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.

Usefulness

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.

Support

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).

Conclusion

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.

Notes

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.

Introduction to the “Best Linux Distro 2011” Series


In this series of posts I will try to find the best GNU/Linux distribution for a particular purpose. These purposes will probably include beginners, servers, gurus, desktop, netbook (or tablet) categories. Since it is obviously impossible to compare all Linux distros at once I have to limit it to a handful of options. These will include the most popular(from Distrowatch, Google trends and other sources), my personal experience and any other notable distros that I think may fit the category. Feel free to correct or point out any missing things.

Posts in series

For Beginners