The Best Linux Distributions

The Best Linux Distributions

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There are many Linux distributions available for a number of different purposes, which makes it difficult to choose at times. Here’s a list of the very best to help you decide.

Check out more specific distros: New to Linux | General | Lightweight/Minimal | Educational | Specialised | Business | Security

And if you’d like an in-depth review of the hottest distros, read our much shorter list of the best Linux distributions for 2014.

New To Linux

Ubuntu

Ubuntu is a Debian-based distro that uses Unity as a default desktop environment. It’s one of the most popular distros around, and it improves with every release. The latest releases have been quite polished, and have been optimized for desktops, and multi-touch devices such as trackpads and touchscreens.

Ubuntu

Kubuntu

Kubuntu is an Ubuntu derivative that uses KDE instead of Unity as the default desktop environment. Beneath this, it is essentially the same as Ubuntu and is released on the same schedule.

Kubuntu

Mint

Linux Mint was designed to be an elegant, modern distro that was easy to use, yet powerful. It’s based on Ubuntu and Debian, is reliably safe and comes with one of the best software managers. These days it’s one of the most popular Linux distributions around, claiming to be the most popular home operating system after Windows and Mac OS.

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Linux Mint

Deepin

Deepin is an Ubuntu based distro that has built the Deepin Desktop Environment (DDE) to appeal to newer Linux users. In fact, we highly recommend new users give Deepin a go. It’s stylish, simple and intuitive, featuring one of the best system settings panel displays of any distro. Deepin also features its own applications, like DMusic, DPlayer and the soon-to-be-released DTalk.

Deepin

Elementary OS

Yet another Ubuntu-based distro, Elementary OS has differentiated itself superbly since the release of Elementary OS Luna. It features beautiful, simple default apps that follow the OS’s aesthetic appeal, such as Geary for email, Midori web browser, Maya calendar, Totem movie player, and the Noise music player. Some of the default apps were developed in-house in order to meet expectations.

Zorin OS

Zorin OS has been designed specifically for newcomers to Linux, with a look and feel that is all about making a good impression and easing the transition from Windows to Linux. The Ubuntu-based distro features, apps that will be familiar to Windows users, and makes it easy for users to run the Windows apps they still need. Zorin OS 9 has been built to be a lot like Windows 7, hoping to get some new Linux converts from those leaving Windows XP behind.

Zorin OS Office

General

OpenSUSE

The OpenSUSE distribution is a general distro for Linux built by the OpenSUSE Project, aiming to be both a great beginner distro and something that appeals to experienced Linux users. OpenSUSE comes with YAST, an administration program that controls installations, package management and more.

OpenSUSE

Fedora

Fedora is an innovation-focused distribution, with a short life cycle that lends itself to leading-edge software. It uses the GNOME desktop environment by default, but users can easily switch to KDE, Xfce, LXDE, MATE and Cinnamon, among others. Custom variations of Fedora, known as Fedora spins, are available for users with particular needs.

Fedora

Xubuntu

Xubuntu is an Ubuntu derivative that uses the Xfce (XForms Common Environment) desktop environment, meaning it is elegant and lightweight. It’s great for laptops and netbooks as well as desktops. Because it is light and uses few system resources, it is perfect for older computers.

Xubuntu

Debian

Debian is an older Linux distribution which comes with the GNOME desktop environment by default, and it’s much-loved for both personal computers and for network servers. However, it’s also available for FreeBSD and work is in progress to support other kernels, such as the Hurd. Debian prides itself on coming preloaded with over 37500 packages, and with simple utilities that make it easy to get more.

Korora

Korora was originally based on Gentoo Linux, and evolved with the aim of making Linux easy for newcomers, but also useful for experts. It comes with a choice of desktop environments, including the Cinnamon, GNOME, KDE, MATE and Xfce desktops.

Kororoa Xfce

Slackware Linux

Slackware is a distro built specifically for security and simplicity, aiming to be the most UNIX-like Linux distribution. It’s particularly useful for server management, as it has FTP, email and web servers available to use immediately.

Slackware-SWchord2

Mageia

The French Mageia began as a community-driven, non-profit fork of Mandriva Linux, and features all the major desktop environments. Primarily, KDE and GNOME are available as default desktops.

mageia

SparkyLinux

SparkyLinux is a distribution that has evolved from the “testing” branch of Debian. The main edition comes with a customized version of the lightweight LXDE desktop, with other customized desktops available.

SparkyLinux-sparky36-lxde

Gentoo Linux

Gentoo Linux is a distribution optimized for configurability, and can be adapted to almost any need. Its versatility and performance are what sets it apart from other distros. Gentoo Linux also comes with an advanced package management system called Portage.

Gentoo-1-aisbaa

CentOS

CentOS (Community Enterprise Operating System) is a Linux distribution that is a community rebuild of Red Hat Enterprise Linux. It’s designed for people who want to use an enterprise-worthy distribution for free.

CentOS

PCLinuxOS

PCLinuxOS is designed with regular PC users in mind, and features the KDE Plasma Desktop by default. This distribution makes it easy to install drivers, get Office software, edit photos, get online and start using multimedia. It also makes it easy to do snapshot backups.

PCLinuxOS netflix

PinGuy OS

PinGuyOS is both beautiful and ready to use from the start. The Ubuntu-based distribution comes pre-packaged with all the best software for regular use and for network setup, making it perfect for beginners. It features a modified GNOME user interface.

Educational

DouDou

DouDou Linux is for young children, with the aim of teaching them how to explore computers and learn from them. It provides games and educational programs suitable for kids aged 2-12 and is a safe environment that parents won’t have to watch over.

DouDou activity-menu

Edubuntu

Edubuntu is a distro for education which is partnered with Ubuntu. It has been created to be as easy as possible for teachers to set up, and for kids of all ages to use. It comes pre-packaged with all the best free software for education.

Edubuntu unity3_full

Uberstudent

Uberstudent is a distribution specifically designed for tertiary and advanced secondary students. It comes pre-packaged with software that makes it easy to do assignments and manage tasks.

UberStudent

Lightweight/Minimal

Lubuntu

Lubuntu is a lightweight distro based on Ubuntu that’s perfect for laptop usage. It uses the minimal desktop LXDE (Lightweight X11 Desktop Environment) and comes with lightweight applications designed for energy-efficiency and speed. It’s great for most older computers, netbooks and mobile devices as it uses minimal RAM and has low system requirements.

Lubuntu

Puppy Linux

Puppy Linux is a distribution that’s really small and can be run entirely from RAM. This means Puppy Linux is great for older computers, even without hard drives! It is also easy to use as a malware remover for any existing system.

Manjaro Linux

Manjaro Linux is a fast, easy-to-use, light-weight distribution based on Arch Linux. It aims to give all the benefits of Arch Linux, with more user-friendliness and accessibility, making it easier on newcomers. The Xfce desktop is the default, but other options are available.

Arch Linux

Arch Linux is a distribution designed with experienced users in mind. This light-weight minimalist distribution aims to keep things simple, and uses a rolling release model for updates. It features a custom-made package manager called “Pacman”, which makes it easy to build, modify and share packages.

archlinux-logo-light-90dpi.d36c53534a2b

Tiny Core

Tiny Core Linux is an extremely light, modular distribution noted specifically for its small size (currently 15 MB). It is build on the Linux kernel and uses BusyBox and FLTK (Fast, Light Toolkit).

TinyCore tc_020_trm

CrunchBang

The Debian-based CrunchBang Linux distribution is minimalist and highly customizable, featuring the Openbox window manager instead of a desktop environment. It comes with a number of GTK+ applications preinstalled.

CrunchBang screenshot-iceweasel-6music

Bodhi

The Ubuntu-based Bodhi Linux distribution comes with the light-weight and beautiful Enlightenment desktop. Bodhi is extremely customizable, with themes and apps readily available to expand on the light beginnings.

Specialised

ArtistX

ArtistX is specifically tailored to artists of all types, from music to graphic design. It’s based on Ubuntu and comes pre-packaged with all the best 2D and 3D graphic design, video production, and audio manufacturing software for GNU/Linux.

Hybryde Fusion

The main point of Hybryde Fusion is to allow you to test out which Linux desktop environment you like best. This distribution is considered a conceptual work, and not something you’d use daily.

Kali Linux

Formerly known as BackTrack, Kali Linux is focused on penetration testing. This Debian-based Linux distribution makes it easy to perform digital forensic tasks.

Parted Magic

Parted Magic is built as a disc management tool, with disc partitioning and copying as primary tools. It also makes it easy to perform disc recovery and erasing.

PartedMagic

GParted

GParted is a single-purpose distribution, designed to make it easy to partition hard drives using a graphical interface.

gParted

Business

Red Hat Enterprise Linux

Red Hat Enterprise Linux is a commercial derivative of Fedora, designed with enterprise customers in mind. There are a number of variants and addons, and certification is available for both administrators and applications.

Red Hat Enterprise Linux

SUSE Linux Enterprise

SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop is designed for business use and is therefore enterprise-ready from installation, making it easy to work with a variety of office programs. It’s flexible enough to run on a variety of devices, but is reliable enough for extremely critical processes. Also available is the SUSE Linux Enterprise Server edition.

SUSE Linux Enterprise

Security

TAILS

TAILS is a distribution that revolves wholly around the concept of privacy and security. It is a live operating system you can use from a DVD, USB stick or SD card, so that you can be safe using any computer and leave no trace of your activities. All Internet connections are routed through TOR (The Onion Router) for the best possible anonymity, and cryptographic tools are readily available to protect all your communication methods from prying eyes.

TAILS

Add Your Favourite Distros

This is just a snapshot of our favourite distros today. Please feel free to tell us about your favourite Linux distribution and why you love it. Which distro is your favourite?

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Comments (67)
  • jamesedwarddev

    Ubuntu and Linux Mint are popular choices for newcommers. As well as Elementary OS.

  • Michael

    I am a novice Linux user and after reading about some of the distributions available, I’d have to say I am inclined to choose Arch Linux initially. Choosing a distribution that is as easy as possible to setup appears to create a glass house with a very poor foundation and little to no incentive to learn deeply. I abide by the general rule that you should learn one level of abstraction deeper than the problem you are looking to solve. A great way to get there with an operating system is to simply configure it from scratch with solid documentation for instances where you get stuck.

    Waking up for the last 15 years and logging onto a perfectly functional Windows machine has simply become boring. The focus on GUI’s and simplification in Windows is just not to my liking. It sacrifices efficient workflow and user-empowerment in an effort to ‘dumb down’ the operation of the computer. At the corporate level, I find the result to be fairly frustrating and quite expensive when end users are not able to complete complex tasks on account of their not being a button to click to do of the work for them.

    I’d prefer to spend more time learning and be a more efficient computer user in the long-term and would like to find a community that is more command-line-aware. The lack of transparency in Windows puts me at a bit of a standstill and doesn’t really give me much incentive to learn the system at a deeper level.

    It is hard to become a strong computer user when so many people around you have never heard of the run command in Windows. I ask someone to run a specific program that is already and am met with a blank stare. I need a community of users that is significantly different than that and won’t be completely lost when attempting to find a program (or that pretty much folds when the start menu disappears).

    • jamesedwarddev

      You would think it works like that, but it really doesn't. With Arch, there is enough to do, that you're most likely to just blindly follow the wiki. As well, you may find that you don't like it. The best course of action is to load up VirtualBox with Arch and Ubuntu/Mint/Debian/OpenSuse/InterestingDistro, and compare them there. Ubuntu usually only gets a bad rep when more experienced users have a need feel especially l33t and put others down or from those who hate the unity layout. And you can install any desktop you want. (from your post I assume you'll probably want to try KDE, but I'd recommend giving Gnome3 and Cinnamon/Mate a shot, again, use VirtualBox) I used Ubuntu for a while and I did 95% of my configuration/work from the command line. There's an amazing community to help when you get stuck and plenty of resources. It's also nice if you feel lazy on a whim and want to use the GUI. If you want to learn, google linux from scratch or try linuxacademy.com. Or better, run Arch inside VirtualBox on an Ubuntu host. Anyways, I just wanted to caution you because Arch can be a pretty big turn off. And the educational benefit in terms of understanding how the OS/kernal operate isn't as great as you may think. Good luck.

  • ThatGuy

    If Linux was truly better than windows performance wise, it would be 20x more popular. But it’s not, if you check FPS count on video games, windows runs twice as good as Linux. Only reason people would use Linux would be for showing off how they can actually install Linux, and to use the terminal. There is no other reason I can think of. Now if Linux would improve in performance, I would definitely go for Linux!

    • Brian Howell

      That's not true at all. If popularity was solely determined by the ability to perform, Ashton Shepherd would have a bigger music career than Kellie Pickler, and Sam Rockwell would be a bigger box office draw than Vin Diesel, and Ron Paul would be President of the United States instead of Barack Obama. Those things are not true for the the same reason: market success is more a product of massive amounts of advertising than anything else. Similarly, the fact that Windows is more popular than Linux on the consumer desktop today is because Microsoft has spent billions of dollars keeping the Windows name in front of everybody's eyes. As a result, for better or worse, they've held on so far to their market share due to their early headstart 30 years ago in the race to the desktop, and their willing to be flexible to get there, unlike Apple's all-or-nothing approach to marketing. Because of its dominance so far on the desktop, most games are built for the Windows market, not because game companies prefer Windows as a development platform, or because Windows handles graphics better than Linux, but because most of the gamer market has Windows machines. If every game was built for Linux, Windows would have a similarly difficult time shining with those games that were simply backported to it, instead of specifically built to work with it. If Windows is so much better at processing graphics, why, then, does Pixar produce its movies on LInux workstations? But I told everyone in 2001 that Microsoft's sun was setting, and that in 20 years it would be the General Motors of that day: bloated, aimless, and wondering where it went wrong. General Motors, in fact, wouldn't exist today as a single entity if it weren't for a government bailout. The market said "no." The government said, "We don't care what the market says." My prediction is coming true. Linux IS the most popular operating system in the world today, running over ninety percent of the servers in the world, running the show beneath almost all of the industrial machines and consumer appliances on the market, and, in Android guise, dominating 78% of the world smartphone market so far in 2015. On top of all of that, Google's Linux flavor for the laptop, Chrome, has shipped on the #1 bestselling laptops on Amazon for the last three years. Linux is here to stay. The consumer desktop will be last domino to fall because the market share of the personal computer has already peaked, so commercial end user development of Linux has become focused on other form factors. But Microsoft's, and, for that matter, Apple's competitive joyride in the personal computer market will continue to become a grind for both companies. When Microsoft starts developing its software for other platforms, you can't help but smell the Blackberries. I discovered Linux back in 2000 or so, and switched completely to Linux as consumer, educator, artist and businessperson back in 2008. I've switched 70-year-old retirees to Linux, saved them hundreds of dollars, and breathed new life, user-friendliness, speed, and security into their machines than they have ever know in a computer. They love it. That's the future of the desktop, right there, be it sooner or later. Like it or not, Linux is the future of computing at every level. It will not be denied.

  • Stephen Cox

    Spare me the absolute garbage people trot out again and again about Linux being Free, Somebody has to put in the effort to make anything work and unless I am mistaken any Programmer simply cannot walk down to the local supermarket and get their weekly groceries for nothing or free rent or houses.
    So it costs them, Time is one thing we cannot recover once you have used it it is gone forever.

    I know damn well I will not fix somebodies car or motorcycle for nothing with thousands of hours of training that never ends and tens of thousands of Dollars invested in Tools and Equipment (well over 100K now) I know and expect others to charge me for their Time, Efforts Expertise and outlays and I will do the same yet we are as an Industry called Thieving crooks by many and the retail side Dealerships called often in the US “Stealerships” yet do these same whingers work for nothing, Not likely so why do you expect something for nothing to be perfect and carry on when it isn’t.

    So do not complain about Microsoft charging money for hundreds of thousand of Manhours of effort to supply you something that does what you need it to.

    Cars now run Http protocol Canbus systems linking anything up to 86 micro computers to do anything from turning on the lights to activating windscreen washers and wipers etc etc so Technicians is a correct term for what were once “Mechanics” for now we are much more than that, Network specialists, Electronics technicians, Mechanical engineers and much much more.

    So how dare any of you Expect to get anything for nothing when I know full well you would have all hopefully worked for a living and charged people in the industries you worked in for services and products Yet you expect to gain the fruits of others efforts for nothing with so called open Source software.

    But to expect others to do so smacks of the attitude of people who expect Governments to continue stealing money from those who will work and give it to those who will not.

    Such arrogance from end users always whinging something does not “Just Work” when they havent put their hand in their wallet in the first place and only put the hours in because they think they are getting something for free.

    There is a reason why Linux will never gain traction,It will not pay the Bills for those who actually write the code, In too many cases those same people are far removed from the average person they cannot understand why people cannot fathom something that is second nature to them and it does not help that the same disconnect is also widespread among the Technical Writers Guild who write the How to’s and Owners manuals.

    They simply do not understand things that are so much second nature to them that it does not rise above a subconscious action or response which means for those without the same background it is as clear as the Martian Language would be.

    So if people want a Linux that will actually work then cut back all the stupid spinoffs concerntrate on one effort and be prepared to actually pay for it, Until then get used to Deja Vue as you experience Computer OS Groundhog Day with your supposedly No Cost OS, What’s your time worth??

  • Tatsu

    P.S., the “relevant to Linux” is a typo and should read “irrelevant”..

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This review may contain affiliate links, which pays us a small compensation if you do decide to make a purchase based on our recommendation. Our judgement is in no way biased, and our recommendations are always based on the merits of the items.

For more details, please read our disclosure.
Affiliate Disclamer

This review may contain affiliate links, which pays us a small compensation if you do decide to make a purchase based on our recommendation. Our judgement is in no way biased, and our recommendations are always based on the merits of the items.

For more details, please read our disclosure.