Yesterday’s and today’s grueling ordeal with a sluggish Mint installation got me to thinking: Mint isn’t really for small-scale installations. It’s meant to install on a normal PC, on the native hard drive. So, then what Linux distros are out there that could be booted from inside a USB stick? That’s when I went to the DistroWatch website, and found a “top 100” list of currently popular Linux distros.
As an asside, missing from the Top 100 are the ones that are dead and gone. The ones that I am aware of are Yggdrasil, and Corel Linux. I was surprised not to see Xandros, the OS that powers the Asus Eee mini laptops and mobile devices. I would have imagined that they would be big. It is hard to say how big, since they are not publically traded.
Back the the main subject, I decided to get a list of the most popular distros in the past 12 months including August 2012. I made notes of some scattered distros, and I thought I would share these notes with you in case you are new to Linux and wanted to know which distros are popular and why, as well as knowing some other trivial facts I found about them. I have found many distributions that promise to fit the bill for my small installation over Mint, enough of them that I was happy to just leave the list partly annotated, since I have no time to be totally thorough.
The Top 100 Linux Distros, according to DistroWatch (Aug 2011-Aug 2012)
1 Mint 3698>
an offshoot of Ubuntu, which is an offshoot of Debian.
Based in Ireland, currently the most popular distro.
Idea was to have a desktop that users felt comfortable
with on a standard PC.
It owes its popularity to its having Ubuntu's strengths
while rejecting Ubuntu's mistakes in design, notably the
Unity desktop, which Mint never adopted.
2 Ubuntu 2130>
an offshoot of Debian. Idea was to have a simple desktop
and installation, but the controversial UNITY desktop
only makes the most sense on a tablet with no keyboard.
Desktop is also criticised for being too inflexible in
configuration. Based in South Africa, and part of a
philanthropic initiative by Mark Shuttleworth, owner of
Canonical, an IT company which is leading the development of
Ubuntu, now having 500 employees in 30 countries.
A uniqe remark about Ubuntu is that upon a successful
installation, users were greeted by a video of Nelson
Mandela explaining the word "Ubuntu".
3 Fedora 1662<
This is the non-commercial version of RedHat's official
distribution. Red Hat is likely credited with inventing
the highly configurable RPM package management system of
which YUM is a wrapper application (YUM comes from the
Known for being "easy to install" while not
disappointing more expert users.
4 Mageia 1539>
The French Mandrake and Brazialian Conectiva begat Mandriva
which begat Mageia. Mageia is the free version of
Mandriva, also based in France.
5 openSUSE 1418=
This is the free version of the German commercial
distro, SUSE. openSUSE is currently getting corporate
sponsorship from Novell. The design philosophy for SUSE
has been similar to that of another RPM distro, RedHat.
In my opinion, openSUSE has been been more thoughtfully
engineered than RedHat, historically.
6 Debian 1343=
This is the largest and most stable of all Linux
distributions, and very nearly the oldest. It originated the
DEB packagaing system, to which Ubuntu and Mint owe a
debt. It began in 1993, a year after Linus Torvalds
uploaded his first kernel. American founder Ian Murdock
named it by combining his own name with his girlfriend's:
Debra + Ian = Debian while attending university in
Debian derives its popularity from its versatility and
stability. But this comes at the price of users having
to make do with older packages, which have had time to
7 Arch 1192<
A Canadian Linux distro, in development since at least
2002. Uses a strange tarball *.tar.xz which its package
manager, pacman, understands. Not for beginners, but
also reasonably laid out.
This is for those seeking a minimal installation, which
is often useful for some machines and situations.
Noticeably gone from this list are the other Canadian
distros that once had their heyday: Corel Linux, and
even Xandros are both gone. Both of these were based in
8 CentOS 978=
CentOS was developed as a Poor Man's RedHat Enterprise
Linux. The goal is to provide an Enterprise-level Linux
distribution to those with little or no money to afford
such a system. So, unless you want a large-scale
computer system for a business you are running, maybe
you should look elsewhere.
9 Puppy 866=
As the name might suggest to you, this one is for
small-scale distributions. That is, the kind of
distribution where you can boot from a USB stick or even
a re-writeable multisession CD or DVD. It can also use
the old-school ZIP drives, and even floppies.
The operating system is meant to load into RAM, making
programs run very fast. Development started in Australia
10 PCLinuxOS 812>
An American Live CD distro, is Debian-based, with most
sound cards and video configured out-of-the-box. Has
been active since 2005.
11 Lubuntu 710=
Another UBUNTU offshoot, which has been developed
jointly in France and Taiwan. Made to run on systems
with low resources, such as netbooks, mobile devices,
and older computers. In active development since 2010.
12 Ultimate 647=
Ultimate Edition is the offshoot of Debian and Mint,
aimed at creating an easy to install, feature-rich
operating system, with support for a wide range of
13 Sabayon 632=
14 FreeBSD 627>
FreeBSD is not a Linux system, although both derive from
the original UNIX developed at AT&T labs around 1970.
While BSD is not the biggest or the smallest or the
easiest to work with, BSD UNIX and its freely available
FreeBSD Unix have won wide acclaim for being the most
secure and stable UNIX distribution ever built. It must
be said quickly that FreeBSD and GNU/Linux (pick any
distro you like) have different licensing, but yes, both
are free for anyone to use.
BSD is also known as Berkeley Unix, and is arguably the
oldest surviving traditional UNIX system in existence.
It is widely used as the operating system for Internet
servers such as websites and mail servers.
15 Chakra 606>
16 Slackware 585>
And Slackware is the only surviving GNU/Linux distro that is
older than Debian. Slackware, another American compilation
from Subgenius Church Member, Deadhead and Homebrewer
Patrick Volkerding, who now works as the sole full-time
employee of the Slackware Distribution (although there
are several volunteers).
Slackware, named after the "Slackers" from the Church of
the Subgenius used to have many slacker references such
as images of J. R. Bob Dobbs showing up on screensavers,
and the pipe-smoking cameo of Dobbs printed on some of
the early CDs.
Volkerding also makes his living from several books he
has written on Linux. He is a widely-respected writer.
Slackware is likely the only distro that has no real
package manager. All software packages in Slackware come
in traditional UNIX "tar" archives known as "tarballs",
which, if they are not initially installed, must be
installed using gunzip piped through a tar command as in
gunzip (package_name).tgz | tar xvf -
on a command line.
This means that if you want to install software, you
must read through all the documentation and configure
much of the installation by hand (you ought to be doing
that anyway, but in Slackware this is ciritical). This
might require several trials, and several trips to forums,
websites and blogs. Also, the command line, and not the
windows system, is your friend. And if you survive that, you
have earned yourself the right and privelage to call yourself
a true UNIX guru.
All that said, I can still say that, even in the 21st
century, the minimum system requirement for a Slackware
installation is still an 80486 computer, probably the
most modest requirement I have seen for any distro in
this age of quad-core Pentium processors. In addition, I am
given the impression that you still need a floppy to
boot into the installation (but not into an installed
17 Zorin 577>
18 Bodhi 566=
19 Mandriva 473<
Mandrake became the subject of a trademark dispute with
Hearst Corporation (owners of Mandrake the Magician (King
Features Syndicate)) resulting the subsequent move to acquire
Conectiva and call themselves Mandriva in 2005.
A French-based RPM Distribution (Conectiva was
Brazilian). Mandriva Linux is now a commercial distro.
20 Gentoo 473=
An American distro that has been around for some time. It
uses a unique package management called Portage which
seems to require an extensive pre-existing knowledge of
UNIX commands. Also, the package files are in tarballs,
but at least you have Portage.
21 Fuduntu 460=
So, what do you get when you cross Fedora with UBUNTU?
Fuduntu! This American alternative distro is an attempt
to find a happy medium between the two more famous
distributions. In case you're wondering, it comes from
Fedora, so it uses RPM packages. It purports to be
optimized for portable computers, netbooks, and
22 Pear 455>
If you want your PC to look like you're running MAC OSX, then
you need this French flavour of Linux. Also has multimedia
support out of the box.
23 Pinguy 423=
24 Vector 418>
25 PC-BSD 414=
Headed by Kris Moore, this BSD alternative is an attempt
to make the installation of BSD more user-friendly,
something which is badly needed for the BSD community.
26 CrunchBang 412=
A live CD Linux distro from the UK, made to be small and
27 Xubuntu 397=
Another Ubuntu descendant which uses a lightweight
windows system and is made to run on low-end equipment.
28 Kubuntu 393>
Ubuntu for fans of the KDE Desktop.
29 Scientific 381<
This is actually a re-compiled version of RHEL, used by
the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory and the
European Laboratory for Nuclear Research (CERN). This
distro is downloadable and installable. It also uses the
Andrew Filesystem (OpenAFS). As of this writing, it is
unclear what the licensing is, due to its connection
with RHEL (Red Hat Enterprise Linux).
30 Tiny Core 380=
One of the smallest distros I've heard of, the American
TinyCore boasts a memory space of 10 MB for its desktop,
and can run a variety of window managers.
31 ArchBang 375>
ArchBang Linux is a lightweight version of ArchLinux.
Made for desktop and portable systems, and uses OpenBox
as its window manager.
32 KNOPPIX 342<
KNOPPIX is a bootable CD, perhaps the first of its kind
since Yggdrasil Linux, (the latter no longer exists). Great
for people who want to see what Linux does and to try things
out without installing. Not so great if you want to do
meaningful work on it, since it is a read-only filesystem
(namely your CD or DVD). Debian-based, but it doesn't matter,
since you are not changing anything on your computer.
Distribution is based in Germany and is headed by Klaus
Knopper. There have been many live distros since.
33 Snowlinux 338>
A German subset of Debian.
34 Red Hat 332=
This American distro is the granddaddy of the RPM managers, and
has fallen from favour since now you have to pay for this
distro. People wanting free stuff have to download Fedora.
35 BackTrack 328<
36 ClearOS 315=
37 GhostBSD 300=
The first BSD I've heard of that boots off a live CD.
Also, this is the second Canadian BSD distro so far.
Ghost descended from FreeBSD and uses GNOME as its main
desktop. In development since 2010, led by Eric Turgeon
and Nahuel Sanchez.
38 Salix 288<
39 antiX 281=
40 MEPIS 271<
41 Commodore 266=
Linux for Commodore Enthusiasts. It is 64-bit, so it
won't run on an actual Commodore computer. American.
42 Dreamlinux 264=
43 Peppermint 262=
44 SolusOS 256>
45 Frugalware 253=
46 Ubuntu Studio 250<
Ubuntu Studio is my Linux OS of choice, since I make videos and run a
blog, as well as maintain a website.
It is the de facto OS of choice if you are into creating online content,
videos, graphics, and so on. Most of the existing "artistic" software
is gathered into this system. And it never did adopt the Unity desktop.
I am not aware of a better OS for creators and artists.
47 FreeNAS 249=
48 Dream Studio 249<
49 Unity 247=
50 Tails 247=
51 ROSA 228>
52 Parted Magic 227=
53 SliTaz 221=
54 ZevenOS 214=
55 Clonezilla 209=
56 wattOS 208>
57 Oracle 208<
58 BackBox 208=
59 Porteus 196=
60 Macpup 189>
61 Solaris 187=
Solaris UNIX is the last of the 3 UNIX clones in this
list, the other two being Linux and BSD. Solaris
predates Linux by about 5 or so years, but BSD is older
than either one. Solaris was free for a while but became
proprietary again when Oracle bought the rights to it in
2009 from Sun Microsystems.
62 Netrunner 184=
63 AriOS 184=
64 Kororaa 183=
65 Deepin 182=
66 siduction 178>
67 Zenwalk 176<
68 OpenBSD 174=
This has been active since 1995, and is based in
Calgary, Alberta. Descended from BSD Unix, the
insistence of project leader Theo de Raadt was on code
correctness, high-quality documentation, and open-source
licensing has made it a stable and secure alternative to
Linux. OpenBSD has been compiled for 17 different
processors, spanning PCs, Macs, PowerPCs, SPARC
stations, and VAX machines.
69 Semplice 168>
70 OS4 166>
71 DragonFly 165=
72 AV Linux 164=
73 Absolute 162=
74 SalineOS 161>
75 aptosid 161=
76 PureOS 159=
77 Calculate 157=
78 Linpus 156=
79 SUSE 154=
Germany's SUSE's offering for enterprise-level,
mission-critical operating systems. Uses RPM and currently
has the stuffing knocked out of them by Red Hat, which uses
the same RPM system.
80 Joli OS 154=
81 SystemRescue 153=
82 Super OS 152=
83 Mythbuntu 148=
84 TinyMe 147=
85 MINIX 146=
86 Legacy 144=
87 LPS 139=
88 Fusion 139=
89 Toorox 137=
90 linuX-gamers 131=
91 DoudouLinux 131=
92 ALT 130=
93 Alpine 130=
94 Trisquel 129=
95 Parsix 129=
96 LuninuX 129>
97 Yellow Dog 127=
I wouldn't bother with a Linux OS that has been
relegated to #97, but Yellow Dog is notable for being
intended specifically for Mac users, specifically those
macs that use a PowerPC processor. Since that is a
fairly limited audience, that would be a compelling
reason why it is ranking so low in popularity.
For the record, they have now included a second target
processor: the PS3, aimed at X-boxes and Playstations.
98 DEFT 125=
99 Lunar 123>
100 KahelOS 123=