02. What is a Linux distro?

If you've hung around Linux geeks, you've most likely come across the term distros (short for distribution). A distro the set of precompiled, packaged set of software utilities, themes, terminal interfaces, and management commands that come wrapped with the Linux kernel. There are tens of different distros to choose from, each with its unique benefits and tailored to a niche of Linux users.

Of course, if you're not happy with one particular piece of your distro, you can tweak it or install a new software to your liking. Additionally, you could grab all the softwares you like and individually compile them, creating your very own distro! This would, however, take a lot of time and effort, especially configuring everything to run smoothly with each other.

Comparison with Microsoft

The concept of a distro may seem rather strange, especially when you come from a Window's world, where every new software version (Windows 2000, XP, 7, 8, 10) is bundled up into a single package, and set up in retail stores for $129.95. Instead, Linux allows you to choose from a variety of distributions, each bundled up with softwares that target a specified audience. Freedom of choice, and free of charge!

Popular Distros

Let's look at just some of the distros available on Linux, and how they differ from each other. These distros come with user-friendly configurations straight out-of-the-box.


Ubuntu comes from the Southern African philosophy meaning human-ness, translating to "humanity towards others" or "the belief in a universal bond of sharing that connects all humanity." In short, it's an easy-to-use graphical Linux desktop that is accessible without the need for a command line. This is one of the most popular distros for beginning Linux users, as it comes with many common applications - Firefox for web browsing, OpenLibre for word processing, and much more. Additionally, most settings can be configured through a graphical user interface, so command line knowledge line is not necessary.

There is a similar distro to Ubuntu for Hanna Montana fans. If you love the Disney channel star, give it a try.


Linux Mint

Linux Mint was built for users who love watching movies, listening to music and playing games. It is very similar to Ubuntu, but with extra drivers included out of the box, and is a good alternative for those distrusting of Canoical, the company that backs Ubuntu.



Debian is known as the most stable Linux distribution, built for servers, laptops among other devices. There is no company backing behind Debian, but a good amount of developers with a Debian Project Leader who is elected every two years. Three branches of Debian exist: stable, testing and unstable. Every release is named after characters in Toy Story.


Red Hat and Fedora

Red Hat is a commercial company that puts in a lot of money and effort to develop the best Linux Operating System with customer support. Their main product is Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL), which comes with a fee, but there is a free version called Fedora.

Companies that implement mission critical tasks and require support contacts often buy Red Hat Enterprise edition, as it comes supported with excellent support, up to 7 years after its each version's release date.

Red Hat Fedora logo and desktop.


Short for Community Enterprise Operating System, CentOS is a distro that attempts to provide a quality community-supported platform that competes with Red Hat Enterprise Linux.

CentOS Linux logo and desktop.

Scientific Linux

Scientific Linux is another distro that tried to emulate Red Hat Enterprise Linux for scientists working in the research field. This gives researchers consistency in their analyses work, as their platforms are all the same.

Debian logo and desktop.


OpenSUSE is a popular Linux distro marketed towards consumers, desktop, workstations and business developers. It is said to be the community version of SuSE, a German Linux distribution, much like Red Hat.

OpenSuSE logo and desktop.

Arch Linux

Arch Linux's design approach is based on the KISS principle - "Keep It Simple, Stupid." It attempts to focus on elegance, minimalism and simplicity. Many students use Arch Linux to learn about the inner workings of Linux, as its manual installation teaches about how all the components of the system work together. It comes with a great community, and one of the best wikis around.

Arch Linux logo and desktop.


Gentoo comes with a slew of features that puts the user back in control of his machine. In order to optimize your system, you can set up this distro with only what you want, and make it do only what you tell it to do.

Gentoo Linux logo and desktop.


Slackware first released in 1993, aiming to be the most UNIX-like distro out there. This system can be tricky since the package manager doesn't track any dependencies, so you'll have to use a non-standard one that is developed by the community.

Slackware Linux logo and desktop.

What's your favorite distro and why? Comment below noting your favorite distro! Credit goes to /u/deux3xmachina for providing great insight to these distros.

Take your Linux skills to the next level!

Linux for Beginners

Take your Linux skills to the next level! Try Linux & UNIX

Linux for Beginners doesn't make any assumptions about your background or knowledge of Linux. You need no prior knowledge to benefit from this book. You will be guided step by step using a logical and systematic approach. As new concepts, commands, or jargon are encountered they are explained in plain language, making it easy for anyone to understand.

$ Check price
24.9924.99Amazon 4.5 logo(101+ reviews)

More Linux & UNIX resources

Want to avoid becoming a code monkey?

Pragmatic Thinking

Want to avoid becoming a code monkey? Try Good Practice

Programmers have to constantly learn new concepts and technologies. In this book by Andy Hunt, you'll learn how our brains are wired, and how to take advantage of your brain's architecture to make the most of your learning. You'll learn new tricks and tips to learn more, faster, and retain more of what you learn.

$ Check price
34.9534.95Amazon 4.5 logo(86+ reviews)

More Good Practice resources