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Linux distributions (often abbreviated as distros) are made of the Linux kernel and a collection of applications. The operating system will be made up of the Linux kernel and, usually, a set of libraries and utilities from the GNU project, with graphics that come from the X Window System. Distributions that are made to be small may not contain big window systems full of features like KDE or GNOME, but use small window systems like busybox, uclibc or dietlibc. There are more than three hundred Linux distributions. Most of those are in still in development, being improved and changed constantly.
Before the first Linux distributions, a Linux user needed to be a Unix expert, knowing what libraries and executables that were needed to get the system to boot and run.
Linux distributions started to form after the Linux kernel was starting to be used by people outside the original Linux programmers. They were more interested in creating the operating system than making it user-friendly.
Early distributions included:
- H J Lu's "Boot-root" a two disk pair with the kernel and the absolute minimal tools to get started.
- MCC Interim Linux, which was made available to the public for download on the FTP server of University of Manchester in February, 1992;
- TAMU, created by individuals at Texas A&M University about the same time, and
- SLS (Softlanding Linux System).
- Yggdrasil Linux/GNU/X, created the first CD-ROM based Linux distribution.
Distributions are normally split into packages. Each package has a certain application or service. Examples of packages include a collection of fonts, or a web browser.
The package is usually given as compiled code, with installation and removal of packages done by a package management system. Linux distributions usually contain much more software than Microsoft Windows or Mac OS X.
Well-known Linux distributions include:
Tools for choosing a Linux distribution
Screenshots of common distributions
A few screenshots of common distributions just after installation :