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Christian Dale
Christian Dale

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My Linux Journey: Top 5 Distros Based on Trial and Error

I remember the first time I tried out Linux. I must have been around 12 years old, around 2010. The first Linux distro I tried was Ubuntu; this was during the GNOME 2 days, and the interface looked a bit dated even then.

What was great about Ubuntu at that time—and much of this still holds true—was its ease of use and how lightweight it was. It could run perfectly fine on a Windows XP era computer.

I remember fondly the library of games it had like Mines (a Minesweeper clone), Solitaire, Chess, GNOME Sudoku, and Mahjongg. There were also a collection of other apps like OpenOffice and GIMP. It was fun to experiment with these games and apps for a while, but after some time, I got bored with them. That was about it for my Linux experience at that time.

A few years later, I decided to try out Ubuntu again. This was around the time GNOME 3 was released, and when Ubuntu decided to go their own way with their desktop environment called Unity. I didn’t like GNOME 3 and Unity at the time—but I must admit my opinion has changed in later years.

Now, after deciding that Ubuntu didn’t fit my needs, I began looking at alternatives. This is where I found Linux Mint—an Ubuntu-based distro. What I liked about Linux Mint was that it looked more traditional, especially for someone coming from Windows.

This list is not ordered in any particular way. These picks are my opinion, of course, and should not be taken as gospel, but instead as general recommendations based on what your needs are.

1. Debian - Best for security and stability

A screenshot of Debian 12 (Bookworm) GNOME 43.9 with the Firefox browser on the Wikipedia and Debian webpages, as well as Neofetch displaying system information
Image by Motor8 on Wikimedia Commons / CC BY 4.0

Use cases:

  • Servers
  • Stable desktops

I have found Debian to be an excellent pick for desktops that need to be stable, like your work computer, for example. This is where I use Debian at the moment, although some of my colleagues might find Debian a bit boring ;)

Debian is also great for servers, as its lack of frequent function updates ensures a stable environment. In addition, this distro seems to have lesser resource requirements than Ubuntu—although I don’t have specific measurements, it seems logical considering how bare-bones Debian is. Although Ubuntu usually has a greater market share in the server space, you might want to consider running Debian instead.

By the way, I currently run GNOME on Debian, where a vanilla version of GNOME 3 is the default choice.

2. Arch Linux - Best for those who like to «live on the edge»

Screenshot of neofetch on Arch Linux
Image by VulcanSphere on Wikimedia Commons / GPL

Use cases:

  • Home computer
  • Development desktops and servers

I find using Arch Linux a lot of fun, and it is certainly the best pick for anyone who likes to try out the latest software and tinker and customize their system to the fullest.

I used to run Arch Linux on my main computer. The rolling release model ensures you have the latest packages and updates, making it ideal for those who want to stay on the cutting edge of technology. However, it requires a hands-on approach and is best suited for experienced users.

3. Ubuntu - A great general purpose operating system

Ubuntu 20.04 LTS (Focal Fossa) main desktop
Image by Esstro on Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 4.0

Use cases:

  • General purpose computers.
  • Servers.

Ubuntu is a fantastic all-rounder. It has great support for most hardware, so if you experience some issues with getting drivers for your devices on Debian, this might be the pick for you. With its regular updates and vast community support, Ubuntu remains a solid choice for both newcomers and seasoned users.

Ubuntu's community and documentation are extensive, making it an excellent choice for beginners. The Ubuntu Software Center provides a user-friendly interface for installing applications, simplifying the software management process. Additionally, Ubuntu's Long Term Support (LTS) releases ensure stability and security for those who prefer not to upgrade frequently.

4. Linux Mint - Great for those who like a more traditional look and feel.

Linux Mint Cinnamon 21.1
Image by Clement Lefebvre on Wikimedia Commons / GPL

Use cases:

  • Everyday use.
  • Transitioning from Windows.

After my experience with Ubuntu’s Unity, I sought out a more traditional desktop experience, and Linux Mint seemed like the perfect fit. Mint is based on Ubuntu and provides a desktop environment called Cinnamon as the default, which offers a familiar interface for Windows users. The Cinnamon desktop environment provides a stable and customizable user experience. Whether you’re a newcomer to Linux or an experienced user, Linux Mint is a safe choice.

Linux Mint's emphasis on simplicity and ease of use makes it an ideal choice for users who want a hassle-free Linux experience. The Mint Update Manager ensures that system updates are managed efficiently, allowing users to stay up-to-date with security patches and software enhancements. Moreover, the inclusion of multimedia codecs and proprietary drivers out of the box enhances the out-of-the-box experience for users, especially those transitioning from Windows.

5. Raspbian - The best pick for embedded Linux.

Raspbian 2019.04 Desktop
Image by Raspbian Project on Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 4.0

Use cases:

  • Raspberry Pi projects
  • IoT (Internet of Things)

For enthusiasts and developers working with Raspberry Pi and embedded systems, Raspbian seems like the obvious choice. Based on Debian, Raspbian is optimized for running on the Raspberry Pi’s hardware architecture. It is lightweight, efficient, and comes pre-loaded with educational tools and programming languages, making it perfect for both beginners and advanced users working on IoT projects.

Raspbian's compatibility with the Raspberry Pi ecosystem ensures seamless integration with the hardware, allowing users to leverage the full potential of the device for various projects. The inclusion of tools like Scratch and Python make it an excellent platform for educational purposes, enabling users to learn programming and electronics in a hands-on manner. Additionally, Raspbian's active community provides ample support and resources for users to troubleshoot issues and explore new projects.

Ending remarks

My journey with Linux has been one of continuous learning and discovery. Each distro has its unique strengths and caters to different needs. Whether you're looking for stability, cutting-edge technology, or a familiar interface, there's a Linux distro out there for you. Have fun!

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