The Best Linux Distributions For Windows XP Refugees

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Are you a Windows XP user needing to upgrade your operating system? Do you dislike the idea of Windows 8, or are you hesitant to spend any money? For many people, installing a Linux operating system onto their computer is a sufficient and free way to keep your computer running and still get security updates. 

But there are a lot of Linux distributions, or “flavors”, out there. If you’re new to the Linux world, which distributions would be best for you?

What’s Linux and a Distribution?

Before I start recommending various distributions, what exactly is Linux and a Linux distribution?

Linux is simply the name of the kernel – that is, the core piece of software that bridges communication between apps and the hardware. Linux distributions, on the other hand, are what we typically describe as operating systems – including the kernel, a desktop environment, utilities, and a default set of programs. So in other words, Linux isn’t one single operating system – it’s a kernel used to power many different operating systems.

Installing (most) Linux distributions is free, and keeps you secure. You’ll continue to receive security updates, and it’s extremely difficult for a virus to affect a Linux system thanks to the multiple layers of permissions.

Although Linux is a completely different system than Windows, and isn’t compatible with all the same software, switching can be relatively painless. For example: some Linux distributions try to emulate the desktop as closely as possible so you have a very small learning curve. If you’re not a power user, you’ll be able to find plenty of good alternatives to programs you currently use on Windows XP. You can also find a list of great Linux applications via our Best Linux Software page. Additionally, it’s unlikely that you have a random device that you’ll need to use, so hardware compatibility is rarely a concern.

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Now that you’re more informed about the benefits of Linux, here are the top four choices if you’re new or coming from Windows XP.

Zorin OS

If you’d like to stick to Windows XP’s interface, you’ll want to check out Zorin OS. This distribution specializes in making its desktop look as much like Windows as possible. You can even choose between a Windows 7 look and a Windows XP look. The main differences between these two are the layout of the start menu, and whether you can pin some apps to the taskbar for easy access.

Zorin OS uses Ubuntu as its base, which means that you’ll get the same updates as all other Ubuntu systems, and you’ll be able to install apps that are packaged for Ubuntu. This means that you’ll have access to arguably the largest software collection for any Linux distribution.

Linux Mint

Another great recommendation is Linux Mint, the most popular Linux distribution based off of Ubuntu. In fact, Linux Mint was originally created to fix all the various papercuts – annoying, minor usability bugs – in Ubuntu.

Linux Mint is available with four different desktops – Cinnamon, MATE, KDE, and Xfce. The MATE or KDE desktops are probably more comfortable for Windows XP refugees. Similar to Zorin, you’ll get access to Ubuntu’s security updates and software selection – but you’ll also get a few Linux Mint-specific goodies, such as a unique package manager.

elementary OS

Another good choice is elementary OS, a Linux distribution that focuses on simplicity in both functionality and design. Although this distribution doesn’t come with a desktop environment that has much in common with Windows XP, it was still good enough for Akshata for switch from Windows to Linux completely.

Yet again, this distribution is based off of Ubuntu, so the same benefits apply here.

Ubuntu and Co.

Of course, it’s impossible to mention three distributions based off of Ubuntu without mentioning the Ubuntu family itself. As I already alluded to, Ubuntu is one of the most supported Linux distributions available, so there’s lots of software available for it. Ubuntu’s default desktop environment, which it calls Unity, is different from other desktop environments you may have seen, but it’s functional and easy to learn.

Besides Ubuntu, you can also try Kubuntu, Xubuntu, or Lubuntu which sport the KDE, Xfce, and LXDE desktop environments respectively. They’re all unique spins on the Ubuntu core, and one of them is probably just right for you. Experiment.


In case you haven’t noticed, all of these distributions are Ubuntu or Ubuntu-based. While I’d love to include some other distributions that aren’t Ubuntu-based, most aren’t friendly enough to newcomers. Maybe once you’ve gotten used to using Linux and you’re curious, you can try out more advanced Linux distributions like Fedora or Arch. If you’re curious, you can check out other recommendable Linux distributions by visiting our Best Linux Distros page.

These four Linux distributions really are the best ones for transitioning over from Windows XP. If you need any help learning how Linux works, we have plenty of resources on MakeUseOf. There are four ways to teach yourself the Linux terminal, and we have a guide to writing a Linux disc image to a USB drive so you won’t have to boot off of a disc.

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