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How to Choose a Linux Distribution for First Time Users

Updated on May 29, 2013
Beginners guide to choosing a Linux Distribution
Beginners guide to choosing a Linux Distribution | Source

There are an unbelievably large amount of linux distributions out there, especially from the standpoint of someone coming from Windows or Mac. For me, Linux was always the little guy in terms of operating systems. Both in terms of number of users, and the sophistication of the operating system. When I started to use Linux, I discovered that I was definitely wrong on the sophistication part, and the numbers have been growing in leaps and bounds in recent years.

Linux Kernel vs Linux Distribution

The first thing you notice about Linux is that there isn’t a single operating system. However, all of the operating systems are based on the Linux Kernel. A Kernel is just an instruction set to allow programs to communicate with the various components of your computer. A Linux distribution uses the Linux Kernel and supplies you with a number of initial programs. Distributions can vary widely, from first-time user friendliness to advanced users only.

More About the Various Linux Distributions

The various linux distributions derive from several ideals: open source, ease of use, minimalistic, etc... There are a number of main distributions in which the majority of the other distributions are based upon and source their applications from. These include: Debian, Gentoo, Fedora, OpenSUSE, ArchLinux, Slackware, Ubuntu.

Many, many more distros (short for distributions) are based upon the main ones but offer different initial packages or even packages that are not normally available.

Where to Start When Choosing a Linux Distribution

Currently, one of the more popular packages is Ubuntu. Ubuntu is based upon Debian, but with its own software set. It is considered to be one of the most complete and ready to use distros available out of the “box”, and I would highly recommend it to users just starting out. Within it you will find the greatest compatibility with programs and games. If you are unhappy with the graphical user interface however, you could always switch it to another. The beauty with Linux is that you can change pretty much anything, including how your computer interacts with the various components.

Most distros are free, so you may want to switch between various distributions at the beginning, until you find the one that you like the most. Another good start might be Debian, which has the largest repository of applications you can find in Linux; 29,000 packages.

What Will You Choose?

Which version of Linux do you plan on trying?

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Personal Experience With Linux Distribution

I have personally tried:

  • Debian
  • Ubuntu
  • Linux Mint
  • ArchLinux
  • Archbang
  • Fedora
  • Mageia
  • Crunchbang

My favorite has been Crunchbang, mostly due to the minimalist interface and ease of use. If you want information on how to install new packages in either Crunchbang or Debian, you can check out my tutorial on how to Install Software in Debian Linux. Ubuntu uses much the same system to install packages, except you also have the option to use a package manager instead of the command line interface (CLI).


The beauty of many of these distros is that you can create a live CD. A live CD (either on an actual CD or on a USB) is the distribution run completely without the need of the hard drive. The implication is that you don’t need to install it to give it a try, just keep in mind that it will be slower to use.

Which Linux Distribution Should You Choose?

The best distribution for a first time user will be one of the main distributions, and you can then decide on another distro later on. Ubuntu would be the easiest move from Windows for most users, and so I would recommend starting there. Good luck and welcome to the world of Linux!

Thanks for stopping by

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    • RonElFran profile image

      Ronald E Franklin 3 years ago from Mechanicsburg, PA

      The only Linux distros I've tried are Ubuntu and its little brother, Lubuntu. Honestly, I'm still mostly a Windows person, though I'm trying to wean myself away. I have both Ubuntu and Lubuntu on surplus computers I'm using only to check them out. So far, Lubuntu seems to require the least readjustment from Windows.