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Choosing the Best Linux Distribution

Find out how to choose the best Linux Distribution for your needs, whether they are personal or for business.

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Choosing the Best Linux Distribution

Today Linux still suffers from that long held myth that it is harder to use than Windows and Mac and is really only designed for computer geeks and those that hold positions in the tech industry.  However, times have changed.  The truth is that Linux has never been easier to use than it is today and most users can use Linux without ever having to access any of the more advanced features or even the terminal.  Of course, if they want to access those types of features and learn more about it, they can.  That is the true beauty of Linux.

That being said, there are still some distributions that are better than others for certain tasks and will work better as a Linux laptop or PC.  But with so many different distributions available for Linux, it can be hard to decide which one is the right distribution for you.  Today, we take a look at many different Linux distributions that are perfect for both the home and the office. My hope is that by creating this list, I can help you sort through the many different distros out there so you can make the right decision for your Linux needs.

The-Best-Linux-Distribution---Part-I

Part I – The Best Distribution for Home Use

First, let’s begin by looking at which Linux distributions work best for home users. These distributions are designed to work perfectly for home users right out of the box so to speak. That makes it much easier for users and even those new to Linux to make the conversion to this new kind of operating system. Before we get into which ones you should try, let’s take a look at the criteria I used when making my choices.

Criteria I Used

Choosing the best Linux distribution is often one of person opinion and many users from the Linux camps will have their own take and opinion about which one is truly the best.  So, in an effort to help you understand why I chose the distributions I chose, I decided that I would list my criteria for the best distribution for home users.

  1. Ease of Use – In order to be right for home users, these distributions must be easy to both install and use day in and day out without having to spend a great deal of time configuring them.
  2. Eye Candy – I know some Linux users will scoff at this idea, but the fact is that many home users like a bit of eye candy while they use their computer. They want their desktop to look good as well as be easy to use.
  3. Software Availability – While you can install almost any piece of Linux software on any Linux distribution, the process is important as well. In order to make the cut for home use, the Linux distribution must offer installation processes that are easy for even the novice to understand and perform.
  4. Support – Different distributions offer different levels of support. Home users need quick access to support from the community and company if necessary, so the distributions on this list provide some of the best support options for their users.
  5. History – Home users don’t want to use a distribution that is new or one whose future is in doubt. The distributions on this list are very mature projects and will continue to be around for a long time assuming nothing unexpected happens.

On with the Distros

Now that you know why I chose the ones I picked, it is time to take a look at each distribution so you can gain a little insight into what each of them offer.  Hopefully, this list will help you narrow down your list or make your choice of distributions for your home laptop or desktop.

Ubuntu Linux

Ubuntu

While not the first distribution to be designed with end users in mind, it is definitely one of the most mature and most popular today.  Ubuntu runs the Unity desktop, which sets itself apart from all other distributions.  Once a very polarizing design decision, the desktop has matured greatly over the years and offers one of the prettiest and simplest interfaces you will find on Linux.  Add to that the ability to install software from the Ubuntu Software Centre with just one click and the ability to include proprietary drivers for hardware and support for things like Flash, and you have the recipe for one of the very best Linux experiences you will ever have.

Linux Mint

Linux-Mint

The perfect Linux distribution for Windows converts, the desktop provided by Mint looks and feels more like Microsoft Windows than any other distribution.  Linux Mint is actually based off of Ubuntu and because of this you get the easy one click installations from the Ubuntu Software Centre that you can get with Ubuntu, only it is wrapped in a much more familiar package that truly opens the door for long time Windows users to begin to consider an entirely different desktop experience.

Elementary OS

elementary-OS

Designed with users that prefer a more Mac-like way of doing things, elementary OS is hands down one of the prettiest Linux distributions you will ever find.  Like many other distros, elementary OS is based on Ubuntu, giving you all the stability found in Ubuntu and access to the huge repositories of software and easy one click installations.  However, there is more to it than just a pretty interface.  Many of the apps are home grown, designed by the same team that brings us this distribution.  These apps are often lighter weight and designed to look at match the rest of the operating system, giving users a seamless experience.  In many cases, you may think you are using a Mac.  Seriously, that’s how good it looks.

Fedora

Fedora

Fedora is one of the oldest Linux distributions that was created when Red Hat decided to split its home and office distributions into two distinct entities.  Powered by the Gnome 3 desktop, Fedora aims to be cutting edge with all its releases and only uses free software.  Because of this, it is a great desktop for home users who love to have the latest and greatest software out there or for purists who insist on only using free software.  Of all the distributions on this list, however, it is probably the most difficult to use.  Still, overall it is pretty easy to use as your main computer but if you want to dive in to the deep end with Linux, it will require a little more paddling.

PCLinuxOS

PCLinuxOS

Another definite option for new users, PCLinuxOS provides one of the most Windows-like experiences out there and is only bested in this arena by Linux Mint.  It features the KDE desktop and also comes in other flavors feature the MATE and LXDE desktops in order to accessible to a wider range of computers.  The perfect desktop for inexperienced users that want access to a more Windows type of experience and easy access to any type of software with just a few clicks, PCLinuxOS can make your switch easier than you ever imagined and, on top of that, it looks a little better than Linux Mint, in my opinion.

Xubuntu

Xubuntu

If your computer isn’t quite powerful enough to run Ubuntu, but you still want access to many of the features and stability found with that classic distribution, then consider trying Xubuntu instead.  Xubuntu runs the Xfce desktop, which is lighter weight and actually feels a little more like Windows.  Xubuntu is perfect for users who want a more familiar experience but don’t have a laptop or desktop quite up to the speed required for one of the other distributions.

OpenSUSE

openSUSE

OpenSUSE is another distribution that targets both Linux newbies and experienced Linux users alike.  The design is based on Gnome 3 and they have taken great pains to create a seamless experience no matter what app you choose to use.  OpenSUSE ships with YAST, which is used to control installations, package management and much more with only a few clicks so it is easy to take care of your distribution and install and use whatever you want.

Deepin

Deepin-Linux

Another distribution based on Linux, Deepin has also created a more Mac-like world for Linux users to operate in.  The interface is clean, simple and easy to use and will instantly familiar to former Mac users.  It also features one of very best panel displays of any distribution and ships with some of its own software designed to work seamlessly with the operating system.

Zorin OS

Zorin-OS

Zorin OS was designed with one goal in mind – to make it easy for Windows users to switch to Linux.  Because of this, you will find one of the most Windows-like interfaces available in Linux.  Even the close and minimize buttons look like they were taken straight from Windows.  The distro itself is based on Ubuntu meaning it will be easy to find software and support if you do run into problems.

Final Thoughts on Linux at Home

As I said, there are many different Linux distributions out there.  So, if you think another distro would be right for you based on your research, by all means give it a shot.  That is the wonderful thing about Linux.  You have options.  Often more options than you will ever know what to do with.  Each distribution also gives you the ability to customize it to your heart’s content so you can create a computing experience that is completely tailored for your needs and wants.  However, the distributions that I did take the time to list here offer some of the best features along with a usability standard that is on par with modern Windows and Mac systems and feature some of the most mature software repositories of the Linux world.  On top of that it is easy to get help when you need it so your machine always stays running and ready to be used.  So why not give Linux a try on your home machine?  I think you will find you will be pleasantly surprised by just how easy it can be to use.

The-Best-Linux-Distribution---Part-II

Part II – The Best Distribution for the Office

With so many different Linux distributions to choose from, it can be hard to find the right one for you.  I know in my experience I have tried more than I can count on the road to picking my personal favorites.  Which one are those, you ask?  Well that is a discussion for another day.  Instead, I encourage you to try several different ones until you pick the version of Linux that is right for you.

Now that we have taken a little time to look at Linux versions perfect for home, let’s take a look at several different distributions that are great for an office.  Often the requirements of your office computer are different from your home computer, even if they overlap in some areas.  So, if you are trying to make a Linux decision for your business, there are different criteria you need to examine compared to what you may look for in a home machine.

Criteria You Should Consider

There are many different criteria you need to look at when selecting a Linux distribution for your business.  While there is always overlap with the home market, there are a few other areas you must consider before you install Linux on your work laptop.

  1. Ease of Installation and Use – Like your home computer, you want something that is easy to use especially if you are talking about a desktop or laptop for everyday use in your office.
  2. Support – When using a version of Linux at the office, you want to look for one that offers some of the best support in the business. In many cases, you may want to actually purchase support so you can get the help you need much more quickly and don’t have to divert precious employee time to repairing computer issues.
  3. Security – This is important across both your user laptops and desktops and your servers as well. You want to use a system that is safe and secure so you can make sure your business’ files and your customers’ files and data remain safe.

A Word About Support

Different Linux distributions offer different levels of support.  Some are just community based and are usually found with the smaller distributions.  Others, from the big boys such as Red Hat and Ubuntu, offer subscription based support for their systems.  This can really make a difference to your business if you do have problems, but it will increase the cost of these types of systems.  Remember, you don’t have to pay if you don’t want to, as the operating system is free no matter what.  But if you want help, you may have to pay unless you are willing to take the time to troubleshoot the problems yourself using only the community as your guide.

So What Distribution Should You Choose?

Now, I will preface this list by saying that you may see some overlap with the home use distributions.  This isn’t me just being lazy.  Some of the home distros also are perfectly designed to function on users’ work laptops and desktops making them great productivity workhorses.  Still, you will also find others on here that have been designed with businesses in mind from the very beginning.

Red Hat Enterprise

red-hat-enterprise

Hands down Red Hat is the leader in enterprise level Linux.  For years they have been the leaders offering a wide range of products for both servers and end users that can help you create a seamless environment across all the different platforms in your business.  While Red Hat does contribute much of their work to the open source community through Fedora and other projects, if you want to use the Red Hat name you will have to pay.  But with this fee comes support that you will need to incorporate Red Hat across all aspects of your business.

CentOS

centos

Considered the completely free version of Red Hat, CentOS is the perfect operating system for servers for tech professionals that don’t want to pay for the support they get from Red Hat.  Usually CentOS runs a few months behind Red Hat in the terms of technology and releases, so if you want the latest and greatest you will have to go with Red Hat.  Still, if you can wait just a little bit, CentOS is a much more cost effective option assuming you don’t mind doing the work yourself.  CentOS is great if you need to setup an FTP server or run your own web server, for example, and it is lightweight and fast making it the perfect operating system for your server or servers.

Debian

debian

Debian is one of the oldest and most tested Linux systems available first coming on the scene way back in 1993.  Today, it is considered one of the best options for servers and even laptops and desktops depending on the experience level of your employees.  Without Debian, there would be no Ubuntu, meaning that many of the Ubuntu derivatives also would not exist.  So, instead of going with another distro, why not go back to where it all started and use one of the most rock solid distributions around.

SUSE Linux Enterprise

suse-linux-enterprise

Designed and supported by Novell, SUSE Linux Enterprise offers both desktop and server flavors that interact with one another seamlessly and flawlessly to create a truly integrated experience for your office users.  You can also pick this one with support from Novell so if you do have a problem, they will be there to help you so your business is not down due to system problems.

Ubuntu

ubuntu

The first to make it on my list from the home distro list, Ubuntu makes the cut because the operating system is just so easy to use and filled with all the features you need to get your work done.  On top of that, you can purchase a support package that gives you access to support for your systems so you don’t have to sit there for hours on end trying to figure out exactly what is going wrong with your systems.

openSUSE

opensuse

Another distro to be noted on both my home and office lists, openSUSE provides your users with a seamless environment in which to work.  It is also the basis for Novell’s SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop and Server products so they integrate will together if you opt for SUSE on your servers.

ChromeOS

chromeOS

This entry may surprise all of you, but when you think about it, it really makes sense.  If you are a small business who has adopted the cloud through Google Drive, why invest a huge sum of money in software for your computer.  Instead, pick up a few Chromebooks for your employees and have them operate completely on your business cloud using Google’s suite of productivity applications.  Sure, it is a different way of doing things and it isn’t right for every business, but for some looking to cut costs and gain access to the cloud, it makes perfect sense.

ClearOS

clearOS

ClearOS is an integrated network, gateway and server platform designed specifically for businesses.  It includes a small army of features that are easily accessed through an easy to use browser based interface.  With it you can easily create file servers, web servers, print servers, or even create networking and Internet gateways for your business.  All in all, ClearOS provides an impressive amount of features perfect for your in house tech gurus to manage your business technology and control the flow data effectively.

Ubuntu Server

ubuntu-server

I have already listed Ubuntu on this list for desktop and laptop use, but what about your servers?  Ubuntu server offers a more Ubuntu take on server infrastructure.  There isn’t much hand holding and you will need to get familiar with the command line, but it is fast, powerful and overall not too difficult to use.  It also integrates well with every flavor of Ubuntu out there making it a great choice for a business that goes the Buntu way.

A Word on Costs

While some of these systems do cost money, I think you will find that these costs are usually far lower than trying to operate a full house of Windows servers, desktops and laptops for your employees.  On top of that, you get the added security that comes with Linux without having to invest even more money.  So, while you will have to pay for some of these options, you will save quite a bit of money in the long run on your technology expenses.

Final Thoughts on Linux for Business

Choosing the right Linux distribution for your business is an important step in the process of creating a Linux dominated ecosystem in your business.  Whether you are choosing to create a new server for your business, or are looking for a low cost alternative to Windows and Mac OS X to save money on technology, Linux is definitely a viable option.  Choosing the right distribution comes down to software, security and features in the end, and all of the options on this list will provide everything you need to run your business safely and effectively.

Conclusion

As you can see, there are tons of Linux distributions out there. Each one has its own strengths and weaknesses but one thing is certain, one of them will work perfectly for your needs. The key is choosing the right one. I hope that this list will help you find the right Linux distribution for your needs, whether you are using it at home or at work. If you have any questions about Linux and what it can do for you, feel free to ask about it in the comments below.

By Matt Garrett

Matt is an IT professional with over fifteen years experience supporting network infrastructure and computers. An avid gamer, Matt enjoys his time playing and writing about his experiences both in the IT world and in the gaming communities. You can find more of his writing on our sister ShopNinja sites where he enjoys talking about anything and everything tech.

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