If you are interested in getting your feet wet with Linux, there are a few beginner-friendly distributions available. These distros will allow you to easily get started and explore the wonderful world of Linux.
There are plenty of choices out there but here are my personal favorites.
The Ubuntu Family
When looking for a beginner distro, the Ubuntu family is a great place to start. I personally started with an LTS (Long Term Support) version of Ubuntu. I am also currently using Ubuntu 12.04 LTS on my current laptop. It uses the new Unity Shell and has been quite a stable experience for me. If the Unity Shell isn’t quite for you, you can check out the following community developed alternatives.
+ Ubuntu is arguably the most popular distribution.
+ Plenty of support and documentation available on the web.
+ Package Management is excellent through the Ubuntu Software Center, APT Package Manager and DEB files.
+ LTS versions are well supported and very stable.
- PPA management can get pretty hairy.
- Known breakages occur during upgrades to newer versions.
- As new versions come out, LTS versions and software repositories start to get very dated.
- Flash and Multimedia Codecs not installed by default but can be checked as an option in the installer.
Linux Mint is an Ubuntu-derived distro with it’s own set of tools, pre-installed software packages, and the famous Cinnamon DE. It’s been a while since I have run Linux Mint, but when I did, it was a pretty straight-forward and simple experience. It also has KDE, XFCE and MATE versions available. I do not recommend using the Linux Mint Debian Edition (LMDE). This is aimed at intermediate to advanced users that are more familiar with using Debian Testing.
+ All the advantages of Ubuntu since it is derived from it.
+ Flash and Multimedia Codecs installed by default.
+ Development pace is similar to Ubuntu. When a new version of Ubuntu is out, you can expect a new version of Linux Mint to follow.
+ Nice polished feel and experience (Ubuntu can still feel quite incomplete and unpolished).
- Same upstream problems as Ubuntu.
- Increased bloat due to bundled software that the user doesn’t really need or use.
- Installation .iso files are large, requiring a DVD rather than just a DVD.
PCLinuxOS is easily on the top of my list for beginner-friendly distros. I recommend it even over Ubuntu and it’s derivatives. It follows the rolling-release model. This means that upgrades come incrementally. You install it once and keep it going through regular updates. Sometimes in Ubuntu, you need to perform a fresh install after upgrading to a major release in order to avoid errors and breakages. PCLinuxOS then becomes a true set-and-forget type of distribution. This makes it a great recommendation for those that just want a system that just works and for those that don’t like to tinker around. But if you like to tinker, PCLinuxOS is still a great option.
The Synaptic Package Manager is used as a front-end in installing RPM-based packages. Synaptic is a great tool and it does package management efficiently. However it isn’t as slick as the Ubuntu Software Center. Software packages stay relatively up to date but still lag quite a bit compared to other distributions.
It comes in KDE, XFCE and LXDE versions. I personally prefer the KDE edition. I just haven’t found the XFCE and LXDE versions visually appealing. I have also been waiting for the 64-bit version but it hasn’t come out yet, so it is only available in 32-bit form.
+ Flash and Multimedia Codecs pre-installed.
+ One-Click script to install LibreOffice is available.
+ Installation .iso file still fits on a CD while offering a full out-of-the box experience from a fresh install.
+ Synaptic Package Manager.
+ Very stable system.
+ GUI oriented.
- Lack-luster artwork and design.
- Website needs a makeover.
- 32 bit only.
- Emphasis on quality control and a smaller community means slower development.
- Synaptic works great, but could use a Software Center with a nice UI.
Solus OS is a fairly new distribution but I have been thoroughly impressed by it. It is based on Debian Stable with updated packages of more popular software. This is a great combination if you are looking for an updated and rock-solid system. You can’t go wrong in terms of stability when it comes to Debian Stable packages. Solus OS only comes in a tweaked GNOME 2.3. Windows users will find the interface familiar and easy to learn. Solus 2 is in the works and will sport a tweaked GNOME 3 experience still emphasizing simplicity and useability.
Like any Debian-based distro, package management is super easy using the APT Package Manager. It uses a software center reminiscent of the older Ubuntu Software Center. Not the most shiny, but it is functional and user-friendly. Synaptic package manager is also available to those more adept users. It has Flash and Multimedia Codecs installed. This means that everything is good to go out-of-the-box after a fresh install.
This is a great distro and it has a bright future ahead of it. The development community is very active, vibrant and friendly. I won’t be surprised if Solus OS continues to rise in the ranks of the top distros on Distrowatch.
+ Based on Debian Stable – very stable packages.
+ Clean and polished look.
+ Simple and effective package management.
+ Plentiful packages available through Debian repositories or through stand-alone .DEB installers.
- Only offered in GNOME 2.3 flavor.
- Packages from Debian Stable can feel outdated.
- DVD required for .iso installer.
You can never go wrong with Ubuntu or an Ubuntu-based distro to get started on Linux. However if these don’t quite fit the bill for you and you want a rolling release system, definitely try PCLinuxOS and Solus OS.
Interested in other honorable mentions? Check out the list below.
Ubuntu-based – Linux Deepin, Pinguy OS, Pear, Zorin, Bodhi
Debian-based – Dreamlinux, MEPIS, Crunchbang
Gentoo-based (intermediate users) – Sabayon
Arch-based (intermediate users)- Archbang, Manjaro, KahelOS