Short for distribution, distro is a term used to describe a specific version of Linux that is built from the common Linux operating system and includes additional applications. Red Hat, Debian and SuSe are all examples of a distro.
In this definition...
What’s in a distro?
Distros are compiled from various open-source components that mainly include Linux kernel, shell utilities and libraries, window System, window manager, desktop environment, an installer, and other additional software and documentation.
Currently, hundreds of distros are available. The distro’s features and functions have been tweaked by users and developer communities to meet specific needs of different uses and systems like desktop computers, embedded devices, supercomputers, servers, and devices.
Why is a distro used?
Most people and businesses use Linux distributions to bypass the step of manually compiling a complete Linux OS. Distros serve different purposes, and knowing which distro is most suitable mainly depends on what the user wants to do with it and their personal preferences.
Distros allow users to install and update software along with essential security updates with precompiled and packaged software applications that meet their requirements. For example:
Desktop computers: Ubuntu, Arch Linux, Fedora Linux
Servers: Debian, Fedora Server, OpenSUSE
Enterprises: Red Hat Enterprise Linux Desktop, SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop, Linux Mint
Developers: elementary OS, Pop!_OS
Home Theater PCs: GeeXboX, OpenELEC, Recalbox
Who creates distros?
Developers are mainly responsible for creating distros for different purposes. New versions of distros are created by choosing the specific combinations of software based on the user’s needs from the extensive package repositories. Therefore, a person who knows the basics of Linux also can create distros by compiling software from the source code with a few commands. People can also choose an existing distro and modify it according to their requirements.
How to download and install a distro
Here are some basic instructions that help users to install different Linux distros:
- Choose and download a suitable Linux distro: Choose a distro that can meet the requirements of the user as different distros have different software packages and desktop environments. After picking the right one, the user can download its installation file or the ISO file directly from its website.
- Burn the ISO file to a CD, DVD, or USB drive: The user needs to burn the ISO file to a CD, DVD, or USB drive to create a bootable installation media. This ISO allows the user to boot and try the distro before fully committing to overwrite the computer’s main drive.
- Boot Linux installation media and try it: To start booting the Linux system, choose the Restart button, and the system will boot into the selected distro from the inserted drive. After booting is completed, the user can try the distro without installing it. If the user is not satisfied with the distro, he/she can reboot the system and remove the disk or flash drive to return to the base operating system.
- Install the Linux distro: While starting the installation process, it’s essential to configure language, time zone, layout, etc. Create login credentials and start the installation process. If the user wants to keep Linux distro along with the Windows or macOS, make sure to create a partition of the recommended size on the hard drive.
- Boot into Linux: After completing the installation process, reboot the system and verify the hardware is working properly before starting with the new Linux distro.
What are some of the most popular Linux distros?
As an open-source OS, the Linux kernel has spawned hundreds of distributions over the years for users ranging from desktop to enterprise. Following are some of the most popular distros:
Debian is a widely used free open-source Linux distros suitable for general users, developers, servers, and enterprises. It has access to Debian repositories that contain more than 59,000 software packages. Debian comprises a wide range of components such as LibreOffice (documentation), Firefox (web browser), GIMP (image editor), K3b (disc burner), Evince (document viewer), and Evolution (mail).
Ubuntu is a globally accepted Linux distro based on Debian, with three editions specifically for desktops, servers, and IoT devices. It comprises software applications such as LibreOffice, Thunderbird, GIMP, Transmission, Evolution, gaming software, music/video players, and more. Although Ubuntu is designed for beginners, it’s well-suited for intermediate and professional users.
Being an open-source Linux distro based on Ubuntu, it’s a distro that can be easily set up for gaming and development purposes. It includes free as well as some proprietary software and provides default components for workspace management, disk encryption, streamlined window, etc.
elementary OS is based on Ubuntu LTS and compatible with Ubuntu repositories and software packages. Although it comes with pre-installed software applications, users have access to one of the best app stores. It can also be a great choice for the replacement of Windows and macOS.
Linux Mint is one of the most popular distros based on Ubuntu. It’s available with a bundle of free and open-source software applications and packages, including software manager, update manager, mintMenu, mintBackup, miniReport, desktop settings, and more. Users also can incorporate some proprietary software such as Codecs and it’s suitable for desktop users and professionals.
Read more on top distros
Five top Linux distributions for desktops | TechRepublic
Leading server distros | ServerWatch
This article was reviewed and updated in March 2022 by Siji Roy.