For the past couple of years I have been producing analysis guides for the top 10 Linux distributions as listed on Distrowatch.
The point of this article is to look at the top 10 Linux distributions as listed on Distrowatch for the year 2015 and analyse their suitability for the average Joe.
The criteria for an Everyday Linux distribution is as follows:
- Must be relatively easy to install
- Must have an intuitive desktop environment
- Must be easy to use
- Must have a standard set of applications pre-installed (i.e. web browser, audio player, media player)
- Must have a decent package manager in order to install further software
- Must be ready to use from the get go
The distributions are listed in the order they are in on Distrowatch.
There is a reason why Linux Mint is top of the list on Distrowatch and that is because it is about as close as you can get to the perfect distribution for the Everyday Linux User.
I reviewed Linux Mint 17.3 back in December, 2015 and I summarised it as being incredibly dependable.
Linux Mint is as easy to install as any other Linux distribution. After booting from the USB drive the steps for installing are to select the installation language, connect to the internet, accept the pre-requisites, select your installation type, choose your location, choose your keyboard layout, create a user and reboot.
The Linux Mint desktop works the way the majority of people became accustomed to for over 25 years. There is a panel at the bottom an intuitive menu and a set of system tray icons in the bottom right corner.
Linux Mint is definitely easy to use. It is definitely suitable for those people who like to point and click.
Linux Mint not only comes with a full set of applications to get you started, they are also arguably the best applications available for Linux. I say arguably because the browser is Firefox (although I personally prefer Google).
In addition to Firefox there is the Banshee audio player, Brasero disk creation tool, LibreOffice office suite, GIMP image editor, Thunderbird email client (although I prefer Evolution) and the VLC media player.
The package manager within Linux Mint is also one of the best available. The reason why it is the best is that it doesn't try and do too much. There aren't any adverts for other products and it always returns a good set of results when looking for applications.
Linux Mint is ready to go from the get go. It has all the multimedia codecs installed so you can browser the web, watch videos, listen to music and do all the basics without having to install further software.
I reviewed Debian back in June 2015. I criticised the Debian website last year for being too difficult to navigate and I stand by that opinion.
Trying to find the ISO images for a standard 64-bit desktop with either GNOME, KDE or XFCE just isn't as simple as it could be. Compare the experience of finding the right ISO with Debian and Linux Mint by going to their respective websites and you will see what I mean.
The best way to install Debian is to use the net install option in the top right corner. The install process isn't too bad but it is long winded with multiple screens for setting up users and passwords for instance. It isn't difficult to install Debian but because it offers something for everyone some of the options may confuse a new user when they can just skip through certain screens.
I tried the GNOME version of Debian and it was a very good experience. I am a GNOME desktop fan so I find it very intuitive with great keyboard shortcuts.
Whilst Linux Mint has a traditional desktop it has to be said that many younger computer users are now growing up with a Windows 8 or Windows 10 desktop as well as Android phones. I therefore think that the younger generation will pick up on desktop environments like GNOME and Unity quickly.
Debian is fairly easy to use. You have to jump through a couple of extra hoops to install Flash but if you go for the net install you get a complete desktop environment and it is up to you whether you get a complete set of applications such as an audio player and video player.
The package manager in Debian is Synaptic which isn't particularly pretty but it is relatively easy to use and you can always find every package available within the repositories.
Ready from the get go? Not quite. As mentioned previously a new user will get the best out of Debian by going for the net install and choosing the components they want to install along the way.
Ubuntu is probably the most well known Linux distributions and I suspect that Ubuntu is only number 3 on the list because users do not need to go to Distrowatch to find out about it. They go direct to the Ubuntu website.
I back up my theory based on the statistics of my latest Ubuntu dual boot guide which is pulling in huge numbers of page views every day.
Ubuntu is as easy to install as Linux Mint. The installers are virtually the same. The default desktop environment though is completely different.
Ubuntu uses the Unity desktop which isn't far removed from the GNOME desktop. As I said previously in this guide I think that younger users who weren't brought up on pre-Windows 8 computers will find it easy to adopt.
Unity has great keyboard shortcuts, integrates the desktop with other applications very well and provides really simple navigation.
Ubuntu has a full enough set of applications for the Everyday Linux User including Firefox, LibreOffice and Thunderbird as well as the Rhythmbox audio player and the Shotwell photo manager.
The major let down within Ubuntu is the software manager which I believe is about to be retired in the next version. It just isn't as intuitive as other package managers and it omits results.
Ubuntu is ready to use out of the box but you do need to install third party components for Flash and MP3 audio.
What can I say about openSUSE? Let's start with the major disappointment which is the installer. Out of all of the installers for the major Linux distributions is it the least intuitive.
There is just too much information at the point of partitioning all in long verbose text format rather than nice pretty pictures that the other distributions provide.
I reviewed openSUSE last in April 2015 and again I went for the GNOME version.
openSUSE itself is actually really nice and the main thing is that it is very stable. As mentioned previously GNOME is my favourite desktop environment and therefore I think this is definitely favourable to the Everyday Linux User.
Of course if you don't like GNOME there are other desktop environments available for openSUSE such as KDE.
openSUSE has a fairly large set of applications which come installed by default including the obvious ones like Firefox, LibreOffice, Rhythmbox and Shotwell. It also comes with GIMP for image editing and the Evolution email client. You basically have everything you need to get started.
With the GNOME version of openSUSE you get the GNOME package manager which is actually fairly decent.
Installing Flash and other proprietary components requires the installation of extra packages which are provided as 1 click installations.
It isn't quite ready to go because of the Flash and proprietary stuff and the installer is a bit clumsy but once you have it installed it is as good as any other Linux distribution.
Fedora is released fairly frequently so even though the version I reviewed last is only Fedora 21 it was only written back in March 2015.
Yet again I went for the GNOME desktop and the reason for that was to see how well Debian, openSUSE and Fedora compared when utilising the same environment.
I actually like the Anaconda installer that ships with Fedora. Click here for a guide showing how to install Fedora. It is almost a two step process. The first section gets you to set up the date and time, the keyboard layout, the installation location and hostname. The second stage gets you to do the user stuff. Partitioning is handled as well as it can be.
Fedora itself is very forward when it comes to implementing new ideas and as such the stability isn't always perfect. For instance whilst using the normal GNOME desktop it performed a little sluggishly but when switching to Wayland it flew but there were some application crashes.
Fedora comes with a fairly full set of applications installed and as with the other distributions you get things like Firefox, LibreOffice, Evolution, Rhythmbox and the Totem media player.
As with openSUSE, the GNOME package manager is the way to install software within the GNOME version of Fedora. If that isn't good enough you can always install Yum Extender.
Fedora isn't a completely ready to use system as you do have to install multimedia codecs and Flash if you need it.
Mageia is the distribution that has always loved to hate me and if I have disliked it in equal measures. That is up until Mageia 5 which totally redeemed itself.
I reviewed Mageia 5 in August 2015 and gave it the tag line "so much better than last time".
Mageia is now easy to install and the Mageia team have provided a decent installation guide.
The GNOME desktop environment makes Mageia easy to use but there is a bit of kerfuffle when it comes to connecting to wireless networks. It isn't as intuitive as it perhaps could be. I am not sure why the developers didn't just leave it alone and let the GNOME network manager do the work.
A plus point is the Mageia control centre which lets you manage your whole system and it provides good hardware support.
The applications include similar applications to the other distributions on this list with Firefox, LibreOffice, GIMP and Evolution.
Mageia has its own graphical package manager which is actually very good and so installing software is easy enough.
This is a decent distribution but I did have a few troubles playing back MP4 videos which I'd like to explain how I fixed but it fixed itself.
I have incorporated a video from the Linux Help Guy who really likes Manjaro.
I can't really comment on the ease of installation or indeed on much else about this distribution. Instead therefore I have incorporated comments from other bloggers.
First off here is how Dedoimedo summed up the KDE version of Manjaro last year.
How shall I put it? Let there be no doubt. Manjaro 0.8.11 is a better version than 0.8.5 that I tested a while back. But calling it the best and most awesomest KDE around, as I've seen here and there in various forums and social media sites is literally pushing it. Now, it does deserve a lot of praise, A LOT, regarding its visual appearance. However, that is not enough to distract from or reduce the impact of the underlying system bugs.
Desktop effects, printing, broken Steam packages, weird menu entries, misbehaving media player, an identity-confused collection of software, installation issues, missing swap use and very high memory consumption, all of these are big problems that the Manjaro dev team needs to address. But overall, the important thing here is progress.
But if you're asking me, the distro needs to simplify its mission statement, and focus on the core message of practicality. Hopefully, we will see that happen soon. Let's call it the emergence of Manjaro into its own rightful place. At the moment, it's trying to do so much, at the same time, it's like a juggler with one ball too many. Grade wise? Hmmm, well, something like 7.5-8/10, and I am being generous. However, if all else fails, it so damn beautiful. Definitely one of the top three. Imagine Plasma 5 there. Looking forward to the next version. Ciao!
For a ying to the yang here is a summary by the Hectic Geek:
I love how Manjaro developers have presented the KDE Plasma 5.5 desktop. It’s a beautiful looking, responsive, power efficient, and a stable desktop. I’m also okay with it using a bit of memory as well. But you know, I can’t wait for 50+ seconds for an operating system to boot (again, part of that has to be blamed upon systemd developers) and 12.6 seconds of shutdown times is also a bit high for my taste, it just ain’t my cup of tea. I like lean & fast operating systems. But hey, that’s just me. And these days, one doesn’t get to see blisteringly fast booting KDE distributions either (in my short experience).
I reviewed CentOS in September 2015 and it was the first time that I had tried it.
The installer for CentOS is the same one that ships with Fedora and so it is reasonably easy to install. When I booted CentOS for the first time it went straight to the GNOME classic desktop which is ok but looks a bit old hat. (old Red Hat?)
Switching to the normal GNOME desktop makes for a very pleasant experience. Basically with CentOS you get the stability that Fedora doesn't offer.
The software installed is much the same as the other distributions in this list with Firefox, Evolution and you know the rest.
Multimedia codecs requires a few extra steps to get installed but there is a good wiki page showing how to do this and I have linked to good guides in my review of CentOS for creating the perfect CentOS desktop.
The GNOME package manager is used to install applications but you could always install Yum Extender if you wanted to.
CentOS has really good hardware support and it found my printer and network storage easily. I would recommend CentOS over Fedora for the Everyday Linux User.
I am not an Arch user. I am not sure that it fits at all with the ethos as being for the Everyday Linux User.
You need to follow an installation guide to install the distribution and it isn't point and click as it is with the other distributions on this list.
I can't really comment on the rest of Arch because I am not and never have been a user.
Interestingly it is hard to find decent reviews of Arch because other bloggers also seem to steer clear of it.
Arch is popular because of the power it puts into your own hands.
I can neither promote or dismiss Arch as I'm not qualified to. I have installed it once as a virtual machine but I wouldn't say that it is for the Everyday Linux User.
Oddly at number 10 on the list is Android x86. Should we be surprised though that people want to run Android as their desktop operating system.
Android works very well on tablets and smartphones and it is even very decent when used on gaming systems such as the NVidia Shield.
I tried Android x86 on a standard laptop and it really doesn't live up to being an operating system you could use on a daily basis.
It has too many little flaws such as screen rotation issues and it is built for a touchscreen and not a standard mouse or trackpad.
Hopefully you have found this guide useful. If you have any comments to make please feel free to do so.
More reviews will be appearing shortly on this site now that the year is finally in full swing.
Thankyou for reading.
Posted at 20:51 |  by Gary Newell