Before we jump into the actual distro list, first lets take a look at 32bit vs 64bit versions and the different desktop environments.
32bit vs 64bit:
Each & every release of Linux distro are released in 2 variants namely 32bit & 64bit. So which variant to download, install & use?
You should use,
- 32bit – If your PC has a 32bit processor
- 64bit – If your PC has a 64bit processor
In addition to that, 32bit variants can support only upto 4GB of RAM. So again,
- 32bit – If your PC has 4GB or less than 4GB of RAM
- 64bit – If your PC has more than 4GB of RAM
32bit variants usually have the name pattern similar to,
64bit variants usually have the name pattern similar to,
In simple terms, if the file name has the number 64 then its probably the 64-bit variant.
Linux has a large variety (than what you can probably imagine) of desktop environments to choose from. But we are going to see only the leading desktop environments and are listed in alphabetical order.
Cinnamon user interface is a fork of GNOME Shell, initially developed by (and for) Linux Mint. It provides a usable user environment based on the desktop metaphor, like GNOME 2. Cinnamon uses Muffin, a fork of the GNOME 3 window manager Mutter, as its window manager from Cinnamon 1.2 onwards.
GNOME is composed entirely of free and open source software and is developed by both volunteers and paid contributors, the largest corporate contributor being Red Hat. It is an international project that includes creating software development frameworks, selecting application software for the desktop, and working on the programs that manage application launching, file handling, and window and task management.
GNOME is part of the GNU Project and can be used with various Unix-like operating systems, most notably GNU/Linux and as part of OpenSolaris Desktop.
KDE software consists of a large number of individual applications and a desktop workspace as a shell to run these applications. You can run KDE applications just fine on any desktop environment as they are built to integrate well with your system’s components. By also using the KDE workspace, you get even better integration of your applications with the working environment while lowering system resource demands.
LXDE,”Lightweight X11 Desktop Environment” is a fast and energy-saving desktop environment. Maintained by an international community of developers, it comes with a beautiful interface, multi-language support, standard keyboard short cuts and additional features like tabbed file browsing. Fundamentally designed to be lightweight, LXDE uses less CPU and RAM than other environments. It is especially beneficial for cloud computers with low hardware specifications, such as netbooks, mobile devices (e.g. MIDs) or older computers.
MATE is a desktop environment forked from the now-unmaintained code base of GNOME 2.The renaming is necessary to avoid conflicts with GNOME 3 components.
GNOME 3 replaced the classic desktop metaphor with a new interface built on top of GNOME Shell. It led to some criticism from the Linux community. Many users refused to accept the new GNOME and called for someone to continue development of GNOME 2. The MATE project was started by an Arch Linux user in order to fulfill this task.
Xfce (pronounced as four individual letters) is a free software desktop environment for Unix and Unix-like platforms, such as Linux, Solaris, and BSD. It aims to be fast and lightweight, while still being visually appealing and easy to use. It consists of separately packaged components that together provide the full functionality of the desktop environment, but which can be selected in subsets to create the user’s preferred personal working environment. Xfce is based on the GTK+ 2 toolkit (the same as GNOME 2.x).
Unity is a shell interface for the GNOME desktop environment developed by Canonical Ltd for its Ubuntu operating system. Unity debuted in the netbook edition of Ubuntu 10.10. It was initially designed to make more efficient use of space given the limited screen size of netbooks, including, for example, a vertical application switcher called the launcher. Unlike GNOME, KDE Software Compilation, Xfce, or LXDE, Unity is not a collection of applications but is designed to use existing programs.
The Distro List:
So now you should have an idea about the OS variants and desktop environments. Now lets a look at the list of the best distro’s available.
For Linux Beginners:
1) Linux Mint Cinnamon
Linux Mint is based on Debian & Ubuntu and its a distro that works out of the box without any extra work.
Linux Mint is the best distro for Linux beginners because it comes pre-loaded with all the extra software/codec to play the various audio & video formats and also comes pre-loaded with Adobe flash player.
Linux mint is also released with different desktop environments but the main editions are Cinnamon & MATE. I recommend Cinnamon over MATE at this point of time.
Ubuntu is the first Linux distro that revolutionized the way Linux was looked at. Initially Ubuntu was based on GNOME 2.x but now Ubuntu ships with Unity desktop interface.
Ubuntu does not come pre-loaded with all the extra software/codec to play the various audio/video files nor flash. But all the extra software/codec to play the various audio/video files and flash player can be installed in a few clicks.
During installation process, you’ll be given an option to choose to install the extra software/codec to play the various audio/video files and flash player but I suggest you to not choose that option during install as it will increase the install time because the installer will download the extra files from the internet.
So stick with the default installation options and then after the installation is complete & after reboot, all you have to do is go to the Software Center, search for “Ubuntu Restricted Extras”, install it and you are good to go.
Xubuntu is the Xfce version of Ubuntu. The only difference between Ubuntu & Xubuntu is that Xubuntu comes with Xfce desktop environment and hence the name Xubuntu.
The install process is the same as Ubuntu and to install the extra software/codec, install “Xubuntu Restricted Extras” from the Software Center and not “Ubuntu Restricted Extras”.
An important info. about the release model of these distros:
LinuxMint, Ubuntu & Xubuntu share the same release models. They’re released as
- Normal releases – Supported for 9 months. i.e. you’ll receive updates & patches for 9 months. After 9 months you have to upgrade to the next release.
- LTS releases – Supported for 3-5 years. i.e. you’ll receive updates & patches for 3-5 years and LTS releases are considered to be more stable than normal releases.
You can check the list of releases, code names, release dates & end of support dates,
- Linux Mint
For Intermediate Linux users:
The Fedora Project is sponsored by Red Hat. Red Hat uses fedora as the testing ground for Red Hat Enterprise Linux.
Fedora showcases the leading edge of software in the Linux world. Fedora comes with GNOME 3 as the default desktop environment.
Fedora releases has a relatively short life cycle—the maintenance period is only 13 months: there are 6 months between releases, and version X is supported only until 1 month after version X+2.
openSUSE is the base for SUSE’s award-winning SUSE Linux Enterprise. openSUSE comes with KDE as the default desktop environment.
openSUSE releases a new version every eight months. Since version 11.2, critical updates have been provided for two releases plus two months, which results in a support lifetime of 18 months.
3) Manjaro Linux
Manjaro Linux is based on Arch Linux, and has its own set of repositories. Manjaro Linux uses the rolling release model and comes with Xfce as the default desktop environment.
The distribution aims to be new user friendly, while maintaining the powerful Arch base, most notably the Pacman package manager and compatibility with the Arch User Repositories.
The updates from Arch are initially updated in the unstable/testing repositories and are tested by the development team for few days. Only after the updates that are deemed stable by the development team, they’re transferred/updated in the stable repository.
So basically Manjaro Linux provides the bleeding edge software and also stability at the same time.
For Advanced Linux users:
If you’re searching for articles like this, then you’re probably not an advanced Linux user. But still, new & intermediate Linux users will be interested in knowing, what the advanced Linux users are using.
Debian is one of the daddy distros since lots of Linux distros are derived from Debian (check the image in this link and you’ll agree that Debian is one of the daddy distros).
Debian GNU/Linux is the most popular Linux distributions for personal and Internet server machines. Debian is seen as a solid Linux, and as a consequence has been used as a base for other Linux distributions. Debian has been forked many times, but is not affiliated with derivatives.
Debian supports lots of platforms that include i386, AMD64, PowerPC, SPARC, ARM, MIPS, S390 and IA-64.
2) Arch Linux
Arch Linux is composed predominantly of free and open source software, and supports community involvement.
The design approach of the development team focuses on elegance, code correctness, minimalism, and simplicity from a developer’s standpoint rather than a user’s standpoint. So Arch Linux is not recommended for new/intermediate users.
Arch Linux uses a rolling release model, such that a regular system update is all that is needed to obtain the latest Arch software; the installation images released by the Arch team are simply up to date snapshots of the main system components.
For Old Systems:
If you are thinking of using that age old system to try Linux then you should try a Xfce based distro like Xubuntu. But if you’re looking for a even light weight distro then you should try Puppy Linux.
Puppy Linux is a lightweight Linux distribution that focuses on ease of use. The entire system can be run from RAM.
This distro is so lightweight that the entire system can be loaded and completely run in 256 MB of RAM without needing a hard drive. Users can boot into Puppy from a CD, a USB flash drive, or a hard drive.
Puppy Linux uses JWM (Joe’s Window Manager) by default but other window managers are also available.