Linux Distros

You've probably heard the term Linux distro before. Distro is short for distribution. Another term you might come across, although much less formal, is flavor. In short, a distro is a collection of packages and the Linux kernel all packaged together. An example of a distro is AlmaLinux. Another example is Ubuntu.

Distros can be formed for any number of reasons. For example, AlmaLinux was created to be a free version of Red Hat Enterprise Linux. Debian was created to provide a distro that uses entirely free and open source software. Distros are more than a collection of software - they can be a collection of values, ideas, and morals. It's unknown how many distros there actually are. Some estimate the hundreds of thousands. There could be a half million or more.

Well-known distros

There are many distros, but let's take a look at some of the well-known ones.


The initial release of Ubuntu was October 2004 with version 4.10. You might be wondering why the first version of Ubuntu was 4.10. That's because Ubuntu's versioning system has always been based on year.month and they have kept the same cadence since the start. At the time, Debian was very popular and Mark Shuttleworth wanted to create a distro that was more user friendly. Ubuntu was based (and still is) on Debian and made the installation process easy. While Ubuntu is still based on Debian, or a fork, they have contributed a lot to make it a unique distro. There are other distros that are based on Ubuntu such as Zorin OS.


When Red Hat announced the early end of life for CentOS 8, AlmaLinux was created to provide a free, community enterprise OS based on Red Hat Enterprise Linux. You might be wondering, if Red Hat Enterprise Linux is a distro, can't you use it for free? Technically, you can. However, because Linux is licensed under the GNU GPL, Red Hat has to provide the source code to their distro. What they do not have to provide are updates. And this is how Red Hat makes their money, by selling subscriptions for support and updates. AlmaLinux, at a high level, re-packages the Red Hat source code and makes it available for free. Of course, there's more to it than that, but Red Hat Enterprise Linux has a reputation of being incredibly stable. In turn, this means that AlmaLinux is also incredibly stable.

Arch Linux

Arch was started in 2002 because the goal was to be a minimal distro. Since then, it has taken off in popularity and also has several distros based on it such as Manjaro. Arch's philosophy may make it a bit difficult for some to use. Besides being minimal, Arch is also known as a rolling disto. That means that packages are released often and not on a set cadence like Ubuntu. While some people may not like the aspects of a rolling distro, plenty of people do as it means you will get the latest version of packages without having to wait.

Finding & Trying a Distro

One of the most fun parts of Linux is finding and trying new distros. One site you can use to find a distro is This site lists a large collection of distros, including discontinued ones, and contains news about distros. When searching for distros, you may notice that some of them look a like. That is because they share a desktop environment or DE. This is the GUI.

Desktop Environments

Some of the most popular DEs are Gnome (pronounced "guh-nome"), KDE, Cinnamon, LXDE, and Mate (pronounced "mah-tay"). Most distros use one of these as their default and may ship additionals either as addon packages or even different distros. For example, Fedora uses Gnome as the default DE but you can download a different Fedora distro (or as Fedora calls it, a "spin") that uses LXDE as the default. Ubuntu also ships Gnome as the default, but they have a distro called Kubuntu which uses KDE as the default. There's also Ubuntu Mate, which, as you guessed, uses Mate as the default.

Live CD

When you've found a distro you want to try, you can download and boot what is known as a Live CD version. Today, generally the ISO image you download will contain the Live CD. In the old days, there were typically two ISOs. One was an installer and the other was a Live CD. You would burn the Live CD ISO to a CD-ROM and then you would boot from the Live CD to test out the distro. It ran entirely off the CD so it was slower than if it was installed, but it gave you a way to try the distro without installing it. Today, you can write the ISO to a flash drive and launch the Live CD from the boot menu or the distro will boot by default into the Live CD and then you can launch the installer from the desktop.

When you don't want to erase your hard drive (or maybe you don't even have one), a Live CD is a great way to try out a distro. Since you'll typically write it to a USB drive, this also means it's possible to have a portable OS. How fun is that?

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Last modified: April 05 2022 21:20:14.