After more than 15 years of Linux development, the last couple of years have seen an explosive spectrum of progress in conquering the desktop. It is as if the world is suddenly waking up and discovering Linux. Ubuntu has a place in the history books already as the distro that pushed to make this happen, taking the old Linux and wrapping it up into a user-friendly desktop system. On the business front, Novell SuSE and Red Hat have traditionally dominated.
But open source is about free choice and fair competition, so there’s never a time when the lead penguins can rest easy. Lately a whole rash of distros have been coming out of the woodwork, building on the previous progress. Here’s my picks for the distros showing the greatest potential to take the next crown for most successful Linux distro.
gOS – The blogosphere reaction is pretty much summed up here. Yes, it came out of nowhere, all right. gOS is based on Ubuntu, but it’s kind of a fork, with an Enlightenment desktop instead of Gnome and optimized to run on lighter hardware, with a close integration with Google’s desktop utilities. The reviews on it have made it sound too good to be true. And it was picked as the distro for Walmart‘s cheap new Linux PC… which has sold out – completely! You can’t ask for a better success story than that for a 1.0 release.
Unbreakable Linux – This is the Red Hat derivative that was introduced by Oracle CEO Larry Ellison last year. Reviews on Unbreakable have basically said that you can hardly tell the two apart. And Larry Ellison has made it clear that he intends to use it to compete with Red Hat. Say what you will about Larry – he’s got a loud mouth – but he gets things done. His company has been a giant in the industry for a quarter of a century. If anybody has the muscle to give Red Hat a close chase, it’s him.
Mandriva – Mandriva has been around for a long time – it is derived from the old Mandrake Linux, which was practically there at the beginning. So what’s so special about it now? Have you tried the latest disks? Mandriva 2008 Live CD has been getting some great reviews out there, and that’s just the free one. They’ve been expanding into the enterprise market and growing some clout there. Every year, they put on another coat of polish. They’ve actually been hanging out in at least the top five for a number of years now. Seriously, from what I’ve seen of the live CD, there’s no reason it couldn’t overtake Ubuntu.
CentOS – Even Larry Ellison can’t claim exclusive rights to making a Red Hat-based OS. CentOS, like Fedora, is a free version of Red Hat. CentOS is dogging Red Hat so closely that Slashdot recently asked if it was hurting Red Hat’s business. CentOS has enjoyed some steady popularity for a while, seen as more of a replacement for the free Red Hat than Fedora is.
VectorLinux – This one, too, has been around for a while. But VectorLinux warrants a mention because it has steadily stayed in the top ten for a while, now. The distro is based on Slackware (itself a steady fixture), and shares the Ubuntu philosophy of providing a small, newbie-friendly system which the user can then customize to taste. It is also a well-polished distro. It isn’t the strongest contender, but it is a contender.
A FINAL NOTE: I’m deliberately leaving out:
- (1) Ubuntu cousins. Kubuntu and Fluxbuntu, et al. There just isn’t enough variation between them all yet to warrant considering them different distros.
- (2) Classic hardcore distros. Gentoo and Slackware are indeed still heavy players in the distro market, but both of them are for the hard core geek. Not likely to take over the market any time soon. Which is refreshing; some user bases prefer to remain a hidden secret, rather than try to contend for the number one spot.
- (3) Distros that can’t play nice in the Linux culture. For one thing, when you act like a jerk, people stop liking you. So if a distro (a) has to be reprimanded for not complying with the GPL, (b) makes a sell-out deal with Microsoft, or (c) tries to use dirty tactics and cheats to artificially inflate their stats and tries to get ahead by bad-mouthing every other distro but them, I’m not considering them in this list. That’s less my decision than that that’s the way the user-base seems to be drifting, with the exception of Novell SuSE, which was already a major company before their Microsoft deal.
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- Oracle and Sun – Finally, Somebody Might Pull Ahead of Bill Gates!