Five Best Linux Distributions

Whether you're a beginner or you've been using Linux systems for years, you probably have an opinion on what the best distribution is. "Best" is obviously a relative term, and we understand that what's best for beginners may not be best for advanced users. Still, Linux distributions come in all different shapes, sizes, complexities, styles and types. Let's take a look at our top five distros.

Photo by Eduardo Quagliato.

Arch Linux

Arch Linux is something of a rising star in the Linux community. When we showed you how to pick the right distro for you, many of you really resonated with the fact that with Arch you install pretty much everything from scratch. This requires a certain level of comfort with the command line, but it also gives you complete control over how customised the overall installation is for you. Installing Arch really is like building a distro that has your name on it, and it can be as simple or complex as you need it to be. For the minimal crowd who prefers lightweight installs, you can keep your system lean and mean. For the feature-lovers, you can load it up as much as you want. It's a great distro for people who really want to learn the ins and outs of Linux, even if it's not the easiest, most mainstream or newbie-friendly. You'll learn a lot, though, and if you're all about Arch, you shouldn't miss our own Whitson Gordon's guide to building a killer Arch Linux installation.

Ubuntu (and Variants)

Ubuntu has some star power behind it, and it's probably the most popular Linux flavour available right now. If you've tried Linux at some point, you've probably tried Ubuntu, and for good reason. It's easy to install, customisable, offers some great features that weren't standard in distros popular prior to Ubuntu's popularity, and it updates every six months with new features and plenty of improvements. Ubuntu's mission was to bring Linux to the masses, and it's done an incredible job. Ubuntu's community is massive, so there's plenty of places to go for help troubleshooting or making the most of your installation, and virtually every Linux-compatible program or applications works in Ubuntu without issue. The only divisive issue with it is the growing size of the distro (many complain it's getting bloated) and Ubuntu's Unity UI, which you either love or hate. Either way, if you're just getting started with Linux and want the experience without getting too dirty in the process, Ubuntu is a great place to start and a great way to ease into the wonders of Linux.

Linux Mint

Linux Mint is probably one of the better beginner distros available. Where Ubuntu wanted to make Linux available to the masses, Mint picked up the torch and carried it even further, with an install that in most cases doesn't even require you to look at a command line, an interface that emphasises the graphical and minimises the command line entirely, and an overall UI that will make people who are used to OS X and Windows feel comfortable. It makes some tradeoffs in complexity in the process, and the die-hard open source fan likely won't be happy with Mint's decision to embrace closed-source applications and drivers over open-source options for the sake of ease and familiarity, but to the beginner who isn't interested in any of that or is choosing Linux because they want to experiment or are concerned about security, it's a great option.

Fedora

How many people remember Fedora when it was Fedora Core and had just split off from Red Hat? I was a die-hard Fedora fan at the time, and while my loyalties may have strayed, I still have a special place in my heart for it. Fedora updates every six months, much like some of the other popular distros, but you'll find the community behind Fedora tends to stay on the cutting edge when it comes to platform updates, driver updates and application updates. It's fast and it's stable, but be ready to start troubleshooting when something you've just installed breaks down. Old-school fans who still love the Yum package manager will find it's still there in Fedora (even though most other distros have moved on to APT), and enterprise Linux users will appreciate its roots in and still-somewhat intertwined relationship with Red Hat.

Debian

Debian has a long, long history, and I remember when people in my old LUG used to call it a "cutting edge" distro with great support. These days, Debian prides itself on its rock-solid stability and shies away from the bleeding edge a bit. It's an old distro with a lot of developers in it that have been around for a long time, watching Linux rise to the mainstream and drop out of sight several times over the years. Many of these developers have stuck with their preferred distro, so while the community is there for help if you need it, make sure you've tried fixing the problem and researching it on your own before you call for help. To that end though, Debian updates every few years, which also makes it a great choice if you're trying to run Linux on some seriously outdated hardware.

Honourable mentions this week go out to OpenSUSE and CrunchBang Linux, both of which were highly recommended by their fans for their feature set and their passionate user and developer communities.

Did your favourite not make the list? Have something to say about one of the contenders? Share your thoughts in the comments below.


Comments

    Before Android started to make some real inroads I was very happy with Mint and getting a little jaded with Ubuntu. But since the release of Win8 pre release, Linux has kinda dropped off my radar. I certainly hope it keeps improving though, because it's still my goto for getting into the guts of Windows when all else fails.

    I dug out some old hardware to try a few live CDs with. Tried Ubuntu, Kubuntu, Lubuntu, openSuse and Mint. As a Linux retard, Mint was the stand out for me. So much so, I removed XP and installed Mint.

      This times a million. I'm not a comlete noob, but Ubuntu frustrated me with the hassle I had to go to to get the right drivers and codecs installed. With mint, it was ready to go out of the box, much like Ubuntu claims to but doesn't.

      I really loved the idea of linux and wanted to convert to it solely for both my lappys, but every time I tried there was something that made it just that 5% too difficult. Installed mint, and have now switched over completely.

      I really don't know why Ubuntu is pushed so hard as the 'beginners Linux'. Mint has a great support community but with the advantages of not having Unity (in fact coming with a choice of desktop environments) and being ready to watch movies/play music/ browse the web right out of the box. Super easy install too.

      Tldr; Go mint!

        Ha, sounds like you had a similar experience to me. Out-of-the-box, Mint was just ready to go. Within minutes, I was browsing my media collection on my NAS and watching a movie. I was expecting to like Ubuntu, but didn't. I was surprised how well it performed on my old IBM T40 laptop which is 8 years old!

        Thats funny because I am a pretty new Linux user and I have been running Ubuntu with no issues at all. Doing all my uni work, playing WoW, listening to music on Spotify. Its a great experience on 12.04.

    I gave up on Linux several years ago. It just doesn't have the application support to be taken seriously. i.e. No-one is ever going to give me a job because I can use GIMP and Blender, and I can (or could once), so why would I bother with Linux?

      lol, because Photoshop and Maya are must haves for everyone...

      Mint is a great beginner distro but Crunchbang and Arch are my favs.

      Of course you need the industry standard programs, which is why there is a program called 'wine' which will let you run windows programs on Linux. So you can have your cake and eat it too.

      Lol, Being an expert at linux is really the only qualification you need for any computer related jobs... Windows only holds you back, Also any software you can use in Windows you can use on linux if you put enough work into it. Linux is faster, More Secure, More Stable, And More FREE. Also, I am an COMPLETE linux noob, yet iv'e tried and used over 10 different linux distro's.... i haven't used windows in over 2 months now, and i havent missed it since, except on the rare occasion that i wanna play a game and it's windows only(though WINE solves most of those problems) Really windows has NO advantages over Linux(Or BSD/Mac for that matter) whatsoever.

    I would have agreed a month ago, but that was when I found out about Solus Os. It's an updated Os that is using Gnome 2. After have been forced to use gnome 3 for the past 6 months, I booted it up and sighed relief, because it is just so nice to look at and easy to use and it works with the bigger gaming sites like dotdeb.com too.

    I'm currently using mint lxde 12 (having moved from gnome) and couldn't be happier, smooth on my crappy netbook and huge amount of battery life.

    I used to use Linux for years, at work and at home, going back to the days of Redhat 6. I stopped about five years ago. I found a fantastic distro, I can't remember the name but it was an accessible version of Debian. I was getting to the stage where I was prepared to give up Windoze for good and then the guy behind the distro died. The whole thing collapsed, without him there was no continuity. Until there is a "standard" Linux that is as copper-bottomed as Windoze, I won't touch it again. It might sound silly, but the best thing that could happen to Linux would be for MS to adopt it as their operating system, just like Apple did.

      Lol no... If windows had anything to do with linux it would become trash, I used to think "Windows is the best" like everyone else, But since i switched to Linux i LITERALLY have never been happier while on my computer, Windows is filled with crashes, and errors, "Internet Explorer has crashed", it forces you into to much stuff, like force restart every single time something happens, It's SLOW, You have to either pay a ton of money or install a ton of software just to prevent it from getting corrupted with viruses,trojans,malware, and everything else which infects Winsloth. Also it's the OS that's most targeted by crackers. But we all have our own opinions, If you ever wanna try Linux again though I recommend, Peppermint(im using this as i type) , PclinuxOS , Zorin OS(This is made to look and act like windows from within a linux environment.. and it has look changer to look like Windows 7, Windows XP, Windows 2000, Gnome 2, UNITY, Or Mac OS X) , Fedora(Easy To Install And Works Well) , theres others too, But really you can just check out Distrowatch.com and find some really cool ones ...

    Also BSD is cool as well(even it's most "beginner-friendly" versions are pretty complicated though) PC-BSD, Ghost-BSD, and even Free-BSD are all pretty easy to install and are really cool.

    Erm... Linux Mint is also a Butnut variant, and Butnut is a third-rate Debian.

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