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The 2012 Top 7 Best Linux Distributions for You

It is the mystery of mysteries, the one that ranks up there with the Gordian Knot, crop circles, and how many licks does it take to get the center of Tootsie Pop: what is the greatest Linux distro of all?

This is a question has tackled before. The key, of course, is understanding that the question itself is wrong: no matter what anyone tells you, there is no One True Distro. The reality is more complex: it's what you need that comes first, and what distro meets those needs is the best one for you.

To help users discover the Linux distribution that's best for them, I will definitively list the best distros for the various types of Linux users to try, based on my own experiences and reviews. 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

You may or may not agree with these assertions, and you are more than welcome to chime in with your own opinions. No matter what you think, though, the good news that by using Linux of any sort, you are already a winner.

Best Linux Desktop Distribution

Let's get started right off the bat with the most contended category: the best distribution to use for general desktop use. Over the years, this title has gone to Ubuntu, then Fedora. This year, the pick is back in the Ubuntu genus, though it's not something directly from Canonical.Linux Mint

For 2012, the pick for best Linux desktop falls on Linux Mint, specifically, Linux Mint 12 "Lisa."

Linux Mint is a downstream derivation of Ubuntu, which means, it you're not familiar with the lingo of free and open source software, that the code for Linux Mint is based on that found in Ubuntu. Linux Mint developers then add their own take to the distribution.

The result is a smoothly polished distribution that features a lot of power under the hood. Slightly less encumbered with Canonical's corporate mission, Linux Mint has unabashedly and firmly planted its metaphorical feet firmly on the Linux desktop, delivering a very complete set of applications and device drivers in an interface that unequivocally says "desktop."

Because of its close ties to Ubuntu – and Debian above that – Linux Mint users have access to a huge range of applications, themes, and widgets that make the Linux Mint desktop experience very compelling.

Best Linux Laptop Distribution

Laptop environments are not like desktop environments. Though some laptops still remain clunky affairs with big screens that have keyboards slapped on them, as Linux creator Linus Torvalds has publicly lamented, some laptops are gradually taking their cues from Apple Macbook Air line and are starting to conform to a sleeker aesthetic.Ubuntu Desktop

It is this environment that is well suited for the Linux distro with an interface that matches it: Ubuntu 12.04 LTS.

The latest release of Ubuntu has kept up its superior laptop toolset, with excellent power management and drivers. And, though you might find it grating on a traditional desktop, there's no getting around the fact that Ubuntu's Unity interface is perfect for a mobile device that needs more streamlined usability.

As a laptop distribution, Ubuntu still reigns supreme.

Best Linux Enterprise Desktop

For the past two years, SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop grabbed top honors for Best Linux Enterprise Desktop.

However, this year, the nod will have to go to Red Hat Enterprise Linux Desktop 6.Red Hat

Why the switch? In the past, I have maintained that SLED maintained a slight edge over RHELD because of the sweet capabilities of SUSE Studio and the strong openSUSE community. But in the ensuing time, SUSE Linux the company seems to be taking a much quieter approach on its market advantages, while Red Hat is pushing into a lot of new territory within the virtualization and cloud spaces.

It's premature to call the entire game to Red Hat, but it seems that the SUSE Enterprise Linux line is starting to fall behind in what it can offer to enterprise Linux customers, and in the enterprise it's all about what the Linux vendor can do for you.

This year, that's going to Red Hat.

Best Linux Enterprise Server

For the past two years, this category has always comes down to two main contenders: Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) and SUSE Linux Enterprise Server (SLES).

This year, it wasn't event really close: it was RHEL 6 all the way.RHEL

The list is extensive why: while SUSE Linux has concentrated on making improvements to the core SLES offering, Red hat has been doing that and pushing into all those new markets mentioned earlier.

In 2012, having a rich and stable presence in the cloud is hyper-critical. You might think this is so much hype, but the truth is that most enterprises are going to deploy in some sort of public, private, or hybrid cloud. If not now, then soon. Until something better comes along, it makes too much sense. RHEL 6 has this kind of cloud presence, plus all of the ISV and tech support that they've led with for years.

Best Linux LiveCD

These days, every Linux distro is really a LiveCD: you can stick the physical CD or DVD for distribution in your optical drive, boot the system, and run a full Linux distribution without actually installing it.Knoppix

But there is a class of distros, however, that are LiveCD only. These distributions offer 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.

So what's the best one? Once again, it's going to be the king of them all: KNOPPIX. This Debian-based LiveCD uses a lightweight LXDE interface to deliver a very robust experience. In some ways, it's almost too robust to be a fast LiveCD distro anymore, but it still delivers real power and speed for now.

Best Linux Security-Enhanced Distribution

This year's decision on the best security-enhanced distro was indeed a tricky one. In the past, BackTrack Linux usually one this one handily, but BackTrack Linux 5 R2 was recently found to have a undiscovered zero-day vulnerability that rocked a lot of security professional's expectations. [Update: The hole was actually in wicd, which was shipped in BackTrack.]

The hole was closed, naturally, but the damage to BackTrack's rep was there, nonetheless.

It's time to shake off the hit: everything can get hit with something like this, and the fact remains that despite the vulnerability, BackTrack still offers the very best set of white-hat security tools to examine your system or network for problems. Period.

Best Linux Multimedia Distribution

I am old enough to remember the days when I literally would have to switch distros because of a lack of format support to play music or movies. It was a real problem, once upon a time.

Now, though, those days are long gone, and multimedia consumers can use any Linux distro without fear. But with the availability of high-quality cameras and video recorders, Linux distributions need to contain powerful tools for audio and video editing, not just consumption.Ubuntu Studio

For the third year in a row, the best distro in this class is still 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.

Wrapping Up

These are just some of the options that are out there for Linux users. Many detractors of Linux may proclaim that the diversity of Linux makes it too complicated to learn, but with a little research and perhaps one of these distributions as a starting point, you should find your own Linux experience a rewarding one.



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  • randy van heusden Said:

    Besides the technical flaw in the security area of your writing, the basic recommendation might be fine overall even though i might have made other choices from my own experiences. I would be interested to see what you would say if you did the same article and divided it up by Consumer and then by Business. So what are those top 7 for the average Consumer and what are they for the respective Business community. I suspect the answer will be much different. I was surprised that you made no mention of Easy Peasy in the netbook arena since it has a very functional and easy on the eyes interface that just is complete and works so well. I was also surprised that you made no mention of Zorin and the look changer they use for the average user that is use to using Windows or the Mac as those look and feels are there and surprising well done. I was also surprised you made no functional reference to the multiple distros based on Puppy and how they might fit in to the users. You did not make any reference to the different Window interfaces or Desktops as we might call them and how one might be more beneficial to the user over another and why. It might have even been beneficial to show which distros fit best for different amounts of available memory and the age of the older equipment. For a basic article it might have gotten a basic message across, but it seems kind of incomplete, and not fully thought out beyond the well known top of the heap distros. Maybe it might be better to think of diving up the free from the fee based. Yes there are a lot of options and i am sure you will find the thought process to re-title and re-do of the article so that it is more focused to the appropriate reader whether it be the average consumer or the business environment. We all have different needs and of course many of the Linux users are technical geeks, does not mean there are not those consumers out there very interested in making a break from the agendas found in Microsoft and Apple products, not to mention all of the add ons and their agendas. I am sorry though to see what should have been a set of comments based on the article to come to flaming and screaming contest and i would have thought that we were all gentlemen with a comment that would have been about the article and left at that right or wrong, we all have an opinion and if there is a mistake in facts we fix it and make it right and go on. Arguing about how an article or a comment was written, makes no sense. Make a point about the article and then leave it alone unless you have some additional important or relevant facts to add about the article. Maybe we should be asking the the other commenters to write or re-write the article which i would be interested in reading. randy

  • BCArrmstrong Said:

    A long post like this would be more pleasant to read if it were divided into paragraphs.

  • BCNeill Said:

    And a short post like yours to be deleted..

  • SCharan Said:

    Would that include your comment as well?

  • Tony Said:

    Thank you for your post. If I might add, AV Linux 6 is a great alternative to Ubuntu Studio and its latest and final version should at least earn it some accolade for being stable, optimized, and kind on resources. It offers a comprehensive and tuned package as well so the user does not have to tweak his system. The realtime and low latency kernel is likewise an included luxury that even allows itself to work on not so very powerful systems like netbooks for the artist on a budget.

  • Tony Said:

    Thank you for the post. May I suggest you include AV Linux 6 which has for sometime been a polished, technically proficient and efficient distro? This version released in August is its final and its developer deserves some accolade for being to my experience better in many respects than Ubuntu Studio. AV Linux is kind to low resource systems like netbooks allowing the artist on the budget tools for his trade. Yet it is fast owing to the highly refined low latency or realtime kernel. Just a great multimedia OS that can be used for everyday. Thanks.

  • anon2222 Said:

    I didnt bother reading this, looks to long

  • k fen Said:

    we want one linux not hundred confusing distros. they must all form one rganization and make a stable, secure and powerful linux for all. to me linux has been a failure so far, althought i love it. I test few distros a year.

  • applejuicekiss Said:

    well, its the ability of linux to be diverse and for different distros to target specific purposes that makes it exceptional. i would not want to see one organisation calling the shots. although the kernel developers lead the way in general. i wouldn't say that linux has been unsuccessful. to me it has worked better in most areas than the other operating systems that i am forced to use. as far as commercial success and user base it is not as prolific... but that is not how i gauge it's success. if you have the right distro for your needs, it is functional, efficient and powerful, often without the need for commercial or even third party software. to me that is successful, although im also not trying to support myself as a developer... i am switching from ubuntu, which i have used for a few years, because i find all the arbitrary interface changes to negatively impact my work flow, but that is the beauty of the linux world: diversity. thanks for the article. i pretty much hate every other os these days. i know its still ubuntu but i think ill try Mint based on your suggestions.

  • Juan Said:

    I agree, thank you. I stop using Linux because a few years ago due to so many (good) choices. Yes, I was a beginner, but how is Linux going to attract new users if they are confused.

  • aladin Said:

    Linux is open source thats why it has like 300 plus distros,just get the source codes and make your own stable, secure and powerful linux. by the way it legal to do that.

  • mrbee Said:

    I have tried a good few out, in various scenarios from web server (with various web servers from Apache to Hiawatha) to proxy server with Bind9 and many other duties and I have come to the firm conclusion that the best all rounder for me is Debian, its solid, fast, secure (easy to safeguard if you need more) and is well documented and supported. It does everything I need, everything my clients need and it makes life simply that much is simply the best OS for a whole of standard server roles in my eyes and I see no reason to change this in the near future. Desktop, Mint all the way for me, I love it....

  • Paul Said:

    For some strange reason I enjoy the challenge of getting linux (Mint and Ubuntu) to work on my set ups. That said, they are never fully functional at the start. Little glitches occur such as my current random loss of WiFi on Mint 13. These require fiddling and patience. In addition no Linux distribution, fully meets my needs. For example, streaming via Netflix, which accounts for over 20% of bandwidth use many evenings is not supported on Linux. And I cannot borrow an audio book from my library using Linux (Not compatible with Overdrive software). Furthermore, even with the abundent software availability, there is no blogging client that compares with Live Writer. Until these shortcomings are addressed I'll be double booting.

  • Vic Said:

    Hi; I need to replace my Ubuntu due to VNC not working properly (screen won't refresh). Any suggestions for an easy-top-use dist with no known VNC issues? Thanks

  • Vic Said:

    Good news, I can confirm that Mint 13 (with MATE) runs VNC server (vino) just fine. The only trick was I had to run vino-preferences and vino-server from the command line.

  • Vic Said:

    Linux Mint is a derivative of Ubuntu, not a derivation. Derivation is the act or action of deriving something. Not an object itself. "Linux Mint is a downstream derivation of Ubuntu, which means": Professional my ass.

  • heatblazer Said:

    I may agree about RHEL and Backtrack, but Mint and Ubuntu are complete craps. I`ve used Fedora, Arch, Debian, ubuntu and mint, Arch linux is an outstanding distro as is Fedora and still they are not here? For reason what? Ubuntu and Mint are probably the slowest distros, takes forever to resume from suspend if skype is running or chromium.... pah.

  • Pag Said:

    I've used Debian for years. Recently went to unstable, after starting with stable, then going through testing. Despite all the warnings, I find it better and more usable than ever. I started Linux with Ubuntu, but it turned into a bloated mess, and I really don't like the culture. The only contender with Debian at this point for me is Arch, but I still haven't tried it. It just seems to have a learning curve that's too high for me to want to invest in at this point. Debian takes care of the mundane details for me. I install only standard utilities during installation. Then I'm dropped to a console. At this point I can upgrade to unstable and otherwise configure the repositories if I want. Either way, I get openbox, tint2, slim, feh, wicd, thunar, Libreoffice, Iceweasel/Firefox. I could turn it into a Gnome 3/KDE 4 beast if I wanted to, but I love keeping it simple and clean. If I were to vote for a best "all around" distribution, it would be Debian, if only because I can turn it into almost anything I want with relative ease.

  • M Said:

    So what is the general opinion of the best distro for streaming videos? I have a 2nd hand laptop (lenovo) and I've read xbmcbuntu is good. But in reading comments about it, it seems my research may be wrong. I basically want it to run VNC and stream AVI's and videos from Comcast every so often.

  • r0n_d0n Said:

    I'd say Crunchbang or Debian, depending on your level of knowledge and commitment. Crunchbang is closely related to Debian, although very lite out of the box with the options to customize every aspect to the max. Also, VLC comes with the installation and setting up a VNC is a piece of cake.

  • Dipendra Said:

    I've linux mint installed and it works fine. Moreover i've tested many other distributions and found good performance. Linux is best for me and whenever someone ask for help in their computer I install linux distribution of their choice (or need) and have no comment till now. According to you ( use and need), the choice may differ, not this and that is best distribution!!!

  • daboochmeister Said:

    You could just use alternative VNC client and server products ... easier than switching the entire distro. Sorry it's not working for you.

  • sambukamoulinari Said:

    Whether there is an only distro, that could completely replace my already configured desktop Wn XP? or user still have to switch between distributions?

  • daniele Said:

    But Ubuntu (and debian too) doesn't support 100% suspension and a laptop without this feature is useless. I'm having kernel panics with a 1 year old laptop with debian or ubuntu. No chances to get suspension and hybernation working. I'm giving a last chance to slackware but i'll return to seven. In my humble opinion, linux is miles away from being a laptop chance. Sorry for my bad english. ps: that's only my opinion.

  • guyfromplanetvenus Said:

    After all Linux is an open source can code Linux to reach your standards.

  • Mike Said:

    Hi everybody. I agree with this post. AV Linux 6 is now in my expirience, after some testings the best and most stable Multimedia distribution. Even tested with low end notebook with not supported external audio haedware. i was very surprised about this. This distribution deserves realy observation!

  • xiph Said:

    Well, I read the article to gain some insight into Linux (never used it) and now I'm so confused I think I'll stick to Windows - which I hate.

  • anon222 Said:

    Linux is good, windows is so-so .the problem i had was installing linux on my pc I was scared at first but used youtube for step-by-step info I have not booted to windows for about a year now

  • Sambuka Said:

    Windows like a plane you feel sick, but there's no way to go)

  • Vivek Raj Said:

    I found arch Linux to be the best of lot.... Specially pacman... It's awesome....

  • andy Said:

    Please make commercial linux version. I want good os for my computer. work with web-mastering, macromedia dreamweawer, and php, video, photoshop, internet, email, and compose video.... I want to bye the best not such the windows 8

  • Joe Said:

    How is Backtrack the best security-enhanced distro? It's good for pentesting but its not secure itself... Its brutal, that's why its intended to be run from a live CD and not installed. Best security-enhanced distribution should come with great protections like ASLR etc. for defensive security, not offensive.

  • anonymous Said:

    it's security-enhanced not most secure. backtrack has the most featues for a security professional.

  • taukas Said:

    Does anyone knows Netrunner ? It's on KDE and looks very nice and have all that new users need.

  • AVLinux Said:

    AVLinux is my multimedia distribution option!

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