A typical desktop Linux distribution consists of various software components, including the Linux kernel, various programming tools developed by the GNU project team, graphical server software, and other free and open source software.
Due to the open source nature of Linux, this operating system has hundreds of releases that are actively maintained. Linux distributions are generally like Linux software. Some are short-lived.
As early as 2006, Distrowatch ranked the following releases by page hits. The highest-ranking distribution is Ubuntu, and other high-ranking distributions are openSUSE, Fedora, MEPIS, Mandriva, Damn Small, Debian, PCLinuxOS, Slackware, Gentoo, KNOPPIX, FreeBSD, Kubuntu, VectorLinux and CentOS.
Ubuntu, Debian, Fedora, and openSUSE are the only distributions that still rank among the top 15. They were very popular in 2006 and will remain popular in 2020.
Ubuntu first emerged in the Linux world in October 2004 and is updated every six months. Ubuntu may be the most widely known Linux distribution, and it may still be the best. It is based on Debian and seems to surpass all competitors due to easy installation and excellent hardware support.
Debian was released in September 1993 and is the most respectable of these four distributions. At that time, Microsoft was still selling Windows 3.1.
Fedora and openSUSE are also well-respected distributions, supported by a large and knowledgeable community, and fully supported by RedHat and SUSE Software Solutions, respectively.
CentOS provides a free, community-supported computing platform that is functionally compatible with the upstream source Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL). CentOS is an extremely powerful distribution that is popular among hosting companies, data centers, and companies.
PCLinuxOS is a rolling release that is still being actively maintained. It provides a unique and somewhat unusual approach. PCLinuxOS was originally split from Mandriva.
Like Debian, Slackware is a long-term release created in 1993 and the basis of other releases. Although the latest version was available as early as June 2016, the project team is still committed to improving the version and updating the current preview version every day. It is still the longest active Linux distribution.
Gentoo is another release promoted by a well-respected volunteer. It performed strongly, but it did not receive much media coverage.
KNOPPIX is designed to run from Live CD/DVD or U disk. It can be used as a desktop high-efficiency Linux system, educational CD and rescue system, and can also be used as a platform to demonstrate commercial software products after modification.
Of course, FreeBSD is not a Linux distribution. Although it has similarities with Linux, it is an open source BSD operating system and the most popular BSD system.
Kubuntu is the official version of the Ubuntu operating system. Like Ubuntu, it is released every six months, and each release provides the latest version of the KDE desktop.
A release that no longer exists
Mandriva used to be one of our favorite distributions. Regrettably, this French release ushered in its last version in 2011. But this project still managed to inherit it. Mageia is a branch of Mandriva Linux, created in September 2010 by former employees and contributors. However, its popularity index today cannot be compared to Mandriva’s popularity in 2006.
MEPIS is a set of Linux distributions based on Debian/Ubuntu for personal and commercial use, designed to be easy to use. MEPIS released the last version in 2013.
Damn Small Linux is designed to run graphical software on older PC hardware. This small distribution can be installed on a 50MB Live CD. It launched the last (preview) version in 2012.
VectorLinux is actually dead. Since 2017, there has been no new version.
Other distributions ranked among the top 15 in 2020
Many distributions have entered the top 15 and the top rankings are MX Linux (based on Debian), Manjaro (based on Arch) and Mint (based on Ubuntu).
Other distributions are elementary (based on Ubuntu), Pop! OS (based on Ubuntu), Solus (independently developed), Zorin (based on Ubuntu), deepin (based on Debian), KDE neon (based on Ubuntu), antiX (based on Debian), and Arch (independent development).