(GNU/)Linux

If a certain Robert Stallman had his way, Linux would be called GNU/Linux but we’re lazy creatures and we all call it Linux instead. What still amazes me is the number of Linux distributions that there are out there. Over the years, some have come and others have gone so the list is going to be a living one.

For a number of years, things had grown fairly static and it was tempting to think that Linux had developed a certain maturity. At the time of writing, it has passed its twentieth birthday and some things still show no sign of settling down even if other things have. In many ways, that is no bad thing at all.

One of these is the world of desktop environments. A few years ago, KDE went with what then was seen as a radical change that attracted much adverse comment, largely because of a loss of stability. No sooner has that been regained that GNOME went for its own transformation with no loss of robustness. However, the change in the way that things worked has not gone down well with many and the project has been facing a KDE 4.0 moment for a while now. Those who disfavour upheavals are having a bumpy time of it though technology would be dull without some changes. It’s a matter of having an open mind, finding what suits and going on voyage of rediscovery when a change in what you already use is not to your taste.

Another change that Debian now has both Linux and FreeBSD variants. That’s great from the standpoint of choice and means that it doesn’t appear in this list anymore. For now, it gets its own page and may be joined on there by Gentoo if their FreeBSD efforts reach fruition. For other BSD UNIX distros, there’s the UNIX operating system page. So far, these seem to be keep away from the Linux kernel even if they draw on other developments in their counterpart’s world.

Some of the comments you find against entries in the list below are drawn from my own personal experiences. There are so many distributions on offer at the moment that I cannot try every single one. What I do instead is to look at the more interesting or commonly used ones. Of course, having virtual machine technology and a spare PC allows me to run more than one at once. Of course, it is the one that gets onto my main home PC that gets the most use and that doesn’t get changed so often. Others may not see me spending as much time with them but any views expressed here are based on whatever I find.

After having a completely alphabetical list, I have decided to separate the entries out under various categories. Some are functional in that they specialise in ensuring privacy or will run on older machines. One heading is philosophical in that it relates to the idea of liberty as it applies to software usage. Beyond those, distros are  classified according to their basis: Arch, Debian, Fedora, Gentoo or Slackware. At the end, we have those that fall into no other category.

Free Software Foundation Approved

Not all software in Linux distributions necessarily is free or libre software. After all, most of us want to play MP3 files or view web pages with Adobe Flash objects embedded in them and I am as guilty of this as many. Then, there are proprietary drivers that are included with some of them baked into Linux kernels also. All of this may make Linux easier to use but it will not please some. Hence, the Free Software Foundation have a list of distros satisfying their guidelines and some of these are below.

Blag

Fedora is fairly conservative in its use of proprietary software but this apparently is even freer again. The website of the Brixton Linux Action Group certainly is activist in its tone.

Dragora

Apparently, simplicity is the hallmark here.

Dynebolic

This a free software compliant multimedia distro that proves that such things can be done without the use of proprietary codecs.

gNewSense

Since the Free Software Foundation is a supporter of this, there isn’t going to be any software included that it deems as being “non-free”. The basis is Debian though so it isn’t going to be completely foreign to many of us even if certain challenges like doing without MP3 files are put our way.

libreCMC

This results form the combination of two distinct projects that shared one common characteristic: use in embedded devices like routers, not for installing on PC’s. That may seem like a minority interest to me but we all have different needs.

Musix

The website is in Spanish but this is a distro for musicians, as the name might apply. Apparently, it is based on Debian and Knoppix.

Parabola

Here, Arch is the basis with freedom as the byword. However, you need to install a CACert root certificate to get into the website, which may be an issue for some.

ProteanOS

What we have here is another Linux distro than be embedded on different devices and is kept lightweight to ensure universality.

Trisquel

Think of this as Ubuntu with only Free Software included and you have the point of this distro. Given that Robert Stallman of the FSF likes it, meeting that goal seems to be assured now.

More in the Way of Privacy

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 the invisibility in order to speak their minds.

Privatix

Security and privacy has emerged highly as a concern since the NSA revelations from Edward Snowden and there are a number of Linux distros that cater for this need too. This is one that is based on Debian that runs from a USB stick drive or an external hard drive. The idea is that you can have a session on a PC without leaving any trace on there or on the web either. It may pander to paranoia but it shows that Free Software is there is scratch any itch.

Tails

This 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 6 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 conjunction with 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.

Whonix

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 what you use to work on your own system. It may sound like being overly careful but it has me intrigued.

Something for Network Assisted Storage

For a long time, I was under the impression that anything catering for Network Assisted Storage servers either came with the devices or was based on BSD. A review in Linux Voice changed that understanding and a spare PC was set up with one of the options below. Previously, I had tried FreeNAS with no success because the installation CD’s that I had made would not boot up the machine for whatever reason.

EasyNAS

This is based on OpenSUSE and it displays its reason for existence in its name. Thankfully, it is as easy to use as it intends to be.

Openfiler

This largely is a commercial offering though there is a community edition as well. Support for the latter apparently is lacking, which tells its own story.

OpenMediaVault

After positive comments from Linux Voice, I went and gave this a go. It is based on Debian so there was a certain familiarity with the underpinnings anyway. Once I had watched a video on YouTube, the interface became clearer and I was able to get it work as it should. There are plugins too so functionality can be extended with the likes of ownCloud and other tools. OMV-EXTRAS.ORG has a good selection that adds to the ones included in the standard installation.

Now, the next steps are to make the guinea pig PC quieter (the power supply fan is not quiet and the noise coming from the CPU one may be apparent too) and maybe give it a much bigger hard drive than the 320 GB one that I have been using for testing. Cutting down power usage would be another possibility.

Turnkey Linux

It is the File Server variant that would power a NAS but it does look like that is a lot of interesting other possibilities available from the website; there are ones for WordPress, Drupal and Joomla!, for instance. Debian is the basis for this one too.

Keeping it Lightweight

While computer hardware gets ever more capable, it is easy to for software developers to use all that power and leave those on older machines behind. That probably has been the driver for what you find below and there also is the added option of portability too if you wish to boot up a public computer with your own Linux operating system.

DSL

The acronym means Damn Small Linux and it essentially is a derivative of Debian shrunk to fit within 50 MB. That it’s intended for older computers or those without much in the way of processing power goes without saying.

CRUX

A lightweight 64-bit Linux operating is what this project intends to give to the world.

Porteus

Portability is the unique selling point for Porteus because it is intended to be a lightweight installation that you carry around with you on a CD, DVD or USB Flash Drive. The claim is that it boots in around 15 seconds, which is impressive if that’s the reality.

Puppy

Though there are heavyweight Linux distros that need reasonably up to date hardware, this is one of the better known options for older machines that will cope with the likes of GNOME Shell or KDE. It is based on Slackware and has been streamlined for its intended purpose.

SliTaz

Not to be content with offering a distro for desktop use on slower systems, they also include servers as a usage option. Needing only 48 MB of RAM and 35 MB of disk space looks very impressive these days and means that a 15 year old PC need not be consigned to recycling just yet.

Tiny Core

Linux developers really want to have a hand in creating bare-bones distros that will run on practically anything and here’s another example whose size is measured in megabytes and not gigabytes. In fact, I have seen numbers quoted on the website that don’t even exceed 10 MB so many appliances could make use of this along with the usual desktop and server PC’s.

wattOS

This sounds like a stripped out version of Debian and it once used Ubuntu as its basis. Usage of memory and other computing resources is a watchword with this one, especially with its Microwatt edition and there are LXDE and MATE versions too.

More Options Based on Debian

Debian is conspicuous by its absence here since if has its own place on this website because there is a BSD UNIX variant to go alongside the monger standing Linux one. Nevertheless, so many other distros are based on it that there needs to be a list of them. Ubuntu and Linux Mint are the most notable of the derivatives but there are many others as you will see here. To reduce duplication, anything in the more functional listings above is excluded below.

Bodhi

An up and coming Ubuntu derivative that uses the Enlightenment desktop environment.

Deepin

This is another derivative of Ubuntu that is gaining favour thanks to the elegance of its desktop. That it’s essentially GNOME 3 is saying something about how GNOME Shell can be customised too.

DMDc

The name may be odd but this is a variant of Debian with the MATE desktop environment. However, it isn’t a remixing of the a production but rather the feedstock that is used to assemble new versions of Debian too.

Elementary OS

It has Ubuntu at its heart but a lot of work has happened to make it feel as if that isn’t the case.

Grml

This is a remix of Debian that uses the Zsh shell that runs exclusively as a live distro, either on a DC or on a USB flash drive.

Kanotix

This appears to be a German Debian variant that uses KDE as its desktop environment. It gets the latest version of Iceweasel (think Firebox without the proprietary branding) by default too and without any extra effort needed on the part of a user.

Knoppix

If I remember correctly, this was the first ever distribution to offer a Live CD version of itself and the innovation has taken off to the level that almost all of its competitors now offer the same. Its creator also writes a helpdesk column for Linux Magazine.

Kubuntu

Until the 12.04, release this was sponsored by Canonical but that has changed with Blue Systems taking over for the 12.10 release. It remains the KDE flavour of Ubuntu in spite of this and that seems to remain the case for the foreseeable future.

Linux Lite

As the name suggests, thus Ubuntu variant is suitable for older computer hardware. Also, it is based on LTS releases of Ubuntu so there is no need to upgrade every six months either.

Linux Mint

After a few years with Ubuntu, the advent of 11.04 with its Unity desktop environment had me thinking that we were getting what Canonical thought was right for us instead of what we might have wanted. After sticking it out with Ubuntu 10.10, I decided on a migration to Linux Mint 11 over the Easter weekend. That promised more evolution than revolution and seems to be a community-driven operation. Unity was rejected and a more standard GNOME 2 desktop in the style to which Linux Mint users had become accustomed was the offer.

Linux Mint 12 brought a move to GNOME 3 but it happened on its own terms. Using extensions, they have made GNOME Shell look not dissimilar to the desktop that which graced Linux Mint 11 or even the LXDE variant of the distribution. This answered my question as to what could be done with GNOME by distribution projects but only for a while. The Cinnamon desktop environment was brought into being is, along with Mate (itself a fork of GNOME 2), the favoured desktop environment since Linux Mint 13. Nothing stops you adding GNOME Shell and tricking it out to suit yourself though. After all, that is what I have done.

The main distro may be based on Ubuntu but there is a Debian-based rolling version too. When you consider that the main Linux Mint distribution upgrade recommendation is to do a backup and a fresh installation with software reinstatement, it may seem a surprising course for the project to take. Having a non-Ubuntu basis may be playing safe for the future though. Because of the rolling nature of LMDE, I did try it out and found that this is something that needs fine tuning; their servers were overloaded following the release of a major update and it was either a case of waiting or defeating the object by going for a DVD installation. Otherwise, it worked smoothly while I was investigating it. However, the upgrade debacle has forestalled any ideas of replacing the Ubuntu-based mainstream variant.

As well as the rolling LMDE that comes in GNOME and Xfce versions, Linux Mint also has Ubuntu-based LXDE, Xfce and KDE (this is not a Kubuntu clone by the way; the KDE integration was done by the Linux Mint folks) variants. The Xfce variant is running on my Asus Eee netbook and, along with the LXDE one, it’s a more lightweight option for less powerful machines. It works very well and there’s nothing to stop you adding more heavyweight software because it accesses the same repositories as its GNOME cousin. The similarity between LXDE and GNOME 2 make it easy to find your about too and this desktop environment is such a promising option for those wanting to stick with a more traditional layout that you have to ask if MATE is needed at all.

There’s plenty on offer from Linux Mint and the way in which it has developed is surprising when you realise the size of the team and their resources; the latter became apparent during a major LMDE update when servers couldn’t cope with the load. In contrast to an Ubuntu project that has been infected with delusions of being the apple of the Linux world, Linux Mint is far more community oriented. That makes it a gentler world than one where you hear about people needing to win arguments.

Lubuntu

The first place I ever tried Lubuntu was on my now five year old Asus EeePC netbook and it now runs Xubuntu following a dalliance with a LXDE variant of Linux Mint (that project no longer supports this desktop environment option, by the way). LXDE is the desktop environment choice here too and it’s very lightweight and so fits the bill for netbooks and PC’s that are getting on in years. The included software  is chosen for being lightweight so Chromium appeared instead of Firefox but the accessibility of Ubuntu repositories meant that LibreOffice and the aforementioned Firefox never took long to appear on where I installed Lubuntu. Originally, it was an independent project but it impressed Mark Shuttleworth enough to gain official support such that new versions now appear on the same day as the main Ubuntu release itself.

Later on, a mishap with an Ubuntu password got it installed on my Toshiba laptop before a hard drive upgrade saw it revert to a dual booting combination of Ubuntu (it’s the LTS so the version is 12.04 and I went about adding on GNOME Shell before ending up moving to Cinnamon from a third party PPA) and Windows 7. That was no fault of Lubuntu because it does not look dissimilar to GNOME 2 and an extra panel can be added to make it even more of a lookalike too. My only explanation for its ejection must be that I fancied a spot of further experimentation.

It’s only recently that I set it a sterner test: an elderly PC with an AMD Athlon single core processor and 1 GB of RAM. Lubuntu works on there much better than Sabayon even if browsers (Firefox or Chromium) can cause desktop crashes more frequently than I’d like. That machine may get an upgrade in time but it’s usable as things stand.

LXLE

Apparently, some wonder why we need Lubuntu with this around. It is based on LTS releases of Ubuntu so it escapes that six monthly cycle and its a developing trend with many downstream distros taking a similar approach. Each Linux Mint is taking that tack now.

Netrunner

Quite why another incarnation of Kubuntu is needed may be lost on me but this is one of those sponsored Blue Systems along with Kubuntu and the KDE edition of Linux Mint. Choice cannot be a bad thing though.

OS/4 OpenLinux

Amiga users have not been left neglected because of this Debian and Ubuntu derived distro.

Overclockix

As the name suggests, this is for PC hardware enthusiasts and many of them overclock their systems. It’s based on Debian so stability is assured although I am left wondering if the same can be said for the custom built systems created by its target audience.

Parsix

Essentially, this would appear to be a Debian-based distro with the latest version of GNOME in its testing edition; it’s 3.4.2 in the stable release. There are six-monthly updates that are reminiscent of Ubuntu too, especially when you consider that an in situ upgrade can be accomplished using the package management facilities.

Pinguy OS

What you get here is a prettier alternative to Ubuntu that uses GNOME Shell accessorised with Docky and Conky. The latest version is based on the most recent LTS version of Ubuntu (12.04 at the time of writing) so there’s no rushing you from one release to the next every six months either.

SalentOS

Sabayon has Italian roots but this distro carries them on its sleeve given that it is named after the Salento region of the country. It’s an Ubuntu derivative with a choice of Openbox or Razor-QT desktop environments. Given the location of Salento, it might be the lure of pretty desktop backdrops that get me having a look at SalentOS.

Siduction

This is a packaging of software from Debian’s unstable branch, always called Sid and so the inspiration for the name of this distro. There are quarterly releases and five desktop environments are on offer, GNOME, LXDE, XFCE, KDE SC and Razor-QT. For whatever reason, there is a version with no desktop environment at all but that might be for the sort of DIY enthusiast who enjoys the likes of Arch.

SimplyMEPIS

A while ago, I decided to give this one a whirl and the GUI is very pleasing to the eye and something tells me that it’d do much of what I’d have asked of it. Well, it’s based on Debian/Ubuntu so there should be no issue there. However, there was one problem that I never got to resolving: it didn’t want to know about a home area set up on a different hard disk. It was enough to have me moving to something else and came as a surprise since many other distros provide this support. Seeing if SimplyMEPIS has sorted it since my last look sounds any interesting idea.

SparkyLinux

Using the testing branch of Debian, this rolling release distro comes in E17, LXDE, MATE and razor-QT flavours. In fact, there’s also a command line edition for those wanting to build their own desktop environment instead of having it pre-packaged for them.

Ubuntu

Xubuntu (Xfce desktop environment)

Ubuntu Studio

With the storm that accompanied the introduction of Unity in 11.04, it’s just as well that Ubuntu comes with a number of desktops. Though Unity is becoming ever more polished, I have concluded that it isn’t for me and so I have stuck with Linux Mint as the operating system for my main home PC after a few years of using Ubuntu. As it happened, it was Ubuntu that steered me into the world of full-time Linux usage after a series of Windows XP meltdowns.  In contrast to earlier dalliances with Linux, all of my hardware was supported without any bother and everything seemed to work straight away. Whatever issues I faced in those early months, there seemed to an answer in an Ubuntu forum or blog for my problem even if some needed a spot of thought when it came to their implementation.

With the all of the noise out there, there must be some who like Unity and it always is those with grievances that shout the loudest anyway. Then, there are others like me who decide to quietly look around them when they are not convinced by what’s coming their way. Alongside the other desktop options, GNOME Shell can be added too and there now is an official variant of Ubuntu with that desktop environment available since last year too.

Ubuntu retains its more specialised editions too. Ubuntu Studio focusses on multimedia needs. In order to get a nicer looking desktop, I did toy with the former for a while before returning to Ubuntu again. That experience confirmed that video and music editing is part of its functionality though they don’t catch my own interest. Everyone differs and we all have our own needs.

While Canonical seems to be learning a thing or two from Apple, choices remain and there are more Ubuntu-based distros than in the mainstream stack. Its open source roots continue to prevail so the likes of Linux Mint and more like it continue to live on for those wanting to feel in charge of their computing.

Ubuntu MATE

In a sense, this is going back to how Ubuntu was before the arrival of GNOME Shell or Unity, both of which have caused controversy, and it is a community effort and not one sponsored by Canonical. With Linux Mint have the MATE desktop too, you might be tempted to ask what this offers but the decision by the Linux Mint team to go exclusively for a long term support model answers that. In contrast, the next release of Ubuntu MATE will be 14.10 so you get an intermediate release this way and in situ distro version updates should be a possibility too, another practice that the Linux Mint team reckons is undesirable. It will be interesting to see how many go for this.

Zentyal

From the website, this would appear to be a mail server operating system that has a user friendly feel to it. However, Linux Magazine has left me with the impression that its talents go beyond this and that activities like serving websites are supported. These are things that I have yet to explore with the VirtualBox instance that I have set up to see what it can do.

ZevenOS

Since there usually isn’t a KDE version of Debian, this has a place. Those wanting a 32-bit option need to look elsewhere though since this is 64-bit only affair.

Arch & Derivatives

Those with more of a do-it-yourself approach to life will value Arch but there are more user friendly variants too. After all, the pacman command line package manager is one of the best in the world of Linux.

Antergos

This started as Cinnarch before those in that project felt the strain of implementing the Cinnamon desktop environment using Arch as their base. Now, it uses GNOME Shell as its desktop environment by default though Cinnamon remains a choice. Xfce and Razor-qt (near enough to KDE but those with a more adventurous streak) are new options too so I am left wondering at what the issue with Cinnarch actually was. Still, it’s good to see the project going on into a new phase and there needs to be more user friendly version of ARCH with GNOME included as a desktop option without a long painstaking DIY session needed to get it instated.

Arch

Arch has two main selling points for me. The first is that it is a rolling distribution so six monthly upheavals are avoided while the second may not appeal to everyone. That is that using Arch is very D.I.Y. in its approach and that means leaving all the choices to you. In an age when GNOME 3 and Unity are causing so much rancour, that can help to quell complaints because you are not constrained by the choices of others or finding the right version of a distribution. Speaking of desktop environments, be warned that this takes a few hours of your time with Arch and needs another computer so that you can search the Arch wiki for the instructions.

The wiki is very good so it’s a case of providing the instructions to users instead of doing the job for them, possibly in a way that some dislike. It is an approach that is educational too and having to work a little for a solid system set up is no bad thing either because you can look at the results of your efforts with a sense of satisfaction. The distribution may be cutting edge but I have found it to be a solid offering and that comment applies too to software installed from the AUR.  Speaking of software installation, this exclusively is a command line process and pacman works very well as the tool for the job. All in all, this is a distribution for the hobbyist who likes to have solid documentation to advise them of their way.

Some may think Arch an aberration in a world where user-friendliness is king but I was so impressed with it that it replaced Fedora on my secondary home PC. However, an update caused an unrecoverable error in GNOME and I have moved on from it because of that. The laborious installation ended up making me choose something that quicker to get on there instead and font display seemed to have been an issue in terms of sharpness too. Maybe, I’ll give things another go when I have a bit more time again.

Chakra

This KDE-based distribution started out as a respin of Arch before becoming a full fork in its own right. It retains the rolling characteristic of its original parent while offering more in the way of user friendliness.

Manjaro

This offering uses Arch as its basis but is vastly more user friendly than the distro on which it is based. For a time, I tried it with in a virtual machine but the rolling release updates broke it and I left things there. It remains a work in progress from the stability point so waiting a little longer would be harm so as to allow it to mature. There are versions with all the usual desktop environments with XFCE and OpenBox editions being those from the main project and community efforts resulting in KDE, GNOME and Cinnamon variants.

Fedora & Derivatives

When Red Hat decided to keep its name for its lucrative commercial activities, it created the Fedora project to keep community participation going. The predecessor spawned a lot of spin-offs but Fedora does not see much of that now though we do have the following collection alongside the original.

CentOS

This is a fork of Red Hat Enterprise Linux that is available without charge, a situation allowed through GPL that would end up in the courts if this was proprietary software. Of course, it is the paid support that is the ultimate advantage of its parent and it won’t have that. Another Linux distro focussed on stability does no wrong though.

Fedora

For a good while, I did have a PC running Fedora until the appeal of running Arch on there grew too strong after an upgrade to Fedora 16 didn’t work out as smoothly as would have been ideal. It’s the native GNOME variant that I used but there are others with KDE, Xfce and LXDE desktops instead. Over time, I managed to figure out its ins and outs as well with getting a web server working on the thing was made more tricky by SELinux though an acceptable solution was found after quite a search: setting a dedicated user account and changing the SELinux of the account’s home folder was to be the workaround. Things like that are not so user-friendly and Linux Format did say that Fedora 14 wasn’t a beginner option when it reviewed it. Other than the web server, I was able to make it work for me without spending too many hours in doing so. The distribution also is an early adopter of new developments in the world of Linux and GNOME 3 was one of these. In fact, a day with Fedora 15 sold GNOME 3 to me and I even added it to my Linux Mint 11 installation on my main home machine later on.

Korora

A re-spin of Fedora that is focussed on desktop users. It seems necessary given some of the review comments I have seen about Fedora 19…

Gentoo et al.

The Gentoo family is not a big one. Is that because of the software compiling basis of package installation?

Gentoo

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. It also is the basis of Sabayon so those wanting to less tinkering can use that instead. The wiki also comes in handy for those users and I have been led to it a few times by Google Sabayon query.

Sabayon

This is a quasi-rolling release distribution based on Gentoo and software installation is far more user friendly than its parent. After a satisfactory trial on VirtualBox, my secondary home PC became host to the GNOME edition of Sabayon; KDE, MATE and XFCE are other options. The rolling release nature of the distro was an attraction but it didn’t run as smoothly as I’d have liked. Also, the overall update mechanism needs to include kernel upgrades too. While I can see that separating these in order to avoid system upsets is sensible, the whole distro cannot be fully rolling until they are included in such a way as make those major upgrades seamless to a user. That proved to be a deal-breaker for me when even Ubuntu can make the major upgrades work without any bother. So long as you go for the DVD-based upgrade path every time a new Sabayon version appears, you should be fine but that means it is far from being a rolling a release schedule as might have been hoped.

Slackware & Derivatives

Slackware has been around for a long while now so it is no surprise that other distros have been built on its basis. That these are not in the mainstream of Linux usage is no criticism of them either.

Salix OS

Here is a Slackware-based distro that comes with the following desktop environments: Xfce, MATE, LXDE, Fluxbox, KDE and Ratpoison. It is interesting to see that GNOME has been given a wide berth with MATE included in it stead.

Slackel

This is a Greek distro that is based on both Slackware and its derivative Salix. KDE and Openbox are the desktop choices for anyone who’s interested.

Slackware (backup server)

There’s a saying out there about Slackware being the only distribution that’ll teach you about Linux. For one thing, it certainly has been around since near enough the dawn of Linux and I remember a colleague at The University of Edinburgh using it on one of the institutions research PC’s. There is a hardcore aspect to the distro so it’s not for beginners and, whatever you do, don’t go expecting any easy way of updating the software that you install on your system.

Along with the longstanding x86, releases (32- and 64-bit, by the way), there’s even an ARM version now. Early in 2012, the distro’s website disappeared because there wasn’t money to address a hardware failure. Thankfully, it’s back online now thanks to the support of its community even if RAM remains an issue on the main server; that’s why a mirror site exists. The way this bump was resolved shows that even more technical variants of Linux have their fans and there’s something to be said for knowing more about the innards of the operating system too.

Slax

Whether you are an admirer of Slackware or not, this modular lightweight distro is intended to run on some very old computers. While I have no idea where they might find PC’s from around twenty years ago (Intel 486, anyone?) for testing that Slax runs on them, that hasn’t stopped the project allowing for its wares running on those at all. They even sell a USB stick drive with the software installed on there to fund the project if downloading the files is too much for you.

Zenwalk

GNOME 2 lives on as a desktop choice for this distro and there is Openbox too.  You also have a choice of editions according to how much your computer can handle and it is based on Slackware too.

Mandriva Offshoots

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 the 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. Decline has beset the organisation 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.

Mageia

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.

OpenMandriva

Of the pair that is listed here, it is OpenMandriva that really is a continuation of the now defunct Mandriva. Seeing how things progress for a project with user friendliness at its heart will be interesting 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.

Others

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 own way.

IPFire

This distro has a very specific role in life: powering dedicated computer firewall appliances. While I can picture using it on an older machine set aside for securing an internet connection, there does seem to more to this project than that and the strength of the firewall is sufficient for securing corporate networks as well. In fact, the people behind IPFire sell their own appliance products too with a rack-mountable option as well as a smaller free-standing one.

Kali

This is a special purpose flavour of Linux dedicated to security testing. Of course, it is your own systems or those of others for which you have permission to be examining…

MakuluLinux

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 Micro Mart and uses MATE, XFCE, Enlightenment and KDE as its desktop environment choices.

openSUSE

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 attentions went elsewhere. Only for a PC Plus cover-mounted CD, it never might have discovered it and it bested Redhat, 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.

PCLinuxOS

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.

Qubes OS

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.

 

SMS

The acronym stands for Superb Mini Server and that provides the intent of this Italian distro. Slackware is its basis and the inclusion of Webmin is more than a strong hint that it is built for remote management too. Also part of the package are the sorts of tools that you’d need for a web server so it’s not just for file storage and there’s firewall management available too.

Tizen

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.

Vector

Though it hasn’t been updated for more than a year now, there is an interesting concept here: tailoring of desktop environments and software according to the user’s computer power. KDE is kept for Deluxe and SOHO editions while XFCE is used for the standard edition and there is an even more lightweight version available too.

Zorin

It may tire some but this distro is chasing Windows users with more gusto than most. That’s not all because they are selling laptops with OS installed on them too.