Which Linux Desktop Distribution is the best for me?

Almost all new Linux wanna be guru (read as users who want to switch to Linux) asks a question:

I want to switch to Linux completely from Windows XP SP2. Which Linux version will be best – Redhat, SuSE, or other? I use my PC for:
Browsing Internet
Watching DVD / MP3
Writing CD/DVD

I’m also willing to spend a small amount of money if required to purchase Linux version.

Short answer is none. I can’t suggest *distro* name.

Long answer:
Linux is all about choice and freedom. There are different Linux distribution exists with different goals. It is good idea to define your goals and select Linux distribution as per your requirements.

I like Redhat and Debian for server as they are rock solid stable and comes with good binary packaging system. Some will swear up by Knoppix Live CD.

Some people like Suse and other recommends Ubuntu. There are others who like to compile everything from scratch (Gentoo).

  1. Consider following factors while selecting Linux:
  • Games
  • Your Linux skill level
  • Linux as server / network admin workstation
  • Running Linux on a new Hardware / Laptop
  • Running Linux on an older machine (486/PI/PII/Celeron)
  • Multilingual support (Hindi / Japanese language user interface)
  • Running Linux on Office PC for email and office work
  • Community support
  • Commercial support
  • I recommend that you try out at least some different distributions. Go to distrowatch.com and look out What’s Hot and What’s Not
  • Make sure your hardware is compatible with Linux. Download Live CD (list of all Live CD) and see if your hardware is compatible with Linux.
  • Make sure good community support exists for your distro (for example check out Ubuntu community support forum)
  • Get a good Linux book that teaches basis of Linux
  • Learn how to use search engine to find out solution to the problems
  • Learn to read man pages effectively and Linux commands to help you navigate
  • Contact your nearest Linux user group (LUG) and see what other members recommends
  • Ask a questions whenever in doubt, join Linux mailing lists and forums. When posting questions to a forum / newsgroup it is good idea to format the question and it’s content in a proper way in order to get a good answer. Make sure you provide all information while posting a question. (See more guideline – how to ask questions the smart way)
  • Finally you can always donate a small amount of money to your favorite distro and/or to any other open source project.
  • Further readings:

    Surely, there are dozens of other reasons to select specific distro, so please do share your views and suggestions 😀

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    🐧 26 comments so far... add one

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    26 comments… add one
    • Tom Apr 11, 2007 @ 12:27

      At least mention LiveCDs which allows people to test their hardware and try Linux effortlessly.

    • 🐧 nixCraft Apr 11, 2007 @ 14:15


      Thanks for pointing out Live CD and HCL issue. The post has been updated.

    • cevo Apr 11, 2007 @ 20:29

      Nice article, but of course some remarks:

      If you don’t want to recommend, do no mention ubuntu twice… It may seem prejudiced. I know of more distros withe splendid forums, and I know more distros with splendid live CDs…

      An english thing: ‘I recommend you trying out few distributions’. That basically means you recommend trying out not too many…. I think what you mean to say is sth like: ‘I recommend that you try out at least some different distributions’.

      A last addendum: ‘Are you someone who really likes to get into the nitty gritty of Linux, or do you want a distro that makes things easy for you?’ All distros are good, but none is good for everybody….

    • Karl O. Pinc Apr 11, 2007 @ 20:36

      Going to distrowatch to see “what’s hot” is pretty useless. First, what matters is how well the distro meets your needs. Second, distrowatch rankings are based on searches done on distrowatch, so they mean a whole lot of not very much. They might mean how curious people, who frequent distrowatch, are about some distro. They surely don’t reflect who’s actualy using what. Who would search there to find info on the distro they’re already using?

    • 🐧 nixCraft Apr 11, 2007 @ 20:55


      The post has been updated. Your last paragraph will be quite helpful to anyone.


      I agree with you. Distrowatch is just a starting point for new users. They can see the list along with ranking for all available distros in one place. To be frank Linux distro is like religion. Every existing user has one or has an opinion (may be good or bad) about existing distro. If you have any other good web resources please share with us so that others can benefit from our disunion.

      Appreciate both of your posts!

    • GregM Apr 11, 2007 @ 20:59

      Karl O. is right about distrowatch, it’s pretty useless for anything other than what distrowatch visitors are searching for. A more important question to ask is: CAN SOMEBODY POINT OUT A BETTER METHOD OF DETERMINING WHAT’S USED MOST? Or, and more importantly: IS WHAT’S USED MOST ALL THAT IMPORTANT?

      I can’t understand all the buzz around the various Ubuntu spinoffs, and don’t think it takes much looking around to find a better alternative than Red Hat, but that’s just me. The REALLY IMPORTANT thing this article touches on is there are LOTS OF CHOICES, and everybody is bound to find something they like that’s different than someone else. I think the author has done a great job of pointing out the best way of finding where you fit – good community support, and package focus that meets your needs.

      While I’m still primarily a Linux devotee, recently I’ve been looking more closely at PC-BSD. Easy now, not looking for a holy war, just pointing out that there are lots of roads leading to the same destination, and not all of them are bound to the GPL. But that’s probably another article in itself. 🙂

    • Joe Klemmer Apr 12, 2007 @ 0:07

      It can’t be stressed strongly enough that figuring out the needs of the user is critical. Your #1 is exactly the thing that people need to get right first.

      It’s good that you pointed this out.

    • CC Apr 12, 2007 @ 3:01

      Ubuntu is just another Debian spinoff that has gained it’s popularity IMHO due to the “marketing” of it as a universal distro, it’s focus on humanitarian projects, it’s appeal with bundling it’s stuff together making for an easier install and
      easier operation.
      It also appeals to younger children which is great and yet, if you install Ubuntu, take away it’s desktop, it becomes Debian just as many of the live cds do–i.e. Knoppix who freely admits this.
      For anyone coming from Windoze, Ubuntu is a great choice–and it’s focus on continually providing new files and auto updates gives a newbie a sense of security, plus there is a ton of documentation that is written in lay terms—best of all, it has
      a huge community that is very open and generous with help.
      I think it’s a very good way for someone to break into GNU-Linux.
      With all it’s simplicity, it totally supports much more complicated use if a person chooses to use it
      in that way.
      I’m a Debian nut who is constantly adding unstable
      files to my machine and breaking my installation, fixing or reinstalling it.
      That’s the advantage of using Ubuntu–a person can let it do the adding or updating. And unlike Debian, Ubuntu doesn’t let you log in as root.
      Thinking about Fedora, I find that it doesn’t seem to operate as well on older equipment since Core4.
      Slackware is great, Gentoo as well as are
      the various BSD installs yet you’d better be ready (especially with BSD which incidentally is not Linux) to suffer if you are a total newbie.
      Trying the live cds is the best way, I agree, with finding out what appeals to a person.
      Everything from Scientific Linux to Studio64 (which is filled with tons of multimedia etc apps) is available to check out on live cds.
      There is no limit to Linux and that’s the beauty of it–if you want something, you’re gonna find it with Linux.

    • manmath sahu Sep 7, 2007 @ 16:27

      Hats off to PCLinuxOS! This is the only OS that beats windows XP on a face blow. To know more visit http://pclinuxos2007.blogspot.com

    • John Mar 13, 2008 @ 18:41

      my choice is Pardus.

    • Jack Longtower May 6, 2008 @ 14:57

      You want to switch to Linux?..then go to http://ubuntu.com !

    • Mistron May 12, 2008 @ 0:49

      Those last comments 9 & 11 were pretty much useless. As said above linux is about choice and freedom. PCLinuxOS and Ubuntu aren’t the only choice. I at the moment are trying to get started in Linux. I want to use it for programming etc. and I believe that it might not be the best every where it will eventually will be, or any other Open/free OS, because it’s open source and people can add and do with it what they want. Something is not there? Make it, request it. It will get there if more people find it useful. Though choosing is so hard. Surely for people like me who already have massive problems with choosing practically everything in life. Searching for months now, not even installed anything starting with it now. Will be Gigs of data just to try out what is for me.

      Greetings Mistron.

    • dslmel May 19, 2008 @ 9:16

      I don’t believe there is a best distro, I agree with what works for you. I have used Xandros a few years back and was the first distro that worked properly for me being a newb and since then I have tried pretty much every mainstream distro and as of today, can’t stand xandros but since it was the first that worked for me i have alwyas leaned toward debian based packages for that fact.

      Point is I think any on the “newbie” base distros would be the first shot and your needs and skills will change with time and so will your choice of distro possibly.

    • X2683 Jun 8, 2008 @ 7:53

      My Review of certain Linux Distributions:

      For those that are looking into linux, especially those coming from any version of Windows or Macintosh, Ubuntu is a good option. It is one of the most user friendly and stable systems, just like Windows 2000 and newer, it keeps system files hidden so that if you have a child that gets on, they cannot delete anything relative to the system, thats important. I never got sick of having that system. Its a community project and is supported continuously. You are notified about any new distribution that Canocial releases so that you have the option to upgrade to them (it keeps your settings exactly the same and you do not lose anything when upgrading).

      A couple of other systems that would be: PCLinuxOS (resembles XP in a way), and if you are willing to shell out $50.00 +go with Xandros Home Edition (MAKE SURE IT IS HOME EDITION or HOME EDITION PREMUIM!!)unless you are running a business, then go with the Business Edition. If you get the Business Edition, it is lacking on personal entertainment such as media players and is geared more toward word documents and spreadsheets under Star Office. Also Xandros comes with its own Security Suite included in the CD. Although you really don’t need it unless you are planning to use CrossOver Office (An application that helps run Windows Applications under Xandros – NOT COMPATIBLE WITH ALL PROGRAMS.

      But in conclusion, there are 3 that you need to consider. All of which are from Canocial, are free, and are based on simplicity. Those would include: Ubuntu (resembles hybrid Mac/Win), Kubuntu (resembles Windows), and Xubuntu (resembles Macintosh, but is extremely lightweight and doens’t run as many programs). For teachers and educational purposes, get Edubuntu (best for computer labs).

      My choice is Ubuntu – GO UBUNTU

    • 🐧 nixCraft Jun 8, 2008 @ 8:11

      Nice review. Thanks!

    • Ellan Jun 19, 2008 @ 9:54

      I completely agree with X2683. I’m new to Linux Distros and Ubuntu was my first try at Linux. Found it extremely user-friendly to me. Will definitely suggest it to anybody who wantsto try Linux. I haven’t however tried any other linux distros.

    • Dennis G Jan 14, 2009 @ 2:42

      I have played around with a few Linux distro packages such as freespire etc..
      My personal favorite is UBUNTU Linux, this is totally free and includes Openoffice, Gimp and many other great peices of software and let me say it again, its FREE.
      Its all set up to use your internet setup and even includes VPN very nice, and also setup to use your bluetooth dongle and connects through USB with software for your palm.
      It also sets you up for dual boot, I still use xp for some things but plan to go full linux in the next few years, Linux has fewer virus and mailware threats actually I have yet to see any virus’s or maleware with linux.

    • JD Apr 23, 2009 @ 5:46

      I’m new to linux myself. I tried several distros, and settled on LinuxMint… Out of the box, it’s great!

      Everybody has different opinions, but mint is beginner friendly!

    • Jim Brown Jul 9, 2009 @ 12:39

      I’ve been running Ubuntu Studio for 2 years and it ROCKS!

    • jargoman Jul 20, 2009 @ 23:33

      I’ve distro hopped for a few years. I always ended up coming back to ubuntu untill I came across Arch linux.

      I really must say once you go Arch, if you can manage to get a graphics environment up and running, you will never go to anything ever again. Although it’s for more advanced users it is quite simple once set up. It’s basically a mesh between linux from scratch, debian, gentoo and slackware.

    • raj Sep 1, 2009 @ 16:46

      my dear friend ,
      One thing that every one forgot is that you should use ubuntu
      .They will send you a free cd with latest update and enjoy it!!!!!!!!!!!

    • Bob Feb 23, 2010 @ 0:14

      I personally prefer Fedora, but if you aren’t sure, try LinuxJazz sets from UNIX Academy, they contain practically all popular/major distros. For merely $20 you can try them all and it also come with some training. I like it to try from time to me.

    • Bob Feb 23, 2010 @ 0:16

      I was trying Debian, Kubuntu, Ubuntu, OpenSuse, mandriva. For purely personal reasons I like Fedora.

    • vermiman Mar 16, 2010 @ 3:39

      I’ve tried many distros and settled for Ubuntu. Linux Mint comes in a close second.

    • easy May 22, 2010 @ 18:59

      The best distro gives you 2 desktops, one is the native linux desktop (LXDE or KDE based), the other is a pure Windows XP desktop. Applications launch seamlessless, according to the OS they are installed on. The XP desktop runs in a sandbox like VirtualBox, it is essentially a disposable OS, sharing only the desktop folder with the host OS. The host can fully access the sandboxed Windows filesystem, but Windows apps can’t see the host filesystem. That’s the future and I’m sure it’s what everybody needs. This is how and where Windows can slowly fade into oblivion.

      Hell, a good developer can make the OSes paint their windows on the same desktop.

      But Linux fools are stubborn as hell. They prefer to have 4 desktops just to show their machine _can_ run the stuff they’ll never use. In doing so their tabbed browser gets cheated out of the essential Ctrl+TAB next tab shortcut.

      Fools, damned fools and Linux developers.
      But they don’t lock you into their foolishness.
      Now if they would only not lock themselves into it. That and C++.

    • jim May 4, 2011 @ 16:28

      i strongly recommend ubuntu. before you decide to completely wipe / forget about xp start playing with a live cd. most importantly have patience … there will be tons of attemps to go back.

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