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Linux distributions over time

How different are they and how different have they been?

Since the beginning of Linux, different distributions come with different tools and packages, making it hard for developers to make sure that their applications work on all distributions. The most obvious user-facing differences are the choice in desktop environment (also see here for a timeline of default desktops) and the package formats used. I have looked at the most important Linux distributions for each year. Click on the years below to see what has changed over time. Overall, when looking at the seven categories below (desktop environment, toolkit, display server, init software, package formats, file systems, security modules) there has always been around 70-80% homogeneity across the four big distributions.

Select a year: 2000 2005 2010 2015 2020 Today

Source: eylenburg.github.io

Beginning of 2000 - 82% homogeneity

Major Linux DistributionsDefault Desktop Environment1Preferred Toolkit for Applications2Default Display Server2Default Init SoftwareDefault Package FormatsDefault File SystemDefault Security Module
Debian GNU/Linux SysVinit
GNOME GTK X11 SysVinit DEB packages ext None
Linux-Mandrake SysVinit
KDE Qt X11 SysVinit RPM packages ext None
Red Hat Linux SysVinit
GNOME GTK X11 SysVinit RPM packages ext None
SuSE Linux SysVinit
KDE Qt X11 SysVinit RPM packages ext None

Beginning of 2005 - 79% homogeneity

Major Linux DistributionsDefault Desktop Environment1Preferred Toolkit for Applications2Default Display Server2Default Init SoftwareDefault Package FormatsDefault File SystemDefault Security Module
Debian GNU/Linux SysVinit
GNOME GTK X11 SysVinit DEB packages ext None
Mandrake Linux SysVinit
KDE Qt X11 SysVinit RPM packages ext None
Fedora Core SysVinit
GNOME GTK X11 SysVinit RPM packages ext SELinux
SuSE Linux SysVinit
KDE Qt X11 SysVinit RPM packages ext None

Beginning of 2010 - 71% homogeneity

Major Linux DistributionsDefault Desktop Environment1Preferred Toolkit for Applications2Default Display Server2Default Init SoftwareDefault Package FormatsDefault File SystemDefault Security Module
Debian GNU/Linux SysVinit
GNOME GTK X11 SysVinit DEB packages ext None
Ubuntu Desktop
GNOME GTK X11 Upstart DEB packages ext AppArmor
Fedora
GNOME GTK X11 Upstart RPM packages ext SELinux
OpenSUSE SysVinit
KDE Qt X11 SysVinit RPM packages ext AppArmor

Beginning of 2015 - 68% homogeneity

Major Linux DistributionsDefault Desktop Environment1Preferred Toolkit for Applications2Default Display Server2Default Init SoftwareDefault Package FormatsDefault File SystemDefault Security Module
Debian GNU/Linux
GNOME GTK X11 systemd DEB packages ext None
Ubuntu Desktop
Unity GTK X11 Upstart DEB packages ext AppArmor
Fedora Workstation
GNOME GTK X11 systemd RPM packages ext SELinux
OpenSUSE Leap
KDE Qt X11 systemd RPM packages btrfs AppArmor

Beginning of 2020 - 79% homogeneity

Major Linux DistributionsDefault Desktop Environment1Preferred Toolkit for Applications2Default Display Server2Default Init SoftwareDefault Package FormatsDefault File SystemDefault Security Module
Debian GNU/Linux
GNOME GTK Wayland systemd DEB packages ext AppArmor
Ubuntu Desktop
GNOME GTK X11 systemd DEB & Snap ext AppArmor
Fedora Workstation
GNOME GTK Wayland systemd RPM & Flatpak ext SELinux
OpenSUSE Leap
KDE or GNOME depends on selected desktop systemd RPM packages btrfs AppArmor

As of today (2022) - 78% homogeneity

Major Linux DistributionsDefault Desktop Environment1Preferred Toolkit for Applications2Default Display Server2Default Init SoftwareDefault Package FormatsDefault File SystemDefault Security Module
Debian GNU/Linux
GNOME GTK Wayland systemd DEB packages ext AppArmor
Ubuntu Desktop
GNOME GTK Wayland systemd DEB & Snap ext AppArmor
Fedora Workstation
GNOME GTK Wayland systemd RPM & Flatpak btrfs SELinux
OpenSUSE Leap
KDE/GNOME/Xfce depends on selected desktop systemd RPM packages btrfs AppArmor

Footnotes:
1: default or pre-selected desktop, same methodology as here
2: for default/pre-selected desktop