This series offers a gentle introduction to Linux for newcomers.
You’ve decided that you want to try Linux but are unsure how to proceed. You are confused by the many hundreds of Linux distributions (distros) available. Which distro should you try?
There is no ‘perfect distribution’ and there isn’t a magical answer to the question. It’s a decision which will depend on your requirements and personal preferences. The best way we can help is to focus on a few key considerations.
Your hardware is an important factor when choosing a distro.
- Feature rich distros. Their recommended minimum system requirements are around a 2 GHz dual core processor, 4 GB of RAM, and 25GB of hard drive space.
- Lightweight distros uses lower memory and/or has less processor-speed requirements than a more “feature-rich” distro. Even machines with very limited amount of RAM (256MB or 512MB) can still offer a capable desktop environment.
- Niche distros for specialised hardware such as single-board computers (like the Raspberry Pi).
We’re assuming that you have little or no experience of Linux. On this premise, we recommend that you choose a distro that’s beginner friendly. By beginner friendly, we mean distros that help with the following:
- User-friendly custom utilities which reduce the complexity of basic tasks. Things like an intuitive package manager (to install and uninstall software), simple backup and simple security measures are important.
- Provide software that fulfils the requirements of a typical user.
- Offer a simple desktop environment.
- Adopts a “point release” distribution model rather than a “rolling release”. We explain what these terms mean and the advantages of each distribution model on this page.
- Offer good quality official documentation and manuals.
- Has a large user support community. When using anything new, you may need some help. Having a well established community support on web forums or chat channels is an advantage.
Assuming you want a feature rich distro we recommend Ubuntu, Linux Mint, and elementary OS for beginners. They are “point release” distros.
Ubuntu is arguably the most popular distro with an official support line and a huge community. Its default desktop is GNOME, renowned for being efficient, stable, and reliable while remaining incredibly user-friendly.
Linux Mint is based on Ubuntu. It’s also very easy to use and takes a conservative approach to software updates.
elementary OS offers a gentle learning curve. Its Pantheon desktop environment is superb and wonderfully elegant. Being based on GNOME it pares down complexity without losing functionality.
Some distros offer different editions (sometimes known as spins and remixes some of which may be unofficial). These editions have different uses such as:
- Desktop – run a graphical desktop environment and software such as a web browser, office suite, email client and more.
- Server – for serving up websites, file shares, and containers.
- Other uses such as cloud computing and Internet of Things.
All articles in this series:
Read our complete collection of recommended free and open source software. The collection covers all categories of software.
The software collection forms part of our series of informative articles for Linux enthusiasts. There are hundreds of in-depth reviews, open source alternatives to proprietary software from large corporations like Google, Microsoft, Apple, Adobe, IBM, Cisco, Oracle, and Autodesk. There are also fun things to try, hardware, free programming books and tutorials, and much more.