Top 10 Linux Distros

Back in the late 90’s, I tried Mandrake Linux. It was one of only a handful of distributions (or distros) at the time and as my job was too entrenched in Microsoft technologies, I didn’t make the switch then.

Today that number has grown exponentially. According to Distrowatch, a website that tracks linux distributions, there are now well over 100 flavors of the operating system (OS).

penguinThis is one of the benefits of open source software. Need your OS to do something a little differently? Tweak it!

The current options range from super lightweight types, with minimal application suites to a full fledged version, featuring all the bells and whistles. Some support different types of hardware better than others, and some are better suited to home users versus the enterprise.

With so many options, its easy to get lost trying to decide which distro is best for you. I’ve combed the Internet, read countless articles and trolled the forums.

Based on my research, I’ve compiled a list of the top 10 Linux distributions that should help make the choice a little easier.

1.   Ubuntu

ubuntuUbuntu is the distro that eventually won me over to Linux full-time. Apparently, its had the same effect on others — it remains the most popular distribution, a favorite of both new converts and more experienced users.

Ubuntu was originally launched in 2004 and created by Mark Shuttleworth. There is a large development and support community, and updates are released every 6 months. Other pro’s are its extensive documentation and desktop themes. Uses APT and DEB files for package management.

2.  Fedora

fedoraFedora was the second distro I tried, and I also currently run it in a virtual machine.

Interestingly, it was originally released in 2004, under the name Red Hat Linux. Eventually, Red Hat turned into a very successful enterprise targeted OS, while Fedora continued in the vein of the original product.

Fedora is still a very popular distro, but the one knock it has is its tendency to focus more on the enterprise than the home/desktop user. Fedora uses RPM for package management, with a YUM graphical and command line interface.

3.   openSUSE

openSUSEopenSUSE may now be a Novell product, but it was started in 1992 by Roland Dyroff, Thomas Fehr, Hubert Mantel and Burchard Steinbild. I haven’t tested this distro, but some suggest that it is slow, and perhaps a little bloated.

Even so, this flavor consistently ranks among the top Linux products. Pro’s of openSUSE are documentation, connectivity, and support for laptop docking stations and dual monitors. openSUSE also uses YaST graphical and command line utility with RPM packages.

4. Linux Mint

linuxMintLinux Mint is actually based on Ubuntu and was launched in 2006 by Clement Lefebvre. It is the third distribution I tried and liked the interface, just not so much that I felt the need to switch from Ubuntu.

Many refer to this distribution as an improved Ubuntu. It features Mint system management tools like, mintDesktop, mintMenu, mintInstall, and mintUpdate. Package management is APT with mintInstall using DEB packages.

5.   Debian Linux

debianLaunched in 1993 by Ian Murdock, Debian can be said to be the ancestor of many of the distributions in this list.

This is perhaps, one of the most stable OS’s, and that is due in part to its development cycle. There are unstable, testing and stable versions. Since the stable version is only released every 1-3 years, those who want are expecting the latest and most updated packages, won’t get it here. Software is managed with APT using DEB packages.

6.   Mandriva Linux

MandrivaMandrake Linux was launched in 1998 by Gaël Duval. After acquiring Brazilian company in 2005, the name was changed to Mandriva.

Known as a desktop-friendly distro, Mandriva boasts a system administration suite called DrakConf. Yet, this distro still seems to lag behind the other top contenders in terms of popularity.

For software management, it uses URPMI with Rpmdrake (a graphical front-end for URPMI) using RPM packages.

7.  Red Hat Enterprise Linux

redhatWhile the other distros on this list dominate the desktop space, Red Hat rules the enterprise.

Spawned from Fedora, this distro is known for its stability, support and the plethora of well versed, certified administrators.

8.   PCLinux OS

PCLinuxOSPC Linux OS was developed in 2003 by former Mandrake developer, Bill Reynolds (aka Texstar).

Based on Mandriva, PCLinux OS uses the KDE graphical environment and is know for its support of many graphics and sound cards. There is one major problem though — there is no 64bit version. This may be fine for most desktop users, but for others, this is a potential deal-breaker. Uses APT using RPM packages for package management.

9.   CentOS

CentOSApparently this OS is also a Red Hat Linux rebranding effort. It was launched in 2003 as a community project for the server environment.

But where Red Hat comes at a price, CentOS is free and has gained a loyal following.

Major releases only happen every 3-5 years, but there are 6-9 month point releases. This is a potential drawback for those that want the latest packages. But if you want stability and commercial support, this is the server OS for you.

10.  Puppy Linux

PuppyLinuxHave an older computer, say one with 64MB RAM? Think that its time has long past? Think again.

Puppy Linux is one of the lightest distros, and has the ability to load itself entirely into RAM. So if you’re running it from a live CD, you won’t notice any churn from applications having to constantly access the CD.

Of course you can install to your hard disk, and also a USB Flash drive.

Installing a new operating system is just the beginning. If you need community support, and help with tips & tricks, start with the main website or wiki for your distribution.

For more general Linux news and information, check out these websites:

So … Which Linux Distro is Right for You?

In addition to the Linux distros mentioned above, there are several other popular flavors, including Slackware and Gentoo.

The best way to select a distribution is to try them out and decide for yourself. There are two ways to do this: a clean install every time, or you might want to try virtualization software like Virtualbox or VMware. You can install your test distros in virtual machines. Once you’ve decided, you can then install as your primary OS.