I spend quite a lot of time reading the pages at Reddit and one of the most common questions in the /r/linux4noobs subreddit is "Which distro should I use?".
Today I am going to answer the following request by referring back to my experience with each of the distributions I have tried in the past 2 years.
So the request in full is as follows:
I am just breaking into Linux and I have dual booted Ubuntu a couple of times to test it out, but always crawl back to windows for games and such. I really want to use linux as my main OS and Windows as my backup. I am currently loading it onto a Sony Vaio S VPCSB190X which has some trouble with Hybrid Graphics (AMD 6470m and Intel 3000) when I have run it on Ubuntu. Anyways, I want to test out a distro which has more customization and will test me a bit more than ubuntu, but doesn't require me to spend 8 hours of work just so I can goof around on reddit or play something in Wine. Thank you so very much
The user in question states that Ubuntu causes problems with the machine in question so the first thing I would do is work out the exact specifications for the computer in question.
The computer has been listed as a Sony Vaio S VPCSB190X.
Processor - Intel Core I3
Speed - 2.1 ghz
Video - AMD Radeon HD 6470M
Memory - 4 gb
Hard Drive - 320 gb
Display size - 13 inches
The text in the request says that Ubuntu is out of the question because of the hybrid AMD 6470m and Intel 3000 graphics.
This can be resolved by following this link http://gumz-ex-press.com/2012/ubuntu-12-04-working-hybrid-graphic-ati-radeon-hd6470m-installation/.
Alas the request also says that the user is looking for something a little bit more challenging than Ubuntu so lets discount Ubuntu as an option because this is clearly not what the user wants.
There are for me 3 main requirements:
- It has to be customisable.
- It has to be more challenging than Ubuntu.
- The user should be able to do basic tasks such as browsing the web.
When people talk about customisation they are usually talking about user experience and therefore this usually boils down to the choice of desktop.
Which desktops have the most customisable features:
I am only going to list distributions that I have actually used as I can only really make a judgement based on my own experience.
- SolusOS - Consort
- Linux Mint - Mate/KDE/XFCE
- Snowlinux - Mate/KDE/XFCE
- Debian - KDE/XFCE
- Mageia - KDE/XFCE
- openSUSE - KDE/XFCE
- PCLinuxOS - KDE/XFCE
- Arch - KDE/XFCE
- Slax - KDE
- SolydXK - KDE/XFCE
- Linux Lite - XFCE
- Xubuntu - XFCE
- Emmabuntus - XFCE
Narrowing it down
The above distributions can all be easily customised but the other requirements are that the distribution has to be more challenging than Ubuntu but must still be capable of doing the basic tasks.
I don't think any of the above distributions fail when it comes to being able to do the basic tasks. It is easy enough to install any of those distributions and get to the point of getting online, using the obvious tools such as audio players, watching videos etc.
The first distribution I am going to rule out is PCLinuxOS. I wrote a review of PCLinuxOS in April 2013. The title of the review was "Is there an easier transition to Linux from Windows than PCLinuxOS?". If the user is looking for something more challenging than Ubuntu then PCLinuxOS isn't it.
I would happily recommend PCLinuxOS to a whole host of computer users. It uses the KDE desktop which definitely makes it customisable and it really is a good operating system. PCLinuxOS has all the applications you could possibly need from the outset including LibreOffice, Clementine, GIMP, Dropbox, Thunderbird etc.
If PCLinuxOS is too easy to use then I am going to knock Arch off the list because it may be too challenging. I had my first look at Arch in March 2013 and I was impressed with the documentation that accompanies Arch. It does however take a wee while to get it installed and therefore if the user wants to have the home comforts straight away then this is the main reason to rule out Arch.
SLAX is really a portable version of Linux and the user did not request a portable version of Linux. The SLAX review was also written in March 2013. Slax uses the KDE desktop and I have to say that the plug and play modules that are used within Slax makes it very versatile whilst keeping the size down to the minimum required for running from a USB drive.
Linux Mint Mate and Linux Mint XFCE probably aren't going to be much more challenging than Ubuntu however they are both heavily customisable.
I was really impressed when I reviewed SolusOS in February 2013. Again SolusOS will not be particularly challenging as it is one of those distributions that pretty much works straight out of the box. It comes with a great set of applications installed by default including LibreOffice, Dropbox, Thunderbird and PlayonLinux. Really it makes a good alternative to Linux Mint.
In addition to SolusOS I also tried SnowLinux out in February 2013. SnowLinux gave me significant issues when I used it including permissions issues, Synaptic not working from the XFCE menu and issues connecting to the internet. If the user wants a challenge then this would certainly fit the bill. The question is do you want a challenge for the sake of it?
Linux Lite is another very good distribution which uses the XFCE desktop. I have omitted it from the final list because it won't really provide much of a challenge. It works out of the box and because it uses XFCE it is instantly customisable. Emmabuntus is omitted from the final list as well for the same reasons as Linux Lite. The main challenge with Emmabuntus is the fact that some of the windows have French titles. (Not really all that challenging).
The final countdown
Fedora, Debian, Mageia and openSUSE are all very good options for this user. They all give a good user experience out of the box but provide a different challenge to the one proposed by Ubuntu.
I reviewed Mageia last week and I hit significant challenges with regards to the partitioning, the network centre and setting up the repositories. As a standalone distribution Mageia would provide a good learning curve with most applications being instantly available.
Fedora is a completely free distribution providing only free software. Whilst this means the distribution works out of the box to get things like Flash working you have to put in a bit of effort and if you really want to experiment then you can try to stay completely free.
Debian is also a completely free distribution and therefore provides similar challenges to Fedora. Debian would be a good fit as it gives a certain amount of familiarity to the user who has tried Ubuntu.
openSUSE is probably actually just as easy to use as Ubuntu but because it uses different tools I have put it in the final countdown.
I reviewed SolydX last month and it impressed me. It has a good selection of applications. SolydX fits into the category of being a lightweight distribution and as such includes Gnumeric and Abiword instead of LibreOffice. It uses XFCE which makes it customisable and is based on Debian. SolydK is the KDE version which includes more mainstream applications. Definitely a contender.
And my choice would be....
I would recommend any of the final list for this user but the one that I would probably recommend overall is Xubuntu.
Xubuntu provides an endless opportunity of options for customisation and because it has the Ubuntu roots it will be familiar enough to the user in question.
There is enough about Xubuntu which will provide a challenge without putting pointless obstacles in the way.
Thankyou for reading