Picking the top ten Linux distributions is fraught with problems. There’s very little hard data to go on and the nature of open source means that most users are getting copies of their favourite Linux release from a variety of sources – from official download channels to third-party sites or even from friends.
Nevertheless, here are the Linux distributions that were most impressive this year.
In terms of usability and attention to detail (particularly when it comes to what users really want) Mint Linux stands out. Mint is a consistently good release that is winning over many Linux users. On the negative side, Mint is based on Ubuntu Linux so derives many of its features from that release; so it’s fair to say that it’s not a fully fledged distribution of its own. But because it does a good job of adding much needed polish Mint gets a thumbs up.
Ubuntu Linux is still one of the most popular Linux releases and is probably one of the only Linux brands most non-Linux users would have heard of. Ubuntu has released consistently good software over the years. Over the past year Ubuntu has been experimenting with its new desktop interface, Unity, which has proved relatively unpopular with users. Nevertheless Ubuntu is still a force to be reckoned with.
Red Hat’s community distribution is probably the most exciting version in the Linux world. Fedora regularly pushes boundaries and includes cutting edge technology in its releases. And yet it manages to be attractive as well. Fedora is ideal for enterprises that want to get an early preview of what Red Hat, and others, will be offering in the near future.
OpenSuse is reliable. It’s built with serious users in mind and while it doesn’t always appear to be the most exciting Linux release around it’s in the game for the long haul. OpenSuse has also suffered many ups and downs with ownership changing hands many times over the past few years but has always produced a quality release that stands out as one of the best.
In many senses Debian is the pre-eminent Linux release. Many of the world’s Linux releases are actually based on Debian code (including Ubuntu) and Debian could rightly be labelled the granddaddy of Linux releases. Debian appeals to the serious Linux user who is well versed in things Linux. It’s not ideal for first-time Linux users.
Arch Linux is designed to be a lightweight – even minimalist – Linux release with great flexibility. Arch is aimed at experienced Linux users and uses its own package management system (Pacman) to handle application installations. Unlike most of the other releases on this list, which release new versions at scheduled intervals, Arch Linux has a “rolling release” policy which means new versions of software are released as soon as they are available.
PCLinuxOS is a version of Mandriva Linux and has one of the most active user communities. PCLinuxOS is intended to be easy to use and uses the KDE desktop as the default interface. Most of the Linux releases on this list default to the Gnome interface which makes PCLinuxOS relatively unique. PCLinuxOS is a good choice for first time Linux users.
CentOS is community Red Hat and it’s massively popular among hosting companies and businesses running many servers. CentOS has the features of an enterprise Linux distribution while still being freely available and is perfect for server environments.
Puppy Linux is for when you want to go small. Puppy Linux is available in various forms, the smallest of which is just a 70MB download. Because of this Puppy Linux is perfect for older hardware or lower powered devices. It obviously doesn’t have the sparkle of a Mint or an Ubuntu Linux but for certain uses it is perfect.
Mandriva Linux has undergone many, many name changes over the years and with its parent company in trouble, it looks likely to disappear entirely. In it’s place is Mageia which is based on Mandriva code and strives to be a user-friendly as Mandriva was. Mageia is built on one of the most user-friendly distributions ever (Mandriva) so has a great pedigree.