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Unlike other operating systems, there are more than 200 different types of Linux. Each type of Linux, or distribution, does different things based on the programming, though each runs on the top of the Linux kernel originally built by Linus Torvalds in 1990. Common Linux distributions include Unbuntu, Debian, and Fedora. A few other types of Linux are based on Debian or Red Hat and are designed to perform specific functions based on a user's needs.
One of the most common types of Linux is Debian. Several other types of Linux, including Knoppix, Gilbratar, and Linspire, are based on the Debian distribution. Debian is offered to the public for free. Though it uses the Linux kernel, most of its tools come from the GNU project, another operating system centered on free, open software. Debian is available for free via Internet download or on CD for a small fee. It can be installed on a number of computers and sometimes comes pre-installed on certain computers.
Ubuntu is another type of Linux that is based on Debian. The operating system is available in several versions, including a desktop edition, server edition, and on the cloud. Unlike other types of Linux, Ubuntu is designed to be particularly user friendly. All of Ubuntu and all of its software are available without cost to anyone who wishes to use them.
Fedora, which is developed by Red Hat, is another Linux distribution that relies entirely on free software and is available to the user free of charge. Another benefit of Fedora and other types of Linux is that the operating systems are free from the threat of viruses or spyware. Fedora and many other types of Linux come with a built-in firewall and also have separate user accounts as well as the root account, which can be accessed for administrative tasks.
Red Hat Enterprise is a version of Fedora designed for businesses and others with critical information technology needs. Red Hat Enterprise comes in a server and desktop edition. For added support, a company can order a subscription to Red Hat, which keeps it up to date on software and support. The cost of the subscriptions range from a few hundred to more than $1,000 US Dollars (USD).
Some distributions of Linux are designed for computer users with specific needs. For instance, CHAINSAWLINUX is built for people who use their computers to edit video or audio or to make animations. The operating system comes with free imaging and editing software.
@Soulfox -- right, and a great thing about Linux is that the distros are free and most of them can be installed to and run from a USB drive. That way, the user is free to shop around and find the most suitable distro. Linux wouldn't be nearly as attractive if users had to do a full install, test it, uninstall it if it was unwanted and then install a new one.
That is just another way the user friendliness of Linux has increased significantly over the years. There was a time when even getting that operating system to install and run was a chore. These days, Linux installs quickly, recognizes most hardware easily and even comes bundled with a bunch of useful programs so the OS is ready to go right out of the box.
There may be over 200 variations of Linux (each variation is called a distro), but things are not quite that complicated in the Linux world. For example, a lot of distros are based on Ubuntu and are compatible with software written for Ubuntu. Some of those distributions even update at the same time Ubuntu does.
The differences quite often have to do with the GUI and resources used by each distro. If someone likes Ubuntu compatibility but finds that a full Ubuntu install won't run quickly on an older computer, it is possible to find a lightweight distro that has the "guts" of Ubuntu but is built to run on less powerful computers.