Linux Distribution Chart

by Justin Ryan

For this LJ distro chart, we selected distributions and categories based on suggestions from Linux Journal editors and readers, and gathered the information from each distro's Web site and Linux Journal readers shared their comments, favorite distributions and thoughts about each distro's best use in our readers' poll on We include a few readers' comments here with the chart, but be sure to visit and for many, many more comments and to add your own feedback—we're sure we left out at least a few people's favorites! Note that under the “Best for” category on the chart, all distributions were voted as favorites on both desktops and servers, so in the interest of avoiding repetition, we left those out. Also note that in the on-line readers' poll for “Most Frequently Used Distro”, 2% voted for “other”.

DistributionLatest Stable Release (Date)First ReleaseRelease CycleSupport LifecycleBased onDeveloped bySponsored byPackage FormatPackage ManagementDefault Desktop Environment(s) (Version)Linux KernelDefault FilesystemOfficial PortsDerivative DistributionsMost Frequently Used (Readers' Poll)Best For (Readers' Poll)
Arch Linux2009.08 (08/10/2009)03/11/20023–4 months (follows kernel releases)None (rolling releases)NoneAaron Griffin & CommunityNonetar.gzArch Build System, PackmanNone (user selected2.6.32.3None (user selectedx86, x86-64None7%Ease of upgrade, education, older hardware
CentOS5.4 (10/21/2009)12/20032 years (follows Red Hat Enterprise Linux)7 yearsRed Hat Enterprise Linux (open-source SRPMs)CentOS ProjectNonerpmRPM, YUM, up2dateGNOME (2.16)2.6.18ext3x86, x86-64None2%Ease of installation, proprietary hardware support, security
Debian5.0 “Lenny” (02/14/2009)08/16/20032 years (beginning with 6.0 “Squeeze”)3 yearsNoneDebian ProjectNonedebdpkg, APT, SynapticGNOME (2.22), alternate CDs: KDE, Xfce, LXDE2.6.26ext3x86, Alpha, SPARC, PowerPC, SPARC, PowerPC, ARM, MIPS, Itanium, HP PA-RISC, s/390, AMD64, ARM EABIUbuntu, Knoppix, Damn Small Linux, Linspire, Maemo9%Ease of upgrade, getting support, security
Fedora12 “Constantine” (11/17/2009)11/05/20036 months (approximate)13 months (approximate)Historically: Red Hat LinuxFedora ProjectRed HatrpmRPM, YUM, PackageKitGNOME (2.28), Fedora Spins: KDE, LXDE, Xfce2.6.31.5ext4x86, x86-64, PowerPCRed Hat Enterprise Linux, Yellow Dog Linux, Moblin9%Ease of installation, new users, security
GentooNone (versionless)03/31/2002Rolling releasesNone (rolling releases)NoneGentoo FoundationNoneebuildPortageNone (user selected)2.6.32None (user selected)Stable: x86, x86-64, PA-RISC, PowerPC, SPARC 64 bit, DEC Alpha; Development: MIPS, PS3, SystemZ/s390, ARM, SuperHSabayon4%Education, older hardware, real-time apps
Linux Mint8 “Helena” (11/28/2009)08/27/20066 months (follows Ubuntu)18 months (follows Ubuntu)UbuntuLinux Mint TeamNonedebdpkg, APT, MintInstall/MintUpdateGNOME (2.28); Community: KDE, Xfce, Fluxbox2.6.31ext3x86, x86-64None7%Ease of installation, multimedia, new users
Mandriva2010 (11/03/2009)07/23/19986 months18 months (base updates); 12 months (desktop updates); 24 months (server updates)Historically: Red Hat LinuxMandriva S.A.Mandriva S.A.rpmurpmi/rpmdrakeKDE (4.3.2), GNOME (2.28.1), Xfce & twm2.6.31.12ext4i586, i386, x86-64, PowerPC, MIPS, ARMPCLinuxOS6%Ease of installation, education, new users
Mepis8.0.15 (01/12/2010)05/10/2003Unspecified (6 months to 1 year)UnspecifiedDebian/UbuntuMEPIS LLCMEPIS LLC & Communitydebdpkg, APTKDE (3.5), ext3x86, x86-64SimplyMEPIS, antiX2%Ease of installation, new users, olderhardware
openSUSE11.2 (11/12/2009)03/19948 months2 releases + 2 monthsHistorically: SUSE LinuxopenSUSE ProjectNovellrpmRPM, YaST, ZypperGNOME (2.28), KDE (4.3.1)2.6.31ext4x86, x86-64SUSE Linux Enterprise11% (with SUSE Linux Enterprise)Ease of installation, new users, proprietary hardware support
PCLinuxOS2009.2 (06/30/2009)11/2003UnspecifiedUnspecifiedHistorically: MandrivaPCLinuxOS Development TeamNonerpmAPT-RPM, RPM, SynapticKDE (3.5.10)2.6.16Nonex86None4%Ease of installation, multimedia, new users
Puppy Linux4.3.1 (10/17/2009)06/18/2003UnspecifiedUnspecifiedNonePuppy CommunityPuppy Foundation.pup, .petPetGetJWM/IceWM2.6.30.5SquashFS (ext2)NoneNone1%Ease of installation, new users, older hardware
Red Hat Enterprise Linux5.4 (09/02/2009)03/26/200218–24 months7 yearsFedoraRed HatRed HatrpmRPM, YUMGNOME (2.16)2.6.18ext3IA-32, x86-64, PowerPC, i386, ia64, s390, s390xCentOS1%Getting support, proprietary hardware support, security
Slackware13.0 (08/26/2009)07/16/1993UnspecifiedN/AHistorically: Softlanding Linux SystemPatrick Volkerding & CommunitySlackware Linux, Inc.txz/tgz (tarball)installpkg/upgradepkg (pkgtool)Blackbox, Fluxbox, FVWM, KDE (4.2.14), WMaker, Xfce; Community: GNOME2.6.29.6ext4x86, x86-64, IBM S/39Slam64, SLAX, VectorLinux4%Education, older hardware, security
SUSE Linux Enterprise11 (03/24/2009)03/1994Major: 24–36 months; Service Packs: 9–12 months5–7 yearsopenSUSENovellNovellrpmYaST, ZypperKDE (4.1), GNOME (2.24), JFS, ReiserFSXFSIA-32, x86-64, PowerPC, ItaniumNone11% (with openSUSE)Getting support, proprietary hardware support, security
Ubuntu9.10 “Karmic Koala” (10/29/09); long-term support “Hardy Heron” (04/24/2008)10/20/2004Biannually (April/October)18 months; long-term support: 3 years for desktop, 5 years for serverDebianUbuntu CommunityCanonicaldebdpkg, APT, Synaptic, Ubuntu Software CenterGNOME (2.28)2.6.31; long-term support: 2.6.24ext4; long-term support: ext3x86, x86-64, ARM, SPARCKubuntu (KDE), Edubuntu, Xubuntu (Xfce), Ubuntu Studio, Linux Mint, Crunchbang, Ubuntu Netbook Edition31% (any flavor)Ease of installation, getting support, new users
Yellow Dog6.2 (06/29/2009)1999UnspecifiedWhichever is longer—1 year from launch or 3 months from new versionRHEL, CentOSFixstars SolutionsFixstars SolutionsrpmYUMEnlightenment, GNOME (2.16.0), KDE (3.5.4)2.6.29ext3, JFS, ReiserFSXFSPowerNone0%Gaming, older hardware, proprietary hardware support

Reasons I use Arch:

  1. Rolling upgrade.

  2. Up to date packages.

  3. Awesome community/documentation.

  4. Great performance.

  5. Minimalist design.

  6. Simple from top to bottom.

  7. Teaches me as I go.

“I use CentOS simply because of its reliability. It's also flexible, and very light—with it being light leaves more resources to actually do what you want. Hence, that's why I use it for all my servers.”

“I've had nothing but utterly awful experiences over ten years with RHEL, despite its high cost. I can see the point of CentOS if you need RH without the cost, but it's just revolting to work with and the documentation is terrible too, so I'd never run either by choice.”

“I use Debian for its stability, support and availability of third-party packages and programs.”

“Debian combines great sysadmin friendliness with a terrible release policy; Ubuntu takes its great design and adds sanity.”

“I now use Fedora because each successive version of Ubuntu caused different problems with my 3.5-year-old laptop (camera, sound, wireless, graphics). Each version would fix some problems and cause others. Fedora has been stable, fast and less trouble to set up than Ubuntu.”

“I like Gentoo for its extremely useful control over the system and love the flexibility. It appeals to the tweaker in me! All my systems, including laptops, run Gentoo! That's five systems in total! I have tried other distros, but nothing comes close to Gentoo. I loved portage so much, at some point in time, I ported it to Solaris. Now, with prefix support, anybody can use portage on Solaris, BSD or Mac OS. The Gentoo community is exemplary!”

“I've been using Windows for a long time, since Windows 95, and I've been an IT professional for about 9 years. Through it all, I've always been turned off to Linux. I didn't have time to try anything new. I was just trying to keep up with the changes in Windows. Just a month ago, a new coworker gave me a Linux Mint CD. I took it home and ran the live CD on one of my IBM laptops. I've been hooked ever since. I even changed my wife's laptop from XP to Mint. The bottom line is, Linux just works....I'm sold.”

“I use openSUSE because it always has just worked for me. It has a large selection of software available in repos and through the build service. Information is easily found on-line in the wiki and forums.”

“I love live CDs, but liked PCLOS Big Daddy so much, I felt the need to install it with a dual-boot of Windows at the time. By the time PCLOS 2007 came out, I'd gotten a newer computer and erased the Windows partition to put the exclusive Linux desktop on it. I haven't looked back since. I no longer dual-booted. The other people I know who have PCLinuxOS tend not to be techie types that you see at work, but more like teenagers and housewives and early-adopter-gadgety folk around here—not the Computer Crowd, as much as the people with lots of cool toys. They don't dual-boot either. When VirtualBox came to Synaptic repos years ago, I put my Windows XP install disk in there to test it out and made a video of Linux running Windows better than Windows. I ended up taking the virtual Windows off though, because I never used it. PCLinuxOS rules.”

“In the lightweight division, we have used Puppy Linux a lot of the time, installing it to HDD on a half-dozen of the same GoBook P3 laptops and giving them to kids as gifts. At around $50 each (well used), this was affordable.”

“Don't forget SliTaz though. I have it on my old 433MHz Celeron machine, and it is fantastic. If you need a lightweight Linux distro for old hardware, I would take this over Puppy Linux any day.”

“I prefer Slackware because it's very simple and stable. It gives me the power I need to get things done very efficiently.”

“I think most distros are a lot more polished and user-friendly than they were a few years ago, but I'm going to go with Ubuntu. I used to use Kubuntu from 6.06 to 8.04, but the transition from KDE 3 to KDE 4 hasn't been the smoothest. I gave regular Ubuntu 9.10 a spin and have been really impressed, since it's probably the first GNOME-based distro I've actually enjoyed. There are practical reasons for going with Ubuntu as well. Canonical has done a great job getting it out there and making it known, as well as presenting it as an OS for everyday users and not just networks and servers. And, the fact that it's such a popular distro means there are lots of users posting how-tos and solving common problems.”

“I wouldn't say that 'Ubuntu is the most easy Linux for everyone'. I definitely would agree that it is the one with the catchy-hard-to-forget name, in the HD-DVD vs. Blu-ray vein. When you put that aspect with the fact that it is free, then you get the 'World's Most Popular Linux Distro', whether it's the easiest one or not. Lots of people who don't particularly care about 'free' don't care about Ubuntu—especially the learning curve required to 'fix it'. These people, willing to pay for quality software and OS, are an admitted minority in the Linux camp, but they do exist. I don't, however, think that these people give a fig about Linux 'touching the masses' and all the underlying tones of cloying that phrase implies. They just want an easy-to-use and efficient/intuitive OS that works without hassle. Ubuntu is the most popular Linux one, but not the easiest Linux one.”

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