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If the kernel is Linux, the desktop, and DE is Gnome (or Unity or KDE or whatever), then what exactly are Ubuntu, Debian and other linux OS'es?

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Ubuntu, Debian, antiX, Mint, Kali, etc. are "distributions," sometimes called "distros". This convention has existed for at least fifteen years.

There's even a website devoted to the various distributions called distrowatch.com.

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