As 2016 draws to a close, it is time for Linux enthusiasts to take a look at the most popular distributions of the year.
In this article we will review the 10 Linux distributions with most hits during the last 12 months as per Distrowatch, and discuss the reasons behind their popularity.
A note for new users: Distrowatch.com has been a reliable source of information about Linux distributions since 2001. As the use of Linux eventually took off during the early 2000’s, more and more distributions along with other Free and Open Source Software programs have been added to their listings.
That said, here’s the list of the top 10 distributions of 2016, in descending order, as of December 25, 2015.
10. Arch Linux
Arch Linux stands out in the Linux ecosystem because it is not based on any other distribution and yet it is well-known and extensively used by the community.
Traditionally, Arch is not recommended for new users mostly because the installation process is a bit complicated in that it will require a great deal of intervention on the user’s part.
This requires a certain degree of knowledge about partitions, LVM, and Linux in general in order to have a successful installation. The good news are that this is precisely what gives the user the freedom of customizing the system to his or her taste.
CentOS (Community ENTerprise Operating System) is best known for servers. Its desktop version is not as popular but continues to improve its visual appearance year after year.
Although the is best known and most used as a distribution for Linux servers, its desktop version continues to improve. In addition, its robustness, stability, and 100% binary compatibility with RHEL makes CentOS the number one alternative to Red Hat Enterprise Linux on cloud VPS vendors.
This is perhaps one of the main reasons for the sustained growth of this distribution.
This is my personal choice for servers, if you ask me.
Another Linux distribution aimed at Microsoft and Apple users, Elementary (or more appropriately Elementary OS), is also based on Ubuntu.
It was first made available in 2011 and is currently on its fourth stable release (codename “Loki“, which was released this year) is based on Ubuntu 16.04.
On a personal note, this is one of the best looking desktop distribution I’ve ever seen. Elementary’s well-polished visual appearance is certainly one of its distinguishing features.
After not making it to the list of Top Linux distribution in 2015 and a modest 10th place in 2014, we can say that Zorin rose from the ashes this year.
This Ubuntu-based distribution was born and is currently maintained in Ireland. In order to appeal Windows users, it has a Windows-like GUI and many programs similar to those found in Windows.
The main goal of this distribution is to provide a free operating system similar to Windows while allowing Windows users enjoy Linux without issues. Zorin 12 was released last September.
Fedora is built and maintained by the Fedora Project (and sponsored by Red Hat, Inc.).
The most distinguishing characteristic of Fedora is that it’s always on the lead of integrating new package versions and technologies into the distribution.
In other words, if you want the latest and greatest FOSS software, Fedora is one of the first places where you should look. In 2016, versions 24 and 25 were released.
Manjaro, a Arch Linux-based distribution experienced a remarkable growth during 2016. Without a doubt, by leveraging Arch Linux’s robustness and its features, the maintainers of Manjaro have been able to consistently ensure a pleasant experience both for new and experienced Linux users.
If you don’t remember anything else about Manjaro, keep in mind that it comes with preinstalled desktop environments, graphical applications (including a software center) and multimedia codecs to play audio and videos.
During 2016, 4 versions or major updates were released: 16.06, 16.06.1, 16.08, and 16.10. Last, but not least, do yourself a favor: give Manjaro a try.
Along with Ubuntu, openSUSE is one of the cost-free alternatives to the enterprise king (Red Hat Enterprise Linux). On top of that, openSUSE is (as per its developers) the operating system of choice for both new users and geeks alike (you may agree or not, but that’s what they say).
On top of all that, the renowned and award-winning SUSE Linux Enterprise products are based on openSUSE. A new versions openSUSE Leap 42.2 was released during this year.
For those individuals and companies who require professional support by a distribution’s creators, Ubuntu stands out. Although professional help is available under a support contract, Ubuntu has a large user base and the community support is outstanding as well.
In addition, Ubuntu is available both in desktop and server editions, and being based on Debian, it is also a rock-solid operating system. The Long-Term Support (LTS) editions have guaranteed support for 5 years after their release date.
In addition, you’ll see on this list that several desktop distributions are based on Ubuntu – and that is another reason for its popularity.
During 2016, Canonical (the company behind Ubuntu) released 5 versions (or updates to the current LTS edition): 14.04.3, 14.04.4, 14.04.5, 16.04.1, and 16.10.
With more than 23 years in the Linux ecosystem, Debian stands out for its robustness, stability, and well-oiled release cycle. In addition, it is the distribution with the largest number of available packages and one of the top choices for servers.
The current stable release (version 8, codename Jessie) will be replaced by Debian 9 (codename Stretch) around mid 2017. There are no signs of Debian reverting back to old SysVinit as default system and process manager.
1. Linux Mint
Linux Mint is a stable, robust, and elegant Ubuntu-based distribution. One of the reasons behind its popularity is the fact that up until version 17.x it included out of the box a lot of useful software (such as multimedia codecs).
However, this ended with version 18, leaving it up to the users to install those packages after the operating system is up and running. To make it clear – it’s not that Linux Mint has discontinued support for multimedia codecs and other software it shipped with up until not too long ago.
The reason behind this decision is simple: shipping codecs did not significantly improve the distribution and it meant a great deal of work on the developers’ side.
It is precisely because of this that Linux Mint often is the preferred distribution of both new and experienced users – a complete operating system ready for use after installation. During 2016, 3 releases came out: 17.3 (Rosa), 18 (Sarah), and 18.1 (Serena), based on Ubuntu 14.04 (Rosa and Sarah) and 16.04 (Serena).
In this article we have shared a brief description of the top 10 Linux distributions from 2016. Whether you are new to Linux and trying to decide which distro you’ll use to start your journey, or are a well-seasoned user wanting to explore new options, we hope this guide will allow you to take an informed decision.
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