What is Linux and why there are so many distros?

If you know Linux or have heard about Linux then probably you have also heard about Linux distros (short for distributions). Ever wondered what actually is a distro? And why there are so many of them? Well today we are gonna take a quick tour of Linux land and learn about Linux and distros.

What is Linux?

Unlike Windows or OS X Linux is not developed behind the closed curtains where a bunch of engineers and developers decide what is best for its users. Linux is literally developed by its users, thousands of programmers around the world contribute in the development of Linux. One major difference between Linux and other proprietary operating systems is its modular nature. Each part of Linux is developed and maintained separately by different communities. This sometimes leads to duplication or similar softwares with visual and/or functional differences.  For example there are many file managers like Nautilus, Dolphin, etc, many desktop environments like KDE, MATE, GNOME, etc. It is up to user to choose which softwares he likes most or which community will best suit his needs.

So if there are so many softwares which essentially perform same task and are or can be part of your Linux, what makes it a “Linux”?

It is the Kernel, core part of Linux. All other projects/softwares are created to work with Linux kernel and thus are compatible with each other with a little or no modifications at all.


What is Linux distro?

Linux distro as the name suggests is a distribution of Linux. Every Linux software can be downloaded from its respective website. But then you would have to make it work with your version of Linux (version of Linux kernel) and check if it is compatible other softwares on your system. Which is not so easy for a newbie or even an experienced user, it takes lot of time figuring out software configurations and make it usable. And if there are softwares updates you would have to do it all over again. And if something breaks there’s no one you can turn to for help.

Linux Distros

Linux Distros

This is where software distro comes in play. A Linux distribution combines different softwares, projects, libraries and release a complete package that you can install and start using right away. Every distro also provides pre-compiled and tested softwares packages which are available onlines, called as repositories.

A typical Linux distribution comprises a Linux kernel, GNU tools and libraries, a package management system, additional softwares, documentation, a window system (the most common being the X Window System), a window manager, and a desktop environment.

What is a Desktop Environment?


Why there are so many?

Given the huge number of choices in softwares, desktops, libraries, etc it it obvious that everyone is not going to pick same option. And that’s the reason why there are so many Linux distros. Every Linux distro provides some combination of these and has different philosophie – some, like Fedora, refuse to include closed-source software, while others, like Mint, include closed-source stuff to make it easier on users. They include different default software – like how Ubuntu includes Unity, Ubuntu derivatives include other desktop environments, Fedora includes GNOME Shell, and Mint includes Cinnamon or MATE.

Some distributions are bleeding edge and won’t receive support for very long. Others, such as Ubuntu LTS or Red Hat Enterprise Linux, are designed to be stable distributions that will be supported with security updates and bug fixes for many years.

Distro Comparison

Distro Comparison

Some Linux distributions are intended for desktop computers, some for servers without a graphical interface, and others for special uses, such as home theater PCs.

Now that you know Linux a little better, would you like to give it a try?

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