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How to choose the Linux distribution that suits your needs ?

If you’re a mac or a windows user, you might not necessarily be familiar with the concept of distribution.

Well, if you want to use Windows (for instance) you can go with… Windows ! Same thing for Mac OSx.

That’s not the case for Linux. There’s a bunch of different Linux “Distributions” (as we call them), such as Ubuntu, Debian, Arch Linux, Manjaro, Fedora… (just to cite a few of them).

Each distribution has its desktop environment, feeling, specificities, etc…

When you get interest about Linux, choosing a distribution can be a hard decision to take (even if Ubuntu is the obvious first choice you can take… but you should not ! Personal opinion tho).

Through this article, I’ll give my personal tips to choose the Linux distribution that suits your needs.

What are the different points you should consider when choosing a Linux distribution ?

Desktop environment

In my opinion, the first and principal thing you should look for is a desktop environment you feel comfortable with. I’m going to list the principal ones for you :

Gnome :

Gnome is a simple and easily customisable desktop environment that kinda looks like a mix between a Mac and a mobile phone interface, at least to me.

It works with an “application dock” placed on the side of your screen (by default) to get a quick access to all your favourites application (you can place it anywhere you want actually). It also provides a “full application menu” to get access to every software installed on your machine.

More over, you can install several widgets/extensions through the gnome shell extensions website which is a good plus in my opinion.

Principal distributions that use Gnome by default : Ubuntu, Manjaro, Fedora

KDE :

KDE is a highly customisable desktop environment with a good looking flat design. At first, it has a layout similar to Windows. But if you go deeper into the huge amount of options and customisations you can get, you can pretty much do whatever you want with it.

It may not be as simple as other desktop environment to customise according to the sh*t tons of options it offers but you can definitely make it look awesome with a few researches !

Principal distribution that use KDE by default : KDE NEON

Cinnamon :

Cinnamon is a Gnome fork that looks like KDE in a more simple and polish way, including the simplicity offered by Gnome. It is built to have a “Windows like” layer. It might be a good choice for people with “Windows” habits.

Principal distribution that use Cinnamon by default : Linux Mint

XFCE :

XFCE is not looking as good as the other desktop environments I presented to you for now. But actually, it is not its aim ! XFCE purpose is to run on lower end machines. It is one of the most lightweight desktop environment you can get and it can run on pretty much any machines (including very old ones).

Principal distributions that use XFCE by default : Xubuntu, Manjaro

Pantheon :

As much as I hate Apple, I’ve got to admit that their products and interfaces are looking freaking good… Well, good news ! Pantheon is a very beautiful and modern “Mac lookalike” desktop environment. It also has a step ahead in terms of simplicity of usage and ergonomics compare to its competitors, in my opinion.

Nothing much to say… It speaks for itself.

Principal distribution that use Pantheon by default : Elementary OS

Just keep in mind that there’s a lot more desktop environments available such as Deepin or Mate for instance…

Choosing a community

Once you chose a desktop environment to go with, it is important to chose a community.

In my opinion, it is important to choose a distribution that has a large community (unless you’re an advanced user, but I guess you do not need this guide if it’s the case).

Why is that ?

A large community will offer you a lot of documentations and topics to check for if you need some help. Also, the bigger the community is, the more likely you are to have developers interested in your distribution. That means more potential software to which you can get an easy and native access to.

To choose a more or less large community, you should be aware of the concept of “mother” and “based” distributions. I’ll get into that briefly.

There’s 5 mother distributions : Debian, Slackware, Red Hat, Gentoo and Arch Linux.

Every one of those distributions has a larger or smaller community with its own way of thinking.

Also, these mother distributions are kinda “pure” (I mean, potentially not user friendly for a beginner, or has a specific aim).

Each other distributions are based on one of those 5 mother distributions. That means they can benefit of all advantages those mother distributions offer, but also improve them by being more beautiful, more user friendly, more easy to use… This is what you want to look for.

Just to give you an example, I’ll list each distributions I already talked about earlier in this article, related to the mother distribution they are based on :

Ubuntu (based on Debian), Manjaro (based on Arch Linux), Fedora (based on Red Hat), KDE NEON (based on Ubuntu, it kinda became a mother distribution even if it based on Debian), Linux Mint (based on Ubuntu), Xubuntu (based on Ubuntu, obviously) and Elementary OS (based on Ubuntu as well).

That means, whatever distribution you choose, you can get documentation, help, support and software from this distribution but also from the mother distribution it is based on (for most cases at least). The opposite is not always true however.

That’s why my tip would be to stick on the distributions I listed up here (at least for now) as they all provide a big community of users. When you’re a more advanced Linux user, you can try something else.

Choosing a package manager

This is a more technical part, so I won’t go deep into it.

Just so you know, each mother distribution has its own package manager which will be used to install programs. For instance, Debian uses “apt”, Red Hat uses “yum” and Arch Linux uses “pacman” (their based distributions use the same one by the fact).

Each one of them has their pros and cons. Some might be more efficient with dependencies management, some will be more ergonomic, etc…

If you’re a beginner, you don’t need to care about this. If you’re an advanced user, you probably don’t need me to be aware about this. Just wanted to say that this is an important point to me.

My personal favorite is “pacman”, even if I do not use a distribution including pacman currently…

The distribution you choose does not matter that much actually…

What ?! I read all this article for nothing ???”

Nahhhhh, I’ll contrast that point, don’t worry !

Of course, the distribution you have chosen matters, in term of feeling, usage, etc… But, in a “functional way”, just keep in mind that most distributions will allow you to do everything you need the same way (or nearly).

I’ll take my personal experience as an example : The purpose my computer has to me is pretty much about web browsing, text/document editing, emailing, watching some videos/movies, playing some video games and using the terminal (CLI is life <3).

Unless you have some specific requirements, just know that any Linux distributions I listed earlier (and pretty much any others actually), will allow you to do your daily stuff natively and easily.

I’ll soon write an article about Linux available programs I use daily to prove you so 😉

If you’re still having trouble to find the good distribution for you, let the power of internet do its job !

Here’s a good website to guide you to the distribution that might be a good choice for your needs :

https://librehunt.org/

Just do the quiz at the bottom of the page and the site will propose you some distributions depending on your answers.

That’s it, I hope those tips helped you finding the right Linux distribution for you ! 🙂

Robin Candau

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