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Which Linux Distro Is The Most Popular?

About six years ago, I had a hankering to dig deeper into Linux distros. I took an old desktop (and when I mean old, I mean like dated circa 2000!) and went through the long and painful process of installing Gentoo on it. I then installed apache and movable type and pretty soon I had this desktop box running 24/7 at home powering my site. By today’s standards, the h/w specs of the box meant that it would have comfortably been beaten by my iPhone blindfolded and with two hands tied. Yet, because Gentoo insists on compiling the entire distro from scratch per installation, it actually performed its web hosting duties pretty well. Ultimately, I ended up moving the site over to an ISP but only because such a setup provides things like 24/7 power and net access, something not possible at home then due to the PG & E imposed rolling blackouts in the SF Bay Area.

The next time I had to consider Linux distros in any meaningful way was when I had to start moving the services in our startup to Amazon. I ended up picking Ubuntu for our AMI. It seemed to have the biggest footprint and support. Gentoo didn’t really enter the picture at the time. Since then, I’ve seen, at least post acquisition at Limelight, the slow supplanting of Ubuntu and Debian by CentOS, certainly for server installs.

Imagine my surprise when a friend recently updated his FB status thus: “Setting up gentoo linux. It’s really designed for self torture.” Did people still use Gentoo? So, I did a bit of digging and found a site, DistroWatch, that offers various distro downloads and keeps track of their popularity. According to them, the top five are:

  1. Mint
  2. Ubuntu
  3. Fedora
  4. openSUSE
  5. Debian

Gentoo comes in at 18. To be honest, I never really had heard of Mint either. Apparently it is a desktop distro that is:

an Ubuntu-based distribution whose goal is to provide a more complete out-of-the-box experience by including browser plugins, media codecs, support for DVD playback, Java and other components. It also adds a custom desktop and menus, several unique configuration tools, and a web-based package installation interface. Linux Mint is compatible with Ubuntu software repositories.

I would imagine DistroWatch is targeted at desktop downloads, hence the skew. Interesting nonetheless.

Here’s a post at Geektrio dated nearly two years ago listing the then top ten from DistroWatch. The top five at that time:

  1. Ubuntu
  2. Fedora
  3. openSUSE
  4. Debian
  5. Mandriva

Mint is at 6 and Gentoo comes in at 9. The trend for these two would seem to be pretty clear. Mandriva (also known as Linux Mandrake) has now dropped to 17. Fascinating stuff for Linux enthusiasts.


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