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