Quite a common question asked at sites such as Reddit and Yahoo answers is “Which distro should I use?” and it is usually followed up by a brief set of requirements and the names of distributions that the user has heard of.
Users are confused when they first come to Linux about which distribution they should be using and I have heard people say “I was thinking of Ubuntu or Arch” or “I was thinking about Gentoo and how hard is it to use Linux From Scratch”.
Quite often these same users are sent off to Distrowatch to check out the distributions listed on that site and I’m sure many of those users then look at the rankings down the right hand side.
This article lists the top 10 distributions according to Distrowatch for 2013 and gives a brief outline of the purpose of those distributions and whether they are the sort of operating systems a new user or average computer user should be using as their first port of call.
Linux Mint is a “straight out of the box” operating system and as soon as you install it you can easily do the sort of tasks you would normally do without having to install any extra software.
There are a number of different desktop environments available for Linux Mint including Cinnamon, MATE, XFCE and even KDE. Use the Cinnamon or KDE desktop environments on newer hardware and MATE, XFCE environments on older hardware.
Linux is really good at sticking to a theme and so it doesn’t matter which desktop environment you choose the general look and feel and behaviour of the operating system is the same.
Click here for a full review of Linux Mint
Ubuntu is the distribution that most people have heard of and consequently it is the first Linux based operating system that they try.
I believe that Ubuntu is delivering everything that Microsoft wanted Windows 8 to achieve. The Unity desktop once you get used to it is a slick desktop environment and it is easy to see how it could work on desktops, laptops, tablets and phones.
Ubuntu isn’t for everyone though.
The fine line between integration and intrusion is encroached upon by Ubuntu and if you aren’t comfortable with seeing adverts for products within your desktop experience then you might want to move on to another distribution or one of the other buntus such as Kubuntu, Lubuntu or Xubuntu.
Unlike Linux Mint the emphasis is about testing the boundaries. The desktop, although clearly not to some peoples tastes, is forward thinking and modern.
Ubuntu is definitely a Linux based operating system for the everyday user.
Click here for a review of Ubuntu
Debian has been around for what feels like forever and it provides the base for hundreds of other distributions including Ubuntu and Linux Mint.
The versions of Debian available on their site only install free software and there are no third party or proprietary products included by default.
For new users, setting up Debian can be somewhat of a challenge compared to Ubuntu or Linux Mint.
The choice of which version of Debian to run is also quite tricky and depends on the person who will be using it. If you want the latest stuff today then you can install the unstable branch which has all the latest products but they may or may not work for you. At the other end of the scale you can choose the stable branch which has older versions of software that are pretty much guaranteed to work.
Debian is like Linux Lego. It is great for people who want to start from a base installation and build something from the ground up. It may not be suitable for people who have limited computer skills and it requires more of a learning curve than Linux Mint or Ubuntu.
I would suggest that Debian would be “The Next Step” when it comes to trying out Linux.
Click here for a review of Debian
10 years ago the Linux landscape looked a lot different to how it looks today. Ubuntu was still in development.
Mageia in theory is another operating system that new users to Linux should try out.
Mageia is released for all the major desktop environments including Gnome, KDE, XFCE and LXDE.
My advice is to definitely give it a try because there are people out there who swear by this operating system and think it is the best there is. What I would say though is that if you don’t like it, don’t dismiss Linux based on your experience with Mageia.
Click here for a full review of Mageia
At the beginning of the article I mentioned that people often mention distributions that they have heard of whilst asking for advice on which one to use. Fedora’s name quite often comes up.
For new users though the installer itself is a bit of a tricky customer and you may find the odd issue as you go along.
You should also be aware that Fedora, along with Debian, only ships with free software and you have to jump through a couple of extra hoops to install proprietary software and drivers.
As with Debian, I would say that Fedora is “The Next Step”.
Click here for a review of Fedora
As with Mageia and Mint there are a number of desktop environments to choose from including Gnome, KDE, XFCE and LXDE.
Click here for a review of openSUSE
A definite must try for new users to Linux. It always surprises me that PCLinuxOS languishes lower down in the top 10 rather than sitting up in 2nd or 3rd.
There is great support and a great monthly magazine and the community is very friendly and supportive.
PCLinuxOS has the KDE, MATE and LXDE desktop environments available and therefore it caters to modern and older computers.
PCLinuxOS has a rolling release model which means that once you install it you will never have to upgrade.
Click here for a review of PCLinuxOS
The rise of Manjaro has been nothing short of amazing. Based on Arch Linux, Manjaro provides an instant entry point into the world of Arch Linux.
The learning curve for Manjaro is potentially a little bit steeper than the likes of Mint, Ubuntu and PCLinuxOS.
This is not necessarily therefore a distribution that should be considered a first choice for the average computer user.
Click here for a review of Manjaro
It scares me the number of people who have never tried Linux before that ask the question “Should I try Ubuntu or Arch first?”
Even if you are an experienced Linux user, Arch may not be your next port of call.
There is no doubt that Arch will provide you a great base to build and tailor your operating system the way you want it to be but to get there you have to want to invest time and you have to be willing to learn on your feet (sounds like a job specification, must be a self-starter).
If you can read and follow instructions and think about what you are doing as you are doing it then there is definitely merit in trying Arch out. Ultimately if you succeed then you will feel great satisfaction knowing that you have a stable, secure, reliable and highly responsive operating system.
The documentation for Arch is excellent. The support from the forums can be a little bit hit and miss depending on whether the questions you ask show that you have put in the effort to try and solve your issues first. For instance saying that you can’t do basic things without having followed the beginners guide will be answered in the standard way. Read the manual.
If you are an average user then Arch may not be for you.
Click here for a look at Arch
Puppy is designed to run from a USB pen drive or from DVD. It is not designed to be installed to the hard drive although it can be.
All the usual favourites can be installed including FireFox and VLC but there are a host of lightweight alternatives installed by default.
Puppy isn’t really an operating system therefore that I would advise inexperienced users to use as their main operating system but I can’t stress enough that you should give it a go by running it from a USB drive.
You can have great fun playing around with Puppy Linux and if you always carry a USB drive with you then you have a bootable version of Linux available wherever you go.
Click here for a series of reviews about different versions of Puppy
For the everyday Linux user I recommend one of Linux Mint, Ubuntu, Mageia, openSUSE and PCLinuxOS with the addition of Puppy on a pen drive.