Trends in Linux distributions

Distro Walk – Current Distro Trends

© Lead Image © Thissatan Kotirat,

© Lead Image © Thissatan Kotirat,

Article from Issue 280/2024

Bruce fires up DistroWatch's search engines to reveal what's trending in Linux distributions.

Distros may have caught up with proprietary operating systems around the end of the first decade of the millennium, but that does not mean they no longer evolve. Technological innovations and social trends in free software mean that there is always something new. For this reason, every few years I like to fire up the search engines on DistroWatch [1], which has been listing distributions since 2001, to pick out the latest trends (Figure 1). The last time I did this was in 2021, so I figured it was time for another look.

Distro Statistics

In the first days of 2024, DistroWatch lists 958 distributions. Of those, only 274 are still active. Given that many distros are derivatives, while others are personal projects or the work of a handful of developers, this low survival rate is unsurprising. While distributions come and go, there are always new ones to replace them. Although 47 distros are listed as dormant (meaning they might be revived), 637 are officially discontinued. Surprisingly, since the last time I looked at the statistics in 2021, the number has declined by only one. By contrast, in 2014, 285 were active, and 323 in 2011. Today, the decline has more or less stabilized, no doubt because of such trends as tiled desktops, the everyday use of containers, the rise of distros for specific hardware manufacturers, and immutable distros. Compared to the 2010s, the last few years have been an era of technological innovation.

Yet if technological innovation continues to produce new distributions, the most popular distributions show little change. As shown in Figure 2, eight out of DistroWatch's Top 10 with the most page views have not changed since 2021, with only Garuda and elementary OS slipping out and Zorin and openSUSE entering this list. These changes probably reflect temporary popularity due to major releases more than any enduring status.


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