A short summary of Linux Distros

Table of Contents


Linux Distributions are separate operating systems(OS) from Mac and Windows and therefore do not support many programs made specifically for those systems. Installing a Linux OS on a computer will possibly erase all data, programs, and other operating systems on that computer if done incorrectly. Please be cautious. If you are looking to try a Linux Distrobution out, most USB install discs and live CD's will allow you to run a test environment to experience what the operating system without performing an install.


This article will provide a brief overview of a few common Linux distributions and their common uses and design philosophy. 

Ubuntu Desktop

Ubuntu Desktop is the most popular Linux distribution and is arguably the easiest to use. Ubuntu Desktop comes with a full suite of productivity software, a file manager, photo organization and editing software, software tools, games, and more. Software updates are easily managed with a built in package updater for the System and an App marketplace that can support updates for installs as well. 

Ubuntu Desktop is the consumer desktop version of Ubuntu which is a product of the Canonical company. Ubuntu comes in versions for servers, IoT devices, and a variety of custom editions called "Ubuntu Flavors." There are two versions available: a Long Term Support (or LTS) version that maintains security and maintenance updates for about five years and an up-to-date version which is revised about every six months. The current LTS version is 18.04 Bionic Beaver and the up-to-date version is 19.04 Disco Dingo

Ubuntu is a very versatile system and has versions for Server, Cloud, Internet of Things devices, and many other modified versions. Learning Ubuntu Desktop is a great way to get to know Unix/Linux for beginners.

Handy Hint

Ubuntu is a great place to start for users new to Linux systems.

Linux Mint

Linux Mint is a very polished desktop based off of Ubuntu. Linux Mint aims to make the user experience as smooth as possible by making the OS as easy to use with well designed apps and menus. Another feature which makes Linux Mint attractive to novice users is its inclusion of multimedia codecs that are often not packaged in other Linux distributions. Linux Mint does not offer security advisories, something to be aware of when using it on the University's Networks. 


Fedora is a continuation of an older distribution known as "Red Hat Linux." It is the "hobbyist" version of Red Hat's enterprise server and as such many of its features are oriented toward advanced and enterprise users.  Many of the features and benefits of Fedora don't wind up helping desktop users  because the innovations don't apply to them. Still relatively easy to use this version of Linux is best suited towards people who have some experience with Linux/Unix.


openSUSE is a free, simple to use, open-source Linux distro. openSUSE emphasizes usability and availability. It also includes a favored administrative setup and configuration tool called YaST that can be used to easily manage the system.  openSUSE is available in two main editions - Leap, which provides a stable platform with multiple years of support; and Tumbleweed, which provides a rolling release environment. It is sometimes considered resource heavy which can make the operating system feel slow at times. 


Debian is revered as the most stable distro of Linux. Debian focuses on stability and security but because of this has a slow stable release date of about 1-3 years (this simply means that a new 'final' stable version is only released this often.) Debian users who wish to use newer packages can choose to use the Testing or Unstable versions of Debian that may be more buggy than the well tested stable releases. Debian works on more processor architectures than any other version of Linux which means that almost any hardware can run it and it will be stable. Debian is best suited for moderately technical users. 


Slackware is the oldest Linux Distribution still in use. Slackware is highly technical and not a good choice for new or novice users. Although highly stable, Slackware requires a high level of knowledge of Unix Command Line as most management of the system is done via terminal commands or editing config files. There is a saying among Linux users: "Learn Red Hat and you'll know Red Hat, but if you learn Slackware then you'll know Linux."


Slackware is highly technical, not user friendly, and is not a good choice for new or novice users.

Other Linux Distributions 

This article only scratches the surface of Linux distributions available. There are many other distributions available to explore. Some are designed for consumers, some for particular devices, some for particular purposes. Because Linux is open sourced anybody can make or modify a distribution to make an OS that meets their particular needs. You can find a link to DistroWatch below, a repository of Linux distributions that will give you both an overview and technical information about the distributions listed above and any others you would like to research. 

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