This post gives a short overview of current Linux distributions.
A Linux distribution is a collection of (usually open source) software on top of a Linux kernel. A distribution (or short, distro) can bundle server software, system management tools, documentation and many desktop applications in a central secure software repository. A distro aims to provide a common look and feel, secure and easy software management and often a specific operational purpose.
Let’s take a look at some popular distributions.
Canonical started sending out free compact discs with Ubuntu Linux in 2004 and quickly became popular for home users (many switching from Microsoft Windows). Canonical wants Ubuntu to be an easy to use graphical Linux desktop without need to ever see a command line. Of course they also want to make a profit by selling support for Ubuntu.
Red Hat is a billion dollar commercial Linux company that puts a lot of effort in developing Linux. They have hundreds of Linux specialists and are known for their excellent support. They give their products (Red Hat Enterprise Linux and Fedora) away for free. While Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) is well tested before release and supported for up to seven years after release, Fedora is a distro with faster updates but without support.
There is no company behind Debian. Instead there are thousands of well organised developers that elect a Debian Project Leader every two years. Debian is seen as one of the most stable Linux distributions. It is also the basis of every release of Ubuntu. Debian comes in three versions: stable, testing and unstable. Every Debian release is named after a character in the movie Toy Story.
Distributions like CentOS, Oracle Enterprise Linux and Scientific Linux are based on Red Hat Enterprise Linux and share many of the same principles, directories and system administration techniques. Linux Mint, Edubuntu and many other *buntu named distributions are based on Ubuntu and thus share a lot with Debian. There are hundreds of other Linux distributions.
Below are some very personal opinions on some of the most popular Linux Distributions. Keep in mind that any of the below Linux distributions can be a stable server and a nice graphical desktop client.
When you are new to Linux , go for the latest Mint or Fedora. If you only want to practice the Linux command line then install one Debian server and/or one CentOS server (without graphical interface).
Here are some links to help you choose: