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:

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.

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.

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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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31 Comments - Write a Comment

Reply

likefunbutnot

I typically prefer OpenSUSE for anything where I might actually see a Window Manager but run CentOS for production servers. I have a longstanding (decades-long) antipathy for the Debian project, which has carried over to all things Debian-derived.

Bilboa Dinkles

Thank you for your suggestion. Unfortunately, in my mind, stating your general dislike for all things Debian without qualifying your reason for such antipathy actually invalidates your original suggestion. Can you provide some understanding for us? I’d really enjoy hearing it! Even if it just involves your own personal pathology.. there’s nothing wrong with that being the reason either.

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surge

Here’s another vote for OpenSuse, although I don’t generally recommend it to Linux novices. I steer them to Mint, which I feel has overtaken Ubuntu as the best general purpose distro with a focus on ease of use. Elementary OS has great potential as well.

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kammak

Third for OpenSuse

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bill mall

great list and info. I have tried at least half of these but nothing comes close to running like windows XP on my older pc except for puppylinux and it’s a bit light on the windows xp transfer friendliness. I thought linux was a lightweight o/x?

likefunbutnot

@bill mall,

The choice of Window Manager probably has a lot to do with your overall feeling of responsiveness. Window Manager software is all over the place; some of them are based on 20 year old, no-frills user interfaces and some of them turn the eye candy up to 11.
If you’re not an experienced hand at using *nix, it can be tough to strike a balance between those two points, but most Linux distros have an option someplace to switch between three or four different desktop interfaces (on OpenSuSE, it’s on the login screen, labelled “Session”). You might be an Afterstep guy or an Enlightenment guy rather than Unity Desktop et al and experimentation is the best way to figure that out.

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Anonymous

PinGuy OS is the best.

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Dan

I would recommend a distro with a proven track record for longevity and is still in active development. For instance, as much as I like Bodhi Linux, it is already abandonware. Too often, distros are created to scratch a certain developer’s itch. It will gain some traction, but will sputter out when the developer loses interest. Now you are left with a distro that will no longer be updated, with enhancements not found upstream.

I have played around with many of the distros on this list, but when it comes to committing on a permanent install, I will choose a tried-and-true distro. I had used Lubuntu before but now I am using Linux Mint XFCE. I prefer to use lightweight distros on my laptop. Back when I still had a desktop (about 6-8 years ago), I would install OpenSUSE.

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dragonmouth

Korora is now based on Fedora.

Personally I use antiX Core as a base on which to build a system.
For something cutting edge, I use siduction.

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J

Debian “Jessie” is in the testing phase right now, but I run it and it’s great! I use Firefox, use my canon printer and wi-fi with out any trouble. I’ve been using a few varieties of Linux, including Ubuntu (for retarded people), Fedora (good os) but mostly Debian. This is the biggest upgrade I’ve ever used!

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ReadandShare

Folks have been struggling mightily to give away Linux for free for how long now — and they still can’t persuade much more than 1% of users out there to use the damn thing (however many the different flavors out there)?

Yeah, Linux fans will rebut the pitifully low acceptance by claiming Android as their own — instant user base boost — but it’s just not altogether convincing. Android and desktop Linux are completely different experiences.

After being told by articles like this about how easy Linux is to use this day and age… I have tried Mint and Ubuntu Unity. In both cases, even what should be simple acts of installing apps from their own repositories resulted in failures. Do Linux people not realize how embarrassing this is? Or does this kind of failure actually excite the ‘geek’ inside them?

Different strokes for different folks, I know. But something is very wrong when you can’t even give away a free product after decades of trying…

ReadandShare

I just reread my post. However I feel about Linux… “choice” is a very good thing… and I should have just kept my negativism to myself. I wish I could “undo” my post above, but that is not possible. So… apologies to Angela and everyone here.

Good Boy

Your post rings the bell quite loud for the linux folks. Some distros are fine with average Joe for doing something like listening to music, watching movies, browsing and typesetting. But beyond that are not that friendly, and most of the time you need to get into terminal to make things right. I wonder why linux can’t get some of windows pie even when the redmon company got its products out of hand, e.g Vista and 8.

dragonmouth

@ReadandSHare:
“they still can’t persuade much more than 1% of users out there to use the damn thing ”
Do you think that Windows lock-in may have something to do with that? For some users, especially corporate, it may not be easy to switch. Or could it be user inertia? A user has been using Windows for 10-15 years with only minor problems and sees no compelling reason to switch.

“In both cases, even what should be simple acts of installing apps from their own repositories resulted in failures. Do Linux people not realize how embarrassing this is?”
Have you considered that it may be you, not Linux that is causing the problems? Linux people may not realize how embarassing it is because they may not be having the problem. You don’t indicate whether you used a GUI package manager or command line to install the apps. I recently had a similar problem but it was caused by a corrupted install, which can happen with ANY O/S. After a re-install, everything went smoothly.

Even though I am a distro hopper, I am only a Linux beginner. After having tried dozens of distros, I must say that I rarely have the kind of problems people report. My only deviation from a defualt install is the use of pre-partiioned drives so I know exactly what is where.

@GoodBoy:
The use of command line in Linux is as frequent or as necessary as it is in Windows, which is to say not very frequent or necessary. Having said that, command line does provide better control over the O/S, be it Linux or Windows, than GUI.

I don’t know which distros you have tried but most of them, especially the Ubuntu family are very user friendly.

trn450

Linux distributions are making steps toward user-friendliness for the technically disinclined. The lack of adoption is not due to the lack of user-friendliness at this point, however. It’s the software availability. Many people require office and a few other proprietary software solutions that are not available. Sure, some of the open-source alternatives have some degree of compatibility, but it’s still far from optimal. This is partly due to a failure of the distributions to work together on package management, and partly a rejection of the free and open-source concept by proprietary software developers.

Having said all that, there is no reason that most general purpose home PC use would be at all limited or even complicated by a Linux distribution. Firefox works the same as it does on PC, e-mail client setup is just as simple (for the few who use them), and you can still enjoy all of the Facebook and YouTube your heart desires without any limitation. On that note, I will be installing Ubuntu GNOME for my grandmother who only needs her computer for basic tasks and grandchildren routinely break her Windows OS install due to all of their downloads. I have no doubt that she’ll have difficulty finding the FireFox icon on her Cairo-Dock.

You are correct about one thing. They are failing to convince end-users that theyr’e friendly, yes. But, most linux users use it not because of it’s simplicity, but because for it’s power hiddin within the various shells and robust software solutions designed for the CLI. So, that’s only partial credit. Steep learning curve, but it is exceedingly powerful. I suggest you spend some time learning before you bash too much.

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kt

There were a few neet looking distros I never heard of before on this article. Looks like my old parts pc is going to get some more installs! Right now in my house we’re running:

1. pclinuxos kde on my gaming pc (along with doze 7 on an other hd, hooked to my 60″ plasma tv) The linux os boots and runs at least 2-3x faster than the doze hd. And the eye candy is sweet.
2. pclinuxos mate on my old workhorse pc.
3. Linux mint cinnamon on wifey’s pc.

I’ve even converted a 73 year old guy I work with to Mint mate and he loves it!

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William Peckham

Not very special “specialty” distros up there. What is the best for massive clustering? How about small scale clustering? What would be best for distributed group processing? So many other applications for a versital kernel!

dragonmouth

Check out Rock Clusters Linux for clustering. Also Google “Beowulf Project” Might answer some of your questions.

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RW Driskill

As someone who has tried various linux distros over the last 15 (+/-) years, let me make some Windows user comments.
1. I am not a noob. I have been playing with computers since the late ’70’s.
2. When using any of the web browsers, the address bar does not highlight and erase the old address automatically, as it does in Windows. This is a turn off for a lot of noobs.
3. While it is getting better, the install process is still a pain in the butt. The linux crowd seems to think that everyone already knows the difference between sda0 and sda1, and all the other strange naming conventions. I attempted to install a distro last night, on an old system. In attempting to delete and create a new partition, I was presented with an error message about encryption, but no instructions on HOW to fix it.
4. I know linux is attempting to make the transition easier, but the use of the new, very narrow, no up/down arrows, on the scroll bar is not good. It actually makes it more difficult to view any window, for those of us the don’t have a scroll lock on out mouse/trackball. I will admit the the tech preview of Windows 10 is doing the same thing.
These are just a few of my observations. I am still attempting to find a distro I like, that will run quickly on my old PC, that has a good visual appeal and isn’t terribly different from the Windows environment I have used for 20 plus years (Windows 3.1).

surge

1. Cool! I think I started tinkering in ’84. Different world back then, eh?
2. Honestly, I don’t even notice the address bar issue. I just know it’s going to function differently from Windows, but I am aware it being a turn off for noobs. I still hear it from my wife sometimes.
3. It could be easier to install, but honestly, just watching a few videos on YouTube before beginning should be enough to coach most anyone through the process. There are many resources available to help the first time user get things installed and set up.
4. It’s fixable, but probably not that easy for someone coming over from Windows. I don’t know why they messed with it, to be honest. I’m from the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” school of thought.

dragonmouth

@RW Driskill:
1) same here
2) In Firefox the automatic blanking of the address bar is a user setting.
3) I don’t know how many other O/Ss you’ve worked with besides Windows, but you should know that each O/S has a slightly different nomenclature than the others. Expertise in one O/S does not guarantee expertise in another. Before I were to install a new O/S, I would try to read up on the process. Did you reformat the drive before starting the distro install?
4) That problem is endemic to many O/Ss, not just Linux. With the advent of touch screens, O/S developers decided that scroll bars are a quaint anachronism and can be either downsized or eliminated altogether.

“I am still attempting to find a distro I like, that will run quickly on my old PC, that has a good visual appeal and isn’t terribly different from the Windows environment I have used for 20 plus years”
I would suggest Zorin.

Grcoeeg

RW Driskill, Like dragonmouth advised ( Zorin ) is really really a good sub for Windows 7 , it is an all in one and ready to go with nothing to add, ( but VLC ). I am using it as I type, I started several years ago with Zorin 6 and have worked my way up to the newest LTS Zorin 9 core. I now have my wife, brother and several close golf buddies using it. My older Dell e1505 and my wifes Dell 1525 work great with Zorin. I use it with a duel boot of Windows 7 of which I only boot to once a month to update and then restart to boot back into Zorin for another month. Once you try it you will be glad you did, this 64 year old is still messing with other Distros on another Dell e1505 I have, but my main squeeze is Zorin….

Bilboa Dinkles

Yikes on the Windows 3.1… I could never understand why they designed Windows and Dos without multi-tasking when the technology had already been available since the 1960’s with CPM. I was in college during the infamous UNIX-VMS war and became familiar with BSD UNIX running on a micro VAX. For my home system, moment the 80286 came on the scene, ran Mortice Kern’s MKS utilities until a decent Linux became available for the home platform… all that being said, I’m now using Fedora and am starting to feel like I’m missing out on something… mostly because the nerds I run with kind of pushed me into it over the years… I’m now semi-retired and looking for something with a LOT of software packages to play with. I’m also not as sharp as I use to be.. so maybe MINT might sooth my aching not-so-little head?

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Rick

You should probably include other specialist-type distros in the list, or maybe write another article about them.

For example, one that I know and am familiar with are KXStudio.

True, most of these aare based off from one of the larger distributions, but it’s nice to have all the necessary packages installed and ready to go. WineAsio in particular sucks at properly setting up.

Also, I’ve been looking for a decent, small distribution for small, portable devices that doesn’t involve recompiling the kernel just to use the WiFI (Marvell SD8686, I’m looking at you.)

Puppy and Slitaz are great for small distros, but damn, the desktops are ugly. I’d love to see something with perhaps a Hildon-type dektop as the deffault instead of what these small distros currently use.

dragonmouth

Check out LinuxBBQ distro, not necessarily as your permanent distro but just to look at the desktops they offer. It comes with a choice of 76 desktops and window managers.

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rflulling

I want to put them all on a Flash drive to play with and compare functionality. If possible have then be more than bootable ISO. Would be nice to have each instance play nice and let me switch off between each live install.

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Michael

Thanks for the helpful overview. I’ve found Ubuntu very useful in extending the life of “retired” PCs.

But what might work best on G4/G5 Apple iMacs? They are past their useful life running Mac OS, but they should run some Linux distros well enough.

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Pat

Angela, thank you for the most informative article on distros I’ve ever seen. As a Linux noob, I’ve rotated from Ubuntu Unity to XFCE to KDE back to Unity and now back to KDE because I have a hard time defining what it is I want for optimal utility and performance on my Chromebook. Your comparisons among the different categories have encouraged me to give some unfamiliar distros a try. Thanks so much!

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aaron brooks

First off, thank you for this writeup. What a great comprehensive and most importantly modern look at what is available. But good lord. I was halfway interested in the Manjaro distro until I had the misfortune of hitting play on the video. Yes, dude….we all know how to pick a time zone and keyboard style. You didn’t need to spend 4 minutes on the setup. Let’s see the desktop, let’s see the menu, etc… He has bored me out of even wanting to try Manjaro on VMWare. Everything else in this article was wonderful. I grabbed about 4 of the distros and tried them out. I even installed a lightweight one on an old Dell Mini since it’s so slow and needed a lightweight OS and it’s running beautifully.

It’s like an unboxing video of a twinkie. We know 90% of what we are getting and he was talking about the store he bought it at and the plastic that it came in. Unreal. Love ya author Angela but get someone more interesting than a sand flea to do a demo.

Ugh…I need to go puke up my La Mesa takeout now.

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Hannya

I was na user of SuSE 9.2 for some time and then spent some years away after trying openSuSE and hating it. Then I “migrated” to ArtistX and later Sabayon – the first being a permanent item in my bag as I’m both a (.net) developer and a designer; and the second being the best distro I found post-SuSE.
That said, I can’t say I enjoy my time spent on Linux, specially after being forced at univer to use Fedora (which I hate the most) to dev in C – what sux totally on Fedora! To be very honest, I hate it a lot nowadays and I’m far from finding a distro that pleases me again.
I just can’t find a solid reason to prefer using any Linux distro than to use Windows or OSX, specially now with 8.1 and Yosemite, respectively.
But I’m gonna try Deepin and probably install it at my mother’s pc. After all, Steam now works very well with Linux.

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Who Cares

Zorin should not really be listed in the ‘newbie’ category. Or at least a note about it’s flawed upgrade process needs to be made (see below).

Though it’s appealing choice simplifying transition to Linux for M$ users, there is a huge flaw in their approach. It’s called ‘upgrade’.

I personally faced it when I installed Zorin 5.x for my mom (and she’s living abroad). After just 2-something years, Microsoft changed their Skype protocol and forced everyone to upgrade to a new version. Unfortunately, Zorin 5.x is based on an older Ubuntu distribution and doesn’t have the necessary libraries (which can’t be installed either since that old Ubuntu version is not supported anymore and their repositories don’t have those libraries. And you can’t realistically update all the necessary dependencies).
Granted , that’s my fault that I didn’t check all the documentation for Zorin OS. But it clearly says, to upgrade to a newer version you have to back up your data and re-install the system. Which is unrealistic for my mom, since it needs to be done locally (and she’s not an experienced user).

In this regard Zorin OS sucks big time.

Btw, the Deepin u r recommending seems to be Japan-based (or something, their main language seems to be either Japanese or Korean or Chinese or whatever).

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