Searching for the best Linux distro (distribution)? This article will probably be most useful to those who don’t know what /etc/fstab is used for. Also, this post does not cover Linux server distributions, but instead focuses on Linux desktop distributions. One great way to increase your familiarity with Linux servers is to run Linux on your laptop and/or workstation.
Best Linux distro
Ok, the first rule to remember here is: there is no “best” Linux distro. No seriously, there isn’t! But there IS a best Linux distro for “me” and a best linux distro for “you”. In addition, what you consider to be the best Linux distro for you, will often change over time to match your experience level.
With that in mind, lets begin by breaking down the search for your best Linux distro into 3 categories… Easy, Satisfying and Challenging.
( Updated November 2017: New = Green )
Easy Linux Distros
For users who want quick access to Linux and a large array of software/apps without having to use the command line. Or, maybe you simply seek an easy way to give Linux a try. For those users I would recommend…
Ubuntu – a complete desktop Linux operating system, freely available with the largest community support of any Distro. The Ubuntu community is built on the ideas enshrined in the Ubuntu Manifesto: that software should be available free of charge, that software tools should be usable by people in their local language and that people should have the freedom to customize and alter their software in whatever way they see fit.
Manjaro Linux – a user-friendly, desktop-oriented operating system based on Arch Linux. Key features include intuitive installation process, automatic hardware detection, stable rolling-release model, ability to install multiple kernels, special Bash scripts for managing graphics drivers and extensive desktop configurability. Users will benefit from a supportive and vibrant Manjaro community forum.
Linux Mint – a Ubuntu-based distribution whose goal is to provide a more complete out-of-the-box experience by including browser plugins, media codecs, support for DVD playback, Java and other components. It also adds custom desktop options and menus, several unique configuration tools and a web-based package installation interface. Linux Mint is compatible with Ubuntu software repositories.
Also check out Elementaryos.org.
Satisfying Linux Distros
The following distros are very similar to those above. However, the online communities are not as large and the default install does not include as much cool bloat. This results in a bit more work and research. It shouldn’t be difficult, but satisfying!
Debian – Of course, the common thing that people want is application software. Debian gives you easy access to these without pre-installing them. Debian comes with over 30,000 packages (pre-compiled software that is bundled up in a nice format for easy installation on your machine) – all of it free. Add some challenge, install Debian Testing or Debian SID. – (My favorite Distro)
openSUSE – The openSUSE project has three main goals: make openSUSE the easiest Linux for anyone to obtain and the most widely used Linux distribution; leverage open source collaboration to make openSUSE the world’s most usable Linux distribution and desktop environment for new and experienced Linux users; dramatically simplify and open the development and packaging processes to make openSUSE the platform of choice for Linux developers and software vendors. openSUSE also now offers Tumbleweed rolling release distro.
Mageia – a fork of Mandriva Linux formed in September 2010 by former employees and contributors to the popular French Linux distribution. Unlike Mandriva, which is a commercial entity, the Mageia project is a community project and a non-profit organisation whose goal is to develop a free Linux-based operating system.
Solus – a solid new Linux distribution built from scratch. It uses a forked version of the PiSi package manager, maintained as “eopkg” within Solus, and a custom desktop environment called “Budgie”, also developed in-house. The Budgie desktop is tightly integrated with the GNOME stack. Although geared toward making Linux easy for desktop users, I’ve placed this on under ‘satisfying’ because package selection is less than you might be used to and the community is smaller. This means fewer web tutorials, fewer people to turn to for help (they do have an in-house support forum) and a more likely possibility of missing software packages. Also, Solus OS was previously abandoned in 2013 due to a lack of manpower. Now reborn in 2015. Long live Solus!
Also check out Fedoraproject.org.
Challenging Linux Distros
The following distributions focus on being lightweight, simple and yet far more flexible than most. Right from the install process you’ll notice that these distros will only install what you explicitly command them to.
Arch Linux – an independently developed, i686- and x86_64-optimised Linux distribution targeted at competent Linux users. It uses ‘pacman’, its home-grown package manager, to provide updates to the latest software applications with full dependency tracking. Operating on a rolling release system, Arch can be installed from a CD image or via an FTP server. The default install provides a solid base that enables users to create a custom installation. In addition, the Arch Build System (ABS) provides a way to easily build new packages, modify the configuration of stock packages, and share these packages with other users via the Arch Linux user repository. (used Arch for some time as well, see above screenshot)
Slackware – an advanced Linux operating system, designed with the twin goals of ease of use and stability as top priorities. Including the latest popular software while retaining a sense of tradition, providing simplicity and ease of use alongside flexibility and power, Slackware brings the best of all worlds to the table. Originally developed in 1991, the UNIX-like Linux operating system now benefits from the contributions of millions of users and developers around the world. Slackware Linux provides new and experienced users alike with a fully-featured system, equipped to serve in any capacity from desktop workstation to machine-room server. Web, ftp, and email servers are ready to go out of the box, as are a wide selection of popular desktop environments. A full range of development tools, editors, and current libraries is included for users who wish to develop or compile additional software.
Gentoo – a versatile and fast Linux distribution geared towards developers and network professionals. Gentoo Linux has an advanced package management system called Portage. Unlike a binary software distribution, the source code is compiled locally according to the user’s preferences and is often optimized for the specific type of computer. The name was chosen to reflect the potential speed improvements of machine-specific optimization, which is a major feature of Gentoo. Gentoo package management is designed to be modular, portable, easy to maintain, and flexible.
Also check out TrueOS (Unix-like FreeBSD based, but is able to run Linux applications).
Kali Linux non-root Mini.iso stripped install – a Debian-based rolling release distribution. It features timely security updates, support for the ARM architecture, a choice of four popular desktop environments, and seamless upgrades to newer versions. Kali Linux is specifically geared to meet the requirements of professional penetration testing and security auditing. Due to the nature of security audits, Kali Linux by default will install with a “single, root user”. …NOT recommended. If you are installing Kali for penetration testing then see their website. However, if you’d like an alternate install which does NOT install with root login and also does NOT install a single penetration testing tool, then try this custom install without root and without any tools for a rolling release managed by Kali.
I truly hope this quick guide for beginners proves helpful. Most of the distro descriptions are directly from Distrowatch – a very useful website which you can use in your research. What’s your pick for the best linux distro?