The right Linux distro for beginners

Different Linux distros to a new user probably look like a forest of strange lookalike trees. How to choose the right one for yourself?

Distro, short from distribution.
Linux jargon for beginners

How to choose a Linux distro*? This question is probably difficult to answer for a person who never used Linux but would want to and a long time user equally. No wonder people describe themselves as distrohoppers (people who often change Linux distros). When, couple of years ago I got the idea to try Linux, it was because I was curious and I had an old laptop for testing purposes. I read a couple of articles and decided to go with Ubuntu MATE. Couple of other distros were being mentioned here or there, but Ubuntu MATE was my choice because the webpage said it is a good distro for beginners and suitable for old hardware.

Did I make a wrong choice back then? When I checked distrowatch.com recently where Ubuntu MATE is on the 42. place, I might have thought after all these years that maybe I did. I used my Ubuntu MATE, upgraded it several times, learned a thing or two about working with terminal (I had some DOS experience so it wasn’t that difficult) and all in all I can’t say I was feeling like I was missing something. The point is I didn’t make a wrong choice. If you are a person with basic computer needs like I am, you can hardly make a wrong choice by picking any OS nowadays, Linux or not. Don’t be afraid of missing out on something. We are talking about using a piece of software here, not a decision to move to Indonesia (If you are Indonesian, please pick some other place you can feel exotic about).

To see how it is with Linux now I have downloaded a bunch of Linux distros: Debian KDE, Debian Cinnamon, Elementary OS, Linux Mint Cinnamon, Linux Mint Mate, Linux Mint Xfce, MX Linux Xfce, MX Liux KDE, Manjaro Cinnamon, Open SUSE (wouldn’t boot), just to see how they meet my current OS requirements. The first thing I noticed were obviously different desktops. Lets start from here.

Linux desktops

I’ve seen and used desktops, CLIs and computer like ZX Spectrum, Amiga (never ever Atari, never…), DOS, Commodore 64, Win 3.1 – Win10, Apple Macintosh, iOS, Ubuntu MATE, I can say I’ve seen some. Before the Internet era everything had to be done by trial and error, or asking a friend I am used to finding my way through stuff. The same approach I used to test these desktops. I won’t go into any depth here, just describe my experience. I have tested it all on quite powerful HP ZBook. Maybe I’ll repeat the test on my old laptop to see if old hardware has some problems due to weaker components.

KDE Plasma

Screenshot Plasma with the launcher open

KDE Plasma

KDE or KDE plasma, I am not sure what the proper name is, but the first one I tried and liked immediately. It is easy to find your way around. I liked thin lined tray icons. The start menu is easy to use. The settings are easy to find. It looks modern in some retro angular way. I like KDE apps that go with it, especially KOrganizer. It is a good calendar app with CalDAV support.

Cinnamon

Cinnamon Screenshot

Cinnamon desktop

The second one was a bit of surprise. It was almost the same as KDE. Don’t get me wrong, I expected some whole new philosophy because Cinnamon is mentioned as favorite by many. Nothing to add here. Functionally in the same category.

Elementary OS

elementary OS 5.1 Hera desktop

Elementary OS desktop

Show-dog among working dogs. Well, show dogs can work too, and they do, but that dock that visually extends to the peer leading your thoughts further and beyond, transparent panel on the top. Just what you need in the menu. Very nice I have to admit.

I have with Apple things some kind of love-hate relationship that begins as love at first sight and then turns into hate. Same with Elementary OS. I appreciate the design and baby steps that lead you everywhere. Good for a baby, but bad for a grownup after 10 minutes of use. I want to know where my files are. I don’t want libraries. I don’t want hidden folders. When I use something I want to know how its guts look like. I want to customize things, I want icons on my desktop although I never keep them there after I finish with my day’s work.

Although not a desktop for me, I would recommend it to my senior mom, and all those people who don’t care how things work until they work well.

Xfce

https://cdn.xfce.org/about/screenshots/4.14-1.png

Xfce desktop

Nice. Whisker application menu too. Nothing to add. I noticed you can put the dock instead of panel at the bottom. Xfce.

MATE

My old friend MATE. Pun intended.

Linux distros

Tested: Debian, Elementary OS, Linux Mint, MX Linux, Manjaro, Open SUSE (wouldn’t boot)

There won’t be any distro by distro review here because they are all too similar for someone like me to notice any significant differences (except for some apps that come only with some distros). All except MX Linux have nice graphical applications that are used to install programs. MX Linux has also a graphical application for this, but the apps are not represented by icons and descriptions, but just categories and program names. You have to know what you are looking for when browsing or searching.

Repositories

Important part for a beginner is to grasp the concept of repository**.

What are Repositories?

There are literally thousands of Ubuntu programs available to meet the needs of Ubuntu users. Many of these programs are stored in software archives commonly referred to as repositories. Repositories make it easy to install new software, while also providing a high level of security, since the software is thoroughly tested and built specifically for each version of Ubuntu.

Ubuntu

Different repositories contain different programs and there are different kinds of repositories that contain programs in different stages of development and testing.

If you have to have certain programs, check the repositories for the programs you need while you are testing the distro. Usually you can add repositories that you don’t have by default, but sometimes the software in them won’t work with your distro because it was developed for a different distro.

Conclusion

They are all good and I mean it. Both distros and desktops. If you need a computer and have no particular program needs you will be fine with any of them. If you prefer MacOS style to Windows style you will like Elementary OS. If not the rest of  them will work more than fine. Pay attention to unique apps that come with a distro or desktop and apps you really need to have.

If you want to know what was my choice at the end, it was MX Linux with Xfce desktop and KDE plasma installed as well. This doesn’t mean I am using two desktop environments at the same time. I am looking at Xfce, I am looking forward to using MX Linux’s very useful unique apps called MX tools which are presented in nice graphical way and I am using apps that come with KDE Plasma installation that is available in one of MX Linux repositories. When different choices are very much similar, some silly things like KDE calendar and a bit of Xfce mojo can be decisive. If I had to choose between a desktop with KOrganizer and Xfce without, I would go with a desktop which comes with KOrganizer.

One more thing to check is user base size. These popular distros have user base big enough to get help when you need it by on users’ forums. If you opt for smaller distro, be aware that help might be more difficult to find. Thanks https://fosstodon.org/@kintaro for the tip!

Please bear in mind that I am a Linux noob. I am using it as my OS at home, but I am only using it to surf the internet and play music and write literature. Don’t take me or anything written here too seriously. Have fun and good luck!

 
« « » »

5 responses to “The right Linux distro for beginners”

  1. kintaro says:

    @paladin Good article. Beginners are often overwhelmed when it comes to choose a distro. What this article illustrate nicely is that major distro just work and for regular users, they will all do the job nicely and you won’t notice a difference. Desktop environment are mostly a matter of taste and you can change them very easily.Maybe what’s most important is to pick a distro with a large user base so you can get help if needed (and most likely your question has already been asked)

  2. Paladin says:

    @kintaro Thanks. Large user base. I’ll have to check that one. For Ubuntu Mate I am using, user base is Ubuntu. Pretty big I guess.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *