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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Comments (57)
  • AVJ

    I feel that Linux Lite is the easiest drop in replacement for windows xp, it does not require a lot of system resources and is friendly to new users, most things just work out of the box. It is based on Ubuntu LTS so the long term support comes with it. The current version is 2.2, and development team do a great job of handling any issues that arise. There is also a very nice support forum to handle problems you may have. If you would like to try it check it out at:

  • Tiago Fernandez

    If i needed to switch to linux, I rather switch to elementary, ubuntu or haze os, a ubuntu based linux, but still in beta, it may come to stable soon.

  • PondPuppy

    Nothing but Ubuntu derivatives “simple enough” for XP refugees? Please! Salix and Manjaro. Lightweight, easily installed via GUI from DVD or thumb drive.

  • David

    I have two XP’s laptops one is a Dell 6 yrs old, and the other a Gateway 5 yrs old. Will my systems be compatible with Linux operating system? If so, should I do a complete install and wipe out the old XP OS? Will my Thunderbird email continue to function or not or is there an alternative? This all does sound good in-place of retiring the two laptops in my closet.

    Tks, David

    • spyjoshx

      Yes it will work on your PCs. Also, thunderbird is probably the easiest mail program to install for linux. Sorry if this is a bit late…

  • Ambassador Roger

    I would have included openSUSE in this list. If it weren’t for openSUSE, Ubuntu would have chased me away from Linux years ago when I was first learning. I wrote an article that shows why, you may like to take a look and perhaps find cause to revise your list.

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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.
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