In the following list, we have gathered some of the most popular Linux distributions and some growing distros too. GNU/Linux operating systems are Unix-like and open source, and based on the Linux kernel. Among the long list of Linux distributions, there are a number of distros that clearly stand out among the others — in terms of number of users, community, features, etc. Discover some details about some of the top Linux distributions.
Ubuntu is a Linux distribution based on Debian. It is developed by Canonical and a community of developers. It has 3 official editions: Desktop, Server and Core, which can either run on a computer or on a VM. More than 33% of the websites using Linux use Ubuntu, according to W3Techs data. Its growth since 2010 has been amazing. It is also a popular distribution among cloud computing projects.
Ubuntu License: GPL and other licenses.
Ubuntu Latest major release with long-term support (LTS): Ubuntu 20.04 LTS (Focal Fossa).
Debian is an open source operating system. This distribution was first announced by Ian Murdock in 1993 as the “Debian Linux Release”. The Debian Project is a community of developers and users that maintain the GNU OS based on open source software. Currently, Debian systems use the Linux kernel or the FreeBSD kernel. However, they are also working on providing Debian for other kernels. Primarily, GNU Hurd.
Debian License: BSD, GPL and other open licenses.
Debian Latest major release: Debian 10.
CentOS is a distribution based on the source code of the commercial distribution Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL). It was launched in 2004 and is backed up by a growing community. It is a safe bet for those looking for a high-quality code. But CentOS 8 will be its last version. In 2019, Red Hat announced that CentOS Linux would be replaced by CentOS Stream — an upstream development platform for RHEL. New open source alternatives have appeared due to this change of strategy. For instance, Rocky Linux, founded by Gregory Kurtzer, founder of the CentOS project.
CentOS License: GNU GPL.
CentOS Latest major release: CentOS 8.
Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL)
Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) is a commercial Linux distribution developed by Red Hat. It has a server version and a desktop version. As it uses open source software, published under a General Public License, they make their code available to the public via CentOS. Red Hat has sponsored the CentOS project since 2014.
RHEL License: GPL.
RHEL Latest major release: RHEL 8.
Gentoo is a Linux distribution that features a rolling release model. Gentoo Linux was originally created by Daniel Robbins. It was named after the fast-swimming “gentoo penguin”, to reflect its potential. It is an attractive choice for Linux users looking for full control of the software. Gentoo users have great control over the services installed and running on their computer. They can immensely customize and optimize their system.
Gentoo License: Free software.
Gentoo Releases: rolling release.
Fedora is a Linux distribution developed by the Fedora Project — sponsored mainly by Red Hat, with support from other companies. It is developed and maintained by the community and it is an upstream source of the commercial RHEL distribution. Fedora usually has more modern software versions, considered as “non stable”, that are later included in RHEL. There are different Fedora editions available: Workstation, Server, CoreOS, Silverblue and IoT. Fedora Linux was launched in 2003.
Fedora License: GPL and other licenses.
Fedora Latest major release: Fedora 34.
OpenSUSE is a Linux distribution sponsored by SUSE Software Solutions Germany GmbH and other companies. It was formerly known as SUSE Linux. OpenSUSE has a rolling release version, Tumbleweed, and a regular release version, Leap.
OpenSUSE License: GNU GPL and other licenses.
OpenSUSE Latest release: OpenSUSE Leap 15.3.
Scientific Linux is another Linux distribution based on RHEL’s free and open source software. It is produced by Fermilab, CERN, DESY and ETH Zurich. In April 2019, they announced its discontinuation. Nevertheless, its last version, Scientific Linux 7, will have maintenance updates until June 2024.
Scientific Linux License: GNU GPL and other licenses.
Scientific Linux Latest release: Scientific Linux 7.
Cloud Linux is a Linux distribution developed by CloudLinux, Inc. It is based on CentOS and uses the OpenVZ kernel and the RPM Package Manager. It is targeted to shared hosting providers and data centers. It stands out for improving server stability, density and security. The first version of Cloud Linux OS was released in 2010.
Cloud Linux Latest release: Cloud Linux 8.
Elementary OS is a Linux distribution based on Ubuntu. The OS is developed and maintained by Elementary, Inc. It aims to be a fast, open and privacy-respecting alternative to Windows and MacOS. It features a pay-what-you-want (PWYW) model.
Elementary OS License: GNU GPL and other licenses.
Elementary OS Latest release: Elementary OS 5.1 (Hera).
Linux Mint is a community-driven Linux distribution based on Ubuntu. This distribution started in 2006. The Linux Mint project was initially created by Clément Lefèbvre. Linux Mint OS’ source code is available on GitHub. Most of the OS development is done in Python.
Linux Mint License: GPL.
Linux Mint Latest release: Linux Mint 20.1 (Uma).
Arch Linux is a Linux distribution based on 5 principles: simplicity, modernity, pragmatism, user centrality and versatility. It features a rolling release model.
Arch Linux License: GNU GPL and other licenses.
Arch Linux Release: rolling release.
Manjaro is a free Linux distribution based on Arch Linux. It is specially focused on accessibility and user-friendliness. It features a rolling release model. Its simplicity, stability and performance makes it a suitable alternative OS to MacOS and Windows. It offers multiple desktop environments.
Manjaro License: GPL and other open licenses.
Manjaro Latest release: Manjaro 21.0.7 (Ornara).
Oracle Linux (OL) is a Linux distribution packaged and distributed by Oracle; under GNU GPL since late 2006. It was formerly known as Oracle Enterprise Linux (OEL). It is based on RHEL’s source code. Oracle Linux is available with two Linux kernels: the Red Hat Compatible Kernel (RHCK) and the Unbreakable Enterprise Kernel (UEK).
Oracle Linux License: GNU GPL and other licenses.
Oracle Linux Latest major release: Oracle Linux 8.
Slackware is one of the oldest Linux distributions, created by Patrick Volkerding in 1993. Many Linux distributions have been based on Slackware; for instance, the first versions of the SUSE Linux distribution. It was originally based on the Softlanding Linux System (SLS), one of the most popular original Linux distributions. Slackware hasn’t been updated since 2016.
Slackware License: GNU GPL.
Slackware Latest major release: Slackware 14.0.
Mageia is an open source, Unix-like operating system that started as a fork of Mandriva Linux back in 2010. It was created by former employees of Mandriva S.A. and some members of the Mandriva community. It stands out for being a secure, stable and sustainable OS. Besides, it provides a really large software repository. Its first version, Mageia 1, was released in June 2011.
Mageia License: GPL and other licenses.
Mageia Latest major release: Mageia 8.
Clear Linux is an open source Linux distribution created by Intel. It is updated following a rolling release model. The OS is optimized for performance and security from the cloud to the Edge; as well as for Intel products. Clear Linux’s main targets are IT, DevOps, Cloud and AI professionals; it is not designed as a general-purpose distribution. Its source code is available on GitHub.
Clear Linux License: GPL and other licenses.
Clear Linux Releases: rolling release.
Rocky Linux is an open source Linux distribution, based on the source code of the commercial distribution RHEL. This Linux distribution is led by Gregory Kurtzer — founder of CentOS, together with Rocky McGaugh. Rocky Linux aims to feel the gap CentOS will leave as a community-supported, downstream of RHEL, after CentOS 8’s discontinuation by December 2021. As explained on Rocky Linux’s Wiki, this distribution aims to be “a solid, stable and transparent alternative for production environments, developed by the community for the community”. Stackscale provides two of its public mirrors in Madrid and Amsterdam.
Rocky Linux License: BSD and other licenses.
Rocky Linux Latest release: Rocky Linux 8.4 (Green Obsidian).
AlmaLinux is a free, open source Linux distribution; compatible with RHEL. It is focused on long-term stability and governed by the community; with regular releases. AlmaLinux OS is sponsored by CloudLinux Inc. and supported by other sponsors. It is also a good alternative for those who are currently using CentOS, after its discontinuation by the end of 2021.
AlmaLinux License: GPLv2 and other licenses.
AlmaLinux Latest release: AlmaLinux 8.4.
On the following webpage, you can find the statistics of the most used Linux distributions over the last decade.