What is the difference between one Linux distribution and another?

When choosing a Linux distribution to use always comes the question of what would be the best option, what is the difference between them? What makes a distribution suitable for "my" use? We will try to answer your question.

What is the difference between Linux distros

What differentiates one Linux distribution from another?

Let's answer an old and even very pertinent question, after all, in this sea of ​​Linux distributions, what is the difference between one and the other?

First check out the video below to understand the "basics" of the "business" and then we continue:

Now let's go into more detail, we made this flowchart to explain it better for you:

Flowchart of a basic Linux system

A lot of people out there don't know exactly what a Linux distribution is and end up stating that "such" system is not really a distribution because it is derived directly from another, that will be the subject of a future video on the Diolinux channel, however, for clarity in this Today's question: A Linux distribution is an operating system that uses the Linux kernel as its base system.

For the sake of understanding, we can simply divide a system into 3 parts (as you can see in the image above), they are:

– Kernel (system base, this is Linux);

– Graphic Interface / Text Interface (what you see on the screen, the way the user will interact with the machine);

– Programs (which is most important for anyone, are the software you use to do what you want, such as surfing the web for example).

The junction of these 3 parts (which technically could be divided into many more) is what we call the "operating system", with a system without any of these parts anything but "operational".

What differentiates one distribution from another?

It was to answer this question that you came here, wasn't it? Well, the previous explanation was necessary because each of these elements in an independent Linux distribution and can be modified from version to version, from system to system.

The kernel


The kernel is the most basic part of the operating system, if it works well you will not even remember that it exists, the kernel containing the device drivers (cards, peripherals, etc.) that you will use on your computer.

The Linux Kernel is under constant development and there are new versions being released from time to time, which brings us to the first thing that may vary from distribution to distribution.

– Back: Each Linux distribution chooses which version of the kernel the system will work with, at least initially, the kernel can be updated over time or kept in LTS versions (long supported versions) for stability purposes. In theory a newer kernel has more advantages, such as better support for current hardware (latest releases) and usually a performance improvement for the system, but too recent versions can cause problems because there was not enough time to debug the kernel that The system is using.

Type: There are some variations of Linux Kernel that are used in some situations, usually the version that is shipped in all distros the "Generic" version that is intended to run on any computer as best as possible, but there are others like the versions that seek to have a low latency, as we have already explained in another Diolinux channel videoAlthough there are few distros that vary the kernel in this way, this is another feature that can vary from distro to distro. An example of a Linux distribution that comes with the low latency kernel is Ubuntu Studio.

– Patches: A patch can be viewed as a program to fix / modify and / or implement new features in another program. Most distributions have a different kernel than the "original" Linux kernel available on kernel.org.

The pure Linux kernel usually called "Vanilla", while distro versions eventually get another name, at least internally, such as the Ubuntu Kernel for example, which is called "Ubuntu Kernel".

So this is another factor that may vary from distribution to distribution, patches can bring better hardware recognition, additional drivers, bug fixes and optimizations for the system in question.

Graphic Interface

Linux graphical interface

The graphical interface in Linux is taken as a separate part of the system, something "shifting" and "modifiable", very different from what we see in Windows and Mac OSX, where the interface and system are not fully distinguishable and changeable.

Just like the Kernel, the graphical interface can also vary from one Linux distribution to another, there are really many options ready to cater for everyone's varied tastes. Some examples of graphical interface names you can see in the flowchart we show at the beginning of the article.

Although distributions use different graphical interfaces, many of them use the same interface; For example, you can test KDE on Fedora and KDE on Ubuntu (Kubuntu) and have a very similar user experience, some distributions change some system details to give you personality, such as icons and eventually colors, but roughly, the way to work with the system the same. This goes for the other interfaces as well.

Then the graphical interface can change from system to system.

Gnome and KDE

Within the typical interface I need to open this space to talk specifically about Gnome and KDE, both are much broader projects than "just" a graphical interface, Gnome and KDE are true ecosystems.

If we go into more detail, the Gnome Project "Gnome Shell" graphical interface and the KDE Project "KDE Plasma" graphical interface, but beyond the look and feel of how you will interact with the system, Gnome and KDE also have In their projects a very wide range of applications are integrated with the interface itself, ranging from music players to applications to manage the system.

Gnome uses GTK libraries to compose their applications (which reflects their look) and KDE uses the QT library for the same purpose, which also implies application behavior.

Distributions that use one of these interfaces also often bring a certain range of programs that are part of their ecosystem. Other interfaces also have their own ecosystem programs, such as XFCE and LXDE, which although less comprehensive than Gnome and KDE are quite relevant.

Programs and Apps

Linux programs

After Steve Jobs, "Everything is Apps," but anyway, this is another part of the system that can be different from distribution to distribution.

Each system has a certain standard package of applications that come with the system, meaning that they are present right after you install the operating system on the computer. Some very popular programs are practically all of them, such as the Firefox browser and the open LibreOffice suite, however, other programs are "unique" to each system.

Ubuntu has its Program Center, openSUSE has Yast, Mageia has MCC, Linux Mint has its PPAs tool, Manjaro has its Kernel Manager … these are just a few.

Some distributions have many programs of their own, many distributions derived from others end up with features of these distros with you, such as the elementary OS that derives from Ubuntu and brings with it the Program Center of the district on which it is based.

Some systems like Linux Mint, although they are derived from Ubuntu have different tools for the same functions, for example, unlike Program Center (Ubuntu), Linux Mint has "Mint Install", but equivalent software with a completely different look.

The programs that come standard on each system, along with the programs developed by the distribution itself, are things that differ from one distribution to another.

The process of installing programs

This is also a difference between systems, distributions (when not derived from each other), have different ways of installing new programs, whether the program via graphical interface, such as "Application Centers" and "Synaptics and Pacmans of Life". "(Debian / Ubuntu / Mint and Arch / Manjaro / Antergos), or via text mode, APT and Zypper (Debian / Ubuntu and openSUSE).


Finally let's talk about development, you can go back in the flowchart and take a look. All items on display are modifiable, they are basically the ones that change from distribution to distribution, but another thing that changes from one system to another is the maintenance of the same.

Linux distributions are largely maintained by user communities interested in running them, many of them receive regular donations from users and even from some companies that are interested in running the distributions (Debian case), on the other hand, there are some distributions that are maintained, if not totally, almost entirely by individual companies with some "pitfalls" from the user community (eg Ubuntu).

These are the elements that change from one Linux distribution to another.

And these are the basic factors that differentiate one Linux distribution from another.

Until next time and don't forget to share the information, so you spread more knowledge over the internet! 🙂

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