As you might know, Linux in itself isn’t an operating system like Windows or Mac. When it comes down to it, Linux is just a kernel. The complete operating systems or distributions come from developers building off of that kernel. With that in mind, there are a ton of different Linux distributions out there. And today, we’re going to show you what some of the popular ones are out there as well as what some of the more specialized distributions are for. Be sure to follow along below!
Out of all Linux distributions, Ubuntu is the most popular, largely because it’s the most user friendly option out of other distributions. Ubuntu can actually be used for desktop and server environments. It’s a solid operating system for both situations, and is usually a common choice for newcomers to Linux as it’s the closest you can get to Windows and/or Mac as far as Linux distributions go.
New Ubuntu releases come out every six months, but these builds are generally not as stable as long-term support (LTS) options. These long-term releases are available every two years and are the most stable version of Ubuntu you can get. If you’re considering making the leap to Ubuntu, it’s worth noting that it has its own App Store/Marketplace where you can find applications that will extend the features of Ubuntu as well as just applications that can replace your traditional Windows/Mac apps.
Red Hat Enterprise Linux
Red Hat is a distribution aimed towards commercial uses, used generally in server and workstation environments. Red Hat is one one the more trusted enterprise operating systems out there and is employed by many different Fortune 500 companies. It’s worth noting that Red Hat employs trademark law to prevent the software from being redistributed. Being intended for commercial purposes, it is going to cost you a bit of money. You can find a list of different pricing options here.
If you like the sound of Red Hat, but don’t want to shell out any money, it might just be worth checking out centOS. This distribution takes Red Hat’s core code, removes all of the trademarks and makes it free to download for all. When it comes down to it, this really is just a free version of Red Hat, making this a suitable option for commercial environments like workstations and servers as well.
IPCop is a lot different than Ubuntu and even Red Hat Enterprise Linux, as it’s a more specialized distribution. It’s essentially a lightweight operating system intended as a router/firewall distribution, offering a simple and easy-to-use firewall solution. Version 1.4 was released way back in 2004, but it’s still supported today, with the last release being made available in early 2015. A lot has changed since its original release in 2004, though. IPCop 2.1.x was released in 2009, which brought with it a completely new installer, a new user interface and a bunch of new features/addons.
Alpine Linux, similar to IPCop, is another router/firewall distribution, but with a different goal in mind as well as a whole host of different features. The developers say “Alpine Linux is an independent, non-commercial, general purpose Linux distribution designed for power users who appreciate security, simplicity and resource efficiency.” Built around musl libc and busybox, you get a complete Linux distribution that takes up a meager 130MB of disk space (and just 8MB in a container).
It’s worth noting that while it was primarily geared towards embedded and server applications, their vision for the distribution has gotten a lot broader in recent days. One of the neat things about Alpine Linux is that it isn’t very mainstream. It’s essentially a diamond in the rough. It really is worth taking a look at, as it has its own package manager, it’s lightweight, and security is top notch.
CAINE (Computer Aided INvestigative Environment), based on Ubuntu 14.04.01, is a distribution for those that need to do digital forensics. CAINE offers the forensic investigator a complete digital forensic environment. It aims to help the investigator by organizing software tools into modules for easy access, a user-friendly user interface and plenty of friendly and easy-to-use tools.
It’s definitely a niche distribution intended for an extremely small group of people, but it’s also a neat and wonderful idea.
These distributions don’t even touch the surface on how many are out there. Whether you’re looking for something niche or a distribution with a broader focus, there are tons of different options. In fact, you can see a fairly exhaustive list of what is all out there here. In this list, we’ve shown you six different options. Three are fairly popular and well-known, but the other three have fairly niche uses.
Before jumping into one and install it, it’s always good to do your research on anything Linux. Even the most user-friendly Linux distribution Ubuntu has some quirks that the layperson isn’t going to be able to work out. That said, research is definitely recommended as well as joining an online Linux community/forum where you can ask questions and generally learn how things work.