While most people think they have no choice when it comes to their desktop operating system, the fact is there are actually lots of choices out there. Like anything, there are good things and bad things about them. While you could go out and pay three prices for an Apple Mac, an alternative is installing Linux on your existing desktop.
Linux is, in most cases, completely free and open source. That means you can download it and install it without having to pay one cent for it, unlike Mac OS X and Microsoft Windows. The hard part about Linux, other than getting used to using it, is trying to pick the best version to use. There are so many choices out there it’s almost impossible for a Linux newcomer to know for sure.
Today, we will take a brief look at some of our favorite Linux distributions that work great on desktop computers.
Our Top Linux Distro Picks
Let’s get started shall we? For this list, I considered several factors:
Of course, that doesn’t mean that everything on this list fits that bill. I also tried to include distributions fit for specific types of desktops and for specific needs. But enough talk, let’s take a look at a few Linux distributions that I believe will give you the best experience on your desktop.
While not the first “easy to use” Linux distribution to ever hit the market, it is one of the first to really popularize Linux and bring it into the mainstream light. While Linux still has a long way to go before being considered mainstream, it is no longer just the domain of IT techs and self-described geeks.
Ubuntu is built on Debian and utilizes its own graphical user interface known as Unity. It is beautiful and easy to use, which is one of the reasons it gained so much popularity. While it has lost some of its ground, Ubuntu is still a great place to start for anyone new to Linux or looking to breathe new life into their desktops. If the Unity shell doesn’t do it for you, there are flavors of Linux out there for every graphical user interface, so the possibilities are almost endless.
This was my starting point in the Linux world, and it is one that I tend to come back to for my Linux fix over and over again.
Another distribution that built itself on Ubuntu, Linux Mint offers users something a little different. It works much like Ubuntu and even uses the same software repositories and install centers, but it does so using a different look. Linux Mint rose to popularity when Ubuntu first came out with Unity, as users wanted a more old school Linux experience instead of the new way of doing things.
Fedora can trace its roots back to Red Hat Linux, and was originally a fork of that software designed for business. Today, Fedora stands on its own as a cutting edge operating system dedicated to open source software. It runs with a beautiful GUI that is somewhat different from what you might expect, but is very powerful.
The look and feel of Fedora, however, isn’t for everyone. So your mileage may vary. However, if you love free software and want to make sure you are always using the latest and greatest technology in the Linux world, then Fedora is definitely the choice for you.
In general on this list, I’m recommending versions of Linux that are perfect for desktop use. While CentOS will do that, it really shines when you use it as a server operating system. This means if you have been thinking about transforming your aging desktop into a server, you should consider this operating system instead.
It runs lighter than many of the main desktop distributions, but still comes with enough features to be a useful graphical interface. Built on Red Hat, it strives to offer the same experience in a free package that Red Hat does for its enterprise customers. It is pretty successful too. One close look and you will find CentOS used around the world, so why not try it as a desktop operating system as well. Sure you will have a little more setup on it, but it still works great as a desktop and if you want to transform that desktop into a server, this is definitely one of your best options out there.
Do you have an aging desktop or one sitting in the corner just waiting to be used? Older machines tend to collect dust as we update to keep on top of the advancement of Windows and Mac OS X. That doesn’t mean that those machines are garbage just yet. What you need is a strong, lightweight operating system that will do everything you need it to do without bogging down the system in the process.
That is where BunsenLabs Linux comes into play. This distribution is a no frills approach to Linux, but it still gives you the interface you need to work efficiently. It is stripped down and a little more basic, but still pretty enough to be passable in today’s modern world of computing. However, what it does really well is run on older systems. It is designed to do just that so you can get more life out of your old desktop before you have to get rid of it once and for all.
Just because you switch to Linux, doesn’t mean you have to give up on ever having a great looking desktop again. Elementary OS is a distribution that has been inspired by the good looks of Mac OS X. In fact, you won’t find another distro that looks quite as good as Elementary OS and you definitely won’t find one that reminds you of a Mac as much as this distribution.
Elementary OS is built on Ubuntu and features the same software installers, but also comes with its own set of icons, wallpaper and windows themes to make it appear just like a Mac. It even ships with a dock just almost identical to Mac OS X. If you are looking for a seamless experience that is gorgeous, stable and easy to use, this is the distribution to use. Just think, with this install you can relive your Mac days just without the expensive hit to your wallet.
Making Your Decision
So now that you have your list to get you started, how do you decide which one you should install on your PC? That can be tough to do. However, with just a few questions, you can easily narrow down your decision. Ask yourself the following:
- What are the specs of my desktop?
- How do I want to use Linux?
- How experienced am I with Linux?
- How important is the look of the desktop?
These simple questions can go a long way toward helping you make up your mind. For example, if you have some experience with Linux and you want to setup a server, then CentOS is the one for you. If you want to use the latest software with a slick interface, then Fedora is your answer. If you want a rock solid OS that looks good, then Ubuntu, Elementary OS or even Linux Mint could be your best choice. If your desktop has a bit of age on it, then Bunsenlabs may be your best option.
Evaluate your particular situation carefully to narrow down the list. Once you do that, I encourage you to give each one a fair shot. Most of the distributions will allow you to run them with a live CD before you install them on your hard drive. That may not be enough, however, so you may have to install them and then do a reinstall of a different one later. While this may take a little effort and it most certainly isn’t the most convenient, in the long run it will be beneficial and will help you make the right decision.
Well there you have it. You know have a great list of Linux distributions to begin exploring and you know how to begin choosing your first Linux distribution. Remember, this isn’t a be all, end all list. There are many different Linux distributions out there, so you may want to spend some time exploring all of the different options. However, each one of these on this list make a great starting point for a variety of machines and needs.
What do you think about this list that I have put together? Do you agree with my list or do you think I left off a distribution or two that really should be there? Let me know what you think in the comments below. Who knows, you may even recommend a distribution of Linux that I didn’t consider but should have. If so, I may just take your advice and add it to the list. So sound off below and let me know what your Linux experience has been like on your desktop.