There are many Linux distributions available for a number of different purposes, which makes it difficult to choose at times. Here’s a list of the very best to help you decide.
Check out more specific distros: New to Linux | General | Lightweight/Minimal | Educational | Specialised | Business | Security
And if you’d like an in-depth review of the hottest distros, read our much shorter list of the best Linux distributions for 2014.
New To Linux
Ubuntu is a Debian-based distro that uses Unity as a default desktop environment. It’s one of the most popular distros around, and it improves with every release. The latest releases have been quite polished, and have been optimized for desktops, and multi-touch devices such as trackpads and touchscreens.
Kubuntu is an Ubuntu derivative that uses KDE instead of Unity as the default desktop environment. Beneath this, it is essentially the same as Ubuntu and is released on the same schedule.
Linux Mint was designed to be an elegant, modern distro that was easy to use, yet powerful. It’s based on Ubuntu and Debian, is reliably safe and comes with one of the best software managers. These days it’s one of the most popular Linux distributions around, claiming to be the most popular home operating system after Windows and Mac OS.
Deepin is an Ubuntu based distro that has built the Deepin Desktop Environment (DDE) to appeal to newer Linux users. In fact, we highly recommend new users give Deepin a go. It’s stylish, simple and intuitive, featuring one of the best system settings panel displays of any distro. Deepin also features its own applications, like DMusic, DPlayer and the soon-to-be-released DTalk.
Yet another Ubuntu-based distro, Elementary OS has differentiated itself superbly since the release of Elementary OS Luna. It features beautiful, simple default apps that follow the OS’s aesthetic appeal, such as Geary for email, Midori web browser, Maya calendar, Totem movie player, and the Noise music player. Some of the default apps were developed in-house in order to meet expectations.
Zorin OS has been designed specifically for newcomers to Linux, with a look and feel that is all about making a good impression and easing the transition from Windows to Linux. The Ubuntu-based distro features, apps that will be familiar to Windows users, and makes it easy for users to run the Windows apps they still need. Zorin OS 9 has been built to be a lot like Windows 7, hoping to get some new Linux converts from those leaving Windows XP behind.
The OpenSUSE distribution is a general distro for Linux built by the OpenSUSE Project, aiming to be both a great beginner distro and something that appeals to experienced Linux users. OpenSUSE comes with YAST, an administration program that controls installations, package management and more.
Fedora is an innovation-focused distribution, with a short life cycle that lends itself to leading-edge software. It uses the GNOME desktop environment by default, but users can easily switch to KDE, Xfce, LXDE, MATE and Cinnamon, among others. Custom variations of Fedora, known as Fedora spins, are available for users with particular needs.
Xubuntu is an Ubuntu derivative that uses the Xfce (XForms Common Environment) desktop environment, meaning it is elegant and lightweight. It’s great for laptops and netbooks as well as desktops. Because it is light and uses few system resources, it is perfect for older computers.
Debian is an older Linux distribution which comes with the GNOME desktop environment by default, and it’s much-loved for both personal computers and for network servers. However, it’s also available for FreeBSD and work is in progress to support other kernels, such as the Hurd. Debian prides itself on coming preloaded with over 37500 packages, and with simple utilities that make it easy to get more.
Korora was originally based on Gentoo Linux, and evolved with the aim of making Linux easy for newcomers, but also useful for experts. It comes with a choice of desktop environments, including the Cinnamon, GNOME, KDE, MATE and Xfce desktops.
Slackware is a distro built specifically for security and simplicity, aiming to be the most UNIX-like Linux distribution. It’s particularly useful for server management, as it has FTP, email and web servers available to use immediately.
The French Mageia began as a community-driven, non-profit fork of Mandriva Linux, and features all the major desktop environments. Primarily, KDE and GNOME are available as default desktops.
SparkyLinux is a distribution that has evolved from the “testing” branch of Debian. The main edition comes with a customized version of the lightweight LXDE desktop, with other customized desktops available.
Gentoo Linux is a distribution optimized for configurability, and can be adapted to almost any need. Its versatility and performance are what sets it apart from other distros. Gentoo Linux also comes with an advanced package management system called Portage.
CentOS (Community Enterprise Operating System) is a Linux distribution that is a community rebuild of Red Hat Enterprise Linux. It’s designed for people who want to use an enterprise-worthy distribution for free.
PCLinuxOS is designed with regular PC users in mind, and features the KDE Plasma Desktop by default. This distribution makes it easy to install drivers, get Office software, edit photos, get online and start using multimedia. It also makes it easy to do snapshot backups.
PinGuyOS is both beautiful and ready to use from the start. The Ubuntu-based distribution comes pre-packaged with all the best software for regular use and for network setup, making it perfect for beginners. It features a modified GNOME user interface.
DouDou Linux is for young children, with the aim of teaching them how to explore computers and learn from them. It provides games and educational programs suitable for kids aged 2-12 and is a safe environment that parents won’t have to watch over.
Edubuntu is a distro for education which is partnered with Ubuntu. It has been created to be as easy as possible for teachers to set up, and for kids of all ages to use. It comes pre-packaged with all the best free software for education.
Uberstudent is a distribution specifically designed for tertiary and advanced secondary students. It comes pre-packaged with software that makes it easy to do assignments and manage tasks.
Lubuntu is a lightweight distro based on Ubuntu that’s perfect for laptop usage. It uses the minimal desktop LXDE (Lightweight X11 Desktop Environment) and comes with lightweight applications designed for energy-efficiency and speed. It’s great for most older computers, netbooks and mobile devices as it uses minimal RAM and has low system requirements.
Puppy Linux is a distribution that’s really small and can be run entirely from RAM. This means Puppy Linux is great for older computers, even without hard drives! It is also easy to use as a malware remover for any existing system.
Manjaro Linux is a fast, easy-to-use, light-weight distribution based on Arch Linux. It aims to give all the benefits of Arch Linux, with more user-friendliness and accessibility, making it easier on newcomers. The Xfce desktop is the default, but other options are available.
Arch Linux is a distribution designed with experienced users in mind. This light-weight minimalist distribution aims to keep things simple, and uses a rolling release model for updates. It features a custom-made package manager called “Pacman”, which makes it easy to build, modify and share packages.
Tiny Core Linux is an extremely light, modular distribution noted specifically for its small size (currently 15 MB). It is build on the Linux kernel and uses BusyBox and FLTK (Fast, Light Toolkit).
The Debian-based CrunchBang Linux distribution is minimalist and highly customizable, featuring the Openbox window manager instead of a desktop environment. It comes with a number of GTK+ applications preinstalled.
The Ubuntu-based Bodhi Linux distribution comes with the light-weight and beautiful Enlightenment desktop. Bodhi is extremely customizable, with themes and apps readily available to expand on the light beginnings.
ArtistX is specifically tailored to artists of all types, from music to graphic design. It’s based on Ubuntu and comes pre-packaged with all the best 2D and 3D graphic design, video production, and audio manufacturing software for GNU/Linux.
The main point of Hybryde Fusion is to allow you to test out which Linux desktop environment you like best. This distribution is considered a conceptual work, and not something you’d use daily.
Formerly known as BackTrack, Kali Linux is focused on penetration testing. This Debian-based Linux distribution makes it easy to perform digital forensic tasks.
Parted Magic is built as a disc management tool, with disc partitioning and copying as primary tools. It also makes it easy to perform disc recovery and erasing.
GParted is a single-purpose distribution, designed to make it easy to partition hard drives using a graphical interface.
Red Hat Enterprise Linux
Red Hat Enterprise Linux is a commercial derivative of Fedora, designed with enterprise customers in mind. There are a number of variants and addons, and certification is available for both administrators and applications.
SUSE Linux Enterprise
SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop is designed for business use and is therefore enterprise-ready from installation, making it easy to work with a variety of office programs. It’s flexible enough to run on a variety of devices, but is reliable enough for extremely critical processes. Also available is the SUSE Linux Enterprise Server edition.
TAILS is a distribution that revolves wholly around the concept of privacy and security. It is a live operating system you can use from a DVD, USB stick or SD card, so that you can be safe using any computer and leave no trace of your activities. All Internet connections are routed through TOR (The Onion Router) for the best possible anonymity, and cryptographic tools are readily available to protect all your communication methods from prying eyes.
Add Your Favourite Distros
This is just a snapshot of our favourite distros today. Please feel free to tell us about your favourite Linux distribution and why you love it. Which distro is your favourite?