Best Linux Distro for Absolute Beginners

A commonly asked question is  “what distro should I try, as a beginner”.  Some people say that they should choose what is best for them. While this strategy is well and good for people who have some experience, a beginner will have no idea what works best for them and will not want to try multiple distros. Therefore I will try and give them a good answer. A beginner is probably looking at ease of use, usefullness, and support. In this I am considering Ubuntu, Linux Mint, and Fedora (the three most popular distros according to Distrowatch). In case you do not know, distro or distributions are kinds of Linux. Many are based off of other distros and therefore are very similar.

Overview of the Distros

  • Ubuntu – Currently the biggest desktop distro out there. Based on Debian
  • Linux Mint – Another major player. Relatively new as a top distro and based on Ubuntu.
  • Fedora – Another major distribution. Based on the well known Red Hat.

Ease of Use

All of these distributions have good interfaces.  However these interfaces differ greatly. Ubuntu has a nice (Not so nice according to many people) new GUI (Unity) that will likely be most familiar to Mac users although most people should find it fairly easy to use after a few days . Linux Mint has a interface very similar to that of Windows so it will be familiar to most new users. Fedora has yet another way of thinking about things with a very unique approach in the GUI (Gnome 3, which also has had some complaints from the community). The best one for administration (adding software for example) is Ubuntu(I don’t thing the ‘Mint’ thing are that great). I think, though, that a new user wants something familiar so in this category I would place Linux Mint in the lead. However learning a new interface is not that difficult so in the long run what really matters is if it can do what you want easily.


This is a rather ambiguous category. What I mean is:  Does it do everything you need it to do and most of what you want it to do?  They are all about the same.For someone who just surfs the Internet, checks email, writes some documents and maybe plays some casual games any of these would be fine. However I find that the pre-installed software on Ubuntu and Mint are probable better for the beginner. These both also have many software packages available to them, although Fedora has plenty as well. If you want paid-for applications (there is rarely a need) then Ubuntu(with the Software Centre) and Fedora(with commercial support from its Red Hat legacy but is harder to find and install) have the upper hand. Mint, not to be outdone also provides access its other software (than Ubuntu, which mint is based on) that allow for more restricted multimedia things(not in other distros because of copyright restrictions). In this category(for beginners) I would say that Ubuntu edges ahead(you can enable the extra software sources) but is closely followed by Mint. Of course, these are all very capable operating systems.


This is a very important aspect and may affect your choice. (Here I’m talking about free support.) Ubuntu probably has the best support of all the Linuxes, mainly due to its popularity and active forums. That said, Mint is so closely related to Ubuntu that most, if not all, Ubuntu help can be applied to Mint. Mint also has a fair amount of its own. Fedora also has support available but less so than Ubuntu. The best support is if you know a Linux person. Unfortunately that is not that common so most will have to keep with online support. Here Ubuntu wins but Mint by extension has the same kind of support (if you know how to find it).


In conclusion, I think that Mint is the best for beginners starting out on their own without any particular dedication. You can use it basically out-of-the-box with little tweaking for it to do everything you want initially. Support is available and you can use the extensive Ubuntu support to a certain degree. Ubuntu is the runner-up. It is more established and has some advantages such as a much better (in my opinion) software centre. If you know some one who knows Linux and will help you out, I would recommend Ubuntu, even with its odd tablet/Mac/something-else interface. Fedora, although a good OS, is not great for beginners.


I had hoped to have time for a more in-depth article but this will have to do since I had a bit of a time constraint.

There are many good resources for Linux information. They can generally be found through Google.

I have also heard that PCLinuxOS is beginner friendly but I have no experience with it.

Update: You may want to see my review of Mint 12.


12 Responses to Best Linux Distro for Absolute Beginners

  1. Pingback: Introduction to the “Best Linux Distro 2011″ Series « PC and Penguin

  2. Pingback: “bye bye ubuntu you suck now” – so how can I switch to Mint? « cartesian product

  3. no PCLinuxOS ? this list is a sham , everyone knows its the #1 for beginners and its also rolling release , and has superB hardware support ect , ect , ect , . take the blinkers off and stop following the herd.

    • DCG says:

      Note that this was not a list. It was an attempt to get an answer to a question. I did not include PCLinuxOS in my comparison for many reasons. First of all I do not have any experience with it. As I noted this was not an in depth review. Secondly it is not a distro that is at the top of popularity (looking at Distrowatch top 5 or Google trends). There is a good distance between PCLinuxOS and the other distros I included in my comparison. In fact in Google Trends Mandriva (the project PCLinuxOS is forked from as I’m sure you know) had greater search volume. Popularity is important for new users. Your statement that “everyone knows its the #1 for beginners” is false. Some do support that it is the best but there are also many more who do not. Ubuntu and its derivatives(Mint for one) also have some of the best hardware support. I have yet to find a computer that did not work with them. As for being rolling release and following the herd I do not believe new users mind, judging by where they are coming from. If you can give me more concrete reasons that clearly show it is superior I am willing to concede.

      I shall address part directed at me about blinders(unless you think I am turning too often) and following the herd as well. I would say that I am not wearing any blinders. I am aware that there is more out there. It is true that I am going the same direction of the herd but I would not say that I am following them. I reached this result on my own and I believe that it is right. Besides the herd is often right. Feel free to change my mind (if you can).

    • DCG says:

      Plus I mentioned it in the “Notes” section

  4. Adam says:

    What about Bodhi Linux for beginners?

  5. Sam says:

    Actually, Linux Mint is sucking now. I like OS4 OpenDesktop, While Mint strives to have a Mac/Windows lookalike interface, OS4 is something different. Has replaced Mint on all my systems.

    • DCG says:

      I haven’t heard of that distribution before but it looks like a nice Xfce distro. I’ve moved to Ubuntu with plain KDE (not Kubuntu) myself.

  6. fight3rs says:

    Top 10 Linux Distro for Beginners (as of April 2013 at
    1. Linux Mint

    2. Ubuntu

    3. PCLinuxOS

    4. OS4

    5. Sabayon Linux

    6. elementary OS

    7. Pinguy OS

    8. UberStudent

    9. MEPIS Linux

    10. Netrunner

    • DCG says:

      Keep in mind that:

      The DistroWatch Page Hit Ranking statistics are a light-hearted way of measuring the popularity of Linux distributions and other free operating systems among the visitors of this website. They correlate neither to usage nor to quality and should not be used to measure the market share of distributions. They simply show the number of times a distribution page on was accessed each day, nothing more.”

      They are really just a reflection of current general interest, not quality or “best for beginners”

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