5 Specialized Linux Distributions with Unique Features


Ubuntu logo with inverted colors

Reading through the cartoonishly long list of existing Linux distros, the sundry flavors and the off-shoots of off-shoots all start to blur together. To remedy that, we’ve gathered a few distros that truly stand out from the crowd.

These aren’t necessarily the most popular distros, but they serve special purposes or appeal to niche demographics within the Linux community. These are also all distros that, as of this writing in July 2021, see active development. Hannah Montana Linux is long dead, and so is the joke.

An Education on Arch: ArcoLinux

ArcoLinux with i3 window manager
ArcoLinux with the i3 window manager

There are many distros out there, like Manjaro, that make the intimidating Arch Linux operating system friendly and usable to the uninitiated. ArcoLinux, however, takes a slightly different approach to the same problem. It comes in several different ISOs that you’re meant to progress through, each holding your hand a little less in setup and maintenance. Eventually, you’re meant to ditch Arco entirely for pure Arch.

ArcoLinux also emphasizes choice, giving you three distinct desktop environments (DEs) to switch between at the beginner level. When you progress to the next tier, ArcoLinuxD, you’re offered more than 20 DEs and window managers to choose from. They include favorites like Gnome, Xfce, and Cinnamon, but also lesser-knowns like Spectrwm, i3, and Deepin.

RELATED: How to Install and Use Another Desktop Environment on Linux

Once you’ve completed the ArcoLinux “course,” you should have the skills necessary to build Arch from scratch and customize it with your refined palette of preferred apps, environments, and utilities.

Sim Network: Live Raizo

Live Razio desktop for network management

Are you a budding network administrator? Live Razio‘s main purpose is to simulate a network for you to administrate. Using GNS3 (Graphical Network Simulator-3), the Debian-based distro lets you drag and drop virtual machines and real devices into a virtual network and gives you the tools to manage it.

Live Razio was developed by a French network training center and was meant to be a learning tool for network admins. It was built specifically to run as a live boot, so you’re not going to find this distro usable as a daily driver. If you have an interest in network management, however, this one might be worth a boot.

Linux with a Mac Skeleton: GoboLinux

GoboLinux desktop environment

GoboLinux calls itself “an alternative Linux distribution” because it eschews the traditional Linux hierarchy file system for a more Mac-like structure. What does that mean for you? Well, mainly that finding your way around app files will become a simpler task.

In most Linux systems, when you install an application, its files end up stored in several places for different purposes. However, on GoboLinux, all of the application’s files get placed in a discreet, contained directory inside the /Programs folder. That means no more scouring the /usr/share folder for an obscure icon file.

Linux for People with Disabilities: Accessible-Coconut

Accessible-Coconut Linux desktop

Modern operating systems make accessibility a priority, and Linux is no exception. Many accessibility-focused distros have come and gone over the years, such as Vinux and Talking Arch, but we know of only one seeing active development: Accessible-Coconut. It’s developed by Zendalona, a group dedicated to ensuring that people with disabilities have as much access to free and open-source software as anyone else.

Accessible-Coconut is based on Ubuntu MATE, and comes with several added accessibility functions, including disability-specific desktop profiles, a screen reader with a simple toggle button, a screen magnifier, braille input support, DAISY and e-book speakers, and sight-free games. It also comes with many popular applications pre-installed to lessen the amount of search and setup that you have to do after installation.

Linux for the Earth: Bodhi Linux

Bodhi Linux 6 desktop
Bodhi Linux 6 standard edition

Calling itself “the Enlightened Linux Distribution,” Bodhi Linux is among the most aesthetically pleasing distros you can find. Named after a Buddhist term for “wisdom” or “knowledge,” Bodhi assumes an earthy, organic theme complete with custom, animated wallpapers.

The Bodhi developers emphasize minimalism and customization. It’s based on Ubuntu, and you’ll find several options on the project’s download page:

  • Standard: A stable, minimal install with just the basics, so you can install only what you need.
  • Hwe: The same as Standard, but with a newer, updating kernel for better hardware support.
  • AppPack: A stable install with a glut of pre-installed apps for you to try.
  • Legacy: A minimal install with an older kernel for 32-bit machines.

Which you choose, of course, depends on your preferences and use case.

As you can see, it’s not hard to find distros that buck the trend. There’s an entire class of systemd-free distros out there that are waiting for you to join their movement.

RELATED: The Best Linux Distributions Without systemd

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