Gray Matter


Linux Distributions: Beginnings

Linux distributions beginningsFor the sake of readability, I’ll call GNU/Linux simply “Linux” from this post forward. I’ll call distribution and distributions “distro” and “distros” as well.

The Linux distros timeline is available at Wikimedia Commons (search for “GNU/Linux timeline”). It’s probably as complete as possible, but it’s still difficult to follow all the branches. Today, I’m focusing on the early distros.


The Linux operating system started out as GNU software combined with a Linux kernel. The marriage took place in September 1991, but the first public release of the Linux kernel occurred in December 1992. As far as I can tell, the first complete and most popular Linux distro was called the Softlanding Linux System (SLS), which was created sometime in 1992.

Slackware was created as a cleanup of SLS in 1993. It still exists, with the latest release of version 14.2 in June 2016 (I downloaded a copy to be sure). The Debian distro was created in 1993 as well, as an alternative to SLS and Slackware. SLS no longer exists. SUSE Linux was based on Slackware, with the first version released in 1994.

The first version of Red Hat Linux appeared in 1995. I don’t remember which version I worked with in the 1990s, but I remember the “rpm” packages (Debian uses “deb”). There were a lot of independent Linux distros created and abandoned, but a few were maintained and still exist to this day. I’ll mention them, as I finish researching them, in future posts.


Many distros, based on other distros (and even on earlier distros), have no legitimate reason for existence. Linux Mint, which is what I’m using, seems to have been created solely due to disappointment with version 3 of the GNOME desktop environment. The flagship edition uses the Cinnamon desktop environment, originally based on GNOME 3.

Except for the Linux Mint Debian Edition, Linux Mint is based on Ubuntu, which itself is based on Debian. Upstream patches (corrections) are provided to Ubuntu and Debian, when necessary. Commodore USA created Commodore OS, which was based on Linux Mint, in 2011 and abandoned it in 2012. Commodore USA went out of business in 2013.

What I intend to do, as the basis for future posts in this series, is to test drive as many Linux distros as possible. Most Linux distros include the operating system and one desktop environment (or window manager) or another. I’m familiar with a lot of them, but I would like to be amazed by something I haven’t seen. I won’t be mentioning, except maybe in passing, Linux distros that have been discontinued.

When I created this content management system, I created it with categories, but not tags. I didn’t think tags would ever be necessary. Unfortunately, tracking Linux distros will be impossible without them. I’ll have to create the interface (for myself) and update the theme to include them. I don’t know how long it’s going to take. One upside is that I can use them for unrelated posts as well.

Image Attribution: Larry Ewing and The GIMP / CC0

Author: RT Cunningham
Date: August 5, 2021 (UTC)
Categories: Computers
Tags: cinnamon, debian, gnome, linux, linux mint, red hat, suse, slackware, ubuntu

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