I could write all day without giving you a complete history of Linux, so I won’t bother trying. Instead, I’ll offer a quick and super condensed history, the best way I can. You can almost see what I’m writing about by viewing the Linux Distribution Timeline image at Wikimedia Commons. It’s probably larger than the viewing area in your web browser.
The essence of Linux is the Linux kernel, developed by Linus Torvalds in September 1991. In November 1991, Owen Le Blanc made a pre-release version of MCC Interim Linux available on an anonymous FTP server, with the first release becoming available in February 1992. Puppy Linux, which I’m familiar with and which came much later, is somewhat rooted in this distribution.
The Softlanding_Linux_System (SLS) was founded by Peter MacDonald in May 1992. It was superseded by Slackware in July 1993. Frustrated by SLS and Slackware, Ian Murdock created Debian in August 1993. Of all the distributions available today, I prefer those that start off with Debian.
Red Hat Linux was released in May 1995. In 2003, the Red Hat company ended Red Hat Linux and started Red Hat Enterprise Linux. Around the same time, Fedora was started by the original Red Hat Linux community. Like Debian, many distributions are based on Red Hat Linux and Fedora.
I could go on and on about when each distribution was released, but beyond what I’ve mentioned, it’s pointless. Modern distributions are much more advanced than any of them were in the beginning.
Keeping track of all the Linux distributions available today would be an exercise in futility and a full-time job. I’ve heard, in passing, of all kinds of distributions that aren’t even available to the public. The list of Linux distributions at Wikipedia is enormous and I seriously doubt it’s up-to-date.
I’m on a few mailing lists and I examine various distributions from time-to-time. I try to keep up with distributions like Manjaro, which is based on Arch Linux and Slax, which was originally based on Slackware and is now based on Debian.
Android is a modern Linux distribution designed for smartphones, that isn’t based on another. It’s one of many I have no desire to keep track of, except for using it with my phone.
Most modern Linux distributions can trace their roots back to Debian, Red Hat Linux and Slackware. They’re derivatives sitting on top of what came before them. They may even use the same online repositories for software installations and updates. Very few distributions are created from scratch and even then, they borrow from other distributions. It makes sense to reuse code libraries that are already well-tested.
Image Attribution: firstname.lastname@example.org Larry Ewing and The GIMP / CC0
Edited and updated. Originally published at one of my other websites in February 2020.