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> MINT Linux 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> UBUNTU Linux 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< FEDORA Linux 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 SUSE distro). Known for being "easy to install" while not disappointing more expert users. 4 Mageia 1539> MAGEIA Linux 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= openSUSE Linux 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= DEBIAN Linux 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 Indiana. 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 be debugged. 7 Arch 1192< ARCH Linux 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 Ottawa. 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= PUPPY Linux 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 since 2006. 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 recent technologies. 13 Sabayon 632= 14 FreeBSD 627> FREEBSD Unix 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 system). 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= GENTOO Linux 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 desktops. 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 fast. 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< 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= OpenBSD UNIX 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=