take the Case of Debian as a Linux Distribution and go through the 10 points mentioned above.

Debian is probably the oldest Linux Distribution and most forked as well. Debian stands for stability and free software. 

  1. Uses sysV init System which is a bunch of scripts doing the Job.
  2. Provides a selection of desktop environments to choose from with Gnome as default
  3. Provides a decent set of software with almost no non free software by default,depends on the installation media used.
  4. Debian is aimed at Servers but it can be a good desktop as well.
  5. Precompiled binary base.
  6. Uses Aptitude package management system and supports .deb packaging format.
  7. Does not include non-free software/codecs by default.
  8. Debian is installation ready for Servers but requires a lot of tuning for Desktop Use
  9. Debian is Fixed Release and Rolling in case of Testing branch.
  10. Debian moto/philosophy is to provide a universal operating system that is free stable and secure.
There are various different Linux Distributions, each with a specific purpose, some are more geared towards Desktop Use like Linux Mint and some are for server use like RHEL CENTOS and DEBIAN.
Some are ready out of the box like Linux Mint some are intended for user switching over to Linux from Windows like Zorin OS.

Some are utilized for penetration testing like Pentoo and Kali Linux. Some are for audio and video production like AV Linux and Ubuntu Studio.

Some work both for Servers and Desktops like Ubuntu. Some are focused at Enterprise Desktop like Opensuse and Ubuntu.

Some distributions are 100% pure and rolling like Arch and Sabayon, some are completely do it yourself like Arch Gentoo and Slackware.We also have Linux From Scratch which is the hardest to work with.
We also have some distributions like Gentoo which compile from Source and provide ultimate flexibility to you.

We also have a variety of Desktop Environments some are specifically built by their parent distributions with a certain goal, these however being Open Source are available for most Linux Distributions other than their parent distribution.

  1. Cinnamon, developed by Linux Mint Team.
  2. Unity, Developed by Ubuntu, Canonical.
  3. Patheon Shell developed by Elementary OS team.

In addition to these we have GNOME KDE XFCE E17 OPENBOX etc etc.... list is long and freedom and flexibility is endless.

We have endless freedom and flexibility with GNU/Linux, that is why we have so many GNU/Linux distributions. We have new Linux distributions every month, either completely new or based on some existing Linux Distribution.

Debian is so far the most forked Linux Distro, There are other like Ubuntu and Arch. Ubuntu itself is based on Debian, Arch is Independent and is not based on any. OpenSuse is also Independent like Fedora however both have same package format, both use rpm package format.

In short with freedom comes choice and with choice comes the opportunity to create something new, that is so true in Open Source world. That is precisely why we have so many GNU/Linux distributions.

Hope you like it, In my next post I will talk about something different. This article concludes my Introduction to Linux Series.  I will start a new one in Next post which will be of course about Linux only.

Please do comment and let me know your feedback.