In Search of the King of the Linux Distros

Here in the Linux community, debating the relative merits of various distributions is a common pastime. So when it was proclaimed in an article recently that “Debian is the most influential Linux distribution ever,” it was a rare geek who didn’t sit up and take notice.

Sure enough, that’s just what Datamation’s Bruce Byfield asserted in a recent article, adding that “not everyone uses Debian, but, both alone and second hand through Ubuntu, it is the source of more derivative distributions than any other.”

Linuxy tongues have been wagging ever since.

‘Red Hat Has Advanced Linux Most’

“All i have to say is DEBIAN!!!!!!!” wrote Lachlan in the story’s comments section, for example. “Count your lucky stars it’s still here and start using DEBIAN!!!!!”

Then again: “No real innovation has come out of Debian,” countered synthespian on Slashdot, where the topic was soon picked up. “In fact, their situation was so messed up, they needed a millionaire do-gooder to sort their mess up.

“From the technical standpoint, Red Hat is the distro that advanced Linux the most. That’s a fact,” synthespian added.

Alternatively: “All distros are essentially the same, except for minor variations in desktop environment, package installer, and selection of usermode programs loaded onto the install CD,” Anonymous Coward pointed out. “If one distro were chosen at random and all others ceased to exist, the linux world would continue as usual.”

‘Well-Known for Its Package Manager’

So, is there a Grand Poobah of distributions? Linux Girl took to the streets of the blogosphere to find out.

“Debian is definitely the most important Linux,” consultant and Slashdot blogger Gerhard Mack asserted. “It has a good package manager and is excellent on servers. On top of that it provides a solid base to build distros to try cutting edge changes.”

Indeed, “as the foundation for the most popular Linux distribution of the moment, and several other popular distributions, I certainly think so,” Hyperlogos blogger Martin Espinoza agreed. “Debian is well-known for both its community and its package manager, and runs on an extremely vast range of architectures.”

‘It Is a Pillar’

Similarly, “Debian is a very important distro,” blogger Robert Pogson concurred. “It has huge repositories and covers more architectures than most. As such — and combined with a fine job of releasing quality distributions and providing security and bug-fix updates — it is a pillar.”

Other distros “may serve particular needs better, but you are not far wrong choosing Debian GNU/Linux for any need,” Pogson added.

Then, too, there’s the fact that “Debian GNU/Linux is also a stalwart promoter of Free (as in Freedom) software,” Pogson pointed out. “On top of that, Debian’s Social Contract and packaging policies mean that the distro works for the end-user and not some remote corporate interest.”

In short, “there’s something in Debian for everyone,” he concluded.

‘Red Hat Means Business’

Though she’s primarily an OpenSUSE fan, Slashdot blogger Barbara Hudson cast her vote for Red Hat instead.

“Far from being just a distributor, Red Hat is also the largest contributor to the linux kernel,” noted Hudson, who goes by “Tom” on the site.

“Money talks, and more businesses pay more money to Red Hat for support than all other linux distros combined,” she added. “Not coincidentally, Red Hat also generates more profit than all the rest.”

While “money-losing distros like Ubuntu are scrounging for loose change by changing the affiliate IDs of 3rd-party music player software, Red Hat is generating both annual 9-figure revenues and profits,” Hudson pointed out.

“This isn’t to say that Debian isn’t important,” she concluded. “It is, but Red Hat means business.”

‘One of the Mother Sauces’

Slashdot blogger hairyfeet saw it as more of a triumvirate.

“I would say with RHEL and SUSE, Debian is one of the ‘mother sauces’ without which the others simply wouldn’t exist,” hairyfeet told Linux Girl. “Sure you’d have a few Gentoo and Slax, but if Debian disappeared tomorrow, how many distros would it take with it? Even a Windows guy like me can appreciate what a rock solid product Debian stable is.”

In fact, “if you want a rock solid base upon which to build, you really can’t beat it,” hairyfeet added.

The only problem with Debian, however, is that too many distros use the automatically generated testing version of the distro, when really it “should be ONLY for that… TESTING!” he pointed out. “I mean, I thought Debian must be some seriously unstable mess until I tried Debian Woody — compared to the distros using testing, it was like night and day.”

So, “while I think Debian is definitely one of the big three that the community just couldn’t do without, it would be nice if they would try to steer folks away from the bleeding edge and onto stable,” hairyfeet concluded. “After all, what good is the latest and greatest if it crashes more than it runs?”


  • is there a word for articles that just slightly rehash other sources? that contain no research or analysis? it’s not journalism – maybe blogremixing? message-mashup? chat-succotash? chat-suey? comment-vomit?

    • Its called a roundtable and is NOT a "rehash" as you put it, as Ms Noyes contacts us "regulars" and asks our opinions on the topic of the day which we give our thoughts to her on the subject exclusively, so I don’t see how it could be a "rehash" of anything.

      I know that Tom Hudson and I are both old /.ers from way back,she the diehard Linux girl and me the "token Windows guy" and I’m sure Ms Noyes has found similar voices like Pogson (which BTW is a loonie. He STILL refuse to say MSFT like they are Voldemor or something) and brings us all together on a single topic to give everyone a chance to express their (often radically opposed)views, which can actually get pretty heated as many of us do monitor Ms Noyes articles and are happy to chime in to clarify or argue a point.

      So I’d say it is anything BUT a rehash when you have several people coming together weekly to discuss the news of the day with regard to tech. it kinda reminds me of the old round table we used to have at the state capital over lunch back when I worked corporate there, where the tech guys would get together to argue the plus/minus of various tech.

Leave a Comment

Please sign in to post or reply to a comment. New users create a free account.

More by Katherine Noyes
More in Community

LinuxInsider Channels