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How the Linux Community Ranks Distributions - page 2

Deeds and Words Can Judge

  • February 19, 2008
  • By Bruce Byfield

At any given time, about half a dozen distributions are the most widely used and influential. Few GNU/Linux users will not have at least one of these distros installed on a machine somewhere at home or work. They are the ones that are most often mentioned in the media, and the ones that other distros are derived from. Most--but not all--have both a strong commercial and community face, and all have been in existence at least eight years

Occasionally, a first tier distro may slide--it's hard to believe now, for instance, that TurboLinux was a distro to watch in 1999--but the attitude towards first tier distros remains remarkably stable. Their positions may change on Distrowatch's list, but most of them remain consistently in the top ten.

Debian: In the last couple of years, Debian has slipped a few positions at Distrowatch, partly because of the rise of Ubuntu. However, Debian retains a respectable following. If it is now valued less for itself these days, no other distribution comes close to it in inspiring spinoffs. In fact, of the top ten at Distrowatch, six are currently based on it, and some of these now have spinoffs of their own.

Fedora / Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL): Fedora is the community version of the code that eventually becomes Red Hat Enterprise Linux. Both are the modern descendants of Red Hat, which was probably the number one distribution between about 1996 and 2000. The reorganization caused the two modern distros to sag in popularity in the earlier part of the millennium, but both have recovered nicely in recent years. Fedora is known for introducing new programs into the greater community, while RHEL is a stable and successful commercial distribution.

Mandriva: Formerly Mandrake, Mandriva ruled the desktop in 2000-01. However, financial troubles, buggy releases, and some bad publicity over the firing of founder Gael Duval has caused it to slip until it just barely belongs in the first tier at all. Despite all these troubles, Mandriva continues to be one of the most innovative desktop distributions.

Slackware: A hardcore geek's distribution dedicated to high performance, Slackware could not claim a first tier position on popularity alone. However, its influence on other distros remains as strong as ever, with only Debian claiming more derivatives.

SUSE Linux Enterprise / openSuSE: openSuSE is the community version of SUSE Linux Enterprise. Survivors from the Nineties, the SUSE distros have suffered from the fallout of being bought by Novell, and then Novell's infamous agreement with Microsoft in November 2006. openSUSE, in particular, never seems to have developed the close community that its technical quality deserves. However, SUSE Linux Enterprise remains one of the most successful commercial distributions, and both distros include unique features such as the YAST configuration tool and the SLED menu for GNOME.

Ubuntu: In less than four years, Ubuntu has come out of nowhere to become the dominant desktop distribution. In the Linux Foundation's Client/Desktop Survey for 2007, its various incarnations accounted for 55% of desktops. Part of this success is due to its building upon Debian, but it is also probably the most innovative distribution today, especially when it comes to usability.

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