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A Look Inside Linux series

A series of short (~5 minutes) topics on how Linux works and how to make it work the way you want it to, which I present during the weekly sessions of the Linux User Net. The target audience is Hams who are new to Linux and want to know more about it, as well as experienced Linux users who can learn more about their chosen operating system. These are my notes for the presentations. (Russ, KC7MM)

3. Distro details

Part 1 of 2 (Jan. 24, 2022)


Linux gives you the capability of building a computer that does exactly what you want it to do. There are a number of ways to go about it.

Building your system

The big question: how do you go about building a Linux box for your own needs?. Let's say, for example, you want to set up a desktop system that you can customize for your daily Ham activities. Or perhaps you'd like to have your own wiki (think of Wikipedia) that you can use to document your Amateur Radio activity, and you want to run it on a server on your LAN so it can be accessed from both your shack computer and your smartphone.

Linux gives you a number of ways to do it, in the form of distributions. You can install one of the many Linux distributions, then set it up to suit your needs. When you're done, you will have your computer that satisfies your needs.

Today, we'll look at how to find the right distribution for your situation.

Probably the first place to look for a suitable system is the most popular Linux distributions. Being Free software, they're popular because people find them useful, not because they have a monopoly. Let's look at a few distros that are chosen by many users. If one of these meets your needs, then you have only to install it and you'll be ready to go.

Distribution families

Before we get into details, though, it's important to note that the great majority of available distros are derived from other distros, not created from scratch. Building and maintaining a distribution from the ground up is a huge task, requiring a lot of work by a lot of developers.

It's much easier to start with an existing distro and modify it to suit one's particular purpose – that is, to fork it. This can be done by a single person or a small group. Thus we end users have available to us families of distributions, each developed atop a single base distro.

Let's look at three of those families.

Debian family

The Debian distribution is one of the oldest, and certainly has the largest number of derivative distros. I don't have any statistics I can cite, but I believe a large majority of Linux desktop users are running either Debian or a distro based on it. Debian has has a huge presence in the Linux world, so I'll give it thorough coverage.

Debian itself is widely used both for desktop and server systems. It's not the easiest distro to get running, though – installing it requires some Linux system administration skills.

  • Debian is created from scratch – that is, from source code. The project adds installation and administration tools that it develops.
  • It is produced by a community that is governed by a set of formal by-laws. It is entirely non-commercial.
  • Its installation program lets the user choose software to install: desktop, server, minimal basic system.
  • Runs on a wide range of hardware architectures. (It is the basis for the Raspberry Pi OS.)
  • A large number of other distros are based on Debian – probably the most of any.
  • The Debian repository has a large number of Amateur Radio applications. They carry over to other Debian-based distros, making them good choices for Hams.


  • Ubuntu is based on Debian. It adds ease of installation and additional software, with two distinct versions: desktop and enterprise.
  • Ubuntu is developed by the commercial entity Canonical, with substantial community involvement. Canonical generates income by selling support.
  • The desktop version has many official variants, based mainly on the desktop environment used.
  • The enterprise version is comprised of a number of Linux server products. It competes with Red Hat in the enterprise computing space.

Linux Mint

A community-developed desktop distro that aims for ease of installation and use.

MX Linux

MX Linux is a very popular community-developed Debian derivative that provides a desktop system that runs well on modest hardware.

Raspberry Pi OS

The Raspberry Pi is a single board computer (SBC) that has found many uses in Amateur Radio.

  • Its official operating system is Raspberry Pi OS, which is based on Debian. That makes all the Ham software in the Debian repository available for use on the Pi.
  • There also are a number of unofficial OSes available for the Raspberry Pi, some of which are Debian-based.

More to come

That's all for Debian – and for this look at Linux. Next time we'll cover other popular distros, and then move on to other ways that Linux users can get the computer system they want.

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linuxusernet/inside_linux/distro_details1.txt · Last modified: 2022/01/26 04:44 by KC7MM