Switching To Linux? Here’s How To Choose The Right Distro

Your first Linux distribution can sweeten or sour your future Linux experience. That’s why it’s important to get that debut choice right.

So you have decided to give Linux a shot, despite your misgivings about Linux and the temptation to stick to Windows. A search for a list of Linux distributions on Wikipedia reveals an extensive array of Linux flavors, and those just happen to be some of the notable ones. Now, how do you choose a Linux distro out of all the ones spread across the Web? Here are some tips that can help.

Don’t Skimp On The Research

If you jump into what seems like a good Linux setup only to find it working against you, it’s disappointing when you have to switch to a different option. If this happens a few times in a row, you might be put off Linux forever. It’s much better to arm yourself with sufficient information going in. Read, read, read till you’re sure of making a confident decision.

There are many handy Linux resources right here on MakeUseOf. Begin with Danny’s “Should I Use Linux?” checklist. See how each Linux distribution is different. Then check out the best Linux distros available.

newsletter-linux-distros-2014

If the lack of gaming options or the complexity of usage is what you’re worried about, Joel’s post on misconceptions about Linux will put your fears to rest.

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List Your Deal-breakers

  • What are the OS features that you can’t do without?
  • Have you searched for their Linux counterparts? Are they available?
  • What if a feature is slated for arrival in the near future? Are you willing to wait for it?

Ask yourself what it is that you consider a deal breaker in an OS—the thing that will make you abandon your distro search midway and go back to your old, functional OS. Put that into words and begin your search there. Of course, you do have the option to run Linux alongside your current OS, with a dual-boot setup.

virtual-box

Make a list of programs that you consider must-haves. They may or may not be available for Linux. You might find alternatives, or you can opt for a virtual box to emulate them. It’s all up to you. Where are you willing to compromise when it comes to programs and applications? When you’re clear on your criteria for a good OS, your search becomes easier.

My Search For The Right Distro

I use browser-based tools for all of my work. As long as Chrome and Firefox were guaranteed to work fine, I was willing to forgo all of my Windows programs and replace them with Linux alternatives. Among desktop software, I considered Skype and a scanning program nice apps to have. I listed poor aesthetics and complex navigation/workflow as my deal breakers. As I planned to install Linux on my netbook, finding a distro that would consume minimal resources was important for me. I ended up with a list of some lightweight Linux distros.

chrome-for-linux

Define Your Technical Expertise

Linux setups can be as simple or as complex as you want them to be. There’s an option for every kind of user. Ask yourself:

  • What is your level of technical expertise?
  • Do you want something that is super simple and runs out of the box?
  • Are you willing to get your hands dirty if it means that you’ll end up with a better distro?
  • How much time are you willing to spend on customization?

Linux-Inside Here’s how I answered that set of questions:

  • My technical skills are neither too basic nor too evolved. This means that while terms like compiler and cron job are somewhat scary for me, if anything does go wrong, I can fix it by myself with some help from the Internet.
  • I do prefer to have “all the good things” set up by default. But, I’m also willing to spend considerable time and effort on personalization, to get a distro that I’ll be happy with over time. Having said that, I don’t want to go completely DIY and build a Linux system from scratch.

I narrowed down my options to Elementary OS Luna, Linux Mint, Bodhi Linux, Puppy Linux, MacPup, LXPup. penguin-making

Take A Test Drive

You don’t have to wonder how a certain Linux distribution looks and feels. Once you have finalized a handful of distros, take each of them for a test run. Choose from the various methods available to try Linux risk-free.

For your first Linux outing, go with a distro that not just appeals to you, but is also popular. This will make any required troubleshooting easier. Once you become comfortable with the Linux environment, you can experiment with any obscure distro you wish to.

After testing my final options firsthand, I installed Luna. Six months later I’m still happy with the choice.

luna-os-desktop

A Word About Online Reviews

When I gushed about eOS Luna, I drew some extreme responses. It was apparent that the Linux experience can swing wildly from fantastic! to meh. Consequently, reviews follow the same pattern. If you’re swayed easily (as I am) by reviews, remember that behind those verdicts are human beings drawing from personal experiences. It’s a good idea to take reviews with a grain of salt and separate the facts from the emotions.

Surprise!

No matter how much you have read about your next distro, brace yourself for a few surprises (shocks?) along the way. The bottom line is that based on your workflow, your computer’s hardware specs, your software choices, etc. your brush with Linux is guaranteed to be unique. But at least if you make an informed decision, your first Linux experience will be positive and welcoming.

What’s holding you back from switching to Linux? Which distro is it going to be for you?

Image credits: DoctorButtsMD via Compfight cc, Adriano Gasparri via Compfight cc, cernaovec via Compfight cc // All images are derivatives

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