14 Feb 2017

4 categories of Linux distributions

There are different Linux distributions. If you just go to Distrowatch site, you will find hundreds of them listed there. Some of them even have my reviews listed. And how many distributions are NOT listed? Some of them either fail to gain registration on Distrowatch, or are in the process of that, like Zorin OS was just few years ago.

However, there are at least four distinctive categories of distributions visible in the Linux world.


First, are "core" distributions, those which form the backbone of Linux and never give up their positions. Debian, Arch, Slackware, OpenSuSE, Gentoo, RedHat (CentOS) are in this list. Even Ubuntu can now be listed there, even though it is officially an offspring of Debian and falls somewhere between this and the next category. These distributions are not always nice and easy for the end-user to install and use. They are not bleeding edge. They should not be. Their purpose is to be stable, solid and reliable.

Some of these distributions have their bleeding-edge orphans, playgrounds for new technologies, which form their own sub-category: Fedora for RedHat, Debian Sid, OpenSuSE Tumbleweed and the like.

The second category is for distributions that use "core" systems and make them more user-friendly. Apart from the above-mentioned Ubuntu, this list is made up of Linux Mint (Ubuntu's offspring), Manjaro (Arch), MX (Debian), GeckoLinux (OpenSuSE). These distributions take their parent distributions and move them closer to the needs of home-based end users. They polish the user experience, ease up the installation process, and introduce their own tools. Sometimes it goes well, like for MX, sometimes not, like for GeckoLinux. Many of you also heard about the security scandal around the Linux Mint ISOs and repositories.

The third category is made of Linux distributions that are based on one of the "giants" or their offspring from the first two categories, but their fame is not as strong as that of the main group. They are created and supported by smaller-size groups of Linux fans, sometimes even consisting of a one-man band. This is the largest group by numbers, but unfortunately lowest if measured by the average quality of the members. These distributions arise and die frequently. They can be one-day heroes today and extinct tomorrow.

And finally, the fourth, the most obscure, rare and extravagantly original group of distributions is made of their own roots. They do not use any of the giants as a base, but rather start from scratch. Or they go so far from original "core" parent that become their own family They try to do their best to survive on the Linux landscape and succeed there with different results. Examples? Pardus (forked from Gentoo), ALT Linux (forked from Mandriva), OpenMamba (now extinct),  TinyCore, LFS, SliTaz and some more.

Of course, the classification does not pretend to be comprehensive and set in stone. Distributions can migrate from one category to another. Of course, the worst-case scenario can happen when a distribution from the first category dies as it was with Mandriva. It left many offspring that spread across all of the other categories. Mageia, PCLinuxOS, ROSA, OpenMandriva – where do they belong now?

Do you think this is a fair classification? Which category does your Linux operating system belong to?

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