A June ’14 Distro Categorization

I thought it might help a few people (including myself!) to perform the following categorized and referenced summary of the current “families” of non-commercial Linux distros. All of these distros have brief descriptions and rankings at the DistroWatch.com listing site [1].

I. Ubuntu and its *buntu Satellites

For example,

  • Ubuntu itself[2]
  • Kubuntu[3] = Ubuntu base with the K Desktop Environment (KDE)
  • Xubuntu[4] = ditto, but with the Xfce desktop environment instead
  • Lubuntu[5] = ditto, but with the Lightweight X11 Desktop Environment (LXDE) instead

II. Non-Canonical, Ubuntu-based Derivatives

For example,

III. Debian GNU/Linux

The “universal operating system”[14] has

  • an extensive range of supported hardware architectures [15]
  • Debian Stable/’wheezy’ and Debian Testing/’jessie’ versions available in official desktop environments, similar to the *buntu satellites (e.g., KDE, Xfce, LXDE)
  • Debian live[16] and netinstall[17]

IV. Debian-based Derivatives

For example,

V. Popular non-Ubuntu and non-Debian Distros

For example,

VI. An extensive mixture of less popular, newly-created, and niche/special-purpose Distros

For example,

Please feel free to add your own comments to the above, e.g., to correct major factual errors and/or significant ommissions🙂

We meet on the second and fourth Sundays of each month from noon to three in Berkeley near the Downtown Berkeley BART station near the corner of University & Shattuck. We hope you join us at Bobby G’s Pizzeria and/or join the discussion on our email list.



12 thoughts on “A June ’14 Distro Categorization

  1. A note about slackware – it’s the oldest surviving linux distro out there – beating Debian by a few months. The category title makes it sound like it’s part of the’new’ group, and listing it first enhances the impression that it’s new.


  2. Awe inspiring, folks. Simply awe inspiring. So the takeaway from this list is that there are Ubuntu-distributions, Debian-based distributions, and then everyone else. We’re supposed to be oblivious to the fact that there are many Red Hat based distros and Slackware based distros — two trunks of the larger Linux tree — that are wrapped up in one “non-Ubuntu” category.

    Nice work.


  3. Some thoughts:

    GNU/Linux distros are often categorized based on Package Management.

    A. Ubuntu is a Debian-based distro, with *.deb based packages.
    B. Antergos is an Arch Linux derivative, that makes it pretty easy to install a working Arch. In fact, from the Arch Wiki, a list of Arch-based distros follows. Note that Arch is loosely considered as a Gentoo derivative. If coe includes the Arch User Repository, they are both upstream source code based, with scripts organizing the building of each package from upstream source, from downloading to compiling to installation and configuring.

    === ARCH Based Distros =========
    1 Specialty Distributions

    1.1 alphaOS
    1.2 Antergos
    1.3 ArchAssault
    1.4 ArchBang
    1.5 ArchBSD
    1.6 ArchEX
    1.7 Arch Linux ARM
    1.8 archboot
    1.9 BBQLinux
    1.10 BlackArch Linux
    1.11 Bluestar Linux
    1.12 Bridge Linux
    1.13 CDN Linux
    1.14 Chakra
    1.15 DidJiX
    1.16 LinHES
    1.17 Manjaro Linux
    1.18 Mesk Linux
    1.19 Parabola GNU/Linux

    2 Meta Distributions

    2.1 archiso

    3 Arch Influenced Distros

    3.1 Alpine Linux
    3.2 Frugalware
    3.3 KaOS

    C. RPM Based. Red Hat and Fedora are an important enough group, and have several derivatives: CentOS, Scientific Linux, Oracle. These are often considered as Fedora Based, and Red Hat Enterprize Linux based.

    D. Slackware was another binary based distribution, and as mentioned above, is probably the oldest extant distro. It requires considerably more hands-on fiddling than Debian, one of the reasons for my personal adoption of Debian, early on, after initially using Slackware.

    E. Where is KNOPPIX? This is one of the most important of all distros, as it was the first live CD distro, and the first one, to my knowledge, that developed scripts to automagically detect hardware and adapt the live (and installed) system for the hardware. My long experimentation with Debian came to an end when I discovered I didn’t need to tweak, for example, displays, and perhaps (to a lesser extent) printers. Ubuntu owes a tremendous debt to Mr. Knopper.

    F. I have never used BSD/FreeBSD, etc.

    G. The totally free distros deserve mention.


  4. Let’s put aside the blatant Ubuntu-centric focus of this list for a moment, to say nothing of the list’s subtext of Ubuntu’s mistaken importance in the wider FOSS world.

    Problems with the list? OK, how about these:

    1.) Ubuntu-based distros are fine, but they are not the only ones, to say nothing of a wide range of excellent distros which have far and away contributed more than Ubuntu to the wider FOSS paradigm, so why are they relegated to second-class status in a catch-all category called, laughably, “Popular non-Ubuntu and non-Debian Distros.” Seriously? How about a listing for Red Hat-based distros and/or a listing of Slackware-based distro?

    2.) Think that having a list of both Red Hat-based and Slackware-based distros would be hard to complie? Nope. Take a look at this: http://futurist.se/gldt/wp-content/uploads/12.10/gldt1210.png – had the poster of the original list consulted this graphic, the list would be clearly more comprehensive. Also, simple search on Distrowatch would give you a list of distros and their bases.

    3. To relegate Slackware — the oldest continuous distro — to the dustbin of “An extensive mixture of less popular, newly-created, and niche/special-purpose Distros” is remarkably ludicrous. Again, Slackware has a wide range of distros that are based on it, like Salix, Slax, Zenwalk to name only three in the Distrowatch top 100. Same with Scientific Linux, which is one of the most important distros in the FOSS galaxy, working on high-powered computers like those at CERN.

    4.) You state at the top that “Note – BerkeleyLUG blog posts are written by BerkeleyLUG members of various backgrounds, levels of experience etc… The views and opinions in each blog post do not represent the views of the group as a whole or the founders.” That’s fine, but seriously: Shouldn’t Berkeley LUG at least vet some of the material its members post for accuracy and/or objectivity to the wider FOSS paradigm rather than, say, aimed at promoting a particular distro?


  5. Larry, you know how hard it is to get consensus about linux distros, right? I like the wikipedia link with text and *picture timeline* and think it should have been included in the article before it was published the first time. Every lug has a different tone to it and new people walk in the door all the time. goossbears is a frequent attendee of meetings. I’ve invited him to respond to comments in case he hasn’t seen them yet.

    A summary of distros is difficult. I’ve tried a lot of them but would be hard pressed to summarize. Everyone has different experiences. I started on slackware, ran Red Hat (before RHEL or Fedora) was a Debian Devel, worked for SuSE and now am an Ubuntu Member (run several flavors) and Fedora Ambassador (using Centos, Feodra OLPC and several spins). I’ve tried quite a few other distros in VMs. I use a Samsung Exynos 5 ARM Chromebook, Android phone and Android tablet despite my concerns about privacy from Google. In a virtual machine I took a week to try Linux From Scratch which was amazingly rewarding and instructive though not very useful or practical. I’ve tried Arch, Gentoo, Puppy and other distros in VMs. Even with all these personal experiences speaking about other distros isn’t easy because there are not just code but differences in how the distros function and provide feedback back upstream to the software projects we all use.

    I try to do a blog post before each meeting, the second and fourth Sundays. When a community member like goossbears writes one it’s a challenge to edit for perspective and tone, don’t you think? Since you have a different opinion from goossbears, can you please provide a more balanced blog post to put at the top of our front page?


  6. TY for your individual comments&opinions on my distro “popularity family” categories above.

    For those of you who’ve happened to notice strike-thru’s on the above DistroWatch.com links over the last few days, apparently this DW site outage came about by “a problem with the domain registrar (which is a separate company from our hosting provider) which caused the domain to lapse.”
    See http://www.zdnet.com/linuxs-distrowatch-site-stumbles-7000031266/ for the current writeup of this incident.


  7. Jack, I’m afraid Larry and Alan are correct that this is a bit of a shambles, and you really ought to lay off the Canonical, Ltd. Kool-Aid for a while. BerkeleyLUG has for the last couple of years looked rather too much like an Ubuntu propaganda arm, and this is doing very poor service for the LUG’s membership, present and future. Consider: What is the motivated newcomer going to glean from your bestiary? He/she will conclude:

    1. Ubuntu and derivatives are standard choices.

    2. For some reason, an unexplained second category of those called ‘Non-Canonical’ ones (in a context that makes it unclear that Canonical is a proper noun and refers to a sponsoring commercial corporation) also exists, with the faint implication of being somehow less desirable.

    3. Then, there are the others/also-rans.

    Whether intended or not, the resulting impression is distortive and misleads the user. Ubuntu/Kubuntu/Xubuntu/Lubuntu is neither the standard choice nor a leader in the industry. Nor a safe choice either, being problematic on a range of hardware on which better distributions do well, and also being woefully deficient in much-desired A/V player and codec software that better distributions include (e.g., Linux Mint and Ultimate Edition), and also having a long history of making disasterous choices at the expense of its own userbase and the open source community (e.g., copyright assignment, the Unity debacle, Shuttleworth’s ridiculous special pleading about Canonical needing special proprietary rights to contributed code to protect its holy business model, and we could go on for a long time).

    Yes, it’s difficult to do a fair job of posting an introduction to Linux distribution choice, but the point is that the existing text misleads drastically and severely – with a blatant and extreme bias.

    You really need to put an end to all this ongoing shilling for Canonical. It’s completely unworthy of BerkeleyLUG.

    Maybe you could, y’know, put down the pipe and try Bodhi Linux or something else that’s actually quality work and innovative, instead of the same old poorly QAed slop that the Ubuntu Loco posse keep pushing onto every single LUG it can get its grip on?

    Rick Moen


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