What is a Linux distribution?
A Linux® distribution, or distro, is an installable operating system built from the Linux kernel, supporting user programs, repositories and libraries. Each vendor or community's version is a distro.
Because the Linux operating system is open sourced and released under the GNU General Public License (GPL), anyone can run, study, modify, and redistribute the source code, or even sell copies of their modified code. This differs greatly from traditional operating systems—Unix, Microsoft Windows, and MacOS—which are proprietary and far less modifiable.
How do I choose a Linux distro?
Choosing the right Linux distribution depends on your use case and tool requirements. Certain Linux distros work better for different purposes. Some distros are designed as linux desktop environments (such as XFCE, Raspberry Pi, and Cinnamon) while others are designed to support backend IT systems (like enterprise or web servers).
When choosing your next Linux distro, your first consideration needs to be whether you need an enterprise Linux distro or a community Linux distro.
Enterprise vs. community Linux distros
Linux distributions are available as community versions or enterprise versions. A community distro is a free Linux distro primarily supported and maintained by the open source software development community. An enterprise—or commercial—Linux distro is available through a subscription from a vendor and does not rely solely on community support.
The primary difference between community and enterprise distros is who decides what’s important to users. A community distro’s direction is set by contributors, who choose and maintain packages from the wide variety of open source software options. The direction of an enterprise distro is set by a vendor, based on the needs of their customers.
Think about it like this. The Fedora project is the upstream, community distro of Red Hat® Enterprise Linux. Red Hat is the project’s primary sponsor, but thousands of independent developers also contribute to the Fedora project. Each of these contributors, including Red Hat, bring their own new ideas to be tested and debated for inclusion by the larger community into Fedora Linux. This also makes Fedora an ideal place for Red Hat to put features through its own distinct set of tests and quality assurance processes, and those features eventually get incorporated into a version of Red Hat Enterprise Linux.
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What are the benefits of an enterprise distro?
If Linux is free and open source, why would you want to pay for a commercial distribution? Community distros are a great option for beginner Linux users who don’t have much experience with the command line, or who just want to play around and experiment. If you’re trying to support a server for a long period of time, community distros like Fedora might not be the best choice. A community distro relies on forum-based support from its community members, and release cycles aren’t always on a regular cadence.
Enterprise distros, like Red Hat Enterprise Linux, are designed to meet business needs and concerns. Red Hat Enterprise Linux offers 10-year life cycle support (as opposed to Fedora’s 2 years of support), so you can better support long-term apps. With an enterprise distro, you get patches, updates, upgrades, expert technical support, and access to training and tutorials. Enterprise distros sometimes include package managers, which are programs that support the installation and management of Linux software packages.
Also with a commercially supported distro, you get the benefits of the latest open source innovation with the stability and support an enterprise needs. Red Hat has a team of engineers to help improve features, functionality, ease of use, reliability, user interface, user experience, and security to make sure your infrastructure performs and remains stable—no matter your use case and workload.
The most valuable thing for us is the support that we get from Red Hat for the product. One of our most important applications here in the City of Gothenburg runs on RHEL, so if something happens, we have a partner to get support from.
Popular Linux distros
- Arch Linux
- Elementary OS
- Fedora Linux
- Gentoo Linux
- Kali Linux
- Linux Lite
- Linux Mint
- Manjaro Linux
- MX Linux
- Puppy Linux
- Ubuntu and all its versions (Gnome, Kubuntu —using KDE Plasma Desktop, Ubuntu mate, Xubuntu, and Lubuntu—just to name a few)
- Zorin OS
Why choose Red Hat for Linux?
Every technology in your IT stack needs to work together. And the workloads need to be portable, user-friendly and scalable across bare metal servers, virtual machines, containers, or private and public clouds—like Microsoft Azure. They need a modern, security-focused operating system with long-term support (LTS). That operating system is Red Hat Enterprise Linux.
With a standard operating system underlying your workloads, you can easily move them across environments—wherever it makes sense for your business. Red Hat Enterprise Linux gives you a consistent, stable foundation across hybrid cloud deployments, along with built-in manageability and integration with the broader Red Hat management and automation portfolio.