Major Linux Distributions

This list contains brief descriptions of some of the most popular and distinctive of the several hundred currently available distributions of Linux. A distribution is a complete operating system consisting of a kernel (i.e., the core of an operating system) and utilities (some of which are also necessary for functioning of the operating system) together with a variety of application programs. Most of these distributions are available (1) in English, (2) for Intel-compatible (x86) processors and (3) as free downloads from the Internet. In addition to the official versions listed below, unofficial versions may also be available in additional languages and for additional processors.

ALT Linux - a Debian-based general distribution developed in Moscow for Intel-compatible processors. Available in Belorussian, English, French, German, Hebrew, Russian and Ukrainian.

CERN Linux - a modified version of Red Hat Linux designed for more efficient operation of clusters. Developed by CERN (in Geneva), the world's largest particle physics laboratory and the birthplace of the web. Available for Intel-compatible processors and in English.

Damn Small Linux - a business card sized (50MB), Debian-based live CD distribution that contains a simple GUI desktop and numerous built-in applications. A live CD is a distribution that can be run directly from the CD without requiring it to be installed on the hard disk drive, although Damn Small Linux can also be installed on a hard drive if desired. Available for Intel-compatible processors and in English.

Debian - favored by many advanced users because of its large selection of prepackaged software, an advanced package management system and extensive pre-release testing to ensure the greatest possible reliability. Runs on Intel-compatible, PowerPC, Alpha, Sparc, m68k, ARM, MIPS and S/390 processors. Available in English.

Fedora Core - Red Hat's project to develop a complete, general purpose operating system exclusively from free software to replace low-end, consumer versions of Red Hat Linux. Available for Intel-compatible processors and in English, French, Italian, Portuguese and Spanish.

FlightLinux - a customized version of a standard Linux distribution which is adapted to the unique environment of a spacecraft's embedded control computers. It was developed by a NASA Advanced Information System Technology (AIST) research effort. Not currently downloadable due to issues of export restrictions on satellite control software. Available in English.

Gentoo Linux - a source code-based distribution in contrast to the usual pre-compiled binary. The main advantage is that all software is highly optimized for the computer architecture on which it is built. However, configuring and compiling Gentoo Linux can be a long (several days) and tedious project, even on a fast computer. Available for Intel-compatible processors and in English.

Knoppix - a Debian-based live CD (can run directly from the CDROM without hard disk installation), full-featured distribution for Intel-compatible computers that also features excellent hardware detection. The disk is well suited for demonstration, educational and system rescue purposes, but Knoppix can also be installed on a hard drive with relative ease, resulting in even better speed and performance. Available in English, French, German, Japanese, Polish, Russian and Spanish. Numerous unofficial, customized versions are also available that offer such features as reduced size, special media (e.g., USB key drives) and different languages.

Linspire - a commercial, Debian-based distribution that is designed for use by people with little or no Linux experience. It was formerly called LindowsOS, but the name was changed due to pressure from Microsoft. Available as the preinstalled operating system on very low priced, mass market computers. For Intel-compatible processors.

Linux/mac68k - for older, 68k-based Macintoshes (but not recent Macintoshes, which use PowerPC and Intel processors). Available in English.

Mandriva - possibly the third most popular Linux distribution. Formerly called Mandrake, Mandriva is developed by a French company and is particularly common in Europe. It supports numerous languages including Chinese, English, Estonian, Finnish, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, Swedish, Thai and Turkish. Available for Intel and PowerPC processors.

MontaVista Linux - a development tool suite and Linux-based platform optimized for embedded applications. It supports seven microprocessor architectures, 24 CPU core variants and tool chains, and more than 70 board and system reference platforms. Developed by MontaVista Software of Sunnyvale, Calif.

muLinux - a minimalist distribution that can reside on a single floppy disk but still contains a large number of standard command line programs. Similar to a live CD, muLinux can operate directly from its floppy without the need to install on the hard disk, thus making it well suited for repair and forensic applications. Developed in Italy but available only in English. For Intel-compatible processors. For more information, see mulinux: A Brief Introduction.

Red Flag Linux - created by the Institute of Software at the Chinese Academy of Sciences in 1999 and receives financial assistance from the Chinese government. Red Flag could become the most used distribution because of the vast potential of the Chinese market. Available in Simplified Chinese, English and Japanese.

Red Hat - was formerly the most popular Linux distribution, but it is being replaced by The Fedora Project, a Red Hat-sponsored open source Linux development project. Red Hat Linux is still widely used and it can still be easily obtained from a variety of sources. Available for a variety of processors and numerous languages.

RTLinuxPro - a hard, real time, POSIX operating system that runs embedded Linux as an application platform. A GPL version, RTLinuxFree, is also available. Developed by FSMLabs, Inc., headquartered in New Mexico.

Slackware - a robust, versatile and highly secure system favored by many advanced users. However, it is not considered particularly user friendly, at least for new users. Slackware runs on the Intel, Alpha and SPARC architectures. Available in English.

SuSE - features completeness and ease of use (including its installer and YaST configuration tools), helping make it the second most popular distribution. Development is done privately and no public betas are released for testing. Slightly older versions can be downloaded for free, but no ISO images are provided. This German distribution was established by university students in 1992 and was acquired by Novell, Inc. of Provo, Utah in early 2004. SuSE can run on Intel-compatible, PowerPC, Alpha, ARM, MIPS, m68k, NUMA, Sparc, VAX, Itanium and other architectures. Languages include English, French, German, Italian, Portuguese and Spanish.

Tiny Linux - a small Linux distribution designed especially for old recycled computers with at least an i386 processor, 50MB hard disk (80MB recommended) and 8MB of RAM (12MB or 16MB recommended). Available in English only.

Turbolinux - claims to be the leading Linux distribution in the Asia-Pacific region. It is designed for both 32-bit and 64-bit systems. Available in English, Japanese, Traditional Chinese and Simplified Chinese.

Ubuntu - a new and well-funded Debian-based distribution that is experiencing rapid growth in popularity. A major design goal is ease of use for people with little computer expertise. One of the several innovative features is that the root (i.e., administrative) account is disabled by default as a security measure. Runs on Intel compatible, PowerPC and AMD64 processors. Initially available in English. Ubuntu is a Zulu word that means humanity to others.

UltraPenguin - a fast, 64 bit, Red Hat-based, free operating system for Sun Microsystems' SPARC and UltraSPARC machines. It supports up to one terabyte of physical memory and another terabyte of I/O memory. Available in English.

Vectorlinux - based on Slackware, but features a smaller size (under 450MB when fully installed) together with greater ease of installation, configuration and maintainance. It is claimed that the average user can have a fully functional Slackware Linux system up and running in as little as 15 minutes. Available for Intel-compatible processors and in English.

Xandros Desktop - a Debian-based distribution that evolved from the defunct Corel Linux. Emphasis is on ease of use even for novices, and it is claimed to offer unrivaled compatibility with Microsoft Windows. Other features include drag-and-drop CD burning and single-click creation of zip and tar file archives. Available for Intel-compatible processors and in English.

Xbox Linux - a full Linux distribution with the X Window System, KDE and Gnome that is being developed to turn Microsoft's Xbox game machine into a desktop computer running Linux. The developers claim that this project is entirely legal.

Yellow Dog Linux - a commercial distribution for PowerPC processors (which were formerly used in Macintosh computers). Available in English, French, German, Italian and Spanish.

Created February 29, 2004. Last updated September 8, 2006.
Copyright © 2004 - 2006 The Linux Information Project. All Rights Reserved.