Linux for Starters

Linux for Starters: Your Guide to Linux – Choose a Distro – Part 2

This is a series that 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

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).

Beginner Friendly

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.

Our Recommendations

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.

Editions

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.

Point Release Distro v Rolling Release Distro

Pages in this article:
Page 1 – Hardware / Beginner Friendly Distros
Page 2 – Point Release Distro v Rolling Release Distro


All articles in this series:

Linux For Starters
Part 1What is Linux? Why use Linux? What do I need?
Part 2Choose a Linux distribution meeting your specific needs and requirements.
Part 3Make a bootable Ubuntu USB stick in Windows.
Part 4We show you how to install Ubuntu 21.04 on your hard disk.
Part 5Things to do after installing Ubuntu.
Part 6Navigating your way around the Desktop.
Part 7Updating the system, install new software.
Part 8Open source replacements for proprietary Windows desktop software.
Part 9Get started with the power and flexibility of the terminal.
Part 10We cover the basics of files and permissions.
Part 11Getting help from your system.
Part 12Learn all about the file system.
Part 13Manipulating files from the shell.
Part 14Maintain your system with these simple tips.
Part 15Managing users on your system.
Part 16Explore different desktops to GNOME 3.
Part 17Gaming on Linux.

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's tons of in-depth reviews, alternatives to Google, fun things to try, hardware, free programming books and tutorials, and much more.
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7 comments

  1. I really believe that KDE Neon or Kubuntu should be included as beginner friendly distros. KDE plasma is very familiar to windows users. Deepin and Ubuntu Mate should be also considered. Deepin is in my opinion the most beautiful desktop environment by far (although I use KDE for its flexibility and the low resources usage when compared with all other future rich desktops).

  2. The most critical criteria in choosing a Linux distribution is the reasons or plans that new user has for their use of Linux.

    If the choice is for evaluating Linux for everyday productivity, a small organization or business over which they exert some controlling decision making, those criteria will be completely different for someone who simply wants to “play around” with Linux. In this latter category, there will also be differentiation in distributions depending if user is a seasoned Microsoft Windows or an Apple Mac user as compared to one that is a complete neophyte that even has difficulty in using Windows for simple tasks. Such person maybe directed to one of the great Linux distributions that mimic the simplicity of operation and intuitiveness of Apple Mac user interface, but generally such person should be strongly discouraged from the Linux realm.

    The second consideration, related to preceding points should be for Linux supported software features functionality that will allow new user to be fully productive and efficient in their use of Linux. This is the point that consideration of hardware is needed that fully supports distribution selection.

    In many cases It is a fools errand for many Linux consultants, advisors or hardware vendors in attempting to seduce “died-in-the-wool” Microsofties to adopt Linux, since no matter the incredible features, functionality, reliability, security and great Return-on-Investment” presented by a solid Linux distribution, this group will almost consistently complain about any Linux distribution as crap compared to their beloved Windows OS.

    In more than twenty years in professional technology services, specializing for much of the time with Linux and FreeBSd for small business and organizations, academia and municipal government, the greatest success in recommending or aiding in the adoption of linux has been when the potential new users have a clear understanding of the significant benefits of Linux, combined with the great exasperation they had been experiencing with the disaster names Microsoft Windows – desktop or server, especially when reminded about Ransomware, viruses, Trojans, Worms, constantly broken updates and phishing attacks.

  3. Well– The average Windows box will have a 3 G plus micro with 16 G plus ram. So any linux would install easy and have lots of room to grow.

    1. The ‘average’ Windows box does not have 16GB of RAM. There are also millions of computers in regular use with less than 8GB of RAM.

  4. I would not tell people coming from Windows to use standard Ubuntu. WinXP, Win7 and even Win10 users will want to use a more traditional desktop. KDE, LXDE, Cinnamon, Mate, and Xubuntu would all be better alternatives than Gnome. I would also never tell a person coming from Windows to install a different desktop than the one they download, but to download the new .iso and run it in the live mode to see which one they prefer. While the tutorial is good for somethings, I think it will send the average Windows user running back to Windows.

    1. “… send the average Windows user running back to Windows”. Do you actually have any evidence at all to back up that assertion? No… I didn’t think so.

      If a Windows user wants a carbon copy Windows, they should just stick to Windows.

      Ubuntu is a good choice for a beginner to Linux. If a new user wants a different desktop environment to GNOME (in some way to mimic Windows), they can easily install it under Ubuntu with a couple of commands.

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