The 7 Best Alternative Linux Distributions Of 2014


As the year draws to a close it is a good time to reflect on the good and bad of 2014.

In this article I am going to list my favourite alternative Linux distributions of the year.

What constitutes as an alternative Linux distro? To define the alternative, we need to look at the mainstream distributions first.

I consider the mainstream distributions to be any of the following:

  • Debian
  • Ubuntu
  • Linux Mint
  • Fedora
  • CentOS
  • Arch
  • Mageia
  • openSUSE
  • Gentoo
  • Slackware

These distributions have one or more of the following characteristics:

  • A large number of users
  • A large number of developers
  • A large support base
  • They are not derived from any other distribution
  • Have their own software repositories

An alternative distribution is one that either doesn’t have these characteristics or it has been created for a specific purpose.

I would like to clarify that Ubuntu is deemed to include Ubuntu Gnome, Ubuntu MATE, Xubuntu, Lubuntu and Kubuntu which is why they don’t make this list.

Whilst the list is numbered the Linux distributions are listed in no particular order.

1. Puppy Linux











There is a reason that Puppy Linux has its own category on this site (Look at the top menu).

Puppy Linux is unique in so many ways.

Packed into a download of less than 200 megabytes, Puppy Linux is designed to run from a pen drive.

The performance of this miniature distribution is incredible, even allowing for a slow USB 2.0 drive.

I recently reviewed the latest version of Tahr Puppy and I was really impressed by the Quickpet installer for installing common packages.

Puppy Linux is perfect for older hardware and for computers without hard drives.

Click here for a full review of Puppy Linux

Click here to get Puppy and install it to a USB drive

Click here to buy a Puppy Linux USB drive

2. Makulu












I reviewed Makulu earlier in the year and my opinion is that if you are going to steer clear of the mainstream distributions then Makulu has to be a contender.

A lot of effort has gone into the look and feel of Makulu. There are a number of different desktop versions available but I chose to install the MATE version and to be honest it compares very well against Ubuntu MATE and Linux Mint MATE.

The themes for Makulu look particularly good and there are some nice cosmetic touches such as the quote of the day.

If you prefer a dash for choosing applications rather than a menu there is  Slingscold.

Makulu comes with Thunderbird, Dropbox, Kingsoft Office, Audacious and VLC.

Makulu also comes with a good selection of games including Frets On Fire and Dreamchess. The Steam installer is also included.

There are two ways of installing applications within Makulu, the Linux Mint installer and Makulu’s own Sofware Installer.

If you remember the artwork that use to come with Fuduntu and Point Linux then you will really like the artwork within Makulu.

Click here for a full review of Makulu

Click here for a guide showing how to install Makulu as a virtual machine within Windows

Click here for the full Makulu installation guide

Click here to buy a DVD or USB drive containing Makulu

3. SparkyLinux (Gameover Edition)











If you are looking for a Linux distribution dedicated to gaming then look no further than SparkyLinux Gameover Edition.

This distribution utilises the LXDE desktop environment keeping it lightweight in nature.

The best part about SparkyLinux is obviously the sheer library of applications that are installed.

SparkyLinux isn’t all about games. There are applications for listening to music and watching videos as well as graphics editors. Dropbox is also installed as is the Transmission bittorrent client.

There are literally hundreds of games installed including Linux standards such as Battle For Wesnoth, SuperTuxKart and SuperTux. If you are into retrogaming there are some clones of classic games including breakout, lemmings and tetris.

The best part of SparkyLinux Gameover Edition is the games emulators. Whether you want to emulate a SEGA, Nintendo, Sony or Atari games system everything you need is included within SparkyLinux Gameover Edition.

Click here for a full review of SparkyLinux Gameover Edition

Click here for a SparkyLinux installation guide

Click here to buy a SparkyLinux DVD or USB drive

4. Peppermint OS











Peppermint OS provides a great fusion between a desktop Linux distribution and a web kiosk.

LXDE is the default desktop within Peppermint. The applications are kept to a minimum including Gnome MPlayer, Guayadeque Audio Player, a text editor, file manager, web browser, terminal application and screenshot tool.

The main feature of Peppermint is the ICE editor which enables you to incorporate web applications into the desktop.

In my review of Peppermint OS 4 I showed you how to make Peppermint OS look like a Google Chromebook and to be honest if you have a mid range laptop and you mainly use web applications you could easily utilise the laptop in this way.

Click here for a full review of Peppermint OS

Click here for a Peppermint OS installation guide

5. Netrunner











There are a lot of people who like Ubuntu. There are a lot of people who don’t. There are many people who like most of the things Ubuntu has to offer but prefer to use an alternative desktop environment such as KDE desktop.

Netrunner takes everything that is good about Kubuntu and adds a little extra value.

Installing Netrunner is easy, with a linear approach showing you all the steps required to get from point A (from a live distribution) to point Z (a fully installed system).

The added value comes mainly in the form of extra applications.

Click here for a full review (including installation guide) of Netrunner

Click here to buy a Netrunner DVD or USB drive

6. Simplicity Linux











Earlier on in this article I sang the praises of Puppy Linux.

Simplicity Linux is based on the Slacko version of Puppy which gives you access to the Slackware repositories for installing applications that are not installed by default.

There are three versions available:

  • Minimal
  • Netbook
  • Full

Simplicity Linux looks and feels more like a standard desktop distribution but has all the great little applications and most of the performance benefits.

Click here for a full review of Simplicity Linux

Click here to buy a Simplicity Linux USB drive or DVD

7. Zorin











As with most products a solution survives either by being the best, being the cheapest or by having a unique selling point.

Trying to be the cheapest in realms of free software is a little bit hard to achieve and being the best is largely subjective and virtually impossible to achieve unless you have a huge developer base.

The survival of the alternative distributions is therefore achieved by having a unique selling point.

Zorin OS goes for the glitz and sex appeal of the desktop and is not afraid to include all the desktop effects that are provided with Compiz.

Zorin’s USP however is the look changer which enables the user to switch between a Windows look, a Gnome 2 look and even an OSX look.

Click here for a full review of Zorin OS

Click here for a ZorinOS installation guide


I am sure there are other alternative distributions that you would have included as part of this list. Feel free to add them by using the comments section below.

Thankyou for reading.



    • Thanks for the recommendations.

      I actively encourage you all to add your own personal favourites to this section. I haven't been able to test and try every single distro this year so I need your help to make this list complete.

    • Sorry the other point to make is that the reason Xubuntu, Lubuntu etc weren't considered is because they are essentially part of the Ubuntu family. It would be like suggesting openSUSE with Gnome, openSUSE with KDE etc. Manjaro and Antergos could have made this list as derivatives because they aren't part of the main distribution and exist in their own right as separate entities. I haven't tried Manjaro for a while now and I haven't got around to trying Antergos at all yet.

      Now I know that brings into question the use of the superlative (best) in the title but if you look at the reviews page you can see I have extensively reviewed quite a few distributions.

      Another reason to leave the comments section open really so the list can be added to. I fully intend on changing the article to include recommendations from people who add to this comments section

  1. Spary, Peppermint OS and Makulu are derivatives of mainstream distro's.
    What I am missing is Void Linux, TinyCore, PCLinux OS, Foresight and Lunar Linux, to name a few. For me those are the really exotic distro's out there. For me, half of your list is considered mainstream 🙂

  2. I tried most of the linux distros listed and a few mentioned in the comments (debian, fedora, puppy, ubuntu, mint, crunchbang, Xubuntu, Lite, etc, etc). Heck, I even installed Arch the good ole fashion command line way. And most of these distros I look to install the lightest desktop like openbox or xfce or lxde. And for each I encountered lag with heavy browsing and watchng youtube, or errors in watching videos or trouble with looking up software and installing them.
    I understood the review and enjoyed it – it was a good read.
    This may be out of place but I'd like to add, in case there be new linux users or undecided linux users going from distro to the next that although Manjaro XFCE is by far one of my favorite distros because it has almost everything you could want packaged in one user friendly installation, people ought to try Korora XFCE. It's Fedora but with everything – tons of software, every codec, mainstream app.

    It worked flawless on my old pentium 4 IBM desktop- played 720p video (and i have the stock graphic card). It runs like a dream. On my asus 1005ha netbook – the full Korora XFCE runs blazingly fast – as fast as puppy linux, and multitasks like a beast. I even get about 5 hours with heavy intensive work (heavy browsing, writing, downloading, youtubing, emailing, thunderbirding, pidgin on, and I have time to watc ha movie). I get 8hrs with some light browsing and writing (more with wifi off and just writing). And yes I have a big ole 9 cell battery(3 years old). Manjaro is amazing, but Korora is spectacular in that you save a crap load of time not having to search for codecs, apps, and so forth. It;s stable, made for old pcs, new pcs, and is very polished. I installed plank, maybe a few apps and im set. For me, it's the distro to beat (Manjaro a close 2nd). Hands down.

  3. I know it's very late in this discussion but I've just seen it and would like to add Univention Corporate Server (UCS). Unfortunately, UCS is not yet that known than others but has a lot of unique, outstanding features, especially for business purposes such as an Active Directory Takeover tool for data migration and an Active Directory Connection tool for synchronization between an AD and the OpenLDAP and what is also very practical, UCS has an integrated app center which lets you install and use many different (about 70 by now, number rising) open source applications in the field of groupware, backup, DMS etc.
    By the way, UCS is a Debian-based distro.

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