On various linux forums people say they prefer slackware or arch linux, or ubuntu or one of its forks. Yet all of these have similar desktops and can be configured to be identical, and they all feature the same standard utilities. So why would one prefer one distro over another?
1) The repositories. Some distros may have an older version of a program in the repository instead of the newest. Some distros may not have a certain program in the repositories at all, although this is rare and doesn't affect important programs.
2) Desktop environment and tools. Some distros have a custom desktop environment/window manager (Unity in Ubuntu, Cinnamon in Mint) or have custom utilities (openSUSE for instance has a useful Control Panel thing).
That said, your post touches an important issue: Linux fragmentation. I believe that it would be much better if we'd only have one major distribution instead of the 150 or so small useless general purpose distros we have nowadays. Of course there are specialty distros, such as PartedMagic or BackTrack which are very useful, but I'm not talking about those.
Distros differ on their policy about including non-open packages. You can usually still get the app from third-party sources. There is no right or wrong there, just shades of grey.
Microsoft and Apple have their "one major" products. They have development teams, who dictate what there is and is not. Each GNU/Linux distro maintainer is a similar development team, but the users have right and chance to disagree without quitting the use of GNU/Linux.
I don't prefer a distro. I use the distro, that I have learned to use. Something else could be better, but I have to weight the cost of migration against the potential benefits. Lame, as that is the usual excuse for not shifting from Windows to GNU/Linux.
@keskiverto, nothing wrong with sticking to the familiar distro. When I need to install something quick and dirty, I reach for Slackware, which I used for over 15 years, and know every configuration quirk. And the reason I went with Slackware back then was that it could be installed from floppies...
In case of some other distros they compile programs from source with custom compilation flags set to take advantage of whatever hardware you have. I believe Gentoo uses this type of distribution, idk about any others. Obviously though they are behind in versions, though can still use the most recent sources they are considered unstable. If you have one unstable program that requires another unstable library and that same library is used by other stable programs it can really become a mess.
It all depends on your personal preference or application.
If you are new to Linux, Ubuntu is usually recommended.
If you have a very specific need, Gentoo might be appropriate. Gentoo allows a lot of customization, so you are not getting anything you might not want or need. I used to work for a company that was in the telephony industry (VoIP), and they were very anal about streamlining everything. They did not want any overhead or any cycles going to waste. I suppose they were right, after all, it doesn't take much for a user to notice a lag in their telephone conversation when speaking to somebody. They used Gentoo. But heed the infamous warning about Gentoo: the installation process is only four steps, but step one is about five pages long (if printed).
I think the same could apply to robotics. If your application is very specific, you only want exactly what you need and nothing else. You want robotic control to be as close to real-time as possible. Again, Gentoo might be the right distro for this application.
you know what, ubuntu drives me crazy, so i want to install network miner or flash or wireshark, I have to apt get things like wine tricks and do all sorts of completley new abstract things, im not just jumping through new hoops im jumping through entirley new concepts and the walkthroughs are all for people who are experts allready, otherwise they wouldnt be running ubuntu, so NOTHING makes sense to me, i suspect that linux doesnt work and everyone is pretending it does
@op, its subjective, I think XP is the best, despite it being too stupid to change default network gateway
xp is annoying too,
like theres absolutley no way to set your hardware to use promiscuous mode with windows xp, but then linus is fine, its just that with xp i know its not possible but with linux i have to be some kind of genius to make it work
not that installing mono to use things like networkminer are possible for non computer science PHD experts.
seriously, linux is never going to replace anything if its not going to be user friendly.
I guess linux is a million times better than windows...if you know how to use it, which i don't.