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The Plural of Linux!

It’s been a while, but the Latin plural should be “Linuces” (3rd declension noun), but don’t worry – I won’t use that.

Non-technical people generally use the names “Unix” and “Linux” interchangeably, with an implicit assumption that the “version” differences are comparable to those in different versions of Windows or Mac OS. Looking at the chart above, you can see a summary of Unix versions over the years – actually a collapsed version of a far more complicated diagram.

In fact, that barely scratches the surface!

Strictly-speaking, Linux is a Unix-like operating system, rather than a version of Unix. It was originally developed to look and feel like Unix, but was not based on the Unix code-base. In a description I quite liked, it’s not a clone of Unix (which implies that some of the original was used to create the new entity), but rather a replicant, as it was a new creation designed to look and feel like the original.

As a side-note, “replicant” made me think about Blade Runner, which (aside from being a fantastic film) contains one of the greatest death-scenes of all time. I won’t “spoil” it (not sure if the term even applies to a film made forty years ago), but will comment that the same actor also provided one of the two great death-scenes in Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

Back to Linux, though. Almost certainly as a result of most versions being FOSS (Free and Open-Source Software), Linux has evolved rapidly. As a result, there are a great many “Linux distros” (aka “distributions”) – Wikipedia mentions “almost a thousand”, but it’s probably impossible to know for sure, as there are certainly others out there.

I’ve mentioned Ubuntu a number of times, as it is my “primary” operating system, and have also commented on Mint and Kali, but there are endless others.

The below is a screenshot of a timeline/family tree of the main Linux distros. It’s actually fascinating at the high-level, as it provides an idea of just how complex the Linux eco-system is...

Oops! Sorry! Wrong image. I meant this one...

It also provides an idea of how different distros evolve over time. For example, you can see that Ubuntu was derived from Debian, and Mint was later derived from Ubuntu.

It’s important to note here that these are not versions, in the sense of different version of Windows or MacOS. Instead, these are different operating systems, where some person or group have created a new operating system based on the original.

But why?

Some are designed for specific user types (enterprise, power-user, home-user), or for specific hardware (such as a phone, server, or device), or optimized for a particular purpose (eg, penetration testing, privacy), or for commercial uses, or any of a dozen other reasons.

Anecdotally, the “Windows” or “Mac” way is to use what is provided or ask for an enhancement. While it’s possible to create your own tools and applications, that’s not generally part of the ethos.

For Linux, if you don’t like something, build it yourself, or find a distro that gives you what you want (you will usually find something better suited to your needs and preferences if you go looking). There are endless articles and blogs listing the “best” or “most popular” distros for any given group. Some are generic, some are specific to a group (eg, “privacy”), but all of them change relatively quickly over time. I had a quick look at some of the most recent lists, and found them significantly different from the last time I checked (a year or two ago).

It might be fun to start playing with some other distros, just to get an idea for how they work – aren’t Virtual Machines wonderful? If only I had more time...



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