A Linux Baker’s Dozen

Linux is probably best known as a server operating system, and for a good reason – according to at least one source, 60% of the servers on the web are running a Linux OS (source). But Linux on a desktop (or laptop) as a very viable option is gaining popularity, and its presence as the default OS on many netbooks continues to push its market share.

As you can see from the chart below, Linux is still the small kid on the block at only 1.14% of the web clients as of March 2010.

However, the interest in Linux has created many different distribution packages, and the time has never been better for anyone to take the plunge to the other operating system. You will find it to be a mature, stable platform to run a growing variety of software titles for your needs, many of them free.

But what are the different distribution packages for Linux, and what do they offer? We take a look at what is out there, and round out our favorite 13 for a perfect baker’s dozen of Linux distros.

Market Share

First, let’s take a look at the most popular distributions of Linux. As the chart above shows, the most popular Linux flavor is Ubuntu, which as of April 2010 is reported to be the Linux installation of choice for over half of the desktops out there (source ). The next most popular distro is Fedora, with SUSE, Debian, and Red Hat filling out the top 5. (Please note that 34% of the installation is unknown due to 3rd party browser use, but our best guess is that 3rd party use would be fairly distributed across the installations, making the market share data fairly consistent.)

1. Ubuntu

Ubuntu,as previously stated, is by far the most popular version of Linux. Named for the Southern African ideology of “humanity towards others”, Ubuntu is distributed as a free and open source operating system. Ubuntu’s focus is on usability and ease of installation, aiming for the average user.
Ubuntu is a stable system that is kept up to date with new releases on average about every six months. Ubuntu can also be found in a LTS (Long Term Support) version that are released every couple years with three of support for desktop and five for servers.

2. Fedora

Fedora, the number two most popular Linux distro, was developed by the community supported Fedora Project and is actually sponsored by Red Hat (which has its own distro based Fedora). Fedora’s mission is to lead the advancement of free and open source software as being built upon and by a collaborative community.

It might be interesting to note that Linus Torvalds, the author of the Linux kernel, uses Fedora as his main choice. This started due to Fedora’ strong support for that PowerPC architecture that Torvalds was working with, and continues as of the last report.

3. openSUSE

The openSUSE OS started out as SUSE, but when Novell acquired the company in 2004 it released the SUSE Linux Professional Product as an open source project, hence the name open SUSE.

The open community supported openSUSE, and as of November 2009 the current stable release is openSUSE 11.2. It is still sponsored by Novell, and during installation the end user can select between KDE, GNOME, and Xfce GUIs.

4. Debian

If any Linux distribution embodies the idea of free software principles, it would have to be Debian. Serving as a base for other popular distros (including Ubuntu), Debian focuses on stability and security.

The Debian project is controlled by the Debian Constitution, which explicitly states that the goal is for development of a free operating system. Not backed by another company as many distros are, Debian incorporates over one thousand volunteers around the world.

5. Red Hat Enterprise Linux

Red Hat Enterprise Linux (unofficially RHEL) is targeted toward the commercial market, and this includes mainframes. You will also find desktop versions of RHEL running on Intel based computers. Red Hat backs up its product with official support and training, making it a potential good choice as a corporate solution.

RHEL claims to have major releases every 18 to 24 months, but over three years has elapsed since the release of Red Hat Enterprise Linux 5. However, RHEL 6 public beta was released on April 21, 2010. RHEL is available through a subscription.

6. CentOS

CentOS is a community supported operating system that is based on Red Hat Enterprise Linux, but unlike RHEL it is a free alternative. Built to be 100% compatible with RHEL, CentOS provides an enterprise class computing platform. CentOS stands for Community ENTerprise Operating System.

7. Mandriva

Mandriva was originally referred to as Mandrake (and can still be found running under that name in the wild), but legal issues with King Features and its Mandrake the Magician character forced a name change. Supporting both server and desktop configurations, it was originally based on Red Hat Linux 5.1, but since has diverged substantially, with its own tools and system configuration.

8. Slackware

Slackware is one of the oldest maintained Linux distros. Created by Patrick Volkerding in 1993, the most current stable version is 13.0, released on August 26, 2009. Originally named with emphasis on being a side project, Slackware has since grown into a serious operating system, and aims to be the most “Unix-like”.

9. Knoppix

Knoppix, created by Linux consultant Klaus Knopper, is derived from Debian and designed to run completely from removable media. While other distros now have that ability, Knoppix was the first, and that configuration remains as its focus.

Knoppix is also a popular alternative for people who want to load the OS from a USB memory card, making it simple to take your programs (and your entire operating system!) with you as you travel.

10. Linux Mint

Linux Mint is aimed towards personal computers, with focus on being user friendly. Mint is a great choice for users with no prior Linux experience, and it incorporates integrated media codecs to help in this. Mint is based on Ubuntu, and like Ubuntu can be found in Live versions that allow testing on a given machine before actual installation.

11. Oracle Enterprise Linux

A list of Linux distros would not be complete without mentioning a version from software giant, Oracle. Oracle Enterprise Linux is based on Red Hat Enterprise Linux and designed to compete directly with it. Oracle supports this distro through its Oracle Unbreakable Linux Program, a subscription based service for Enterprise Linux installations.

12. Gentoo

Gentoo is not shipped as a compiled solution, but rather the end user compiles the source locally. As you would expect, this distro is aimed at the experienced or power user. However, this feature allows a very wide range of adaptability for the operating system, and the reason why Gentoo can rightfully refer to itself as a metadistribution.

And, interesting to note, Gentoo and its products are named after the Gentoo Penguin.

13. SimplyMEPIS

SimplyMEPIS is the most popular distribution of MEPIS, based on Debian. Aimed for the average user, SimplyMEPIS is intended for easy desktop use with a strong support component.

According to its creator Warren Woodford, MEPIS is pronounced like “Memphis” without the extra letters. The name actually does not stand for anything in particular, and came about through a poor Skype connection conversation, but was unique enough to keep.

I know there are many variations and distributions of Linux that we do not have listed here, but time and space does not allow to include everything. The important thing to note is this – whatever your computing need, from a laptop to a major enterprise installation, Linux is a very strong and widely used solution. For the end user who wants an alternative to Windows, it only takes a download to try it for yourself.

  • Orlando Quiros

    You forgot to mention PCLinuxOS which is base on Mandriva and happens to be one of most user friendly Linux OS available. http://pclinuxos.com/

  • http://www.FreezingMoon.org Dread Knight

    Linux ftw!

  • Ram Sambamurthy

    1. It’s MEPIS and not MEPSIS

    2. It’s Volderking and not Volkerding!

  • http://my.opera.com/ZakMichigan/ Jean Chicoine

    Linux Mint for me! I started with Ubuntu 8.10, then moved to Linux Mint 8, and I’m eagerly waiting for the release of Linux Mint 9, based on the latest Ubuntu release, Ubuntu 10.04, a LTS version.
    Why Linux Mint? Because “from freedom came elegance”!
    http://www.linuxmint.com/

  • http://www.freecreditreportsinstantly.org/ Jaluk

    Putting the ignorant comments above aside, Ubuntu 10.04 was just released and it’s excellent. Works really well. Runs fast. No malware BS. Perfect for non-techie users who might have slightly older hardware or netbooks and who only use their computers for Web browsing, email, viewing images/videos,. ..etc. These are the people who keep getting infected with malware that slow their computers to a crawl and expose their files and data to theft. Then they have to pay someone to fix it for them. What a hassle. For kids, Edubuntu is great too.

    For those who are afraid to try Ubuntu, wubi is a great way to try Ubuntu without making any changes to your Windows installation or to your hard disk partitions. It is a Windows installer for Ubuntu.

  • http://www.hghtruth.org/ Rex

    That’s what I run on my home desktop as well as my 2 netbooks (my older netbook runs Ubuntu Netbook Remix, the others run Ubuntu standard desktop). I’m not so sure what’s so funny about it, I love it.

    And for those occasions I have to run Windows (I do have a couple Windows apps I really like) I have either WINE or Virtualbox to fall back on.

  • http://www.oneworldtosee.com/ Walin

    Been using Linux on my desktop since 1995, with double boot into Windows until a few years ago. Today I do all my work and private stuff from Linux only. Don’t have a single machine left with Windows on them, haven’t found anything I can not do from Linux yet.

  • Mel

    Ubuntu is what I’ve been using for two years now. I’ve never looked back since I made the decision to use it, it’s friendly, fast, safe and beautiful. It’s not just the software, but the community as well.

  • Zac

    Have installed Ubuntu 10.04 Netbook edition on my Dell Latitude 2100 and it is fantastic, everything worked out of the box, no tweaking necessary. It looks and performs great. The netbook edition is perfect to maximise screen space for netbook. I am extremely happy with the latest version, highly recommended. Ubuntu is pushing Linux on the desktop and very pleased the direction they are taking. Concentrating on the desktop is a way into business market. Linux is just a hairs breath away from ready for the masses, actually I think it is already, well for at least 75% of people.

  • Brian H

    Where can I get that Slackware wallpaper? It’s nice.

    Oh and just to have a productive comment, I prefer Debian but I don’t work with the GUI, all headless server work.

  • Al Nonymous

    It’s spelled MEPIS, not MEPSIS!

  • Cosme Faria Corrêa

    Mandriva = Mandrake + Conectiva

  • Gerhard

    Install “namebar” on Ubuntu 10.04 LTS, then remove the title bar on maximised windows with Compiz to get some more real estate … perfect!

    It should also be possible to buy proprietary software through the software centre (think SPSS, Photoshop, games, etc.), then NOTHING will stop this train!

    Indrukwekkend! Dankie, Mark Shuttleworth.

  • Joe

    These charts don’t tell us JACK. I’d like to see server and desktop separated out.

    30% of servers DO NOT run ubuntu. Hehehe. actually that would be kind of funny.

  • http://pssorg.co.uk Marcos

    Interested in finding out more about ubuntu, part from their own site, is there any other site I could visit?

  • http://www.kindnessinc.org/ Nishi

    Linus rules. Even I’ve heard a lot about ubuntu but couldn’t figure it out as yet. Would appreciate some references, if u have?

  • faical

    ubuntu forever

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