Packaging Linux: The Distribution

What people call a Linux distribution is actually the culmination of the GNU project’s tools, the Linux kernel, and any number of other open source (and closed source) software projects that sprang up along the way.

Robert Young, cofounder and current chairman of Red Hat, has coined an analogy comparing Linux to ketchup. Essentially, the operating system called Linux — including the GNU tools, Linux kernel, and other software — is a freely available commodity that, like ketchup, different distributors can package and label in different containers. Anyone is encouraged to package and market the stuff, even though the ingredients are fundamentally the same.

Linux is a complex, malleable operating system, and thus it can take on many appearances. The greatest Linux advancement in recent years has been easier installation. After all, the tools that today enable the casual PC user to install Linux weren’t originally available. Companies such as Red Hat saw this as an opportunity to add value to an existing product, and the concept took off like gangbusters.

To draw again on the ketchup analogy, various distributions of Linux have a slightly different flavor or texture; your distribution preference may be spicy, mild, thick and gooey, or runny. However, you can rest assured that any of the following distributions have the same Linux and GNU heart and soul. Each short description in this list includes a Web address where you can find more information ...

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