Kernel, Distro and Desktop Environment



If you are new to Linux or you are just starting off with the first install of Linux on your machine some things may come easily, others may take time depending on your particular choice of the flavour of Linux. Like the Linux Kernel, Distribution and Desktop Environment

I guess you can simply start with a web search for what is open source and, why Linux is just better for everything. Online Linux communities, numerous web pages, amazing articles and a huge number of YouTube videos are filled with information that is in-depth and plenty. 

However, all that information overload may cause you to become confused and lose a straight path to follow in understanding what are things like a distro, a kernel and environment. Three essential terms of Linux to begin with. 

I have tried to make a very simple explanation of these frequently used terms let’s start:

Kernel: The Linux kernel is often called the central component of the operating system, this is Linux in its true form and the operating system is based on it. The Kernel interacts directly with the computer hardware such as the CPU and memory. It also has device drivers. Anything an app wants to accomplish goes through the kernel. Therefore sometimes it is referred to and for inter process communication and system calls. It undertakes task management, takes care of the disk management and also, memory management are in the Kernel. To memorise it simply – an app will communicate to the hardware with a Kernel.

Distro or Distribution: A common term you will come across often is Distro. A distro is a distribution. Many software configurations are made to bundle and make up a distro, and one distro can be based on another. For example Linux Mint is based on Ubuntu and Ubuntu itself is based on Debian. A Distro category is extremely deep and broad and many beginners find it frightening and confusing. 

A distro consists of a kernel, a desktop environment, utilities, background and initialization processes, applications and boot loader etc. Many distributions use different package managers, some are suited for servers, some for desktop or personal computers or may be just for creating a media center. And there can be some even tailor made for single board computers (SBC) like the Raspberry Pi. Debian, Fedora, Red Hat, Kali Linux, CentOs, Ubuntu, Linux Mint, Zorin, Manjaro, etc are some examples of a Linux distribution or distro.

Desktop Environment: Sometimes just called environment or just by the variation of its name like KDE, GNOME, XFCE etc… a desktop environment simply stated is the look and feel of the operating system, the graphical user interface or GUI. For the end-user, the most obvious difference between the two distributions is the desktop environment. 

A desktop environment will be a general deciding factor when you are starting off, GNOME is one of the more popular one. If you are coming from Windows or even macOS, KDE and GNOME are the most recommended Desktop Environment.

As with anything Linux, if you don’t like a single thing you can change it. It can be as simple as a few clicks or making full lines of code adjustments. And that includes the Linux Kernel, Distribution, Desktop Environment

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