Originally Posted by SteveThePirate
Is there a large difference in the way the different distros work?
There is not generally a big difference in the way
that general purpose consumer distros work. There may be differences in how it appears to the user, but not really in the way that they work.
You could argue that the live CDs often work somewhat differently in using, eg, unionfs to create an impression of something that isn't really there, but whether that's what you mean - you may feel that live CDs are a special case and can be ignored.
Equally, you might be thinking of server distros, which don't so much have a different way
of working as a different release infrastructure (longer release/maintenance cycles, more conservative policies and usually no gui by default).
And you could also be thinking of something like the use of complex 'under-the-skin' technologies like d-bus, which some of the extremely light distros still feel is a step too far.
The biggest obvious difference is the GUI, of course; they may well cause the distros to look really quite different, but this isn't really a difference between the waya in which distros work. The GUIs themselves work in quite different ways under the skin, but as you can swap the GUI, you can't really count as such a difference.
The difference between .deb and .rpm (and there are some minor players, too) distros is a fairly significant one, but it isn't really a difference in the way that the distros work; the file formats are different, the utilities do more-or-less the same things and by the time that you get to a graphical interface to the utilities that access the files, while there are many differences underneath, you are more-or-less reduced to what colours are used to represent which states.
You could regard there as being a big difference between things like the .rpm and .deb distros and the 'compile everything in place' distros. That does make a difference on day-to-day operations, but the same things are going on, its just a question of where; do the apps get compiled on a remote server or on your own box? Are there formal, 'milestone', releases, or do things just for ever and for always keep getting incrementally getting updated and you just grab the most up to date on the day that you grab it? (And, even this 'rolling release' policy isn't necessarily all that different from a 'release with discrete steps' policy, if you keep updating from that discrete step position.)
Of course, looked at as a user, a distro that is intended as purely a network appliance one is going to look quite different from a desktop one, but I'm not sure the distros (as collections of software) are working in a different way, even though they look radically different. The distros as organisations
will be taking quite different views on what is important to them and their customers, of course, and you could argue that with this definition of a distro, the one where a distro is the organisation -a collection of soft machines- that produces and packages a collection of code, they do work in different ways.