The Best Ubuntu Linux Alternatives and Why You Should Switch
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My Linux journey began in the Ubuntu ecosystem. I installed Xubuntu on an old computer without an internet connection and played around with it. A year or two later, after suffering from a Windows crash that took all of my data with it, I transitioned entirely to Ubuntu 8.10.

Back then I distro hopped quite a bit Why You Should Try Switching Linux Operating Systems Why You Should Try Switching Linux Operating Systems Switching regularly between different Linux operating systems (distro hopping) lets you try out a new way to use your computer and carries many benefits. Read More , but Ubuntu was my anchor. Over the next few years, that changed. The more I used Linux, the more I valued the free and open source ethos along with the culture of collaboration.

I became increasingly put off by the direction Canonical was taking Ubuntu. Version 12.04 was a solid release, but nonetheless, I largely stopped using Ubuntu around that time.

I’ve since gravitated more toward Fedora. Sure, I spent years using Chrome OS and have immersed myself in Elementary OS for months, but Fedora has remained the happy place I can turn to when I just need a computer to do what I want it to do.

These days I’m still bothered by many of the changes I see coming from Canonical, but it doesn’t impact me all that much, because I switched a long time ago, and I’m happy I did.

You may think to yourself that Ubuntu must be the most popular Linux operating system for a reason. Well, if you’re using Linux rather than Windows or macOS, you’ve already come to the conclusion that what’s popular isn’t always the best.

Let’s take a moment to consider why a Linux distribution other than Ubuntu may be a better fit for you.

You Need Something More Stable

Recommended Distro: Debian

You heard Linux bolstered as a more stable alternative to Windows and macOS, so you were surprised when you experienced crashes and other funny behaviors. Where is that rock solid stability you were promised?

Well, as you may now know, Linux comes in many versions, and some are more stable than others. Ubuntu is based on Debian, a significantly larger project that packages most of the software that goes into Ubuntu.

Ubuntu actually uses the “Unstable” Debian repository of apps, and it provides its own patches on top of that. This leaves plenty of points for things to go wrong. So if you want something more stable, skip the middle man and go with Debian Debian: Enjoy One Of The Most Stable And Trusted Linux Distributions Debian: Enjoy One Of The Most Stable And Trusted Linux Distributions There are plenty of Linux users out there who are using distributions such as Ubuntu or one of the many distributions which are based from Ubuntu, including Linux Mint. However, no matter what you're using,... Read More .

You’re Looking for New Apps

linux distro

Recommended Distro: elementary OS

If you’re coming from the Windows world or have grown accustomed to the rate of new releases on your smartphone, checking a Linux app store can feel rather static. Many of us are using the same programs we fell in love with five, ten, fifteen years ago.

Still, there’s something to be said for variety. You want a Linux experience where new apps roll out every week or two? Check out elementary OS.

That distro’s pay-what-you-want AppCenter Can the Elementary OS AppCenter Prompt a New Era of Linux App Development? Can the Elementary OS AppCenter Prompt a New Era of Linux App Development? Elementary OS developers have introduced a pay-what-you-want model for apps. Could this be the beginning of a whole new era of app development on Linux? Read More is currently attracting developers despite elementary’s relatively small number of users. Sure, it’s based on Ubuntu, but the experience feels entirely different and may suit you better.

You Want More Eye Candy

linux distro

Recommended Distros: elementary OS, Pop!_OS

Speaking of elementary OS, have you seen those screenshots?

elementary OS is currently one of the most stylized, instantly recognizable versions of Linux on the web. You could say it looks like macOS on first glance, but those similarities are only surface deep.

If you like the look of Ubuntu but would like a spiffier theme, check out Pop!_OS.

linux distro

Sure, there are other reasons to give System76’s distro a try Pop!_OS Has Arrived: How Does It Compare to Ubuntu? Pop!_OS Has Arrived: How Does It Compare to Ubuntu? System76's Pop!_OS Linux operating system is available for download, and is also shipping as the default option on new computers from System76. Should you check it out? Read More , but the catchy look is one of the more obvious ones.

You Need Something Lighter

linux distro

Recommended Distro: Puppy Linux

Whether you’re trying to squeeze as much performance out of your machine as possible, or you’re trying to breathe life into an old PC, Ubuntu can sometimes weigh you down.

If you know what to do, you can slim Ubuntu down yourself. But it would be easier to download a distro where someone has already done that heavy lifting for you.

There are plenty of lightweight Linux distros 13 Lightweight Linux Distributions to Give Your Old PC a New Lease of Life 13 Lightweight Linux Distributions to Give Your Old PC a New Lease of Life These flavors of Linux are light on CPU and RAM, meaninig they run great on older and weaker devices! Read More you can choose from. Want a name that’s easy to remember? Give Puppy Linux a try.

You Want More Control

Recommended Distros: Arch Linux, Gentoo, Linux from Scratch

You can add and remove components from Ubuntu, but there’s a limit. The way Canonical chooses to bundle certain packages prevents you from removing certain parts without breaking all the things.

Maybe you don’t like having to wait six months between releases when new software updates are always coming in. Why not just receive them as soon as they’re available?

If these things matter to you, Ubuntu will only leave you frustrated. Arch Linux, on the other hand, may just be your dream come true. Not enough control? You may want to consider Gentoo How to Gain Total Control of Your PC With Gentoo How to Gain Total Control of Your PC With Gentoo Gentoo is a true Linux operating system for power users, but with the right knowledge, anyone can gain control over their PC with Gentoo Linux -- even you! Read More . Still feel limited? Screw it: build Linux from scratch Create Your Very Own Operating System With Linux From Scratch [Linux] Create Your Very Own Operating System With Linux From Scratch [Linux] Do you know how customizable Linux really is? Well you should if you've even heard of Linux or dabbled in it a bit. If not, try taking a look at a list of over 1,000... Read More .

You Desire Something Fresh

linux distro

Recommended Distro: Solus

Ubuntu is based on Debian, and it now uses the same GNOME desktop that we’ve known for years. Every “new” distro seems to be another derivative of Ubuntu or Arch. Where’s all the original work?

The founder of Solus feels the same way. That’s why he started a distro that isn’t based on a pre-existing project Can Solus Replace Your Current Linux Operating System? Can Solus Replace Your Current Linux Operating System? A Linux operating system that has been gaining traction lately is Solus. Aimed at the everyday home user, let's find out why Solus might make a perfect replacement for your current desktop OS. Read More . It also comes with its own desktop environment, Budgie, though you can install that elsewhere if it turns out Solus isn’t for you.

You’re Tired of Upgrading

Recommended Distros: Arch Linux, openSUSE Tumbleweed

New versions of Ubuntu come out every six months. If you don’t want to upgrade your system that often, you can stick with Long-Term Support releases that last for two years.

But maybe you would prefer to install an operating system once and never have to deal with switching to a new version again.

In that case, you want a Linux distro with a rolling release schedule What Is a Linux Rolling Release, and Do You Want It? What Is a Linux Rolling Release, and Do You Want It? Learn more about why certain Linux distributions have a "rolling release" schedule and what that means for you. Read More . These gradually send out major and minor updates together, without you having to pay attention to what version of a distro you’re running. Rolling release distros often don’t even have version numbers.

Be careful though, because things can go wrong if the one part of your system ends up being incompatible with another. Sometimes it’s best to wait to install updates when you know you have time to fix anything that might break.

Like the idea? Then Arch Linux or openSUSE Tumbleweed may be the path for you.

You Want Something a Little More Current

linux distro

Recommended Distro: Fedora

I mentioned in the introduction that I’m currently using Fedora. This is one of the reasons why. Fedora often develops and adopts new features before they make it into other distros, including Ubuntu.

Fedora strives to be on what it calls the leading edge of open source software, which is different from the bleeding edge that you get with a rolling release distro. On Fedora you get the perks of a predictable, tested release (every six months, like Ubuntu) without taking on the risks of managing a computer where major system changes casually roll in alongside minor app updates.

Fedora is quick to embrace technologies that eventually make their way into most of the broader Linux community, such as the Wayland display server Using Linux With Wayland? Here's What You Should Know Using Linux With Wayland? Here's What You Should Know You might have heard about the Wayland display server, but what is it? How does it affect you and your Linux computer? Here's what you need to know. Read More and Flatpak app format Ubuntu Snaps vs Red Hat Flatpaks, What's the Difference? Ubuntu Snaps vs Red Hat Flatpaks, What's the Difference? Linux distros distribute apps in many formats. For years, the two most popular have been .debs and .rpms, but this may be starting to change with Ubuntu's Snap packages and Red Hat's Flatpak. Read More .

Part of the reason is that many innovations in Linux come from people who contribute to the Fedora project or work for Red Hat, Fedora’s corporate sponsor. Fedora also has a tendency to accept more new apps and app updates in between major releases, so the six months in between don’t feel as long.

You Only Want Free and Open Source Software

linux distro

Recommended Distros: Trisquel, Parabola

Linux is known as an open source alternative to Windows and macOS, but not everything you can install on the system is free.

Ubuntu in particular recommends proprietary apps and components, such as multimedia codecs. If you’re trying to get your hands on Slack or Steam, this is easier on Ubuntu than other Linux distros. Though even Fedora, which has a much stricter stance on proprietary software, now lets you download such apps from flathub.org inside GNOME Software.

Even if these distros didn’t provide access to proprietary software, some closed source code is baked into the Linux kernel itself. Think hardware drivers used to make Linux compatible with more PCs.

To use an entirely free system, you will want a distro that uses a version of the kernel with these “binary blobs” stripped out 4 Linux Distros That Are Completely Open Source 4 Linux Distros That Are Completely Open Source Linux is the distro of choice for freedom loving software hippies, but not everything you see is open source! Let's take a look at four Linux distros that are totally open source. Read More .

If you want a stable release, check out Trisquel (based on Ubuntu). If you prefer rolling, Parabola (based on Arch Linux) might be for you. What’s the drawback? Taking out the closed drivers means some hardware will no longer work. Even if you are able to install the distro just fine, you may not be able to get Wi-Fi to work without buying a special dongle.

Which Distro Is Right for You?

When someone’s switching to Linux for the first time, Ubuntu is an easy recommendation. Ubuntu is the most popular desktop distro, which makes it easier for you to find support and fix problems.

A great deal of Linux software is also often packaged only for Ubuntu, leaving users from other distros to build apps from source How to Install Software on Linux: Package Formats Explained How to Install Software on Linux: Package Formats Explained You've switched to Linux, and want to install some software. But package managers differ depending on your distro. So which apps can you download and install? It's all in the acronyms. Read More . But that doesn’t mean Ubuntu’s the best fit for everyone.

Explore more about: Linux Distro, Ubuntu.

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  1. Eddie G.
    March 28, 2018 at 3:55 am

    I fell in love with Fedora since their "Fedora Core" days, and while I've tinkered about with other distros...the ones that stand out to me?...are the ones that are stable; and have a good UI. Linux Mint...Ubuntu...OpenSuSE....Debian....these are the cornerstone distros I use daily, (along with CEntOS/Scientific Linux for my RHCSA studies!) and while there are other distros like Manjaro...Arch...Antergos...etc. I stick with the ones I mentioned because they're more prominent in the workplace and in corporate sectors. You won't find too many ElementaryOS machines in a corporate environment...(that's not to say it might not be plentiful in the content creator environments...digital-audio-visual-photography editing etc.) But in most of the businesses I've worked?...there's always been an Ubuntu server...a SuSE Linux file server...a Fedora or Debian LDAP server...and of course there's almost always a CEntOS / Scientific Linux / Red Hat Enterprise Linux server!...those are the pillars of computing in the workforce! And so...while I try to stay current with other distros out there...for knowledge' sake and to experiment with, if I ever need to grab a laptop on the go and go administer someone's computer / network / server...I'm almost always grabbing the tried-and-true distros that have never let me down...and in order of usage it goes like this:
    Fedora
    CEntOS/Scientific Linux (I placed these on the same line because they're basically the SAME operating system with logo changes and a few alterations here and there!)
    OpenSuSE
    Debian
    Linux Mint
    and finally Ubuntu. (Was leery about Ubuntu for a while when they tried that stunt with Amazon!...but I still use 'em from time to time...watching DVD's and listening to music while I work on another laptop...it comes in handy!)
    But that's the REAL "joy" of using Linux!...being able to CHOOSE what OS you want to use...and being able to customize it to whatever YOU want it to be!....not being "spoon-fed" what some developers THINK your OS should be!...I for one?..HATE the FONT in Windows....its like...did they intentionally design it to make you go BLIND!?...and yes..I know you can change the size and resolution...but with all my distros?...I can SEE the font just FINE upon initial install! And don't even GET me started on MacOS!...with their weirdness and closed ecosystem!...LOL!

    Linux Till I Die!

    :o)

  2. Harold
    March 16, 2018 at 12:34 pm

    With nary a mention of Mint Linux. Hmmmmmm ....

    • Bertel King, Jr.
      March 16, 2018 at 4:41 pm

      I imagine Linux Mint would fall under "Great for Beginners," but, speaking for myself, I've never found Mint to be particularly simpler than many other distros (and that category is so broad and subjective that I left it out). What would you personally recommend Linux Mint for?

      I get that a lot of people love Mint. I don't actively dislike it. There are just so many other distros that come to mind first. I welcome readers to share with me what they love about Mint!

      • Harold
        March 19, 2018 at 1:11 pm

        For me, the relationship of Mint to Ubuntu is like the relationship of Lexus to Toyota. Mint just always strikes me less cartoonish than Ubuntu. I have that experience with lots of distros ... elementaryOS, Zorin, OpenSuSe (which used to be my go-to) ... Mint just seems more polished, and takes advantage of the awesome resolution my monitor can put out, without having to do a million tweaks to it. I love "apt get" so it's awkward for me to fully embrace Fedora ...
        I think Mint is Ubuntu all shined up :-)

  3. berm
    March 12, 2018 at 9:33 pm

    I wonder why manjaro is never mentioned? Of you are a beginner you don't want to jump into arch, but manjaro is way simpler, and you still enjoy the favors and flavors of arch Linux, for example, someone here mentioned that he would like the aur (like yaourt on manjaro) for Ubuntu. Manjaro has that kind of options, and I fell in love with it.

    Just a suggestion, no criticism, love the article!

    • Bertel King, Jr.
      March 16, 2018 at 7:05 pm

      Thanks for the suggestion. I do hear great things about Manjaro, and I will keep it in mind for future lists!

  4. dragonmouth
    March 12, 2018 at 3:44 pm

    Recommending elementary and/or Pop!_OS as a change from Ubuntu is like recommending Pontiac or Buick as change for a Chevy. The same body, just a bit different trim.

    I think PCLinuxOS should have been mentioned. It is as easy for beginners as Ubuntu, elementary or Pop!_OS without many of the problems inherent in Ubuntu-based distros. It is also a rolling release distro.

    • Bertel King, Jr.
      March 16, 2018 at 4:44 pm

      I've seen quite a few recommendations for PCLinuxOS. Looks like one for me to keep in mind!

  5. tsreb
    March 12, 2018 at 2:32 pm

    I've found that Mint is my go-to distro. It is easy to use and not alot of tweaking is necessary for it to work. Also it was faster then ubuntu on my laptop. I've also tried Manjaro (probably my 2nd fav), Antergos and the various interfaces but found that Mint was a better distro... Just wish they had Aur like Arch

    • dragonmouth
      March 12, 2018 at 3:47 pm

      "Just wish they had Aur like Arch"
      All Ubuntu-based distros use PPAs which are the Ubuntu equivalent of Arch's AURs.

  6. Sathish Kumar S
    March 12, 2018 at 10:17 am

    Ubuntu is the best all around operating system for newcomers. If you want stability, you stick to LTS releases. It is supported for 5 years. It means you get all the security updates for free with the promise of stability. If you want to be on the cutting edge, you can use the intermediate versions that is released after every six months. If you don't like the Desktop environment, you can just install any DE you want from the official repo. Considering the volume of community support you get, there is no harm in sticking with Ubuntu.
    All the use cases mentioned in the article are for hardcore Linux users who want to tinker with the system. Not for someone who is new to Linux world or someone who simply wants to use the computer without too much worry.

    • Bertel King, Jr.
      March 12, 2018 at 1:11 pm

      For what it's worth, I first tried out several of these Linux distros when I was new to the Linux world.

      The issue with saying that such experimentation is only for hardcore Linux users ignores that many people who are new to Linux made the switch in the first place because they're technical computer users who are comfortable tinkering with their system. Ubuntu also sometimes introduces problems that another distro may not have, getting in the way of someone who simply wants to use their computer without too much worry.

      But yes, for people who don't have any hardware, software, or philosophical issues with Ubuntu, it's a great ecosystem with a huge community.

    • dragonmouth
      March 12, 2018 at 3:34 pm

      "Ubuntu is the best all around operating system for newcomers"
      Maybe. PCLinuxOS isn't too bad either.

      " If you want to be on the cutting edge"
      If you want to be on the cutting edge then you are not a "newcomer" and you don't go anywhere near *buntus. Arch, Fedora, maybe Gentoo but nothing from the Ubuntu family.

      "All the use cases mentioned in the article are for hardcore Linux users"
      All the use cases mentioned in the article are for users who have used Ubuntu and now wish to switch to something different and better suited to their temperament. People "who simply want to use the computer without too much worry" will read the title and go on to the next article. Besides, unlike Windows and Mac users, Linux users do try other flavors.

  7. J Simon van der Walt
    March 10, 2018 at 10:10 pm

    What I would most like in a linux distro would be completely consistent, memorable, mac-like keyboard shortcuts *everywhere*. Like, when editing text, go to previous word is alt left arrow and select previous word is shift left arrow. *Always*. And command f is find *always*…

    • dragonmouth
      March 12, 2018 at 3:19 pm

      There already is a version of Linux like that. It is called OS/X.

  8. Heimen Stoffels
    March 10, 2018 at 11:00 am

    Why isn't Solus in the Rolling Release section? 'Cause it's a rolling release as well (albeit with a slight delay to ensure proper testing, but still the stable repository receives new rolling updates every Friday).

    • Bertel King, Jr.
      March 11, 2018 at 4:32 pm

      For that section, I was trying to think of distros that someone might download *specifically* because they want rolling updates. Solus, to me, feels like a distro that stands out for other reasons. Ultimately, this is a very arbitrary distinction. But I didn't place Parabola Linux in that section either, even though it is also a rolling release distro.

      My intention was to keep things simple for newcomers rather than to create something comprehensive. People who are already familiar with these distros don't need any of the information on this page.

  9. SMoss
    March 10, 2018 at 5:11 am

    I like hearing about the new developments occurring in Linux, but this vast list of distros will likely appeal to a small portion of an extremely small group.

    As a noob, I quickly learned that rolling reales in Ubuntu were mostly superficial at best, and at worst, a nice chance to clean install.

    I stick with the long-term releases from Xubuntu; it's lightweight & familiar. Ubuntu tries to dazzle with cutting edge, but I've grown to appreciate consistency.

  10. Gazoo
    March 9, 2018 at 10:12 pm

    Useful selection of distros for certain use cases. Puppy, a long-time fav of mine, might be seeing some renewed competition from antiX in the lightweight category...

    I did a little distro-bouncing not too long ago and as a fairly new user (about 3 years, Linux Mint/Cinnamon) I noted some of the positive features for the different distros tested.

    For example... I found myself surprised by the positive performance of KDE even when running with SFXs, app windows that collapsed (I didn't realize this was a thing), task bars that allowed me to position on the right-hand side (makes 16:9 aspect ratios much less annoying) and other goodies depending on the tested distro.

    I mention this because even if a user isn't interested in switching their distro, distro-hopping often turns up features or other goodies that users might not be aware exist.

    Right now the single feature that interests me the most (outside of a distro's ability to handle most Linux programs) is a stable Rolling Release Feature (with a roll-back option in case the update fails).

    • Heimen Stoffels
      March 10, 2018 at 11:04 am

      If you want the latter, then try Manjaro or Solus and format the drive with BTRFS (or ZFS, if you feel even more adventurous). They both test their updates really well before pushing them to the stable repository but they're still rolling releases. And BTRFS (or ZFS) allows you to rollback to an earlier snapshot in case an update fails.

  11. rann xeroxx
    March 9, 2018 at 7:15 pm

    This is just another reason why Linux Desktop will never go main stream. ubuntu is, frankly, its best hope and as soon as they start going things to try and make it a main stream OS for support and such the Linux fanboys start throwing stones.

    Main stream, non-geek, users just want something that works and that they don't have to fiddle with and has some level of support. They don't care about open source this or drivers, or just about anything you listed in this story.

    • Bertel King, Jr.
      March 9, 2018 at 8:39 pm

      They're more than welcome to continue using Ubuntu. This article is aimed at people who may or may not use Ubuntu already but are curious what else is out there.

    • Heimen Stoffels
      March 10, 2018 at 11:05 am

      Yup, that's why Google has a hard time selling ChromeOS. 'Cause ChromeOS is Linux-based and the Linux fanboys have started throwing stones, so ChromeOS will never be popular... oh wait, it already is popular, esp. in the US where most laptop sales last year were Chromebooks.

      • dragonmouth
        March 12, 2018 at 3:12 pm

        I hate to burst your bubble. Chromebooks ARE NOT popular because of the O/S. They are popular because they are an appliance: a cheap way to get online and they offer convenience. Most Chromebook users don't even know (or care) what an O/S is. Had MS priced the Surface in the $100-$200 range and offered similar convenience to a Chromebook, the Surface could have been the popular choice. Instead MS decided to compete with Apple at the high end.

    • James Van Damme
      March 25, 2018 at 8:46 pm

      If you just want something that works, use Mint.
      If you like choice and variety, there are two dozen desktops and 300 distros.

  12. McFuzz
    March 9, 2018 at 5:59 pm

    I lost my s**t when Elementary was recommended for the latest software.. Is it April fools day today?

    • Bertel King, Jr.
      March 9, 2018 at 8:43 pm

      elementary OS gets new desktop apps (designed specifically for it) at a pace that most other Linux distros currently can't match. That does *not* mean it's a good place for the latest software. Since it's based on Ubuntu LTS releases, traditional Linux software is often out of date on elementary OS. Sorry for the confusion.

      • Mike Walsh
        March 10, 2018 at 12:29 pm

        Puppy has been my go-to for the last 4 years or so. I started with Ubuntu, but quickly grew to dislike it's habit of constantly crashing (because Canonical - in their wisdom - had decided it was time to drop support for my graphics chip).

        Switched to Puppy, following a recommendation from an acquaintance on the Ubuntu Forums.....and the problems stopped as though a switch had been thrown. Pup uses bog-standard kernels from kernel.org; Canonical insist on customising every kernel 'upgrade' they release, to better fit with THEIR idea of what hardware you should be using.

        I'm not having ANYBODY tell me what I can and can't use. And in Puppy, we don't worry about what types of software we can use.....we simply write our own!

        • Tech Man
          March 11, 2018 at 3:21 am

          I've heard about you guys writing your own software.
          Puppy Linux has a GREAT community.

      • McFuzz
        March 10, 2018 at 2:17 pm

        There was no confusion, the apps that are developed for Elementary are few and far between. This article was very biased towards Elementary in every way, nothing wrong with that, but misleading readers is another thing. If you install Elementary you get a very pretty OS with very very very old software and old kernel, so it is definitely not for every computer out there. Those times Elementary and chosen hardware play along nicely, a user who doesn't care about new software (or computers..) gets a nice and snappy OS. You know, the kind of user that only uses Facebook and YouTube, even then there's quite a hurdle to install Google Chrome...

  13. Michael Tobias
    March 9, 2018 at 5:27 pm

    This is what's great about Linux - the varieties of distros + varieties of window managers. There's something for everyone and one size definitely does not fit all. Personally, been using Xubuntu since version 7. Started with Mandrake (remember that?) and tried several distros between that and Xubuntu and since. I dabble with others, but Xubuntu is my rock-solid desktop choice, even though my computer has the specs to run a "flashier" DE than xfce.

    BTW, in my experience, any crashes always involved the window manager rather than Linux, itself. I've never experienced a crash in Linux. Apps? Sure (though in xfce, they are pretty rare), but not the OS. This was especially true in my KDE phase, though admittedly, that's been years ago.

    • earl
      March 12, 2018 at 7:37 pm

      I run Linux Mint 18.3 Xfce but use the Openbox window manager with the Tint2 panel... talk about rock solid.