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Linux Operating System: Distributions & Uses

Instructor: Alexis Kypridemos

Alexis is a technical writer for an IT company and has worked in publishing as a writer, editor and web designer. He has a BA in Communication.

This lesson identifies more well-known Linux distributions and where to find them. It also explains how each is primarily used and in which major industries each is implemented.

Linux Distributions (Distros)

Since the initial development of Linux by Finnish student Linus Torvalds in 1991, there have been literally hundreds of distributions ('distros' for short) of Linux. A Linux distribution is not exactly the same thing as an operating system (OS) version. For example, Windows 10 is a new version or upgrade from Windows 7, and High Sierra is an upgrade of the Mac OS from Sierra. By virtue of the fact that Linux is open source (free for anyone to manipulate), a distribution is a form of Linux created for specific needs. For example, many sources list Ubuntu as the most 'user friendly' distribution of Linux and the most popular with home users. Kali Linux, on the other hand, is a distribution created primarily for security and penetration testing. Each of these distributions may have newer versions as they are updated. For example, the current version of Ubuntu is 18.04.1 LTS. Version 18.10 is scheduled for release in October 2018.

Common Linux Distributions

There are too many distributions of Linux to include in any one lesson, so we will review some of the most common below.

Debian

Debian is one of the oldest Linux distributions, dating back to 1993. It can be used as a desktop or server OS. While it is described by sources as user friendly, its installation and initial configuration require additional steps that might make it a little complex for an entry level user. It can downloaded from: https://www.debian.org/distrib/.

Ubuntu

Ubuntu is the most popular and user friendly version of Linux, according to most sources. It is based on Debian. It is easier to install and configure than Debian, and can be downloaded here: https://www.ubuntu.com/download/desktop.

Linux Mint

Linux Mint is another user friendly, lightweight distribution. Some sources say it responds much faster and makes less use of hardware resources as compared to Windows. It can be downloaded from: https://linuxmint.com/download.php.

Fedora

Fedora is considered relatively easy to install and is based on the once popular but now discontinued Red Hat Linux distribution. Home, server, and cloud versions are offered. It can be downloaded from: https://getfedora.org.

A note about Red Hat: While it was discontinued in 2003, Red Hat Enterprise is still active and is commercially sold. Many distros, such as the ones we are discussing in this lesson, are free.

Kali

Kali, as previously mentioned, is a distribution developed primarily for security and penetration testing. It can be downloaded from: https://www.kali.org/downloads/.

CentOS

CentOS is another distribution based on the now discontinued Red Hat distro. Sources differ as to how easy it is to use and whether it is best suited for new users or for more experienced admin-type users. It can be download from: https://www.centos.org/download/.

openSUSE

openSUSE is offered in two sub-distributions: Leap and Tumbleweed. Sources say Leap is an easy and user friendly distro which makes a good starting point for users new to Linux. Tumbleweed, on the other hand, is better suited to developers. Both can be downloaded from: https://software.opensuse.org/.

Where is Linux Used?

Some sources say that upon Linux's introduction in the early 1990's, there was debate that it would become the desktop operating system of choice. With the benefit of more than 25 years of hindsight, it can be safely said that Windows remains the dominant OS, with a market share of over 90%. While the vast majority of Linux distributions are free, the Linux market share is only estimated at between 1% and 2%.

Having said that, Linux has been steadily popular in other areas. While not technically a Linux distribution itself, the Android OS by Google is powered by the Linux kernel. Linux is also by far the most popular choice of OS for web servers (computers that host websites), with some sources saying that Linux powers over two thirds of the world's web servers, as compared to Windows Server which runs less than a third.

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