Linux operating systems (known as “distributions” or “distros”) have constant releases and updates, with some more substantial than others. Updates usually bring minor fixes and tweaks, but occasionally new distro releases or iterations can yield major changes.
Picking the right distro depends on several factors. Whether it’s a fresh release or major update, check out these new Linux operating systems and who should try them.
Container Linux (Formerly CoreOS)
CoreOS officially rebranded to Container Linux in December 2016. As the name suggests, it’s a container-centric distro. The lightweight operating system allows for easy culstered deployments. Container Linux concentrates on security, with an update policy of automating software updates for enhanced reliability and security. There are a few flavors of Container Linux, including Tectonic, a self-driving Kubernetes solution. You can view the Container Linux changelog here. Note that it is very regularly updated for security purposes.
Who should try this: Anyone working with containers. Container Linux is therefore suited more to enterprise environments and power uses. But with support from the likes of Plex (check out the awesome new official Docker image) there’s a ton of incentive to try out CoreOS Container Linux or one of its flavors.
Raspbian is a Debian-based Raspberry Pi operating system. Raspbian PIXEL (Pi Improved Xwindows Environment Lightweight) arrived as an update to the Raspbian operating system in September 2016. In December 2016, PIXEL for PC and Mac dropped. This lightweight distro aims to breathe new life into aging hardware.
The new version of PIXEL for Mac and PC can run on any device with an x86 CPU. System requirements are pretty low, with a baseline of just 512MB of RAM. It’s a free release, and is essentially the same as its Raspberry Pi counterpart. However PIXEL for PC does lack Wolfram Mathematica and Minecraft.
Who should try this: If you’ve got an old PC lying around collecting dust, PIXEL is an excellent way to resurrect it. Sure, you’ll still be limited in what you can do with it (no, it probably can’t run Crysis), but at least it’s functional.
Ubuntu isn’t exactly new, but 2016 saw major updates to both the long term service (LTS) and standard versions. If you’re looking for a reason to try Ubuntu 16.10, Yakkety Yak, try these five compelling arguments, such as getting to try Unity 8, updated GNOME apps, and Linux kernel 4.8. These six huge reasons to upgrade to 16.04 Xenial Xerus prove the updated LTS iteration is worth using. The dash no longer displays Amazon searches, there’s a new software center, and you can move the launcher to the bottom of the screen.
Who should try this: For Ubuntu in general, anyone looking for a general purpose operating system should grab Ubuntu. Particularly, Ubuntu and most of its derivatives are pretty beginner friendly, so I’d recommend this for anyone making the foray into Linux. My first experience with Linux was installing Lubuntu on an ancient Shuttle XPC system.
A year after Linux was announced, SUSE debuted. But 2015 ushered in a massive change when openSUSE shaped itself after SUSE Linux Enterprise (SLE). This change spawned openSUSE Leap, which is based on SLE Service Pack (SP) 1. This new iteration of openSUSE offers an enterprise server environment for general users. Plus, Tumbleweed debuted as a rolling-release version of openSUSE. Leap remains the LTS version.
Who should try this: Those looking for an enterprise class server environment. It’s particularly useful for sysadmins and developers, but any desktop user that needs a solid server set up should consider openSUSE. Alternately, openSUSE has been around quite a while, so it’s just a reliable desktop environment for general uses.
OpenELEC is one of the premiere media hub operating systems. This incredibly lightweight home theatre PC (HTPC) distro offers the superb Kodi media center. Although OpenELEC may not exactly be new, its latest release 7.0.0 is pretty major. The newest iteration lends improved AMD GPU drivers, Kodi 16, Bluetooth and OpenVPN support, as well as WeTek Core device support.
Who should try this: Media enthusiasts seeking a functional and customizable Linux-based distro. Plus, it’s capable of running on a loads of hardware including the Raspberry Pi.
Gaming on Linux is far from an oxymoron. Despite the admitted dominance of Windows in PC gaming, Linux offers loads of natively compatible games. Plus, using Wine you can likely install and run many Windows titles on your Linux machine. I found that Diablo 3 performed better on my AMD A10, Radeon 7660G powered laptop than on Windows 10. Valve continuously champions Linux gaming, both in making its extensive catalog largely cross-platform compatible and in launching SteamOS.
Valve developed this Debian-based Linux distro which is mainly geared toward gaming. Its features posit SteamOS as a viable solution to PC gaming in the living room. Yet SteamOS lacks many features of a full-fledged operating system. You’ll notice that there’s no file manager, and video playback is limited to the Steam store library. But the latest updates added such features as Spotify and Netflix compatibility via the browser, and local music playback.
Who should try this: Gamers, and gamers only. SteamOS is an operating system built around Steam. If you’ve got a substantial Steam library, you can cobble together a decent DIY SteamOS rig or purchase an official Steam machine. Out of the titles in my library, almost 40 are Linux compatible.
Side note: Any volunteers to hide my wallet during the next Steam sale? Please let me know.
Linux Mint persists as one of the top Linux distributions. It’s powerful yet intuitive and comes pre-loaded with loads of software. Therefore, Linux Mint is a stellar out-of-the-box solution. Linux Mint 18.1 Serena is among the recent iterations. In December 2016, Linux Mint 18.1 Serena Cinnamon made its debut. Also in December 2016, Linux Mint 18.1 MATE dropped. This LTS distro gets support until 2021. Thus, Linux Mint Cinnamon is a great stable operating system.
System requirements are still pretty forgiving. You can get by with 512 MB of RAM and 9 GB of hard disk space. Linux Mint 18 Cinnamon even comes in a 32-bit flavor. Mint 18.1 Cinnamon delivers a slew of enhancements, including Cinnamon 3.0, Xapps, Linux Kernel 4.4, and an Ubuntu 16.04 base.
Who should try this: Anyone looking for an easy to use, clean, lightweight Linux distro. While Linux Mint is lightweight, it’s a stellar pick for top tier hardware as well. Since Mint 18.1 Cinnamon and MATE are long term solutions, both are excellent choices for a stable environment.
Solus highlights security and stability. This independent Linux distro uses the eopkg package manager and the Budgie desktop environment. Initially launched in 2011, what was then SolusOS debuted as a Debian-based distro. It’s now a built-from-scratch distribution, and version 1.2.1 hit in October 2016. Solus 1.2.1 remains the final fixed point release, with subsequent iterations following as rolling releases.
What makes Solus a superb Linux distro is its unique desktop environment, as well as bevy of pre-installed applications. Transmission, VLC, and Firefox come already installed. In November 2016, Distrowatch listed Solus as 20th in its 6-month page hit ranking list, proving its popularity.
Who should try this: The average user. Solus is an elegant operating system and promises a quick start up time because of its impressive standard apps.
The Ubuntu-based Elementary OS stays true to its name. By focusing on the elements of an operating, Elementary OS provides a solid foundation. Its continuing mission is to eschew unnecessary installations. The preloaded app landscape is pretty barren. Elementary OS lends itself well to beginners through a streamlined experience. A reduction of necessary terminal access and software dependencies further improves user friendliness.
Although Elementary OS is undoubtedly customizable, its core values differ from many GNU/Linux projects. Rather, Elementary OS fosters a low learning curve. Elementary OS is a viable Mac and Windows replacement.
Who should try this: Beginner Linux users look no further. Elementary OS reigns supreme as the gentlest Linux distro. Yet Elementary OS is best for those that wish to use a Linux distro, not necessarily understand it. That’s largely because Elementary OS diminishes the need to use the terminal or worry about dependencies. So if you just want a simple, clean Linux environment, Elementary OS is perfect. But if you want to get hands on with Linux, keep searching.
Arch Linux abides by the KISS mantra: “Keep It Simple Stupid.” This operating principle results in an elegant, minimalist distro. The lightweight Arch Linux comes in varities for x86-64, IA-32, and ARM devices. A rolling-release model means regular updates. A quick perusal of the updates page shows almost constant iterations. From C libraries for websocket clients to open-source MQTT brokers, Arch Linux is the beneficiary of many updates.
Arch Linux spawned several derivatives including the popular LinHES and PacBSD.
Who should try this: Arch Linux and several of its derivatives persist in popularity with users who need a lightweight distro. Arch Linux can be great for a server set up because of low system resource consumption. Plus, it’s a great fit for older hardware as well as low-power ARM devices.
If you’re familiar with the Raspberry Pi, you’ve probably heard of the fantastic RetroPie distro. RetroPie is based on RetroArch and EmulationStation which load a front end for retro gaming. It’s pretty simple to set up. Recalbox is a relative newcomer, and while it offers much of what RetroPie boasts as well, Recalbox is a bit more intuitive. While RetroPie requires mounting an ISO to a microSD card, Recalbox is as simple as dragging and dropping a folder. Recalbox provides PlayStation 3 controller support out of the box (you’ll need a Bluetooth adapter if you don’t have a Raspberry Pi 3).
Lifehacker compared RetroPie and Recalbox in an October 2016 article. The write up concluded that Recalbox is better for beginners while RetroPie is more suited to enthusiasts. Having used both, I do appreciate the simplicity of Recalbox as well as its standard inclusion of Limelight. Although both operating systems feature Kodi, RetroPie lacks controller navigation. Recalbox though allows for controller use with Kodi. But despite functioning properly, my wireless Xbox 360 controller kept blinking annoyingly with Recalbox. Luckily I found a workaround through a quick .conf edit.
Who should try this: Gamers and media buffs. Raspberry Pi enthusiasts. If you value lots of customization and tweaking however, RetroPie might better fit your needs.
Determining the best new distro often comes down to hardware and purpose. If you’re using a laptop or desktop, you’ve got a lot of choice. Using a device like a Raspberry Pi narrows the selection. Specialization helps shorten the list of potential distros. For instance, if you’re setting up a server, you should select an appropriate release like openSUSE or CentOS. Gamers will want SteamOS or Recalbox and RetroPie if using a Raspberry Pi. Security enthusiasts (or Mr. Robot fans) may be interested in Kali Linux.
What are your top new Linux distros or releases?