Linux is traditionally associated as being an operating system for coders and programmers, but over the years there have been real attempts to make Linux more attractive to general consumers. This is not least due to general consumer dissatisfaction with Windows security issues or even Apple’s walled garden.
However, Linux comes in many different forms, known as ‘flavors’ or ‘distros’. This is simply because Linux is so incredibly configurable that different forms tend to be developed for different userbase needs or interests.
For example, as mentioned, some have moved toward trying to entice disgruntled Windows users into something more familiar. However, others remain focused on specific environments that may favor programming or scientific applications, or other concerns such as security, resource use, and similar.
Different Linux distros can all work with Linux software and applications, and of course, any cloud-based apps that run through a browser. However, Linux distros come with a variety of different ranges of bundled software. Some might come with a lot of basic applications already pre-installed, while others will have the barest minimum.
And, as mentioned, Linux is very customizable, far beyond what normal Windows or Mac users may be used to.
Altogether, this is why it helps to have a good idea of what different Linux distros can offer. Do you need a GUI more familiar to Windows? Are you more concerned about privacy? How comfortable are you with typing commands rather than clicking icons?
All these concerns may determine which Linux distro is best for you, and here we aim to help you with that decision.
The very best Linux distros are tailored to specific types of users. Ubuntu for instance is very easy to use, as it’s designed for newcomers. Arch Linux on the other hand appeals to experienced users who can take advantage of using the Terminal to type commands to perform tasks such as installing apps. This guide focuses on picking out the very best distros overall.
Probably the best looking distro in the world
Smartly designed and looks great
Excellent desktop environment
Not many preinstalled apps
If you’re after a distro that gets you as far away as possible from the image of a nerdy hacker type bashing away at a terminal interface, Elementary OS is what you need. It’s probably the most attractive distro around, with a style similar to that of macOS. This operating system’s superb desktop environment is known as Pantheon, and is based on Gnome.
The latest version of Elementary OS is called Loki, which as well as being that bit prettier and neater than its predecessor Freya, has its own application installer UI called AppCenter. It’s a delightfully simple way to install apps outside the terminal, which is handy as there aren’t very many preinstalled.
Elementary OS does, however, come bundled with the Epiphany browser, the Geary email client and a few basic ‘tool’ apps. You may need to add more programs, but this is easy to do using the integrated AppCenter, which contains paid programs designed specifically for the OS such as Quilter for budding writers or Spice-Up for composing presentations. The inconvenience of buying and downloading additional apps is balanced by Elementary OS’ Elegance.
A strong option for those new to Linux
Ideal for those switching from Windows/Mac
Good media support out of the box
Impressive amount of customisation options
Linux Mint is a great ‘default’ distro for new Linux users, as it comes with a lot of the software you’ll need when switching from Mac or Windows, such as LibreOffice, the favoured productivity suite of Linux users. It also has better support for proprietary media formats, allowing you to play videos, DVDs and MP3 music files out of the box.
You can download three main starter flavours of Mint 19, each of which uses a different desktop environment, the top-most layer of the interface allowing you to change elements such as the appearance of windows and menus. Cinnamon is currently the most popular, but you can also choose the more basic MATE, or Xfce.
Linux Mint 18.3 was the last release to have an official KDE version. Unfortunately, this is no longer available with Linux Mint 19, but it can still be installed on top of version 19 if you miss it.
While Timeshift was introduced in version 18.3 and to all Linux Mint releases, it is one of the main features of Linux Mint 19. Timeshift enables users to restore their computer from the last functional snapshot.
All these desktop environments offer a good deal of customisation options, so feel free to download a few and boot as Live CD prior to installing to see which works best.
Arch Linux or Antergos are sterling Linux options
Massive potential for customisation
Antergos represents a more user-friendly spin
Arch Linux itself isn’t for the faint of heart
If you’re willing to try a slightly less user-friendly distro, Arch Linux is one of the most popular choices around. Arch allows you to customize your build using the terminal to download and install packages, and it’s particularly handy for developers and those with older machines who may not want unnecessary packages taking up space.
One of the most popular distros for good reasons
Very accessible for novices
Security and stability of LTS version
Lubuntu spin is great for underpowered PCs
A distro for the privacy-conscious
Emphasis on security and privacy
Yet maintains a user-friendly UI
Something of a niche OS
Offshoot of Enterprise version of Red Hat Linux
Built for stability
Ideal for a server
Not so great for daily desktop usage
Spin on Ubuntu aimed at audio and video production
Great alternative to costly production software
Support for audio plug-ins and more
Still allows access to packages in main Ubuntu OS
Primarily targeted at devs and sysadmins
Very polished distro
Can create your own version of the OS