How To Choose The Right Linux Distribution

If you’re new to Linux, you might not know exactly which Linux distribution to use. This is understandable, as there are many, many different types of Linux distributions out there. They all serve different purposes and are geared towards different types of people. It is because of this, we’ve decided to break down popular Linux operating systems, talk about what they’re for, and how to settle on a distribution. Keep in mind, this isn’t just for people completely brand new to Linux. This information can also apply to those competent with Linux, but unsure if they’re using the right Linux distribution.

What is Linux?

Many new users that come to Linux think that Linux itself is the operating system. This isn’t true. Linux isn’t an operating system at all. Instead, it’s low-level programming, designed to run between programs that users interact with every day, and computer hardware (otherwise known as a kernel).

The kernel has things like drivers, and makes it so that when you use your computer, everything pretty much works. Lots of companies and individuals contribute to the giant project that is the Linux kernel. As a result, it’s on everything from Android phones, to smart refrigerators.. It’s everywhere, and it’s completely free to use.

What Is A Linux distribution?

When you use Linux, you don’t “use Linux OS”. Instead, you use a “flavor” of Linux, or a distribution of Linux. These are custom made operating systems created by either large companies, or by a group of hobbyist software developers. It’s important to understand that each and every individual “distro” is it’s own operating system.

Many Linux-based operating systems have a whole lot in common, and that’s why the best way to look at Linux is as the base everyone builds on top of.

How Do I Choose The Right Linux Distribution?

As stated before: there are many different types of Linux operating systems. In this article, we’ll be covering Ubuntu, Linux Mint, Gentoo, Arch Linux, Debian and Fedora. Each of these operating systems have strengths, weaknesses and good reasons to use (and not use) them.

Ubuntu

The most popular Linux-based operating system that is currently in use is Ubuntu. It’s based on an older Linux-based operating system (Debian), and has a lot of force behind it. Lots of companies, when porting over to Linux, put their software on Ubuntu first. As a result, this version of Linux enjoys the most easily available software out there. Chances are, if you want something, and it’s on Linux, it’s going to work on Ubuntu.

Additionally, Ubuntu has always focused on making an operating system that puts beginners first. They were one of the first to popularize making a version of Linux that anyone could use with ease. If you’re new to Linux, and you’re not sure where to start, the best bet is Ubuntu. At the very least, try out an Ubuntu spin off i.e., an operating systems based on Ubuntu that have the same mission statement.

Linux Mint

Linux Mint is a popular operating system that is based on Ubuntu. The operating system’s main goal is to “produce a modern, elegant and comfortable operating system which is both powerful and easy to use”.

Out of all of the “easy to use” Linux distributions out there, Mint stands out the most. This is because they work very hard to make a desktop environment that closely mimics the Windows desktop. It has a classic feel, and everyone that uses it can feel right at home. Additionally, Mint makes it very easy to install proprietary things like graphics drivers, wifi drivers, and etc. If you’re new to Linux and you feel like Ubuntu is too difficult, look no further than Linux Mint. It’s a great place to start, and you’ll learn a lot.

Gentoo

Gentoo is the ultimate Linux operating system for customization. With Gentoo, you build everything yourself, with your own two hands. Gentoo users compile every single program from scratch. This means taking the source code, and building it specifically for their operating system. This has some serious benefits, such as programs running better because they’re built specifically for you.

Gentoo is built from the ground up, and as a result, users are able to control everything about their operating system. Consider using Gentoo if you want to learn about everything there is to know about Linux. It truly is the expert’s distro.

Arch Linux

A Linux-based operating system that promises to “keep it simple”. Users don’t simply install Arch Linux. Instead, they build it. This makes the operating system perfect for hobbyists, and people who want to customize absolutely everything there is to customize.

This distribution is very, very similar to Gentoo. The only difference is that Gentoo gets a lot more personal when it comes to customization (startup systems, and etc). Additionally, Arch Linux uses pre-compiled programs, so users don’t need to spend time compiling software by hand.

Consider using Arch Linux if you’re tired of the same old pre-configured Linux distributions, and want to make something yourself.

Debian

Looking for something reliable and safe? Look no further than Debian. Its been around for a very long time, and prefers stability over fancy new software. Though, just because Debian goes the stable route, that doesn’t mean that it’s for beginners. Using this operating system can be tricky.

That said, if you’re an intermediate Linux user looking for something with serious reliability, do give Debian a try.

Fedora

Fedora Linux is essentially the free version of RedHat’s Enterprise Linux distribution. It’s considered a “beta” operating system, as a lot of new features that users can expect in newer releases of RHEL, end up here first. Like Debian, Fedora is best used by intermediate users.

Conclusion

There are dozens of Linux distributions out there. To the uninitiated, this may seem confusing, as most other platforms have one operating system, with one UI that everyone uses. The reality is that Linux is a very diverse community, with tons of intelligent, creative people making their own thing with the help of Linux. The diversity of operating systems, and the open-ended community that surrounds it is perceived as a weakness, but the truth is that it is a powerful strength. Take the information presented in this article, and try out some new Linux distributions! Have some fun! Learn, and explore! Soon enough, you’ll figure out exactly what Linux-based operating system you need to be on.

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About Kelli Smith

Kelli Smith
Kelli runs customer support and creates content for Skillcrush, a digital skills training and education platform with friendly instructors, an active student community, and laser focus on helping you achieve your career goals with technology. She has an MBA and successfully ran an international company and her own freelancing business before pursuing her passion for tech by taking advanced web development classes. Kelli loves listening to tech podcasts at 2x speed, looking for cute Corgi photos online and teaching and performing country line dancing—as a true Texan living in Finland would do. Say hi on Twitter.

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