The many faces of Linux
If you are new to Linux as an operating system, you may find it a little confusing when it comes to choosing your operating system. When some one refers to running a Linux system, they are not just referring to the OS but to an Operating system based around the Linux Kernel that generally comes with a Bash shell and a host of other Linux based software. Many systems will run a graphical desktop such as GNOME, KDE, LXDE, XFCE or Unity. One thing you will learn quickly when using Linux is that it is not only the look and feel that can be very different it is also how the software is installed. Many systems though will have the same software available such as LibreOffice, Firefox, Chrome. The name given to all these different versions of the Linux operating system is a "Distribution" or "Distro" for short. There are literally hundreds if not thousands of different flavours of Linux available to choose from. Many of these may be specialist builds leaning towards various scientific communities, some may be heavily media based and some geared towards educational software.
What Distributions are available?
As mentioned earlier there are many "Distros" to choose from, however some of the more popular Linux Distributions are as follows:
Arch Linux is an independently developed Linux System. Arch Linux is developed to be a minimalistic system which is installed and configured exactly to a users specifications. Arch allows the user to install only the software that is required for the users system. The result is normally a highly optimised fast system that can be used as a desktop or as a server The majority of configuration to the system is carried out via the shell and text editors. Arch is really aimed at the intermediate to advanced Linux user.
CentOS the "Community Enterprise Operating System". CentOS is an enterprise class Linux distribution which is created from the binaries of RHEL (Red hat Enterprise Linux). CentOS development remove all the branding - marketing artwork from these binaries to create the community version. CentOS is a very popular distribution amongst home users, enthusiasts, system administrators and Enterprises due to its 100% binary compatibility with RHEL. CentOS is 100% free.
Debian is a very popular and influential Linux distribution amongst the Linux community. Debian is released with access to repositories containing thousands of software packages. Debian focuses on security and stability and is often used as a base to many of the other popular Linux distributions. One of the most prominent features of Debian is its excellent package management system which allows an administrator to install, remove or upgrade software with ease.
Linux Mint is a popular Linux operating system which is based around Ubuntu which in turn is based around Debian. Linux Mint is one of the most popular Linux distributions available. It not only looks good with its customised desktop environment, but comes with full multimedia support from the off. Linux Mint is ideal for beginners and advanced users. It is fast, secure and reliable.
RHEL (Red Hat Enterprise Linux) is a Linux distribution targeted towards the commercial market. Although Red Hat restricts the free distribution of its software with trademark rules, it does provide the source code for all its software. It is because of this that many other RHEL based Distros have emerged. Most notable are the CentOS distribution and Oracle's Linux Distro.
SUSE Linux is of German origin and is mainly maintained throughout Europe. SUSE first appeared as far back as 1994 making it one of the older existing commercial distributions today. Back in 2004 Novell acquired SUSE Linux AG. Today there is SLES, SUSE Enterprise Linux and OpenSUSE the community driven version. SUSE is also famous for introducing the YAST system tool (Yet Another System Tool), which allows an administrator to easily control all aspects of their system.
Ubuntu Linux is an operating system originally based on the Debian GNU Linux distribution. The name "Ubuntu" comes from the South African philosophy "Ubuntu" meaning "Humanity towards others". Ubuntu is the most popular Linux used on Desktops, Laptops and is becoming more popular in the "Cloud Computing" market and Enterprise world. Ubuntu is developed by Canonical Ltd, a UK based firm headed by South African entrepreneur Mark Shuttleworth. Ubuntu is updated on a six monthly basis, however, a LTS (Long Term Support) edition 12.04 LTS is available which receives support for five years.
Mageia Linux was a fork from the Mandriva Linux Distribution. Originally created back in the latter part of 2010 by employees, developers and supporters of the Mandriva community. Unlike Mandriva which was a commercial entity, Mageia is a community project. Mageia has a release cycle of 9 months with a support cycle of 18 months. mageia is probably the first Linux distribution to adopt the MariaDB as a replacement for Oracle's MySQL.
Fedora Linux is a project that is sponsored by Red Hat. Fedora is a cutting edge operating system that is built with all the latest cutting edge software. Fedora uses the familiar rpm based package management system. Because Fedora uses cutting edge development software and has a short support life cycle it couldn't be recommended as a distribution to start with for a novice Linux user. Although Fedora runs with the latest development software, it still has a large fan base of users.
Puppy Linux is one of the smaller Linux distributions available. Although it is small in size, it is still a feature rich distro. Puppy Linux is ideally suited to older hardware as it is very resource friendly. One distinct feature Puppy linux has is that it is loads its applications into RAM. This makes for lightning fast loading speeds. Puppy Linux is available as a bootable CD, can be run direct from a memory stick or memory card. It can even be installed to a hard drive.
Antergos Linux was previously known as Cinnarch and is a Linux distribution based upon Arch Linux. Popular by many users who require a pre built Arch based distribution.
Manjaro is a user friendly Linux distribution that is based on the independently developed Arch Linux Operating system.
Although we can't mention every distribution here. There is a dedicated site which keeps track of many of the distributions. These sites are regular ranked and listed on a popularity basis linked to the number number of visitors to their official web sites. If you would like to check out these distributions, then visit: Distrowatch.