When it comes to operating systems, one desires a solid base. Free from lock ups, crashes and vulnerabilities. In the case of the Linux kernel (which is an operating system), you can choose what userland you want. Userland is software which does not run in the kernel such as a web browser or a file manager, as well as libraries like Qt and Mesa.
A Linux distributions is a preconfigured set of userland and kernel software, normally maintained by a group of people with a common objective. An example of a Linux distribution are: Ubuntu, Fedora, Gentoo and Arch. Each distribution contains a differing set of programs preconfigured.
Who decides what programs are included and who makes sure it all works together? Each one of these distributions have different reasons behind their choices. To decide which distribution is compatible with you dear reader, it is important to understand the driving factors behind them.
- Ubuntu – Is managed by canonical (1, 2), a UK Private company limited by shares. The company was founded and is funded by Mark Shuttleworth.
- Fedora – Is managed by Red Hat (1, 2), an American multination software company. The company has joined with IBM Corporation.
- Gentoo – Is managed by The Gentoo Foundation (1), a USA non-profit foundation.
- Arch – Is managed by lead developer Aaron Griffin, and a group of volunteers.
Essentially, it boils down to two types either: To make a profit, or not.
Arch and Gentoo are driven to make an elegant Linux based distribution, because they volunteer their time. While Ubuntu and Fedora are driven to make a product that can be sold. While neither of these are bad, it does mean you need to take a moment and think about what this means for you as an end user.
So what’s all this about ‘Frozen’ and ‘Rolling’ releases? Well, software typically has a version or release number, which tells the user what state the code is in. Is it new, old, or bleeding edge. And frozen simply means they are not accepting any more new versions or releases of the software, until a set date. On the other hand, ‘rolling’ will accept the latest version of the software all the time.
Both Ubuntu and Fedora release a new version of their distribution periodically, while maintaining support for some older versions.
For example Ubuntu 16.04 Long Term Support (LTS), was frozen in April 2016, yet Canonical will support this version until April 2021. While the majority of the software is still from 2016, Canonical will make sure that it receives security patches, and software can still run on it. This is an advantage of a company which needs to keep its enterprise customers happy.
Both Gentoo and Arch maintain a rolling release, meaning they will be running the latest version of the software available from the upstream sources. Each distribution will perform quality assurance (QA) and push the new version to their users when they are happy.
Each of the distributions have their own ways to perform (QA), resulting in different versions between the two. For example, Arch might have a newer release of the Linux kernel than Gentoo.