There are Linux distributions (distros) for every niche and need. The best and most suitable Linux operating system for you depends on your specific needs and hardware. So what’s the best Linux distro for you?
The Best Linux Distros for Every Kind of User
Like most non-enterprise software options, Linux distros continue to evolve. For 2018, many popular Linux operating systems see major changes. Notably, Ubuntu gets a massive overhaul including a drastic switch from the Unity desktop to GNOME. Although you might be tempted to stick with a current distro, it’s worth switching Linux OSes.
Because of the dynamic nature of Linux distros, you’re bound to find a slew of improvements. Particularly as security rose to prominence as a concern, expect vulnerability patches in addition to feature enhancements. Plus, almost every Linux distro remains free to use, so there’s no reason not to at least make a live CD and test out a few OSes.
Reasons to switch to or try out new Linux distros:
- New features
- Vulnerability fixes
- It’s free, why not?
Best Linux Distro Overall: Ubuntu
When it comes to Linux OSes for desktops and laptops, Ubuntu reigns supreme. The Debian-based distro in turn spawned a slew of derivatives such as Lubuntu, Kubuntu, and Xubuntu. With its next long-term support (LTS) release, Ubuntu 18.04 LTS arrives with several new features. Though Ubuntu is no newcomer, it’s an operating system that keeps you coming back.
In Ubuntu 18.04 LTS, Canonical is switching from the Unity desktop environment to Gnome 3.28. There’s also a major speed boost, and a fresh set of pre-installed software including VLC as well as Open Broadcaster Software (OBS) for screen recording and game streaming on Linux.
At its core, you’ll find Linux Kernel 4.15, and Xorg is the default display server. Because Ubuntu 18.04 boasts a new set of software and features, it’s the best Linux distro for 2018 overall. There’s a minimal installation, and revamped server edition. As such, Ubuntu 18.04 is ideal for desktops, laptops, and servers.
Most Stable Linux Distro: Debian
Since it’s one of the oldest Linux operating systems, Debian is a top choice in 2018 for stability. Linux OSes such as Ubuntu benefit from a Debian foundation, and Debian includes fantastic repositories, package managers, and a lively community. Therefore, Debian affords excellent support.
In Debian, there are a few channels. These include testing, stable, and unstable. Its stable channels provide maximum security and the fewest bugs. When a stable release drops, updates merely patch security vulnerabilities and critical updates.
Although Debian is fairly user-friendly, it’s more advanced than the likes of Ubuntu, ChaletOS, and Manjaro. Still, it’s far easier than getting started with Gentoo. Its stability also makes Debian a fantastic Linux distro for programmers.
Most Beginner-Friendly Linux Distro: Manjaro
Manjaro Linux is incredibly easy to install and use. Essentially, it’s Arch Linux simplified. Featuring low system requirements, a Windows-like appearance, and lovely desktop environment, the beauty is that Manjaro uses Pacman for its package manager.
Further, Manjaro employs Arch User Repositories (AUR). You may also consider Linux Mint, a beginner-friendly distro which runs on virtually any PC.
Best-Looking Linux Distro: elementary OS
Upon release, elementary OS created tons of buzz, and justifiably so. In our review, we found elementary OS beautiful and simple to use. However, while it’s decidedly uncomplicated, elementary OS is not relegated to beginners. Instead, it’s perfectly suited to power users as well.
elementary OS comes complete with the Ubuntu Software Center bundled, a stellar package manager, and solid performance on a variety of hardware choices. In short, elementary OS is a lovely bit of eye candy.
Download: elementary OS
Best Server Linux Distro: CentOS
Since CentOS is a community-supported version of Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL), it’s stable and robust. Because CentOS gets RHEL upstream, it’s secure and delivers an enterprise-class environment
However, lack of regular updates means CentOS isn’t necessarily best as a desktop operating system. Instead, it’s a top-notch Linux server OS. Additionally, CentOS is the best Linux distro for enterprise environments and programmers.
Best Gaming Linux Distro: Fedora Games Spin
While SteamOS might be the most well-known gaming Linux distro, Fedora Games Spin is a better choice. Because it comes packed with a smattering of games, you’re ready to begin playing countless titles such as SuperTuxKart, The Battle for Wesnoth, and Freeciv.
Unfortunately, Steam, Wine, and PlayOnLinux don’t come preloaded. However, these are easy to install. Since Fedora Games Spin is suitable as a Linux desktop, it’s arguably better as a gaming Linux distro than SteamOS which is pretty limited in functionality as a desktop. But for mostly Steam gaming, SteamOS is a worthy choice.
Download: Fedora Games Spin [No Longer Available]
Best Lightweight Linux Distro: Lubuntu
Whereas Windows and macOS can bog down older hardware, several lightweight Linux distros are ideal for aging PCs like Atom-based netbooks. Lubuntu is, as the name suggests, an Ubuntu derivative.
It uses the LXDE desktop environment, features a comprehensive set of default apps such as Firefox, and runs flawlessly on older hardware. Capable of supporting Pentium 4 and Pentium M processors, Lubuntu suggests 512MB of RAM for general use, and 1GB of RAM for online applications including YouTube and Facebook.
As a close second, consider Puppy Linux with its tiny 100MB ISO.
Best Linux Distro for Windows Users: Robolinux
Debian-based Robolinux eases the transition from Windows to Linux. Using its included virtual machine (VM) Stealth VM, spinning up a Windows-based virtual environment is a breeze. You’ll find ample stability because of the Debian underpinnings, and a useful mix of pre-installed software.
As such, Robolinux is the best Linux distro for 2018 if you’re switching from Windows. Alternatively, try ChaletOS, which emulates the look and feel of Windows 7 while minimizing required command line use.
And be sure to check out our tips for switching from Windows to Linux so that you know what changes to expect.
Best Linux Distro for Programmers: Fedora
Developers require stability and security. Fedora is a RHEL iteration with simple upgrades and a regular six-month release cycle. Linux founder Linus Toralds prefers Fedora as his Linux OS of choice. Fedora is incredibly stable, a must for any programmer. Plus, there’s a thriving community for any support topics.
Yet, while Fedora maintains stability, it still benefits from regular updates. With its balance of features and reliability, Fedora is one of the best Linux distros of 2018.
Best Linux Distro for Power Users: Gentoo
The Linux From Scratch (LFS) concept is a method of building a custom version of Linux from the source code. Gentoo is a popular LFS distro that’s not for the faint of heart. But the resulting customized Linux OS is a rewarding bit of software.
Similarly, NuTyX abides by the LFS model. Power users will appreciate Arch Linux is a compelling option for seasoned Linux users as well. Check out Sabayon for an easier version of Gentoo.
Best Linux Distro for Kids: Sugar on a Stick (SoaS)
Just because Linux can be complex doesn’t mean it has to be. Sugar on a Stick (SoaS) targets kids and offers a safe, intuitive space to play educational games and learn basic programming skills.
Another child-friendly Linux OS is Ubermix, which balances ease of use with power and even features touchscreen support.
Download: Sugar on a Stick
Best Linux Distro for Single-Board PCs: Ubuntu MATE
Ubuntu MATE is an excellent consideration for single-board computers (SBCs). For instance, Ubuntu MATE runs well on SBCs such as the Raspberry Pi and Odroid XU4.
Amazingly, Ubuntu MATE doesn’t compromise functionality when running on less powerful devices such as the Pi and XU4. Rather, this Linux OS retains all the familiar features of Ubuntu, but with the lightweight MATE desktop environment.
Download: Ubuntu MATE
The Best Linux Distros of 2018: Final Thoughts
There’s no shortage of Linux OSes for every niche. Finding the best Linux distro of 2018 requires considering both hardware support and specific needs. What Linux operating system is best for a general use laptop or desktop differs from a Linux gaming rig or server.
Thankfully, there are plenty of Linux distros for every need. Moreover, it’s easy to customize almost any Linux OS for a tailored build. Find out which Linux distros we prefer using here at MakeUseOf!