Perhaps one of the most confusing topics when it comes to Linux operating systems – to the general public. One wonders; why not just make one OS like Microsoft and Apple did then work on upgrades? The answer to that question might actually surprise you. The availability of these distributions (distros) has purpose and that purpose is embedded in the core philosophy of Linux.
Read on as this confusing topic is made reasonably palatable.
Pre-Linux knowledge is important in the scope of discussing the Linux distributions. A Linux system is made up of four major parts and these are: the Linux Kernel, the GNU Utilities, the Graphical Desktop Environment and Application software. Each of these parts play a fundamental role in the system and none is of much use without the others – variant on the use of the Linux system. Consider the diagram below representing a Linux system.
Now that that’s clear, back to the distribution.
The four parts discussed above form the main components that are required to form a system. For these components to work, they must be combined together in a reasonable fashion. This forms a complete Linux system and therefore; a Linux Distribution is a complete Linux System Package.
But just understanding that is not enough. There is the philosophy bit before we get to the distributions that are present, the so many distributions. To understand the philosophy of Linux, one must embrace complete control, freedom, security and privacy. It borrows from the GNU and Unix philosophies. There are tenets that are also important to note however, I shall not get into that right now. Consider the concepts I have just mentioned and in a future article, I shall discuss the philosophy of Linux in detail. From this brief description, it shows that a person who has the capability can design and implement their own Linux distro.
There are three categories of Linux distros that are agreed upon and I shall touch upon each one of them, briefly.
Core Linux Distributions
This distro is a one stop shop for a complete Linux installation containing the kernel, a graphical environment and just about every Linux application that is available. This kind of distro is useful for people who might not be comfortable making installations of applications when they need them. In other words, this is an installation that comes with everything you might need pre-installed. As you might have deduced by now, this package requires quite a lot of space to install and package… a lot (10 Gb – 20Gb).
Some examples of this kind of distro include; Slackware, RedHat, Fedora, OpenSuSe and Debian.
Specialized Linux Distributions
This is a much simpler way to install Linux, evading the so many questions that arise from Core Linux distros. Specialized Linux distros are typically based on one of the main core distros but contain only a subset of applications that would make sense for a specific area of use.
In the current time, there are hundreds of specialized Linux distros available for almost any kind of task from office, to home to hacking and so forth. Select one, accomplish your task. Some examples include the popular Ubuntu and Linux Mint distros.
Live CD Test Distributions
The last group of distros is also relatively new. Distros in this category allow you to run an operating system without really installing it onto the host system. Due to size constraints, there is not much a Live CD can contain but because of this very limitation, developers are able to produce specialized live CDs for various tasks including system recovery, boot loader repair, data salvaging, hacking and so forth.
Most of the distros in this category are based on distros from the Specialized category. With disadvantages present, such as speed constraints and volatility, advances have been made to counter these bottlenecks. These include copying files into memory and non volatile storage. Examples include Ubuntu Live CD and Avira Rescue Disc.
There are so many Linux distros out there and in the end, the flavor you choose is what makes you comfortable.
Now you are wiser.