Adventures & experiences in contemporary technology
If a certain Richard Stallman had his way, Linux would be called GNU/Linux because he wants GNU to have some of the credit, but we’re lazy creatures and we all call it Linux instead. What still amazes me is the number of Linux distributions that are out there. This list captures those that do not fit into other lists that you can find in the sidebar, so do look at the others as well.
Many fit into the desktop and server computing paradigms while a minority are very distinctive. It is easier to write about the latter than the former, though personal experiences do add to any narrative. It is tempting to think that everything has become static after more than thirty years, yet that may be foolish given the ongoing flux in the world of technology. Only change is ever a constant presence.
The controversy about security agencies eavesdropping on internet communications has upset some and here are some distros offering anonymity and privacy. Of course, none of these should be used for unlawful purposes since there are those in less liberal countries who need invisibility to speak their minds.
It is harder and harder to create a Linux distro that is very different from the rest, but this one uses application virtualisation for added security. You can organise your software into different domains so that you work more securely when moving data between applications from different domains.
There is more than a hint of privacy-mindedness in this distro when you look long enough at what it offers. Cinnamon, MATE and Xfce desktop environments are part of the offer and there is added software for extra privacy and security.
This is an option for those who are worried about being tracked online. All internet connections are sent via the Tor network and it is run exclusively as a live distro from CD, DVD or USB stick drive too, so no trace is left on any PC. The basis is Debian and the distro’s name is an acronym: The Amnesiac Incognito Live System. For us living in a democratic country, the effort may seem excessive but that changes in other places where folk are not so fortunate. The use of Tor may not be perfect but it should help in combination with the use of different sessions for different tasks and encrypting any files. There even is an option to make the desktop appear like that of Windows XP for extra discreteness of use.
Most Linux distros that have enhanced security and anonymity as a feature are not installable on a PC, but that exactly is what’s unique about Whonix. It’s based on Debian but all internet connections go via the Tor network. The latter is called Whonix-Gateway with Whonix-Workstation being what you use to work on your system. It may sound like being overly careful but it has me intrigued.
In many ways, these are appliance distros for anyone who just wants an install-it-and-go approach to things. That works better with dedicated devices than with multipurpose machines, so that is one thing that needs to be kept in mind.
The idea behind this offering is what it offers console gamers. Legacy games and peripherals will work and there even is support for Raspberry Pi as well.
The main purpose of this distro is to offer a home for the KODI entertainment centre on PC and Raspberry Pi devices. It follows from the now defunct OpenELEC project, which ran into trouble when developers’ voices were not given a hearing.
The acronym stands for Open-Source Media Centre and there is KODI here too. Though the distro also is based on Debian, one is tempted to wonder why anyone would not just install that and install KODI on top of it. The answer possibly has something got to do with added user-friendliness for those who do not need to deal with such things.
Mandrake once was a spin of Red Hat with a more user-friendly focus. In the days before the appearance of Ubuntu, it would have been a choice for those not wanting to overcome obstacles such as a level of hardware support that was much less than what we have today. Later, Mandrake became Mandriva following litigation and the acquisition of Conectiva in 2005. The organisation has declined since those heady days and it became defunct during 2015. Its legacy continues though in the form of two spin-off projects, so all the work of forebears has not been lost.
It was the uncertainty surrounding the future of Mandriva that originally caused this project to be started. Beginnings have been promising, so this is a one to watch, though you have to wonder if the now community-based OpenMandriva is stealing some of its limelight.
Of the pair that is listed here, it is OpenMandriva which is a continuation of the now-defunct Mandriva. Seeing how things progress for a project with user-friendliness at its heart will be of interest in these days when Debian, Ubuntu and Linux Mint are so pervasive. Even with those, there are KDE options, so there is a challenge in place.
Anything Russian may not be everyone’s choice given the state of world affairs at the time of writing, yet this still is an offshoot of Mandriva so it gets a mention in this list. Desktop environment options include KDE, XFCE and LXQt and there are various use cases covered by a range of solutions.
Not every distro falls in the above categories, and some that you find here may surprise you. There are some better-known names like openSUSE that go their way.
Aside from the founder’s dislike of ISO disk images for whatever reason, this distro has its own eccentricities. For example, it is container-friendly, runs in memory as root and much more. This is branded as an experimental distro, and it is that in many ways.
This project creates respins of openSUSE for the sake of a more refined experience. For instance, there are live booting ISO images as well as inclusion of media codecs. There is plenty of choice too when it comes to desktop environments.
From what I have seen, this project seems to be supporting the same needs as Arch, albeit with all software needing to be compiled, so there’s more of a DIY approach. The wiki also comes in handy for those users.
Billing itself as a lean independent distribution focussing on QT and KDE, this is built from the ground up without any dependence on other distros. Some tools, like pacman, naturally come from elsewhere in this otherwise standalone offering.
Here is another distro apart from Ubuntu that has an African name, the Zulu for big chief this time around. It came to my notice among the pages of the now defunct Micro Mart magazine and uses MATE, XFCE, Enlightenment and KDE as its desktop environment choices.
It is very unusual to see a script that adds the feel of one distro to another, yet that is what you find here. Originally, NuTyX was built using Linux From Scratch but it has matured to the point where you also find ISO installation images to go with the unconventional approach described earlier. Otherwise, the choice of desktop environment includes MATE, LXDE, LXQt, Enlightenment, GNOME, KDE5 and XFCE and the distro has its own package manager called CARDS.
SuSE Linux was one of the first Linux distros that I started to explore and I even had it loaded on my home PC as a secondary operating system for quite a while too before my attention went elsewhere. Only for a PC Plus cover-mounted CD, it never might have discovered it and it bested Red Hat, which was as prominent then, as Fedora is today. When SuSE fell into Novell’s hands, it became both openSUSE and SuSE Linux Enterprise Edition. The former is the community and the latter is what Novell, now itself an Attachmate Group company, offers to business customers. As it happens, I continue to keep an eye on openSUSE and even had it on a secondary PC before font resolution deficiencies had me looking elsewhere. While it’s best known for its KDE variant, there is a GNOME one too and it is this that I have been examining.
There was a time when this was being touted as an Ubuntu killer but it never seems to have made good on that promise. Recent troubles within the project haven’t helped either, especially with a long wait between releases.
This Turkish distro recently got reviewed in Linux Format and they were not satisfied with its documentation. It does not help that the website is not in English, so you need a translation tool of your choosing for this one.
Though there also is a spin using the MATE desktop environment, this distro is perhaps better known as the home for the Budgie desktop environment. All of this is for computing and not its business or enterprise counterpart. There is nothing to say against that and may make it feel a little more friendly.
The name sounded similar for some reason and I reckon that’s because Samsung has smartphones running Tizen on sale. The whole point of the project is to power mobile computing platforms with only the mention of netbooks sullying an otherwise non-PC target market that includes tablets and TV’s. It’s overseen by the Linux Foundation too.