The Best Linux Distributions
Last Updated on January 28, 2021 by Travis Kipp
I’m sure you’ve heard of Windows and MacOS, but have you heard of Linux? Linux is an operating system just like the aforementioned solutions but the key difference is it’s open source. This means anyone can contribute to the project. The main portion of the operating system is called the kernel, all operating systems have this. It’s job is to ensure the hardware and software work properly together. Since Linux is open source, anyone can take the kernel and add anything they want. This is why there are so many different distributions of Linux. They take the kernel, add some software, change the user interface, package it up all nicely, and make it available for download. There’s so many to choose from so here are some of my personal favorite Linux distributions.
The Best Linux Distributions
Ubuntu desktop is one of the most popular around. It’s backed by the company Canonical which improves Ubuntu with every release. Their main focus is on the server edition but the desktop version benefits from the server improvements. They used to use a nice desktop environment called Unity but they are now using Gnome. They did a good job of customizing Gnome to be similar to Unity so the transition was smooth. Overall Ubuntu is quite a nice desktop. By default all applications reside on the left side of the monitor. While this is different from Windows, it’s actually a welcomed change. It allows for more vertical space for applications. The nautilus file manager is similar to the Windows one but looks much cleaner.
Linux Mint is the best all rounder for me. It looks nice running the Cinnamon desktop and has a familiar Windows-like layout. Cinnamon supports modern desktop features like program grouping so the taskbar looks very clean. The bundled applications are also quite nice. They are quick while offering a good amount of features.
ZorinOS is another great Linux distribution. It modifies the Gnome desktop into a usable form while also looking quite stylish. This one is also great for beginners as the layout is familiar to Windows users. There is also an education edition which includes educational programs. All the default programs are quite nice including the file manager, terminal, and text editor. If you like the project and want to support it, they have a paid ultimate addition which includes more features such as preinstalled games and installation support.
KDE Neon is a great choice as well if you like the bleeding edge of the KDE desktop. KDE is a great modern desktop environment. It’s one of my personal favorites next to Cinnamon. While it’s good, it has been known to be unstable from time to time but it keeps getting better. All the applications KDE comes with are quite good. The Dolphin file manager is excellent. It’s reminiscent of the Windows file manager but with tabs. There’s also Kate, a nice text editor. My biggest gripe with it is how most of their programs begin with a “K” so searching for the right program can be cumbersome.
Pop!_OS is a great Ubuntu based distribution. They use the Gnome desktop just like Ubuntu. While the default desktop layout isn’t super familiar to Windows users it does look quite nice. Just like any Linux distribution, you can customize it anyway you want. In the settings application, you can update your device firmware as long as your device supports it. Another bonus is it’s supported by a company called System76. They also sell laptops which come preinstalled with Pop!_OS.
If you want a really stable distribution, CentOS is a great choice. CentOS is the open source version of the Red Hat Enterprise Linux created and supported by Red Hat. This distribution is much different than the others on this list as it uses a package manager called yum. The others use apt. For the end user this doesn’t mean much other than ensuring the software you need is available for the different package managers. CentOS uses the Gnome desktop environment as well. By default it’s not setup in a familiar Windows way but like everything with Linux it can be customized. Sadly, Red Hat is phasing out CentOS with no clear upgrade path at the moment.
If you have an old computer, Puppy Linux is for you. It uses a lightweight desktop environment so it’s easy on system resources. Puppy Linux also has a small installation size compared to the other options on this list and especially compared to Windows. It’s perfect to tinker with on an old laptop or desktop.
This only scratches the surface of Linux distributions. There are a plethora of options; all of which are designed to fill a specific niche. If you’re new to Linux and want to try one out, I highly recommend Linux Mint. If you do decide to install a Linux distribution, keep in mind it could be damaging to your Windows install. I recommend using a Virtual Machine for learning and testing purposes.