We wrap up our year-end review with results on distributions, the cornerstone of the world we live in, although, as expected, Ubuntu remains the favorite among ordinary users for another year. No surprise there, right?
In fact, there are a few surprises in the table, or rather in the top positions; and even in the place of honor Ubuntu has held since we did this study, there are changes worth commenting on.
Let’s move on to the distribution, as there is a lot of material to slice, and we are once again reminded that it is the percentages that we need to pay attention to.
Distributions for 2021
Total votes: 3 229
- Ubuntu (598, 18.5%)
- Debian (418, 12.9%)
- Linux Mint (416, 12.9%)
- Manjaro (372, 11.5%)
- Fedora (277, 8.6%)
- Arch Linux (275, 8.5%)
- KDE neon (133, 4.1%)
- openSUSE (107, 3.3%)
- Zorin OS (91, 2.8%)
- pop!_OS (87, 2.7%)
- Elementary OS (86, 2.7%)
- MX Linux (81, 2.5%)
- Other (81, 2.5%)
- Deepin (63, 2%)
- EndeavourOS (57, 1.8%)
- Gentoo (20, 0.6%)
- Magea (20, 0.6%)
- Solus (18, 0.6%)
- Devuan (16, 0.5%)
- Slackware (13, 0.4%)
Ubuntu is number one… When wasn’t it? Since it appeared on the scene a couple of decades ago, it has pushed everything around and positioned itself as linux for people. However, time has not passed in vain, and while Ubuntu is hanging on, other distributions are starting to catch up to it. The most objective data in this regard is the constant loss of support shown year after year, reaching a historic low in 2021. Of course, in 2021 Ubuntu is limited to releasing two intermediate versions, Ubuntu 21.04 and Ubuntu 21.10, which are usually not very interesting for ordinary users. Let’s see how it does in 2022, when it releases its next LTS. Let’s remember that Ubuntu is also Kubuntu, Xubuntu, Lubuntu, etc.
In the second position we have the first surprise of the table: Debian, which has always been in first place, but never as high as it is now and since we organized the annual year-end survey, has for the first time overtaken Linux Mint. It is not clear why, since the quality of one or the other has been pretty even for quite some time, but that is what the votes decided. However, it should be noted that the percentage of support has also declined in recent years, despite the fact that 2021 was not just another year for the “main distribution” because it left us in August with its new major version, Debian 11 ‘Bullseye’.
But the situation has not changed that much and in third place is Linux Mint, menthol Ubuntu – for now, because more and more things separate it from Ubuntu, starting with Snap packages – and one of our favorite recommendations for Linux beginners. But be careful, because the difference in support between Debian and Linux Mint is two votes. So we agree that it is striking to exchange positions and little else. In any case, Linux Mint remains a guarantee of a more affordable desktop than Debian for the average user. Its 2021 releases include Linux Mint 20.1 and Linux Mint 20.2; though if you want to ride the wave now, the recently released Linux Mint 20.3 is the right choice.
Repeating the picture of previous years, we find Manjaro in the fourth position, the friendliest rolling-release on the market and one of the most mainstream distributions agnostic about commercial software integration. As for the former, we keep covering its releases because they usually bring new features beyond the usual updates; and as for the latter… There are many people who don’t like this combination of free and proprietary software, but we can’t deny that it’s a good thing.
And the second surprise is at the top of the table, because Fedora jumps to fifth place. Depending on the year, Red Hat’s community distribution has moved between sixth and seventh place, but it peaked in 2021. And here it becomes clearer why: its releases in recent years are of high quality, its implementation of GNOME is the best in GNU/Linux… It’s still not the distribution we recommend for newcomers, but for other users, especially those who prefer GNOME as a desktop environment, it’s a solid solution. It proved this again in 2021 with Fedora 34 and Fedora 35.
One place lower than usual is Arch Linux, although, as with Debian and Linux Mint, this was due to just a few votes. Overall, as before, the excellent roller release remains at the top of the table. There are many releases coming out, but Arch Linux is just one, with all the consequences: always the newest, always stable and much more accessible than it may seem at first sight. The latter was realized in 2021 with the introduction of Archinstall, although there are still easier ways to achieve the completeness of Arch.
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Already in seventh place is KDE neon, which loses to Fedora compared to last year, but is nonetheless in enviable condition compared to many other alternatives that consider themselves Linux distributions. So what’s so special about KDE neon? Its essence is that it is the official distribution of the KDE project with the latest version of KDE, well served by Ubuntu LTS. And since the formula not only doesn’t fail, but it’s getting better and better… This is my best distribution, what can I tell you…
In eighth place is openSUSE, also repeating last year’s position, when it slightly improved its former slowness. I’ve always wondered why it’s not higher, because its quality is top notch… but it also needs to polish some rough edges, and the competition is very stiff. But even so, with a stable publication like Tumbleweed already out there and another stable publication at the Leap level, I think it’s still a proposition worth considering, especially for the latter. Releases? In 2021, we got openSUSE Leap 15.3.
Below openSUSE come alternatives that didn’t manage to get even a hundred votes and are settling for a smaller and smaller percentage, and the following three are examples of distributions aimed at the general public: Zorin OS, Pop!_OS and elementary OS. Pop!_OS, on the other hand, is newer, though faster to succeed; and Elementary OS is completely inexplicable because, except for a stability bug, its progress has generally been slow but always constant.
MX Linux plays in a different league, and this Debian derivative is very well known, but it’s not the typical distribution that appeals to others as the primary system in a modern computer… although there are different colors for different people. MX-Linux is not much fun, but it has been around for years.
And then we come to the always controversial “other” option. Which other? We insist that whoever votes for this option, because they didn’t find “their distribution” in the poll, at least leave a comment so that we can get an idea of which distros are most popular and include them in the poll next year according to the votes received… but no luck: of the 81 people who voted “other”, you will barely see a mention of distros that aren’t in the poll. Garuda Linux has the most, with three comments, Arco Linux with two, Void Linux with one… So, unless current events require it, we’ll have the same list in 2022 as we did in 2021.
We continue with “remnants”, led by Deepin, which in my opinion should be higher; EndeavourOS, which debuts in the poll with the energy of Arch Linux open door; Gentoo and Mageia*, both with the same share of votes but each with its own audience, although they are two alternatives with a classic desktop; Solus, which for some reason that I do not quite understand, resists the tests; Devuan, Slackware… Truth be told, there are distributions that will always be in the review because their track record validates them, even if they have been relegated to certain areas.
This concludes our last review of the year’s results, but not before commenting on a few more curious points that can be extracted from the numbers we’ve seen. Ubuntu, for example, may have fallen slightly, but it is still not only number one, but also takes up the most space, counting its derivatives: 43.7% of the pie; Debian, on the other hand, falls short by 18%. However, if you divide the percentages by packages, things look a bit different, and the changes become more noticeable.
Thus, the Deb distros segment remains above all others with a share of 61.6%, an absolute majority which, however, is down by four points compared to last year. It is followed by all Arch Linux derivatives with a share of 21.8% and, with a share of just over half, the RPM segment, whose only representatives are Fedora, openSUSE and Mageia. It looks like business as usual, but it’s not business as usual. How do you see it?