Linux distribution is also called in short as distro is termed to be an operating system, is based upon Linux kernel and on package management system. Users of Linux can simply download any Linux distribution for obtaining operating system, easily available for different systems ranging from powerful supercomputers, personal computers and embedded devices.
What does it comprise of?
Linux distribution typically consists of GNU libraries and tools, Linux kernel, documentation, additional software, window system with X Window system being the common one, desktop environment and window manager. Most software included is of open and free source available as in source code and compiled binary form. It helps to have the original software to be modified. It usually includes little proprietary software, not available in source code type like binary blobs needed for device drivers. Linux distribution is almost Unix like, with Android being an exception.
What is it?
It could be termed as specific application assortment and utility software that are packaged along with Linux kernel in a manner that abilities can meet specific user requirements. Usually, this software is well suited to distribution, being packaged by distribution’s maintainers into software packages. One can find in online repositories, such software packages. Apart from glue components like distribution installers or package management systems, only few packages are written originally by Linux distribution maintainers.
Over 600 distributions of Linux exist, with active development being made in more than 300, being improved and revised constantly. Due to software’s huge availability, distributions are found in different forms, which include ones that are suitable for usage on netbooks, tablets, mobile phones, laptops, servers and desktops. Commercial backed distributions are found like openSUSE (SUSE), Fedora (Red Hat) & Ubuntu (Canonical Ltd) along with Debian, Gentoo, Arch Linux and Slackware that are completely community driven distributions. There are many distributions which are pre-compiled and ready to use for specific instruction set. Some distributions as Gentoo can be found in source code type and locally compiled during installation.
Linux kernel was developed by Linus Torvalds and the 0.01, the initial version was distributed in 1991. As a source code, it was distributed and later as floppy disk images in downloadable format – one comprising Linux kernel being bootable and the other with GNU utility set along with tools for file system set up. Distributions were created to de-complicate the entire installation procedure.
The following were included in the previous distributions:
- In February 1992, MCC Interim Linux was available for download to the public
- ‘Boot-root’ of H. J. Lu’s, with kernel and minimal tools for getting started
- In December 1992 was released a commercial distribution called Yggdrasil Linux/GNU/X.
- In 1992 was released SLS (Softlanding Linux System), a comprehensive distribution including X Windows System.
Linux distributions attracted users as wonderful alternatives to MS Windows and DOS operating systems on Mac OS, IBP PC computers, and Unix proprietary versions. Linux distributions were embraced because of their low cost, source code availability for all of included software. Initially, distributions were just mere convenience, however, over a period of time, they became Linux or Unix expert’s special choice.
Even in today’s server market, Linux has been proving to be much popular for database and web servers as well as in embedded devices market.
Installation system is provided by most Linux distributions similar to those provided with modern operating systems. Few distributions, which include Gentoo Linux are known to offer basic kernel’s binaries, an installer, compilation tools, where all requested software is compiled by the installer for user’s computer and for its specific architecture, using provided source code and tools.
Generally distributions get segmented to packages. Specific service or application is present in every package. For instance, library to handle PNG image format, font or web browser collection.
It is as a compiled code along with removal and installation of packages that it is provided and handled by PMS (package management system) instead of simple file archive. Meta-information is contained in the PMS in every package like ‘dependencies’ and package description version. This meta-information can be evaluated by package management system for allowing package searches for performing auto upgrade to new versions, for checking fulfillment of all package dependencies to automatically fulfill them.
Even though more software is present in Linux distributions than that of proprietary operating systems, installing software that is not included in it is quite normal for the local administrators. Packages including kernel along with other core components of operating system are installed by distributions in predetermined configurations. During first install time, configuration adjustments are permitted or required by few, thereby making installation for new users, a much less daunting task.
Trends and types
Linux distributions broadly could be the following:
- Non-commercial or commercial
- Specifically designed for power users, home users and enterprise users
- Supports multiple hardware types or platform specific, also to certification extent by platform vendor.
- Has been designed for embedded devices, desktops and servers
- Highly specialized or general purposes towards specific functionalities of machines. (for example computer clusters, network routers and firewalls)
- It is targeted towards particular user groups like language localization and internationalization or by including scientific computing or music production packages
- It has been primarily built for usability, security, comprehensiveness or portability
Linux distributions’ diversity is because of organizational, philosophical and technical variation noticed among users and vendors. Free software permissive licensing means that users having sufficient interest and knowledge can easily have existing design and distribution to suit his specific requirements.
Popular Linux distributions tend to include the following:
- Arch Linux
- Mandriva Linux
The other specific niches that are targeted by Linux distribution are:
- Routers (targeted, for instance by OpenWrt, tiny embedded-router distribution)
- Home theater PC’s (targeted, for instance by Mythbuntu, XBMC Live and KnoppMyth)
- Education (PCLinuxOS based server system called Karoshi and Edubuntu)
- Specific platforms (targeting Apple Macintosh platform like Yellow Dog Linux)
- For music production using digital audio workstations like Ubuntu Studio
- Scientific workstations and computer servers (Scientific Linux targeted)