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I have heard that basically two streams of Linux distributions exists - Debian-based(e.g. Ubuntu) and Red Hat-based(e.g. Fedora).
I want to know, firstly, what is the basic difference between them? Secondly, which one is suited for what purpose (e.g. server, desktop, netbook, developer, etc)? Lastly, which one is the most popular and preferred?
Thanks in advance.
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I have heard that basically two streams of Linux distributions exists
There are three categories - source code based, .deb based, and .rpm based. The main difference is the packaging method used for applications.
1) source code based - must be compiled in order to install. Dependency resolution is a manual process.
2) .rpm based - use the rpm package management. Dependencies can be satisfied automatically if the dependencies are in the package repository.
3) .deb based - use the Debian package management tools (dpkg, apt, Aptitude, and Synaptic). Dependency resolution is automatic if the dependent packages are in the repository.
For your second and third questions, point your browser at distrowatch.com. On the right side panel, you will find a listing of the top 100 distros, ranked in order of popularity. There is also a Search (at the top of the page) which you can use to find distros by category (netbook, server, etc).
You might be interested in this article from a few months ago.
I think the timeline graphic is amazing.
Just think, if windows was on there it would almost be one straight line with no parallel development.
Distribution: BSD & Linux - As long as they are Lightweight
I'm thinking the OP is referring to server systems, as that is where most use Debian or Redhat.
That being the case, Debian is totally free, whilst Redhat charges money.
If you know how to use Linux, either will do, if you don't, & need a lot of help, then you pay Redhat for that info.
If you can wait, you may get the answers you need from forum members.
Every year some-one sets a spider to prowl the web and ask servers what their OS is. Every year it turns out to be a roughly even split between Debian Stable and CentOS (Red Hat for free). When it comes to firms that pay, you'd find a split between Red Hat (e.g. New York stock exchange) and SUSE (e.g. London stock exchange).
All of those are fine for anyone who wants absolute stability, and on a server with no GUI there's not going to be a lot of difference any way. Contrary to what some will say, they are equally suitable for servers and personal computers. The most obvious difference is that Red Hat and CentOS have Security Enhanced Linux set up. They also have a longer support period.
Slackware is as good, but rather different in some ways and it doesn't come with an automatic installer, so you'd need to write your own if you had more than a couple of machines to install on.
As far as command line goes, I primarily use CentOS/RHEL but honestly it isn't that hard to switch to use Debian or Ubuntu LTS. Each generally has the feature the other has it is just knowing what that is on the other. selinux counter-part would likely be apparmor and while selinux has a finer grade of security they both rely on the kernel meaning that you'd still want something like grsecurity if you were really wanting to go to that level of security. For anything not server/enterprise related then you'd probably go ubuntu or fedora depending on preference, I'd say you would probably hit more headaches in the long run with fedora but expect it with both if you go bleeding edge.
Now one thing Red Hat definitely has which I can not think of an alternative for Debian is certification, there is one for Ubuntu but RHCSA and RHCE are the ones recognized in the industry and that is a big bonus for redhat, and having passed RHCSA twice (RHEL6 and RHEL7), I can safely say there is good reason for it. I have also passed the LPIC-1 which I found to be lackluster as an actual test of competency, since that just focuses on Linux in general rather than specific distributions.
As far as it goes, there isn't two streams of Linux, there is far more than that it is just that Redhat and Debian branches are by far the largest and in some respects the easiest.