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Is Linux Mint the Most Popular Distro?

  • November 16, 2011
  • By Sean Kerner

Ubuntu has been at the top of the Linux popularity contest for much of the past five years, but that's starting to change as Linux Mint's popularity grows. As the sands of Linux popularity shift, development on other distros and key components of Linux continued to move forward last week.

1. Linux Mint

It's never been an easy thing to measure the popularity of a Linux distribution. Downloads alone are not an accurate measure, and distributions don't always know how many people have actually downloaded their distro.

Others, like Fedora, try to take stab at usage by counting how many servers contact the main repositories for updates.

Then there is the popularity contest that is DistroWatch. DistroWatch ranks Linux distributions based on the page hit ranking of a given disto's page on the DistroWatch site. No, it's not necessarily an accurate measure of total usage, as it does not rely on distributed data, or even data from the distros.

That said, DistroWatch is perhaps a leading indicator of community sentiment and popularity (if not actually hard usage numbers).

For most of its existence, Ubuntu has dominated the list, holding the top ranking for much of the past four years. That changed this past week, when Mint surpassed it for the first time to take the No. 1 spot.

Linux Mint is based on Ubuntu, much like Ubuntu is based on Debian. Just as Ubuntu aimed to deliver on the shortcomings of Debian, so too does Linux Mint aim to deliver on the perceived deficiencies of Ubuntu.

At this point, perhaps the biggest and most visible difference between Ubuntu and Linux Mint is Unity. Linux Mint has not taken the much-criticized Unity interface as its own.

Moving forward, the new Linux Mint 12 release (currently at release candidate stage), uses GNOME 3 with Mint Gnome Shell Extensions (MSGE).

"MGSE (Mint Gnome Shell Extensions) is a desktop layer on top of Gnome 3 that makes it possible for you to use Gnome 3 in a traditional way," The Linux Mint 12 features page explains. "You can disable all components within MGSE to get a pure Gnome 3 experience, or you can enable all of them to get a Gnome 3 desktop that is similar to what you've been using before."

Linux Mint has built its popularity (regardless of how you measure it) by respecting users and not introducing invasive changes, while still pushing the underlying technology forward.

2. Sabayon 7 'Awesome'

While not nearly as popular as Linux Mint, the Sabayon Linux distribution has also grown a solid base of devoted followers. Sabayon is based on Gentoo Linux, which is a source-based distribution.

Sabayon is expanding its Linux desktop base with a set of three minimal user interfaces under the Sabayon 7 Experimental banner. Sabayon 7 Experimental now includes the LXDE interface, which has become increasingly popular in recent years and is included in the Ubuntu, openSUSE and Fedora repositories as well.

Going beyond LXDE, Sabayon is supporting the E17 (Enlightenment) window manager as well as the Awesome window manager.

"Awesome is a highly configurable, next-generation framework window manager for X," the Awesome WM project site states. "It is primarily targeted at power users, developers and any people dealing with every day computing tasks and who want to have fine-grained control on theirs graphical environment."

3. Parted Magic

While full-blown general purpose operating system versions of Linux are widely used, so too are purpose-built distros like Parted Magic.

Parted Magic is all about managing your hard storage device, providing the ability to move, copy, create, delete, expand and shrink hard drive partitions. The core programs in Parted Magic are GParted and Parted, which can also be used in other distros, but hey, when you need to resize a drive, there really is no easier way than popping in a Parted Magic LiveCD.

This past week, Parted Magic 11.11.11 was released, upgrading the underlying Linux kernel to 3.1.0 and the latest 0.10.0 release of GParted.

4. Linux 3.2 Moving Forward

Linux kernel development continues to press forward with the 3.2 kernel. Due to the longer than usual development cycle of the 3.1 kernel, there was a lot of backlog for the 3.2 merge window.

According to Linus Torvalds, there are changes throughout the new kernel.

"It's about 75 percent drivers (and that's without the renames counted as big delete/create events -- in the traditional diff, more than 90 percent is drivers), 15 percent arch and 10 percent 'rest' (mainly fs and net -- with header file changes showing up in the statistics too)," Torvalds wrote in a mailing list posting.

5. Apache Harmony Dead

In 2005, the idea of having a fully open source implementation of Java was a novel ideal. That's when the Apache Harmony project was born, as an attempt to build open source Java.

In 2011, things are very different than they were in 2005. Oracle owns Java, Java is open source, and the OpenJDK effort is backed by IBM, Red Hat and others.

After years of trying to be a viable open source implementation of Java, this past week, Apache Harmony developers threw in the towel, voting to send Harmony to the Apache Attic.

Sean Michael Kerner is a senior editor at InternetNews.com, the news service of Internet.com, the network for technology professionals.

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