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The Top 7 Best Linux Distributions for You

There are various approaches to answering this question. The broad answer is: "any of them," but that's not very helpful if you're just looking for a place to start.

The problem is, there never can be one best Linux distribution for everyone, because the needs of each user tend to be unique. Telling someone who's looking for a good introductory distribution to try Gentoo, for instance, would be a mistake because for all its positive qualities, Gentoo is decidedly not a beginner's distro.

All too often, Linux aficionados will tend to list the distributions they like as the best, which is fair, but if they are not aware of their audience, they could suggest something that does not meet that person's needs. Finding a good Linux distribution is like finding a good match in an online dating service: good looks aren't the only quality upon which to judge a Linux distro.

To help users discover the Linux distribution that's best for them, this resource will definitively list the best candidates for the various types of Linux users to try. The use-case categories will be:

  • Best Desktop Distribution
  • Best Laptop Distribution
  • Best Enterprise Desktop
  • Best Enterprise Server
  • Best LiveCD
  • Best Security-Enhanced Distribution
  • Best Multimedia Distribution

Once you find the best Linux distribution for your needs, you can visit our Linux Migration Guides to assist you in installing and using the one you'd like to try.

Best Linux Desktop Distribution

There are a lot of Linux distributions that have the primary focus of becoming the next best desktop replacement for Windows or OS X. Of all the categories in this list, this is the most sought-after, and contentious, group of distros.

While it would be ideal to include many distributions on this list, the reality is that there really needs to be just one "best" Linux distribution. For early 2010, that distro has to be Canonical's Ubuntu.

Ubuntu edges out its closest contenders, Fedora and openSUSE, because its development team is constantly focused on the end-user experience. Canonical and the Ubuntu community have spent a lot of time and resources on bringing ease-of-use tools to this distribution, particularly in the area of installing Ubuntu and installing applications within Ubuntu.

In addition, Ubuntu's level of support for its desktop products is highly superior, which is important in this class of distributions since it is the most likely to contain users new to Linux. Both the official and unofficial Ubuntu documentation is robust and searchable, a big plus.

Best Linux Laptop Distribution

Laptop distributions almost fall into the same category as desktop users, but there are a number of key differences that make the criteria for evaluating a good laptop distribution important. Power management, docking tools, and wireless ease-of-use are critical to users on the go, as is having a distro that meets those needs.

Right now, the best laptop distribution is openSUSE, one of the lead contenders for the desktop honors. On the laptop, openSUSE shines with great connectivity tools, such as an easy-to-use networking toolset that not only handles WiFi connectivity, but also CDMA/cellular modem connections.

openSUSE also deals with docking stations for laptops very well, including dual-monitor management on the fly. Power management is very granular, which is great for detailing various power needs you might find yourself needing.

Best Linux Enterprise Desktop

This category is replete with great contenders as well, and it's difficult to highlight just one. At the end of the day, though, the nod must be given to SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop (SLED).

The reason is simple: while SLED and its primary competitor Red Hat Enterprise Linux Desktop are nearly identical in features and support performance, SLED has the advantage of the openSUSE Build Service, a free and open service that lets applications be built and delivered to SUSE Linux and openSUSE products (as well as Red Hat and CentOS).

This is a very important differentiator in enterprise desktop development, as it means that SLED has the current advantage of application building and deployment in the enterprise arena.

Best Linux Enterprise Server

Again, in this category it really comes down to two main contenders: Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) and SUSE Linux Enterprise Server (SLES). Given the pick for the Enterprise Desktop category, you might expect SLES to get the "best of" label here.

But, when all factors for the enterprise server are weighed, RHEL is still the king of this particular hill.

Red Hat edges out Novell with its server product, because RHEL users get a deeply mature distribution, and Red Hat's support structure is second to none in the enterprise channels.

Best Linux LiveCD

As Linux technology improves, users can easily choose the LiveCD version of practically any of the Linux distros listed here to get the best LiveCD experience for their needs.

There is a specialized class of LiveCDs, however, that offers users utilities and tools for the specific purpose of repairing existing Linux and Windows installations. These distros are very useful to have regardless of what primary Linux distribution you like to use, because in a crisis they are invaluable to own.

In this class of distribution, KNOPPIX is hands-down the most complete and useful distro. Loaded on a CD or USB storage device, KNOPPIX will let you recover from nearly any rare Linux system crash as well as the much-less-rare Windows breakdowns.

Best Linux Security-Enhanced Distribution

Linux is inherently very secure compared to other operating systems, but there's always room for improvement.

One of the challenges for locking down Linux is if you are not careful, you can take away too much functionality. Another challenge is that the best security-oriented Linux distro, SELinux, is historically known to be difficult to configure correctly. Still, if security out of the box is your priority, this is the best place to begin.

Another approach is the white hat method: using security and forensic tools to examine your existing installation, determine the holes, then lock your system down based on what gaps you find. If you have the time and inclination, this is a great way to do it, because this will get any existing system more secure right away.

For the white hat approach, the best distribution is BackTrack Linux, a dedicated penetration testing distro that will enable you to safely try to crack any system you are caretaking. Its toolset and strong community give it the advantage in this category.

Best Linux Multimedia Distribution

General Linux distributions have come a long way in terms of multimedia performance. Rare is the audio or video file that can't be played on Linux. Music services such as Rhapsody and video sites like YouTube and Hulu are also standards-compliant and accessible to Linux users.

Still, for those users who are multimedia creators as well as consumers, there are Linux distributions that contain powerful tools for audio and video editing.

The best in this class is currently Ubuntu Studio. For audio, video, and graphic production, it contains a very complete set of tools, as well as format and codec support for a huge range of multimedia formats.

The applications contained in Ubuntu Studio are the same or similar to those used by major studios to create cutting edge work, so users are getting the best apps, coupled with the strong support ethos already found in the Ubuntu community.

In Linux there are as many opinions as there are lines of code. This represents one view of the best in Linux. What's yours?

 

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  • damntech Said:

    I would only advise Arch or Gentoo for two reasons: You know exactly what you are doing and you want a slim and tight system that is geared to one utility purpose. Or if you are the type that wants their system on the bleeding edge and don't mind spending time on regular tuning. I am a Gentoo (among other distros) user who uses in production environments for 8+ years.

  • Booker T. Uzzell Said:

    A friend of mine just install Ubuntu 12,04 on my computer and uninstall Vista Ultimate.I'm as happy as a pig in do-do.Man, this thing is fast!I'M A beginner(I mean green as grass)and I need the name of a few good books to help me get started.Thanks guys

  • mike Said:

    I'm currently using Mint 13 with the Mate desktop. I'm a along time novice linux user. I started with Redhat 6.0 and worked through all of the revisions, all the way to Fedora 17. My favorite linux saying, "S**t breaks with updates". With Redhat/Fedora I was always dreading the 6 month marker, because I knew it meant another upgrade and serveral hours trying to fix what had been previously working. Allegedly, Mint provides fives years of support with their distro. Also, obtaining all of the codecs to get media support working in Fedora was a pain, but eventually became tollerable. Well it works right out of the box with Mint. Mint comes with what I'd say, "the essential"; minimal packages out of the box, instead of several variations of the same application. They seem to pick the right applications too, at least for my taste. The Fedora team can't seem to decide which default applications they like, and the chosen media app will likely change with the next revision. In Fedora, I considered it necessary to install more than one variation of the same application, and then trial and error would have me pick the one that crashed the least under the gnome desktop. I like Linux in that I do not have to upgrade hardware every other year to take advantage of the operating system. I've had the same laptop running linux for over 6 years. Moving from Fedora 14 to Fedora 17 saw a slowing of the system and sluggish running. I won't even get into Gnome 3 or Fedora's new desktop environment. With Mint I can use my laptop again and my hardware is "in date". I like Mint so far and don't see myself going back to Fedora.

  • Nicholas Said:

    I used to use Linux, but I have switched back to windows from arch Linux and Ubuntu and found far less bugs and a lot faster, I would recommend windows from my personal experience to all my friends. Linux for me felt like it was the end rather than the means.

  • Rey Said:

    I sorta agree with you. I use Windows 7 on my "main" computer for gaming and such and some form of Linux on my old laptop. I did try gaming on Linux with WINE and PlayOnLinux, but of the that did work they played horrible. Low fps or aweful graphics ... I use Linux for stuff like checking my bank account and general web browsing. Linux is great for certain needs but not so great for gaming.

  • Julien Said:

    Your comment reflect an unintelligent person with no direction for development

  • pat Said:

    ive tried a few, not all, so far, id go with Ubuntu for desktops, I run a webserver for testing stuff on with centos, and find it works well.

  • OneMore Said:

    I have been a Dual boot user for many years and now that i'm starting to recomend Linux to end-users i blame my self for doing it. As a Absolutely ProLinux user, i have to agree with Nicholas"Linux for me felt like it was the end rather than the means" and mike's "S**t breaks with updates". Linux need LTS distros that update "transparent" for end users. Fortunately or unfortunately the Linux world it is full of people that have IT as the means. I would like to do a call to developers: there is a huge wolrd of endusers that are willing to use Linux if they just can use it.

  • Errol Said:

    Ubuntu was the first Linux i ever tried i think that was 8.10. I could not get on with it so i went back to windows. Then just recenlty i tried Ubuntu 12, although it did work it was just to slow on my laptop and netbook. I recently tried Ubuntu 13 ringtale and could not get it to run on either my laptop or netbook. After installing Ubuntu 13 all i get is a red screen with my mouse pointer, nothing else. I is the same on both machines. So Ubuntu is now out the window and in he bin, I am now running Linux Mint 15 Mayo which is ok it is pretty fast and stable, just a few bugs in it but i can live with that. Can anyone please tell me can i get Linex Live USB Creator to run on Linux. i have it on widows but i want it to run on my netbook which runs on Linux mint. I have tried installing it using wine but it does not work. Thanks

  • Aitor Gonzalez Said:

    You don't need it. A) Get a Live CD image (.ISO)of the distro you want to try. B) Open a terminal. C) Plug a empty/useless data USB D) Type in the terminal: sudo dd if="path/to/iso/file" of="/dev/sdc" (or other /dev/ path where your pen drive is) bs=4M And that's all.

  • Dilitirio Said:

    You can check your package manager for UNetBootin. While it's not the same, it's very similar and does not require you to use the terminal, if you don't wish to.

  • Kevin V Said:

    Hi, You can use a (Windows) freeware called "Universal US Installer" from www.pendriveapps.com that will install a huge number of distros on a USB flashdrive as Live. I also have a netbook, an Acer Aspire One w/out CD, and the installer works with the Puppy Linux versions I like most, as well as the "For-Acer-netbooks" Meego V1.2 that I also liked as a solid Android device killer. As far as current distros, I'm working on several desktop/laptop systems from PIII-500Mhz to P4-3Ghz configs, and have fallen in lust with the Wary/Racy Puppy for laptop hardware and the Lucid/Slacko Puppy for desktops. Anything 64-bit will soon run Fatdog, and anything as a Web/DVD/Media player will prob'ly be running Lucid. ALL these OS'es come in as a Live CD, maxin out at I think 450Megs for the Fatdog 64bit. And any time I re-partition a system now I "reserve" a 10Gb blank partition for later installing from a Live Puppy CD for hrddrv repairs, and I set a seperate NTFS partition from Windows for storing dual-use files instead of a using a dual-boot system. So, a system with a 120Gb drive gets a 40Gb Win partition, a 65Gb NTFS shared partition, and a 10Gb unpartitioned space for later Puppy in case of repairs/file recoveries. G'Luck, and G'Linux!!

  • XR219 Said:

    Agree with many of the other comments. I would love to use Linux more, but the forum and help files are written by developers (or geeks) that make no sense to folk who are not unix trained. Do you think anyone would use Windows or OSX if they had to understand command line input? That was all well and good in the days of DOS and explained way only limited number of folk had computers. A comment to an end user such as "check your package manager for UNetBootin" (no disrespect to the post above) is like speaking Klingon. Linux will only work mass market when someone thinks of it the way that Google have approached Android or Chrome. I have a personal dislike of all thinks Google, so I'd love to see some of these Linux distros making it to mass market in a way that my Dad could understand.

  • Kunal Said:

    Agree with many of the other comments. I would love to use Linux more, but the forum and help files are written by developers (or geeks) that make no sense to folk who are not unix trained. Do you think anyone would use Windows or OSX if they had to understand command line input? That was all well and good in the days of DOS and explained way only limited number of folk had computers. A comment to an end user such as "check your package manager for UNetBootin" (no disrespect to the post above) is like speaking Klingon. Linux will only work mass market when someone thinks of it the way that Google have approached Android or Chrome. I have a personal dislike of all thinks Google, so I'd love to see some of these Linux distros making it to mass market in a way that my Dad could understand.

  • satjinder singh Said:

    I think the author has done a magnificent comparison it would have been better I he has given a little space to Linux Mint which I consider as most user friendly. Ubuntu is inching day by day towards commercialisation.

  • will Said:

    Is 'commercialisation' a good thing or a bad thing? not being facetious, just don't know which you mean. IOW, is Ubuntu getting better for the user?

  • Julien Said:

    Having a Linux Distro is by far the best thing since slice bread one who is into science,technology and development windows is totally a waste of time for me ,Linux is not cake and cheese but you have to learn and build your system what you want ,if you have windows base software you want to install on your Linux box of course use wine and for the games use playonlinux . To clean the box use bleachbit ,Linux has so much to offer ,why cry of windows that is absolutely dead For starters try Linux Lite https://www.linuxliteos.com/ or LinuxMint http://www.linuxmint.com/ people have to free their mind from windows mental slavery and look to the future Linux

  • habeeb Said:

    Hi i am New to Linux , and i must say this will put a balance in humanity

  • The One Said:

    i have used linux since 98, mandrake, then mandriva and now Mageia havent tried other linux's only because Mageia does exactly what i want and is very user friendly

  • Robert Robinson Said:

    thanks for showing me the reason never to use linux. i am not a computer programmer, i could never remember all those commands to write. I have been told by many people, get linux, get linux, it is the easiest os to use. ha ha ha. what a joke. so i got a program called unetbootin http://unetbootin.sourceforge.net/ that lets me download live cd versions of probably 100 or more different versions of linux onto a flash drive, then i boot into my flash drive on windows and can install what version i want to use. most of them are not wifi ready, so i would ignore them, i kept trying different versions until i found one that was wifi ready, so the first thing i would do is go on the internet and try to update my firefox browser by getting the latest version of firefox. i found out real quick that you cant just click the download and install the update. it didnt work. i didn’t know what to do, i have never used linux before, i have always used windows or os x, because i have both windows and macbook pro machines. on both those systems, all you do is click the download and it automatically installs, no muss no fuss, easy peasy. dont get me wrong, i have been using computers since 2002, mostly windows, in the last four years i switched to apple, because i like the stability of the os x better. after almost 13 years of using computers, i decided it was time for a change and decided to try linux, because there are so many different variations of the os, i was kind of confused, but because i got unetbootin, i was able to try out all the different versions of linux. i am very disappointed with the whole experience, everything about it is convoluted and confusing. a perfect example is just installing software. imagine this, download the software, click the download, install, done. easy as pie, nothing to it, a child could do it, all you have to do is simply point and click, presto chango, you have your software installed, nothing to it. but with linux, nothing is easy. install software? no problem, except for one itsy bitsy thing, you have to know how to write code for a computer.

  • Herb Said:

    Oops! I didn't know that being able to write code is a prerequisite for using Linux! I no no luck trying to learn UNIX, DOS, MSDOS Windows xxx or any other type of operating system except for the Olivetti P101 and P203 symbolic language, where I successfully wrote a program that solved quadratic equations. My brain doesn't seem to be wired to handle more than just a few variables. When I hear terms like "Abstraction layer", my hair starts to hurt. Thanks for pointing out to me what the fatal flaw in Linux is for me.

  • Campbell Solomon Said:

    I installed and ran Gentoo as my main OS for 3 years from age 10. You just lack the mental capacity to comprehend the fact that Linux is designed for those who actually understand computing; not Apple users. Please, go back to browsing Facebook and playing flash games.

  • Robert Robinson Said:

    I don't play games on my computer. I do actual work on my computer. Ok bright eyes, you tell me how to install a download of the latest version of Firefox directly from their website without using the crap on linux. I tried to do it and couldn't do it.

  • Des Said:

    Robert Robinson, I just upgraded my no longer supported version of firefox for the the first time tonight try this: Download the latest version of firefox https://download.mozilla.org/?product=firefox-33.0.1-SSL&os=linux64&lang=en-US Extract by double-clicking on the downloaded tar file (located in the Downloads folder) When extracted double-click the firefox folder and then on firefox everything should become intuitive from there on. Trust that works for you.

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