When it comes to computers, the operating system (OS) is the software that provides the basic functionality of a computer, managing both the hardware components and the associated software resources, while providing common services and resources necessary for program functionality and the user interface through which the user interfaces with the system (Silberschatz, Galvin, & Gagne, 2014). There are three primary computer OS used by the majority of the population: Microsoft Windows, Apple macOS, and Linux (Perez, 2017). Of these three, perhaps the one that is the least familiar to the majority of the general populace is Linux.
The Linux OS, hereafter to be referred to as simply Linux, came into use in 1991 when Linus Torvalds made it a personal project to create a free OS and subsequently released the OS for public use (Holt & Huang, 2018). This makes Linux unlike Windows or the macOS in that it was built and designed with open source licensing, meaning that there are no high cost licensing fees or expiration decrees associated with the OS (Holt & Huang, 2018). Due to the fact that the OS is open source, a worldwide support base has built up around the distribution and use of the system; in many ways this makes for a much more stable OS, and one that is in a constant state of evolution. Many different variations on the Linux kernel exist, known as distros. These distros are created by different organizations, and are all still free and open source; among them are Fedora, CentOS, and Ubuntu, three variations of the Linux OS generated by the Linux community.
Fedora is built and distributed by the Fedora Project (2018), a group of developers that have worked to create a graphic user interface (GUI) that allows for access to a blend of open source technologies and software (Hoffman, 2014). CentOS is a free variant of Red Hat. Red Hat is a primarily server based Linux distro that uses a combination of paid support and trademark laws to require payment for use of the server software (Hoffman, 2014). CentOS, on the other hand, serves as a free workstation based variant that is supported by and works in collaboration with Red Hat to ensure that any and all issues that may arise are quickly resolved and that new integrations are provided expediently (Hoffman, 2014). Ubuntu is probably one of the most well known Linux distros (Hoffman, 2014). Combining information from Debian’s repositories, another Linux distro, Ubuntu works to provide a solid desktop environment with the latest custom technology (Hoffman, 2014).
The question becomes, if all of these, and many other available distros all use the base Linux kernel, what is the difference between them? All available Linux distros, from Debian to Ubunto, Fedora to openSUSE and beyond are all technically considered Linux OS (Lynch, 2015; Steiben, 2013). From a technical standpoint, each of the different Linux distros is different. Selection of one Linux distro over another means the promotion of support for a particular platform, which results in the creation or modification of programs designed to work on a specific distro; the more popular a distro is, the more software options an individual might have available to him or her.
Some Linux distros use BSD (Berkley software distribution) system initialization, while others use system V system initialization (Silberschatz, Galvin, & Gagne, 2014). The difference in system initialization types for each of the various Linux distros means little to the common user; affecting only the directory path for installation of the OS (Silberschatz, Galvin, & Gagne, 2014). This is important for individuals who wish to take full advantage of the open source nature of Linux, changing and modifying their OS based on their needs and desires. For the average user, however, such variations in installation paths means little. The average user of a computer with a Linux distro does not have to be highly technical, and the user does not have to have a heavy amount of computer knowledge. Indeed, many of the GUIs for the different Linux distros look like older Windows variants, an unsurprising turn of events considering that Windows uses the Linux subsystem (Wycislik-Wilson, 2016). Still further differences between the distros can be found as a result of other technical components; for example, coding can vary within the different software and GUI components (Silberschatz, Galvin, & Gagne, 2014).
Ultimately, however, unless a person is planning on code modification within the Linux distro itself, something that any user has the availability to do as a result of its open source nature, the main consideration for any individual who wishes to use Linux over Windows or macOS is preference. Different individuals have different preferences regarding their preferred Linux distro; one person may like Fedora’s GUI more, while another might prefer Ubuntu do to the amount of games available. There are comparable free, open source software options to all of the primary paid variants, OpenOffice versus Microsoft Office, for example, so it all truly boils down to personal preference regarding features, look, and preferred access paths. When choosing a Linux distro, the general day to day user will select the Linux distro that provides the highest level of benefit to him or her. If a person is considering switching over to Linux, the best advice that can be offered regarding which distro to pick is to try out a few and select the one that is best liked. The most effective tool is the one that provides the highest level of benefit to the user, and with Linux’s fully customizable offerings, that means that it all boils down to user preference.
- Fedora Project. (2018). Get Fedora. Getfedora.org. Retrieved from https://getfedora.org/
- Hoffman, C. (2014). 10 of the most popular Linux distributions compared. Howtogeek.com. Retrieved from https://www.howtogeek.com/191207/10-of-the-most-popular-linux-distributions-compared/
- Holt, A., & Huang, C. (2018). Embedded operating systems. Undergraduate Topics in Computer Science, 1-10. Retrieved from https://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1007%2F978-3-319-72977-0_1
- Lynch, J. (2015). What are the differences between Linux distributions? InfoWorld. Retrieved from https://www.infoworld.com/article/2918160/linux/what-are-the-differences-between-linux-distributions.html
- Perez, D. (2017). Five common operating systems. Smallbusiness.chron.com. Retrieved from http://smallbusiness.chron.com/five-common-operating-systems-28217.html
- Silberschatz, A., Galvin, P., & Gagne, G. (2014). Operating system concepts essentials (2nd ed.). New York, NY: Wiley.
- Stieben, D. (2013). What’s the difference between Linux distributions if they’re all Linux? MakeUseOf. Retrieved from https://www.makeuseof.com/tag/whats-the-difference-between-linux-distributions-if-theyre-all-linux-makeuseof-explains/