What are the differences between Linux distributions?

In today's open source roundup: What makes Linux distributions different from one another? Plus: Chromixium combines Ubuntu and Chrome OS. And Ubuntu 15.10 to be called Wily Werewolf

What are the differences between Linux distributions?

Linux offers a tremendous amount to any computer user, but the proliferation of distributions can sometimes be confusing to newer folks. A Linux redditor asked what the differences were and got some helpful answers.

ChaosWorshiper asked his question about Linux distros:

What are the differences between Linux distributions? Is it just a UI difference or does it go deeper into a more functional level?

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His fellow Linux redditors responded:

Ciphertext008: "Package management, remote package hosting (binaries/source), speed of release, desktop environment, and default UI, support / community / forum."

Send-me-to-hell: "Often the versions of the packages are also different as each distro tries to push people towards the software they want to support. The kernels are also compiled differently. For instance, RHEL is more SELinux heavy with no mention of AppArmor whereas the reverse is true for Ubuntu.

The default configurations and compilation choices between distros can also vary."

Bitwize: "Linux is just a kernel. It needs a whole suite of software to go along with it in order to function as a complete OS -- the program init which starts the system, a shell, commands such as ls, mv, cat, etc., maintenance and configuration utilities, etc.

A distribution is a way of packaging this software so it can be installed into standard locations to form a complete OS. There are probably as many ideas about the ideal way to package this software as there are Linux users, so it's not surprising that there are many distributions.

Depending on which distributions you're comparing, they could be very different in some of the details -- how package management and dependency resolution is done, how the network is setup, which software is supported and which patches are applied to the distro's version of the software, and so forth.

But ultimately they are all Linux and most of them will work pretty much the same until you get into details involving the installation of packaged software or configuring services the distro provides."

Echospring: "Everything from different initialization systems up to wallpapers and fonts. Most have different sets of packages available, release schedules, package formats, stability, documentation availability, willingness to help inexperienced users, software freedom, and security update frequency. Some are lightweight, design for embedded systems while others focus on high performance 3d desktops. Nearly all of them add patches to existing software to fix bugs or add features.

As an analogy, imagine 10 culinary masters each making a wedding cake. They will all be edible cakes, but the ingredients, look, texture, consistency, and shape will all be different."

Swrrga: "My impression is that most linux distros seem to be created based on the devs' dislikes of certain features in other distributions, but they're usually too polite to flat out tell you this on their landing page. Third-party sites are usually more willing to cut the crap - '$DEV_A thought the distribution shipped with too much/not enough non-free software so he forked it and reverted to an older GUI"."

Jones_supa: "I think in practice the biggest difference is if a distro is a rolling release or a stable release. This is what impacts the day-to-day experience the most.

A rolling release delivers cutting edge updates constantly. This is useful for those who want the latest cool stuff as soon as possible.

A stable release does not make big platform changes and mostly focuses on fixing glitches and security problems. Patches and support are provided for certain amount of years. It's less prone to break than a rolling release.

Apart from that, you can find all the same software from all distros and they can all pretty much do the same tricks. The default desktops and things like that are just different, but they can always be changed and remixes provide different options out of the box."

SoBuffaloRes: "Largely, it's which package manager you're going to be using.

Minute differences are upgrade cycles.

The other difference are going the way of the dodo, given systemd. Systemd will be handling all configuration, desktop management, logging, package management, bootloader, etc etc. So, if systemd does stick around, there will be very few (If any) differences, and we'll all be using Redhat Linux."

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