As part of my homework at Master of Libre Software, I had to make a video about anything interesting as Introduction to Libre Software. I chose to talk about Linux Distributions, because it is incredible the diversity of them and you can find the plurality of libre software: different philosophies, distros maintained by volunteers, by companies and by governments, general purposed or dedicated to a special task, anything you can imagine.
The video is divided in 4 parts (don’t scare! total is 12 minutes) and you can watch it in my Blip.tv channel. But I also wanted to make public the transcription, since I did not have time to put subtitles, this work is pending 😉
Here it is the trasncription of the video, it is a bit long but I hope you like it.
“Hello, my name is Laura Arjona and in this video I will talk about linux distributions.
As wikipedia says, a Linux distribution is an operating system built on top of the Linux kernel.
Distributions (often called distros for short) consist of a collection of software applications such as office suites, media players, internet tools, games and other.
The operating system will consist of the Linux kernel and, usually, a set of libraries and utilities from the GNU project, with graphics support from the X Window System.
There are currently over six hundred Linux distributions, and over three hundred of those are in active development.
The diversity of Linux distributions is due to variation among developers, vendors and users.
The licensing of free software allowing copying, modifying and redistribution means that any user with sufficient knowledge and interest can customize an existing distribution or design one to suit his or her own needs.
To present some of the linux distributions I will use the GNU/Linux Distribution timeline cladogram.
Linux distributions began to appear very soon after the Linux kernel was first used by individuals other than the original Linux programmers .
Early distributions are:
- MCC Interim Linux, which was made available to the public by University of Manchester in February 1992
- Yggdrasil Linux/GNU/X, the first CD-ROM based Linux distribution
- An early distro called SLS was not well maintained, so Patrick Volkerding released in 1993 a distribution based on it, which he called Slackware. This is the oldest distribution still in active development.
There are 3 main distributions which from the rest are derived.
One of them is already mentioned Slackware. The other ones are Debian and RedHat.
Debian, is a non-commercial distribution maintained by a volunteer developer community.
Debian plays a very important role on libre software world.
Its philosophy is writeen on the Debian Free Software Guidelines which inspired the free software definition of Open Source initiative, and its policy about which programs to include in the distribution is very serious regarding the principles of free software.
All the discussions and decissions processes are open to public scrutiny in their internet mail archives.
Popular distributions based on Debian are Ubuntu and Knoppix.
Ubuntu is a popular desktop and server distribution maintained by the company Canonical Ltd..
This distributions boosted the spreading of free software since both are runable from CDROM so users from other operative systems can try and know how linux looks like without changing their systems.
This is nice to fight the fears of migrating to linux.
Ubuntu ships with an easy installation process and it is very well user-oriented so maybe is the most used distribution for the desktop end-user market.
There are many linux distributions based on Ubuntu.
Some of them are:
- Edubuntu, designed for use in school environments, homes and communities.
- Xubuntu, with a light desktop to provide the speed of a smaller distro.
- Linux Mint, focused on usability
- gNewSense, with all non-free software removed. By the way, this is the linux distribution used by Richard Stallman.
- Kubuntu, the KDE version of Ubuntu.
Knoppix, was the first Live CD distribution to run completely from removable media without installation to a hard disk.
It can be used to copy files easily from hard drives with inaccessible operating systems.
It can be considered the swiss army knife for recovering broken systems, because of its hardware detection and utilities for system repair and troubleshooting.
Some derivatives from Knoppix are
- Damn Small Linux, designed to run graphical applications on old PCs with very little memory,
- Musix, a 100% free software multimedia system for musicians
- Morphix, a modular operating system, that is a sort of a Live CD construction kit.
Other distributions based on Debian are the Spanish autonomic government created distributions Guadalinex, Molinux, and gnuLinex
Slackware is one of the strong distributions.
Generally considered a distribution for advanced users, it is often suggested to those who want to learn the inner workings of a Linux operating system.
The most famous derivative from slackware is SUSE.
SuSE was particularly popular in Germany, but also in Finland and Sweden. Linus Torvalds, the creator of the Linux kernel, used it himself fairly often.
SUSE Linux is available under two brands, openSUSE and SUSE Linux Enterprise (Server or Desktop editions).
openSUSE is a free, community-oriented distribution driven by the openSUSE Project.
SUSE Linux Enterprise is Novell’s tested and certified open-source solution for major enterprises.
An interesting derivative from OpenSuse is Linkat, developed for the Department of Education of Generalitat de Catalunya.
Other derivatives from Slackware, different from SuSe family, are:
- TopologiLinux, a free Linux distribution to be run on or inside an existing Microsoft Windows system, without partitioning the disk.
- Slackintosh, a port of Slackware to the Macintosh’s PowerPC architecture.
- And Slax, the most popular Live CD slackware based distribution
The other distribution part of the Big-Ones is RedHat.
In 1995 Red Hat Linux was launched by two Linux visionaries, Bob Young and Marc Ewing, founding the company with the same name.
In 1997, Red Hat introduced its revolutionary RPM package management system and other advanced features which greatly contributed to the distribution’s rapid rise in popularity.
In 2003, just after the release of Red Hat Linux 9, the company retained the Red Hat trademark for its commercial products, notably Red Hat Enterprise Linux, and introduced Fedora Core, a Red Hat-sponsored, but community-oriented distribution designed for the “Linux hobbyist”.
Although Fedora’s direction is still largely controlled by Red Hat, it is one of the most innovative distributions available today.
Its contributions to the Linux kernel are well-known and its more recent integration of SELinux functionality, Xen virtualisation technologies and other enterprise-level features are much appreciated among the company’s customers.
Some derivative distributions from Red Hat are:
- Mandriva, a Red Hat derivative popular in France (because of its antecessor called Mandrake) and Brazil (because of its antecessor called Conectiva). Its suite of graphical system configuration tools, and transfugdrake, a tool designed for easy migration of documents and settings from Microsoft Windows to Mandriva Linux, are interesting innovations of this distribution.
- CentOS, a distribution derived from the same source code of Red Hat, maintained by a dedicated volunteer community of developers with a 100% Red Hat-compatible version. CentOS is the most popular Linux distribution for web servers with almost 30% of all Linux servers using it.
- Oracle Enterprise Linux, which is a derivative of Red Hat Enterprise Linux, maintained and commercially supported by Oracle.
Apart from this three main branches we have other interesting distributions as Gentoo, a distribution in which the users compile the source code locally according to their chosen configuration.
There are normally no precompiled binaries for software, continuing the tradition of the ports collection from BSD-based operating systems.
Interesting Gentoo derivatives are:
- Gentoox, created especially for the Xbox
- Pentoo, a Live CD and Live USB designed for penetration testing and security assessment.
Before finishing, we must mention the distribution Android, a mobile operating system based on a modified version of Linux kernel.
The Android OS can be used for cellphones, netbooks and tablets, and even televisions, so it can be in a near future the most used operating system in the world.
As conclusion we can say that all this diversity brings multiple advantages.
- For example, there is a GNU/Linux system for almost each need. New market niches are born: the freedom to adapt and reuse existing code makes economically sustainable to offer a complete system for a particular group of people.
- Other advantage is that the 4 freedoms guaranteed by libre software ensures that all the richness of developed software will not die: although many distributions and programs finish their lifecycle and are dead or not maintained, the code will be always accesible to anybody wanting to improve it or learn about it.
- Other main advantage is the possibility for users and developers to collaborate and join their favorite project to improve the distro that they are using or to create a new one.
The only limit is your imagination, to enjoy the flavours of libre software!”