The Linux Distro for your Needs

If you are a beginner to Linux, or even a seasoned veteran, it is hard to navigate the crowded world of Linux Distributions, which is filled to the brim with thousands of Distros: Some different, Some forks and yet others made for very specific purposes.

This article is there for providing you the best Linux distribution for your needs. Let us start off with what is a Linux Distro and then we may proceed further (If you already know Linux, feel free to skip it).

What is a Linux Distro?

When most people refer to Linux, they are actually referring to a Linux Distro, which is a complete OS with the necessary apps and services that make a basic Operating System. Of course, most Linux Distros are filled to the brim with Office Suites, Photo Editors, Music Editors, etc, but you get the gist.

Linux, technically is just the Linux Kernel (Kernel is the undermost part of an Operating System), which by itself isn’t much use for most. But a Linux Operating system combines the Linux Kernel with a suite of GNU apps, making the system actually usable.

But this setup is very basic and not much can be done with it. Here’s where Linux Distributions enter: They add even more essential applications and OS Components, such as the GUI Interface and usually also add some other applications (such as a Browser) into the OS. And so, a complete Linux Distro is formed.

Linux Distributions may add, remove or modify the OS as much as they want and so the underlying structure, stability and features varies from Distribution to Distribution.

For a more comprehensive explanation, check our the How To Geek’s article, explaining the difference between a Linux Distro and a Kernel.

Now let us get on with choosing the best Linux Distro for you!

For the Beginner

Ubuntu

ubuntu-14.04-unity-desktop

Ubuntu is one of the most popular Linux Distributions. Even people who don’t know about Linux somehow know about the name “Ubuntu”.

Yeah, Ubuntu did abandon the Gnome 2 Desktop Environment (Yeah. There is no single Desktop Environment), but the Unity Desktop arguably looks better. It is not hard to learn; You can figure it out easily, actually.

It is one of the most fully featured Linux Distros out there and it is coming to TVs and Phones too!

For getting a feel of what Linux is, Ubuntu is one of the better options (We don’t say that it is the best). However, if your computer isn’t that recent, then you may find it lagging and stuttering on Ubuntu, as the Unity environment is quite resource heavy (You may choose other Environments though).

Give Ubuntu a try, you would find it really easy to use and you would actually wonder why Linux has such a bad reputation.

Linux Mint

linux-mint

Linux Mint used to be a small fork of Ubuntu with just a few extra features, but over the years, it has become an almost-completely different Distribution from Ubuntu.

Arguably, it has replaced Ubuntu as the Distro that the Linux Community favors.

The Cinnamon and MATE Desktop Environments that Linux Mint ships with, are really easy and if you are coming from a Windows Operating System, it is pretty much the same (looks-wise). Heck, it even has a Start Button, which is not present in Windows 8.

If you are disappointed with Windows 8, or just want to try out Linux, we would recommend that you check out Linux Mint, which is really easy to use.

For those after Stability

Debian

debian-gnome-desktop

Debian is the godfather, the core of many Linux Operating Systems today. Ubuntu? Derived from Debian. From that little nugget itself you can see how influential and how old this Linux Distribution is.

Debian is THE stable Operating System. Debian tests all software extensively before updating, resulting in utmost stability.

Sure, it lags behind a bit with software updates and OS Updates, but all that testing results in an extremely stable Operating System.

If you are on the lookout for a stable OS for your server, we strongly recommend that you try out Debian. We promise, you won’t regret it. Also, if you are a fierce supporter of Open Source Software, Debian is great, as it is made completely with open software.

CentOS

centos-desktop

CentOS is basically a free version of Red Hat Enterprise Linux. It is an extremely stable Linux Distribution and it pretty much is as packed on features as Red Hat Enterprise Linux, save for a few things here and there.

See, that is the beauty of Linux. If someone’s Linux Distribution is proprietary, even then, you can yourselves see which packages constitute it (Usually Open-Source) and make your own OS.

If you want a stable Linux Distribution that has  Enterprise Features, but is free, the CentOS is the way to go.

For those who need to be on the Cutting Edge

Fedora

fedora-gnome-3-desktop

If you aren’t that much of a fan of stability, and want to stay on the cutting edge of software, enter Fedora.

It is a great Operating System, which stays on the bleeding edge of everything. But that cutting edge has a downside, that of stability: You may not find Fedora to be that Stable.

Also, Fedora has plenty of features and some of the features from Red Hat Enterprise Linux (A Premium Linux OS for Enterprises from Red Hat, the makers of Fedora)  are present in Fedora, either for testing or in a limited form.

Also, Fedora Versions don’t have long-term support, so you have to update regularly (Both to be on the bleeding edge and to use a supported OS). But if you intend to be on the bleeding edge, Fedora is the way to go.

OpenSUSE

Another Operating System on the bleeding edge, OpenSUSE , like Fedora is a testing ground for its enterprise variant, called SUSE Linux Enterprise.

While any desktop environment can be installed, OpenSUSE is more revolved around KDE. Some regard it as better than Fedora, but it is ultimately your choice.

Security/ Penetration Testing

Kali Linux

kalil

When it came to penetration testing, Backtrack was usually the way to go. Kali Linux IS Backtrack, but reborn and better.

Kali Linux is great because of its comprehensive suite of tools that can be used to test whether anything (eg. a network ) is secure or not. If you master the art of bending Kali to your will, then you can easily spot out all the security holes.

Of course, this aides in hacking, but we recommend against using it for uh..dark purposes.

Go download Kali Linux if you want the best in penetration testing!

For those who want to repurpose old PCs

Puppy Linux

puppy-linux

Usually, Linux Distributions targeting old systems are really lacking on features. But Puppy Linux is the opposite, it has all the basics and more for running on old PCs.

It has a pretty comprehensive suite of apps, from browsers to office suites, all in a package sizing less than 150MB. Yeah, you heard that right: While Windows and most other Linux Distros come at packages amounting at around or more than 1GB, Puppy Linux sizes up to only 150MB.

It supports a lot of machines, with certain variants supporting as low as 128MB RAM. Amazing, isn’t it?

It doesn’t look all that bad, for some, it looks kind of good actually. You may even run it from a pendrive/ CD directly (A common feature for Linux Distros), meaning you may work even if your

There are a few official variants of Puppy Linux, with lots of unofficial ones. Go visit Puppy Linux’s official list for a comprehensive list of Puppy Variants .

Go download Puppy Linux if you want an OS that supports a lot of hardware, is lightning fast even on the slowest machines, while not compromising on features (Of course it doesn’t have everything, but it is commendable compared to most other lightweight distributions.)

Tiny Core Linux

Initial desktop

If you want something really tiny, choose Tiny Core Linux. We reckon that it is the smallest Linux Distro to date. It is really basic, but you will be surprised that it is able to even pack that “basic” into its size. Before you go on, take a second to answer this poll on how much do you think Tiny Core Linux is:

TIny Core Linux manages to pack in a GUI Desktop, a terminal emulator and other very basic utilities in an ultra-small 12MB.

While it is limited in hardware support and applications, you can download some applications to make it more useful.

Yeah. You can literally download it in a minute or two and keep it on your pendrive, a sort of backup.

Read the Tiny Core Linux FAQ for more information.

For Those Paranoid about Security

Tails

Tails OS

After the NSA revelations, almost everybody is paranoid about security. For most, using a proxy or VPN is fulfilling enough, but for those truly paranoid about security, or for those who actually need to be off the radar, enter Tails.

While the TOR (The Onion Router) protocol is usually used by most using a specific for-Tor browser, but one has to keep other forms of internet data secure too. You see, even without a browser, the Operating System sends and receives plenty of data in the background. This data is usually unsecure and can be spied upon and potentially can be used to get a rough idea of your location and more.

Tails takes care of this by routing all outgoing data through the Tor Network, meaning you data goes on a hop around lots of computers and nodes before reaching the final destination, making it almost untraceable. The key word is “almost”. Even with Tor, if you visit a website that leaks information or if you do something silly, data can leak out.

Of course, your internet speed is marred down severely due to your data not having a direct gateway to the server: It has to hop through the Tor Network before it can reach its destination. But for those paranoid about the security, this is something they can/ have to deal with.

To learn more about how Tails enables you to be more secure, here, check out what’s inside Tails.

Basic practices and Tor and Encryption can make your OS pretty secure, but be careful.  If you want to have utmost security. check out Tails. You would find it pretty secure, but again, not completely secure (Nothing Ever is).

For the Geek

Gentoo

Setting Gentoo

If you are a Geek, then Gentoo will satisfy you. You can literally mould everything into shape (Including the Kernel). You have to build an Operating System from the bare basics. All navigation is done through the Terminal.

You pump in commands, choose your parameters and watch your dream customized Operating System forming right before your eyes. That’s Gentoo, one of the most hardcore Linux Distributions out there.

Of course, it’s level of complexity is way above mere mortals and is challenging even for geeks. But that’s what a geek likes, right? A good, nice, difficult challenge.

For experiencing the hardcore side of Linux, check out Gentoo, if you dare!

Arch Linux

install-arch

Arch Linux is less  complex than Gentoo Linux, but complex nevertheless.

You can’t go through the tedious task of compiling your kernel (At least not from the beginning itself).

“The Gentoo packages and base system are built directly from source code according to user-specified USE flags. Arch provides a ports-like system for building packages from source, though the Arch base system is designed to be installed as pre-built i686/x86_64 binary. This generally makes Arch quicker to build and update, and allows Gentoo to be more systemically customizable.”

“Gentoo’s official package and system management tools tend to be rather more complex and “powerful” than those provided by Arch, and certain features which are at the very heart of Gentoo (USE flagsSLOTs, etc.) don’t have any direct Arch Linux equivalent. Some of that is due to the fact that Arch is primarily a binary distro, but differences in design philosophy also play a big role, with Arch taking a more principled stance in favor of architectural simplicity and avoiding over-engineering.”

As you can see, Arch Linux has an emphasis on offering a “more-binary” package, while Gentoo forces you to compile every bit of the package. While that is ultimate customizability, it is not always necessary and is a bit complex and time-consuming. So Arch Linux, while being complex, isn’t too complex.

You don’t have a simple GUI for you to navigate through. You have to do everything by typing it out in the Terminal, an art most have forgotten since the introduction of the GUI.

You setup your Internet and go on downloading packages as you please, crafting the Operating System as you go.

You meticulously join fragments of the Operating System and tear your hair out when you can’t figure it out or when your command got denied due to that one rogue letter.

But that’s the beauty of it. That’s why Arch Linux is regarded as one of the best Linux Operating Systems. It is the poster child of the Linux of yore. It is loved by all geeks.

So go download Arch Linux if you want to get behind the scenes and explore what Linux really is, understanding the workings of an OS and building your Dream OS along the way.

Overview

So from the list above , you can see that Linux Distributions are extremely varied in nature. There is something for everyone.

But like all lists, we may have missed some key categories or Operating Systems, so feel free to mention them in the comments below (And don’t forget to Comment!).

Linux is not just a Kernel. It is not just an Operating System either. It is a way of software, the poster child of the “Open Source Movement”. You may see its code, modify it and do whatever you want with it. Maybe even fork it and release a competing product (Like Linux Mint did with Ubuntu).

Linux is also built around community. Unlike closed Operating Systems like Windows, it listens and continually improves upon itself. Users examine the code, find bugs and notify the ones managing the Kernel. Then the bugfix is integrated somewhere down the line. Even better, the user may release a patch themselves.

At the same time, Linux isn’t just for hardcore Geeks. It is something that is for everyone, for all levels of knowledge. Anyone can pick up and use most Linux Operating Systems (Not Arch and Gentoo, of course, but you get the gist) without prior knowledge. That alone shows how far Linux has come from its early days, where it was a lot more complex.

So go give Linux a try today, we promise you won’t regret it. And we would love to hear your views on this article, so post them in the Comments!

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2 thoughts on “The Linux Distro for your Needs”

  1. Years ago I started working with Linux when LinSpire was given out on a DVD by PCFormat back in the early 2000s. I’ve worked with it on and off when Windows or Mac failed and I needed to recover the rigs. When Linux Mint 14 hit…I actually felt that I was ready to move on to Linux and ditch Windows behind for good. It was great but not perfect but in that challenge I began to get a strong hold over what Linux can offer and what I can do it. Linux Mint to me is THE OS for me. Games and Productivity are a cinch.

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    1. Really interesting story. Indeed, Linux does offer lots of advantages, such as variety, improved stability, speed and customizability. Before, Linux wasn’t as much nuanced as Windows. But taking applications out of the equation, they are pretty much equals. For Games and other applications not compatible with Linux, we recommend something called Wine. It is not completely compatible with all Windows Programs, but it does the job.

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